Friday, September 22, 2017

In which people discuss things I don't understand

  • Top Uber Investor Resists SoftBank Deal
    The opposition by Benchmark Capital is complicating a proposal by SoftBank and its $93 billion tech-focused Vision Fund, along with partners, to buy 17% to 22% of Uber--mostly through purchasing shares from existing shareholders.

    Benchmark has told fellow investors it is unlikely to sell any of its 13% holding to the SoftBank consortium, according to people familiar with the matter. And Benchmark's representative on Uber's board, Matt Cohler, was the only one of Uber's eight directors to vote against a term sheet granting SoftBank exclusive rights to an investment deal, the people said.

  • Alphabet’s Waymo wants Uber to pay $2.6 billion in damages for a single allegedly stolen trade secret
    Uber calls Alphabet’s damages claims “inflated” and “based entirely on speculative future profits and cost savings in a nascent market.”

    The damages Alphabet is seeking for each of the nine trade secrets vary and have been redacted within the document. So there’s still no indication of which trade secret claim Alphabet is seeking $2.6 billion for, nor what amount the company is asking for the other eight trade secrets.

  • Uber has a lot of reasons to settle its lawsuit with Alphabet
    Alphabet isn’t just taking Uber for a legal ride. It wants to cause some serious damage, which some inside think is part of an effort to slow down Uber’s self-driving efforts.

    But Alphabet’s endless legal and financial resources — and determination from top execs at the company to make an example of Uber — are powerful reasons that Khosrowshahi might seek a settlement.

  • Uber Loses Its License to Operate in London
    The agency took direct aim at Uber’s corporate culture, declaring that the company’s “approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications.”
  • Uber Is Sorry for ‘Wife Appreciation Day’ Promo
    The promo, only valid on September 17, read:

    Dear husbands, a gentle reminder — today is Wife Appreciation Day. Order on uberEATS and leet your wife take a day off from the kitchen.

  • Chinese-backed rival takes on Uber in London
    Once the initial discounts end, Taxify still aims to be 10% cheaper than Uber, CEO Markus Villig told CNNMoney.

    "I think we mainly have a very strong second mover advantage," Villig said. "We don't need to do the hard work of actually establishing this market. We can rather come in, be more efficient, more lean and take a smaller cut for ourselves, and therefore undercut the existing incumbents."

Nope, never played it.

Kotaku take a long, loving look at The Notorious Board Game That Takes 1,500 Hours To Complete

The game itself covers the famous WWII operations in Libya and Egypt between 1940 and 1943. Along with the opaque rulebook, the box includes 1,600 cardboard chits, a few dozen charts tabulating damage, morale, and mechanical failure, and a swaddling 10-foot long map that brings the Sahara to your kitchen table. You’ll need to recruit 10 total players, (five Allied, five Axis,) who will each lord over a specialized division. The Front-line and Air Commanders will issue orders to the troops in battle, the Rear and Logistics Commanders will ferry supplies to the combat areas, and lastly, a Commander-in-Chief will be responsible for all macro strategic decisions over the course of the conflict. If you and your group meets for three hours at a time, twice a month, you’d wrap up the campaign in about 20 years.

There DEFINITELY was a time in my life that this would have Been My Thing.

Who knows? Perhaps that day will come again.

All is Lost: a very short review

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Although, if you haven't already seen All is Lost by now, you're probably never going to see it, or at least you're not going to feel too broken up by my spoilers, I hope?

I think there are probably at least two reasonable "readings" of the marvelous Robert Redford movie, All is Lost.

A straightforward reading is to see it as an adventure story, with the setting for the adventure being "solo sailing on the open ocean":

  1. What would you do if your boat was suddenly and unexpectedly damaged?
  2. How would you keep yourself alive as long as possible?
  3. What actions could you take to increase your likelihood of being discovered/found/rescued?
  4. How would you keep your mental health and motivation high under a time of great stress?

And so forth.

Another reading, perhaps equally valid, and perhaps equally interesting, is to see the movie in a more spiritual way, as a metaphor for your life and existence. You'll think this is a stretch, but consider:

  1. At the beginning of the movie, Redford is sleeping, comfortably secure and at rest in the "womb" of his sailboat.
  2. He is awoken by a fierce and terrifying event (the mid-ocean collision with the submerged shipping container) which pulls him out of his simple and trivial existence and immediately poses immediate and life-threatening problems for him to solve.
  3. As he goes, he solves one problem after another, adapting to his surroundings, using what he has been given at "birth", learning from his experiences, exploring his world.
  4. At the end, when all is, in fact, lost, and Redford is sinking below the waves, looking up, he sees first a halo (the doughnut-shaped life raft, on fire), then a bright light, then, as he reaches out, there is a disembodied hand that reaches down from above, to pull him up to his next life.

I'm sure there are other readings as well, but these are two that occurred to me.

Honestly, we aren't given an awful lot of information about how to choose a reading for this movie, which makes it very similar to another lovely-but-odd-movie-set-aboard-a-boat-with-much-symbolism, Life of Pi.

But, getting back to All is Lost, the most important input into the reading of the movie, I think, is the short speech that is delivered at the start of the movie, in a flash-forward (see, I told you this was nothing but spoilers), which goes as follows:

I'm sorry. I know that means little at this point, but I am. I tried, I think you would all agree that I tried. To be true, to be strong, to be kind, to love, to be right. But I wasn't. And I know you knew this. In each of your ways. And I am sorry. All is lost here, except for soul and body, that is, what's left of them, and a half day's ration. It's inexcusable really, I know that now. How it could have taken this long to admit that I'm not sure, but it did. I fought till the end. I'm not sure what that is worth, but know that I did. I have always hoped for more for you all. I will miss you. I'm sorry.
From the reference to 'soul and body', to the topics of being 'true' and 'right' and 'hoping for more', to the overall framing of this speech as something that might occur on Judgement Day, it's quite hard to see this speech as being included in the movie for any reason other than to promote the "spiritual" reading of the movie.

The "this movie tells the story of the life of a human" reading.

I don't have much more to say about any of this (not even sure this much was worth saying), but there it is.

And, of course, this wasn't a very challenging reading: plenty of others noticed this the first time they saw it

And, of course of course, it wasn't really the best movie to learn about sailing.

But anyway: Robert Redford! Sailing! Movie!

I enjoyed watching it.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

News of the weird, part 4 (of four)

Well, this isn't exactly news, and I guess you'll have to judge for yourself whether it's weird or not.

But I thought both of these were pretty interesting.

  • How Half Of America Lost Its F**king Mind
    There's this universal shorthand that epic adventure movies use to tell the good guys from the bad. The good guys are simple folk from the countryside ...

    ... while the bad guys are decadent assholes who live in the city and wear stupid clothes.

    The theme expresses itself in several ways -- primitive vs. advanced, tough vs. delicate, masculine vs. feminine, poor vs. rich, pure vs. decadent, traditional vs. weird. All of it is code for rural vs. urban. That tense divide between the two doesn't exist because of these movies, obviously. These movies used it as shorthand because the divide already existed.

  • I Spent 5 Years With Some of Trump’s Biggest Fans. Here’s What They Won’t Tell You.
    Pervasive among the people I talked to was a sense of detachment from a distant elite with whom they had ever less contact and less in common.

    ...

    Trump has put on his blue-collar cap, pumped his fist in the air, and left mainstream Republicans helpless. Not only does he speak to the white working class’ grievances; as they see it, he has finally stopped their story from being politically suppressed. We may never know if Trump has done this intentionally or instinctively, but in any case he’s created a movement much like the anti-immigrant but pro-welfare-state right-wing populism on the rise in Europe. For these are all based on variations of the same Deep Story of personal protectionism.

News of the weird, part 3

This one, for a change of pace, does not come out of the pages of Wired.

But it's just as weird.

So let's turn the microphone over to the great chess blogger Dana Mackenzie: Scandal Ruins World Cup’s Best Day

everybody is talking about the stupid dispute that caused the Canadian player, Anton Kovalyov, to forfeit his game and withdraw from the tournament — all over a pair of shorts.

Probably most of my readers are already familiar with the sad details, but for those who haven’t heard yet, these seem to be the facts:

  • Kovalyov showed up for his game against Maxim Rodshtein wearing a pair of shorts. He had worn the same shorts for his previous four games. Yes, apparently he only packed this one pair of shorts for a potentially month-long chess tournament. Cue jokes about chess players’ dressing habits.
  • The chief arbiter spoke to him and told him that the players’ dress code (which is in a legal contract they sign before the tournament) requires more dignified wear. He told him to go back to his room and change.
  • Kovalyov went back to his room but never reappeared. His opponent played one move (1. d4) and won by forfeit.

Even from these facts, it seems to me that the FIDE approach was very heavy-handed. From a legal point of view it seems to me that they have greatly weakened their case by allowing Kovalyov to play four games (!) in the offending garment. The arbiter said that nobody noticed earlier. Come on! If it’s a rule, then enforce it from the beginning. If it’s not enforced, then it’s not really a rule.

Kovalyov is actually Ukrainian, playing as a Canadian citizen, but living in Brownsville, Texas, where he studies computer science and got a chess scholarship!.

Kovalyov later wrote about this on his Facebook page, then tried to delete what he wrote, then tried to close his Facebook account, then re-opened his Facebook account, then wrote about it some more.

More at The Guardian, where we find that the REAL issue may have involved an ethnic slur:

Azmaiparashvili refused to back down, said Kovalyov. “At this point I was really angry but tried not to do anything stupid, and asked him why he was so rude to me, and he said because I’m a gypsy,” he said.

He continued: “So imagine this, the round is about to start, I’m being bullied by the organiser of the tournament, being assured that I will be punished by FIDE, yelled at and racially insulted. What would you do in my situation? I think many people would have punched this person in the face or at least insulted him. I decided to leave.”

Assuming that is what actually happened, it's a shame, but clearly he made the right decision.

The internets took to calling this "shortsgate" for a little while.

But it has now passed from public interest.

News of the weird, part 2

There are a lot of strange, disturbing, bizarre aspects to this long book excerpt that ran on the Wired website: Meet the CamperForce, Amazon's Nomadic Retiree Army.

The article is an excerpt from an upcoming book, by the way, it's not intended to be a stand-alone article on Wired.

Still.

The article winds through a long and close examination of what it's like to chase jobs in Amazon distribution centers around the country, camping out in your R.V. at night, getting up at 4:00 A.M. to get to work on time, taking advantage of the "the free generic pain relievers on offer in the warehouse".

You won't be surprised to hear that this is No Fun At All:

Chuck was a picker. His job was to take items down from warehouse shelves as customers ordered them, scanning each product with a handheld barcode reader. The warehouse was so immense that he and his fellow workers used the names of states to navigate its vast interior. The western half was “Nevada,” and the eastern half was “Utah.” Chuck ended up walking about 13 miles a day. He told himself it was good exercise. Besides, he’d met another picker who was 80 years old—if that guy could do it, surely he could.

Barb was a stower. That meant scanning incoming merchandise and shelving it. Stowers didn’t have to walk as far as pickers did, though Barb’s muscles still ached from the lifting, squatting, reaching, and twisting motions that her job required. Much of the strain was mental. With the holiday season nearing, the warehouse’s shelves were crammed, and one day she wandered around the warehouse for 45 minutes—she timed it—looking for a place to stow a single oversized book. Barb murmured, “Breathe, breathe,” to herself to stay calm.

On days off, many of Barb and Chuck’s coworkers were too exhausted to do anything but sleep, eat, and catch up on laundry.

Much of this article won't be a surprise, as this part of America has been documented for decades (see, e.g., More retirees keep one foot in workforce for pay and play and More Help Wanted: Older Workers Please Apply and Older Workers Survey, Working Longer, Younger Employees, Dear Abby).

And, though CNBC rather sunnily quotes an expert on "Aging & Work" as saying that

"We're in a new era of retirement, and we're not going back."

He added that "most people assume that seniors keep working due to financial necessity, and some do, but the majority do it to keep active and stay alert."

the reality, clearly, is much closer the converse of that viewpoint, as bluntly explained by the AARP, or by the Times, which observes that
The recruitment efforts for the elderly are reaching a willing audience, as more older people seek work because they need extra cash and health benefits and sometimes because they miss having a 9-to-5 routine with other workers.

I mean: duh. I DO know some people who are, perhaps, deferring retirement because they really enjoy their current job and don't (yet) have enough saved up to be able to retire as they choose.

But, really?

"They don't want to go fishing; they want to stay sharp," said Jeanne Benoit, principal director of human resources at the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, a military research contractor in Cambridge, Mass., that creates prototypes for aerospace projects.

Wrong.

They want to go fishing.

And they don't appreciate you telling them that they aren't sharp, you young whippersnapper.

Anyway, back to the Wired article.

One of the things that drives me crazy about this whole situation, and which seems vastly under-reported, is how people got into these situations in the first place.

And the Wired article provides some fascinating detail in this area.

For instance:

Chuck still remembers the call from Wells Fargo that brought the 2008 financial crisis crashing down on his head. He had invested his $250,000 nest egg in a fund that supposedly guaranteed him $4,000 a month to live on. “You have no more money,” he recalls his banker saying flatly. “What do you want us to do?”

And,

Bob worked as an accountant for a timber products firm, and Anita was an interior decorator and part-time caregiver. They thought they would retire aboard a sailboat, funding that dream with equity from their three­ bedroom house. But then the housing bubble burst and their home’s value tumbled. Neither could imagine spending the rest of their lives servicing a loan worth more than their house. So they bought the trailer and drove away. “We just walked,” Anita says. “We told ourselves, ‘We’re not playing this game anymore.’”

Bob blamed Wall Street. When he spoke about his decision to abandon the house, he’d rush to add that, before that moment, he’d always paid the bills on time.

I mean yes, finances are complicated!

But it doesn't take much more than elementary school mathematics to be able to look at a $250,000 "nest egg" and realize that, if you withdraw $50,000 a year, it will only last (wait for it...): 5 years.

Nor should it take much more sophistication to understand that, if your entire plan for retirement is to depend on your house doubling in value so that you can sell it and buy a sailboat, well, you're gambling. You were a professional ACCOUNTANT? And you blamed "Wall Street"?

Now, part of this shame does indeed belong to the bankers and real-estate professionals and others who sold everyone a pipe dream back in the early 2000's.

They were con artists, and a lot of pain was caused by all that speculation, lying, pyramid schemes, and "financial engineering."

But, really, part of this shame is simpler to understand; it seems undeniable that, as a country, we are clearly failing our people.

We should be teaching basic "financial sense" in elementary school.

We should be making retirement savings accounts MANDATORY.

We should be providing universal health care to all. Yes, even if you're not working. Medicare for all.

And otherwise legitimate media organizations like CNBC and The New York Times should be flat-out ashamed of themselves to publish rot about "staying alert" or "pay and play" or "staying sharp" or "missing that 9-to-5 routine."

Call it what it is: elder abuse.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

News of the weird, part 1

I read a pair of (unrelated) stories on the Wired website recently that have stuck with me, for probably the wrong reasons.

Warning, ahead of time: these are weird stories. Odd, strange, disturbing, uncomfortable.

But, I think, not incorrect. Nor are they misdirected or misleading. I think this is just an honest assessment of Our Strange Times.

So, forthwith:

A Weird MIT Dorm Dies, and a Crisis Blooms at Colleges

This starts out being a story about how things at MIT are a little odd, which isn't, really, that much of a surprise.

MIT, after all, is the home of the Smoot, a measurement unit for bridge lengths, and is the home of nearly legendary student pranks

But, something about Senior House is not quite right.

This was Senior House, the oldest dormitory on campus, built in 1916 by the architect William Welles Bosworth. For 101 years it welcomed freshman and returning students. Since the ’60s it was a proudly anarchic community of creative misfits and self-described outcasts—the special kind of brilliant oddballs who couldn’t or didn’t want to fit in with the mainstream eggheads at MIT.

If it was just brilliant oddballs, there wouldn't be an issue. Something else happened, and the question that Wired wants to discuss is: is this MIT? Or is this America, changing?

The demise of Senior House is emblematic of a larger shift on campuses across the US. Last year my own alma mater, Wesleyan University, closed down its countercultural house Eclectic, which had existed for a century. A few years ago Caltech kicked students out of its countercultural dorm Ricketts.

And what, exactly, happened at Senior House? It seems it's rather a mystery

the administration refused to disclose what precisely had happened, but Barnhart told the student newspaper The Tech that “we received highly credible reports of unsafe and illegal behavior in Senior House.”

Unsafe and illegal behavior? I am shocked!

Wired suggests that this is all due to risk-adverse administrators:

college tuition has skyrocketed and with it the competition for students who can afford it. Parents footing the bill are paying a lot more attention. The world has become more litigious and more corporate. All of this has led to an atmosphere in which university administrations have little margin for error when it comes to student safety or even bad publicity.
Money. And lawyers. And lawyers, worried about money.

or is it, rather, that you can't legislate weirdness?

groups like Senior House, which define themselves by being different, also run the risk of becoming highly conformist, Packer says. The punk rock movement is a particularly vivid example of this phenomenon. “They self-describe as being different, but from the outside they all look the same,” he says.

I'd hate to think that the weird is gone from college: discard the weird and you discard so much of what is important about school. And Wired seem to feel that way too, forecasting a rather glum future:

When school ends, they’ll head out into the big wide world, where building a nurturing community sometimes feels hard. Maybe the invisible threads of the internet will help bind them. Maybe Senior House alums will meet up in different cities to drink beer and trade stories of Steer Roasts past or find themselves across from each other at tech company boardroom tables, the memory of that shared place a secret tie between them.

One of my correspondents suggested a close parallel between the crackdown on Senior House, and the Ghost Ship backlash.

I think she makes a great point. Yes, these brilliant oddballs make us uncomfortable, and yes, they live on the edge.

But what do we sacrifice when we legislate their conformity?

I'm not betting that the invisible threads of the internet will solve this problem.

Friday, September 15, 2017

All the Wild That Remains: a very short review

We're hoping to make a trip to southern Utah sometime later this year.

It's been on my list for a long time; the last time I was in those parts was 1972, and I don't remember much.

(What? I was only 11! And, how much do you remember from 45 years ago?)

Anyway, as a bit of a warm up, I came across David Gessner's All The Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West.

Oh, this is a wonderful book!

Gessner, a literature professor and writer himself, tries, and mostly succeeds, to tie together two of the great writers of the west: Abbey and Stegner.

It turns out, that, in a bit of a coincidence, that we're approaching the 50th anniversary of Abbey's Desert Solitaire, and the 75th anniversary of Stegner's The Big Rock Candy Mountain.

So it's a wonderful occasion to spend some time thinking about Abbey and Stegner.

But Gessner manages to do more than that; his interests are broad and before we are done he has discussed water rights, the Wilderness Act of 1964, fracking, the Dust Bowl, forest fires, whether the Russian Olive or the Green Tamarisk is the less "native" plant, and many other topics.

Oh, and pronghorn.

Gessner loves pronghorn, and rightly so. Here he is, driving through the west with his daughter:

Hadley and I thanked him and pushed off for points north and west, driving out of Colorado and into Wyoming. We spent hours crossing southern Wyoming. In late afternoon we saw a herd of pronghorn antelopes gliding across the prairie. Pronghorns are the fastest land animals in the West, and the truth is it isn't even close. I told Hadley a fact I had learned from a friend: the reason pronghorns run so fast, much faster than any predator of theirs, is that they are outrunning a ghost -- the long-extinct American cheetah, which centuries ago chased them across these grasslands.

To see a pronghorn run is to want to run yourself. A more graceful animal is hard to imagine. Delicate and gorgeously bedecked with rich brown-and-white patterns, with small horns and snow-white fur on their stomachs, they glide across the land. As we drove I was worried about all the barbed-wire fences that blocked their way as they roamed, at least until I saw one pronghorn fawn jump a fence like it was nothing, flowing over it like water.

It's marvelous fun to follow along with Gessner as he revisits the lands of Abbey and Stegner, kayaking and rafting the rivers they rode, hiking the trails they followed, looking out from the summits they climbed.

But that's just the icing. The hard work of Gessner's book involves a serious consideration of whether Abbey and Stegner have staying power, whether they deserve to be read and studied and considered, even now after so much time has passed.

It's rather easier to answer this question for Stegner, whose life and work is so obviously important: winner of Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, original member of the University of Iowa Writer's Program, founder of the Stanford Creative Writing Program, author of the Wilderness Letter, inspiration for the Wilderness Act, savior of Dinosaur National Park, oh the list just goes on and on.

But Abbey? Troublemaker, rebel, outlaw, misogynist, curmudgeon? Should we still be reading and studying Abbey, as well?

Gessner's answer is an unqualified "yes":

So is Abbey passe, as dated as bad '70's hair? Obviously I wouldn't be out here tracking his spoor if I thought so. But it is difficult, at least at first, to see how his spirit might be adapted to fit our times. For instance, isn't monkeywrenching dead, not just in an FBI agent's eyes, but as a legitimate possibility for the environmental movement? I must admit that in my own grown-up life as a professor and father I don't blow a lot of things up. For most of us who care about the environment, Stegner provides a much more sensible model.

But I don't want to be so quick to toss Abbey on the scrap heap. Looked at in a different way, Abbey's ideas about freedom are exactly what is needed today. If the times have changed, the essence of what he offered has in some ways never been more relevant. Many of the things that he foresaw have come to pass: we currently live in an age of unprecedented surveillance, where the government regularly reads our letters (now called e-mails) and monitors our movements. Abbey offers resistance to this. Resistance to the worst of our times, the constant encroaching on freedom and wildness. He says to us: Question them, question their authority. Don't be so quick to give up the things you know are vital, no matter what others say.

Biography is usually not my thing; I often find it dry and dated.

But Gessner's treatment of Abbey and Stegner is warm, spirited, and refreshing.

Even though I came to it with a fondness for both writers, and for the region they both loved so well, I still found All the Wild That Remains a vivid, compelling, and lively treatment of people and topics that are just as crucial today as they were nearly a century ago.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Mikhail Osipov

OMG! Mischa is just unbelievably cute.

(You know who Anatoly Karpov is, right?)

More on Mischa here.

That and that for 9/9

We're entering that beautiful time in Northern California: September and October are the reason we all want to live in the Bay Area.

Meanwhile, on those occasional off moments that you find yourself in front of a computer, here are some things you could read.

  • CS176: Multiprocessor Synchronization and CSCI 1760 - FALL 2012
    The performance part of the course will revisit many of the issues first raised in the foundations section, but in a more realistic model that exposes those aspects of the underlying architecture that most influence performance. The course then goes through a sequence of fundamental data structures, the concurrent analogs of the data structures found in any undergraduate data structures course, and a few coordination structures that are unique to the world of multithreaded computation. These data structures are introduced in an incremental way, each one extending the techniques developed for its predecessors. Each of these data structures is useful in and of itself as a reference. Moreover, by the end, the student will have built up a solid understanding of the fundamentals of concurrent data structure design, and should be well-prepared to design and implement his or her own concurrent data structures.
  • Time Series Database Lectures
    we are bringing back another season of database technical talks at Carnegie Mellon University in Fall 2017. The "Time Series Database Lectures" is a semester-long seminar series featuring speakers from the leading developers of time series and streaming data management systems. Each speaker will present the implementation details of their respective systems and examples of the technical challenges that they faced when working with real-world customers.
  • Moving Java Forward Faster
    The two-year train model was appealing in theory, but proved unworkable in practice. We took an additional eight months for Java 8 in order to address critical security issues and finish Project Lambda, which was preferable to delaying Lambda by two years. We initially planned Java 9 as a two-and-a-half year release in order to include Project Jigsaw, which was preferable to delaying Jigsaw by an additional eighteen months, yet in the end we wound up taking an additional year and so Java 9 will ship this month, three and a half years after Java 8.

    A two-year release cadence is, in retrospect, simply too slow. To achieve a constant cadence we must ship feature releases at a more rapid rate. Deferring a feature from one release to the next should be a tactical decision with minor inconveniences rather than a strategic decision with major consequences.

  • More Than 100 Exceptional Works of Journalism
    This is my annual attempt to bring roughly 100 of those stories that stood the test of time to a wider audience. I could not read or note every worthy article published in the past few years, and I haven't included any paywalled articles or anything published at The Atlantic. But everything that follows is worthy of wider attention and engagement. I hope it provides fodder for reflection and inspiration for future writing.
  • Solaris to Linux Migration 2017
    Switching from Solaris to Linux has become much easier in the last two years, with Linux developments in ZFS, Zones, and DTrace. I've been contributing (out of necessity), including porting my DTraceToolkit tools to Linux, which also work on BSD. What follows are topics that may be of interest to anyone looking to migrate their systems and skillset: scan these to find topics that interest you.
  • Demon-Haunted World
    Wannacry was a precursor to a new kind of cheating: cheating the in­dependent investigator, rather than the government. Imagine that the next Dieselgate doesn’t attempt to trick the almighty pollution regulator (who has the power to visit billions in fines upon the cheater): instead, it tries to trick the reviewers, attempting to determine if it’s landed on a Car and Driver test-lot, and then switching into a high-pollution, high-fuel-efficiency mode. The rest of the time, it switches back to its default state: polluting less, burning more diesel.

    ...

    That’s how alchemists came to believe that the world was haunted, that God, or the Devil, didn’t want them to understand the world. That the world actually rearranged itself when they weren’t looking to hide its workings from them. Angels punished them for trying to fly to the Sun. Devils tricked them when they tried to know the glory of God – indeed, Marcelo Rinesi from The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies called modern computer science ‘‘applied demonology.’’

    In the 21st century, we have come full circle. Non-human life forms – limited liability corpo­rations – are infecting the underpinnings of our ‘‘smart’’ homes and cities with devices that obey a different physics depending on who is using them and what they believe to be true about their surroundings.

  • This Tiny Country Feeds the World
    Almost two decades ago, the Dutch made a national commitment to sustainable agriculture under the rallying cry “Twice as much food using half as many resources.” Since 2000, van den Borne and many of his fellow farmers have reduced dependence on water for key crops by as much as 90 percent. They’ve almost completely eliminated the use of chemical pesticides on plants in greenhouses, and since 2009 Dutch poultry and livestock producers have cut their use of antibiotics by as much as 60 percent.
  • Wind Energy Is One of the Cheapest Sources of Electricity, and It's Getting Cheaper
    Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released the latest iteration of its annual Wind Technologies Market Report, which pulls together a wealth of data to track trends in the cost, performance, and growth of wind energy.

    The report found that U.S. wind energy will continue to be one of the lowest cost electricity generation technologies available, with the long-term wind electricity price available through a power purchase agreement coming in at about half the expected cost of just running a natural gas power plant.

  • Is the open office layout dead?
    Perhaps the most powerful and popular trend in the move away from open offices is an increased number of small private spaces. These include soundproof glass rooms, which provide quiet refuges, while keeping the airy feel of an open office layout, as well as so-called “phone booths,” closet-sized spaces for focused solo work and confidential meetings between two people.
  • Six Charts To Help Americans Understand The Upcoming German Election
    You may have heard rumblings about a populist party poised to gain power in Germany’s election on Sept. 24 — or maybe you just heard that there’s an election coming up. To better prepare you for the news coming out of Deutschland over the next few weeks, we’re offering some answers to a few basic questions about the election.
  • We found the photographer who took these dramatic pictures of golfers in front of a hill on fire in Oregon
    "Around the corner was this golf course ," she said, "and you could see the fire."

    So she started snapping pictures.

    "It's a real photo," she confirmed, of the picture of people golfing as the fire roars. She did lighten it a little bit, but other than that, the photo captures the moment.

    The owners of Beacon Rock Golf Course, as well as one of the golfers pictured, confirmed Wednesday that the pictures were real and from Beacon Rock Golf Course

  • Delta Goes Big, Then Goes Home
    In the face of a category 5 hurricane, Delta Air Lines meteorologists, dispatchers, pilots, cabin crew, and ground crew accomplished an incredible feat on Wednesday. As Hurricane Irma bore down San Juan, Puerto Rico, Delta sent one last flight to help evacuate a few hundred people from San Juan just before the airport closed.
  • San Franciscans are obsessed with this colorful Instagram paradise — we went inside
    If you live in San Francisco, your Instagram has undoubtedly lit up in Technicolor in recent days. The city is going wild for a new pop-up museum, The Color Factory.

    The candy-coated exhibit includes 15 interactive "experiences" — each centered on a different color — spread across two stories and 12,000 square feet. It runs through September, but good luck getting tickets. The Color Factory has sold out for the month of August, and scalpers on Craigslist are selling tickets, originally priced at $32, for as much as $175 a pop.

  • 1886 Tall Ship Balclutha To Be Overhauled In Alameda
    “The Balclutha is truly a gem of American history. It is a rare day that you are able to see one of these grand old ladies high and dry in dock,” said Richard Maguire, Business Development Manager, Bay Ship & Yacht. “Upon her undocking, the ship will remain at the yard pier side, where we will remove her foremast, mainmast and mizzenmast yard arms for needed repairs and paint preservation. Her presence there is reminiscent of the days of old when many fine sailing ships like the Balclutha lined the estuary representing cargo companies such as the Alaskan Packers and Red Star.

    “Bay Ship and Yacht has a deep understanding of these great historic sailing ships, and the yard still works with and maintains many of the original tools required to perform proper maintenance on these older vessels,” Maguire continued. “We will use these tools to repair and replace the poop decking with caulking, irons, oakum and pitch.”

And, since it's on my mind, like it's on everyone else's mind:

Category 4 winds:

Catastrophic damage will occur: Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Graydon Carter steps down at Vanity Fair

In a very nice essay, David Kamp bids Carter farewell.

The rumors, of course, are that this isn't an isolated thing, but part of something much bigger.

Bummer.

I'm young enough that I can't even remember a time when Carter wasn't at Vanity Fair.

I certainly don't remember him being at Spy, though I never followed Spy.

It's a shame, and quite a loss for Vanity Fair, but good on Carter, who certainly deserves a break by now.

Meanwhile, Silvia Killingsworth is ready with quite a strong list of worthy replacements.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

More on Barry Lynn

This story has legs: New America Chair Says Google Didn't Prompt Critic's Ouster

The Open Markets team successfully seeded a sympathetic article in the New York Times. They followed that within 24 hours with multiple affiliated Op-Eds and sophisticated fundraising efforts, including a purpose-built website and email blasts. It is likely that there were other elements of this campaign of which I am not aware.

I do not believe that the intent of this campaign was to harm New America. Instead, the continuing campaign appears to be motivated by two goals: to promote a larger argument about Google’s abuse of - and potential to abuse - its corporate power, as well as to raise funds for their new organization. New America appears to be collateral damage in service of those goals.

Versus: A furious think-tank boss, Google, and an academic 'fired' for criticizing ads giant: Strange tale takes a new turn as CEO fights back

That Lynn felt the need to push his statement out without going through Slaughter, and the fact that she had such a strong reaction when he didn't, combined with the virtual certainty that Schmidt called soon after to express his annoyance, is as clear an example of soft money influence as you will ever find.

I suspect there are still more shoes to drop...

Monday, September 4, 2017

Time for P ?=? NP attempt 118

Professor Norbert Blum has updated his publication webpage; it now says:

Comments: The proof is wrong. I shall elaborate precisely what the mistake is. For doing this, I need some time. I shall put the explanation on my homepage

I assume the professor means this homepage, although there is nothing there about the paper as yet.

It's not just a game ...

... it's ... oh, my goodness! Has it actually been ten years already?

(Well, they were actually pretty busy all that time.)

Sunday, September 3, 2017

There are lies, damned lies, and statistics

Still, this is probably none of the above; this is actual science: Heat, Smoke, and Fire Assault Western States: All-Time Record Heat in California

California’s Bay Area has been the focal point of the weekend’s most extraordinary heat. Temperatures soared to 106°F in downtown San Francisco on Friday and 102°F on Saturday. Friday’s reading was the hottest ever measured in downtown SF, where temperatures have been observed since 1874. Friday’s 106°F handily topped the previous record of 103°F from June 14, 2000, and Saturday was only the second high of 102°F in downtown history, matching Oct. 5, 1987. “To put this in perspective, the average high temperature for the city these two days is just 71°F,” said Chris Burt, who lives in the East Bay region. “Friday night’s temperatures failed to fall below 85°F at several hill locations near me (I dropped to 81°).”

...

On the Marin County coast, the Point Reyes lighthouse station hit 91°F on Saturday, breaking its all-time record of 90°F from Oct. 3, 1917, almost exactly a century ago. Remarkably, the temperature at Point Reyes at midnight Friday night was a sweltering-for-the-location 86°F—just 4°F below the previous all-time high.

...

One of the most naturally air-conditioned cities in the contiguous U.S. is Eureka, on California’s far northern coast. On Saturday, Eureka matched its all-time record high of just 87°F , first set on Oct. 26, 1993. This is the lowest all-time high for any reporting station in the nation, according to Chris Burt. Eureka’s weather records extend all the way back to 1886.

1874, 1886: those are not the longest-duration measurements you would hope for.

But they are quite significant; this is not a rounding error.

We're talking nearly 150 years of observed facts.

Things are definitely changing.

Barry Lynn links

A lot of people wrote a lot of words about this; it was a very visible event.

  • When The Truth is Messy and Hard
    I have racked my brain for the last two months, and certainly over the last two days, as to what I, in consultation with my leadership team, could or should have done differently about the departure of Barry Lynn and Open Markets from New America. At its core, this was a personnel issue that I knew others would see as a program issue. The way I saw it, I had three choices: I could keep an employee who had repeatedly violated the standards of honesty and good faith with his colleagues, including misleading me directly. I could fire him outright and try to find a leader for his program, which would force both his funders and his program staff, many of whom were young rising stars who both Barry and I have mentored, to choose between us and him. Or I could try to work with Barry to negotiate a cooperative spinning out of the Open Markets program, as we have done with a number of other programs.

    I chose the third option

  • I don't understand this
    If it is a personnel issue and not a program issue, you fire the person.

    If it is a program issue and not a personnel issue, you spin out the group, wish them best wishes in their future endeavors, and direct funders their way.

    But this seems to me to fit neither case. Sending young rising stars "many of whom... [you] have mentored" out into the wilderness with a boss who you believe "repeatedly violated the standards of honesty and good faith" is not doing them a favor

  • A Serf on Google's Farm
    Let’s discuss the various ways we’re in business with Google.

    It all starts with “DFP”, a flavor of Doubleclick called DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP).

    ...

    Then there’s AdExchange.

    ...

    Then there’s Google Analytics.

    ...

    Next there’s search.

    ...

    One additional Google implant is Gmail

    ...

    So let’s go down the list: 1) The system for running ads, 2) the top purchaser of ads, 3) the most pervasive audience data service, 4) all search, 5) our email.

    But wait, there’s more! Google also owns Chrome, the most used browser for visiting TPM.

  • A leading Google critic’s firing from a Google-funded think tank, explained
    Reading between the lines slightly, Slaughter’s story about “collegiality” and Lynn’s story that his work threatened his colleagues’ fundraising do not appear to genuinely differ in terms of the picture they paint. Ultimately, they’re both about Lynn imperiling New America’s access to Google’s financial support.
  • The Hard Consequence of Google's Soft Power
    The rift dates back to June 27, when Barry Lynn, the director of Open Markets, wrote a 150-word press release celebrating a major antitrust loss for Google in Europe. As part of the ruling, the EU fined Google €2.5 billion for abusing its dominance and ordered Google to stop boosting its own products in search. Lynn, a leading scholar on antitrust reform, encouraged American regulators to follow suit. “Google’s market power is one of the most critical challenges for competition policymakers in the world today,” Lynn wrote. In Lynn's account of events, shared with the Times, Schmidt “communicated his displeasure,” to New America’s CEO and president Anne-Marie Slaughter hours after the statement was published. Around that time, the post went offline—then reappeared after a few hours, the paper says. A couple days later, Slaughter told Lynn that Open Markets and New America would be parting ways.
  • Google-funded think tank fires prominent Google critic
    In a Wednesday statement, Slaughter disputed one of Lynn's key claims.

    "Today’s New York Times story alleges that Google lobbied New America to expel the Open Markets program because of this press release," Slaughter wrote. "This claim is absolutely false."

    But Slaughter's statement didn't challenge the accuracy of the emails Lynn supplied to the Times. And Slaughter didn't offer a clear explanation for why she fired Lynn, writing only that Lynn's "refusal to adhere to New America’s standards of openness and institutional collegiality" led to his ouster.

  • Google is coming after critics in academia, journalism; it's time to stop them
    This year, Google is on track to spend more money than any company in America on lobbying. In 2015, it was the third biggest corporate spender, paying more than Exxon Mobil, Lockheed Martin or the Koch brothers on lobbying. Much of what it is spending its money on has nothing to do with technical details regarding its search engine and everything to do with using its power in its search engine to shut out some competitors and build power over others.

    It is time to call out Google for what it is: a monopolist in search, video, maps and browser, and a thin-skinned tyrant when it comes to ideas.

  • Forget Wall Street – Silicon Valley is the new political power in Washington
    After years of legal wrangling, Microsoft was forced to make it easier for competitors to integrate their software with windows. The lengthy lawsuit left Microsoft with deep battle scars, and a more cautious, less aggressive approach to business. Under these conditions, rivals like Apple and Google were able to thrive.

    The landmark action taught Silicon Valley’s tech titans a painful lesson: play the political game or Washington will make your life difficult.

    That made a particularly profound impact on Eric Schmidt, who as CEO of Novell and former CEO of Sun Microsystems had a front-row seat to Microsoft’s public neutering. He clung on to the cautionary tale when he was hired as CEO of Google in 2001. Under his leadership, Google vastly increased its investment in lobbying to make friends and influence policymakers in Capitol Hill.

  • Tech Giant Google Finds Itself In Another Free-Speech Controversy
    what's new is big tech - right? - making money by organizing the world's information through secret algorithms that we don't really understand. And then generating so much money from the ad revenue, they can pay to shape the thoughts and the content the rest of us are creating.

    So it's like, you know, Google as well as others - you could say Facebook, too. It's like they're managing the pipes. And they're increasingly deciding what goes into the pipes. And the rest of us are just eating and drinking it up.

  • The Risks of Demonizing Silicon Valley
    scrutiny of the Valley and its issues is long overdue. People should push against the arrogance that “our way is the right way and the only way” and the intolerance of ideas that don’t accord with the Valley’s groupthink. People should be alarmed that incredible wealth is concentrated in a few hands. They should question the industry’s sexism. They should pay attention to the industry’s ideas on social issues ranging from privacy to regulation and the government’s role.

    The challenge is how to balance legitimate criticisms without descending into demonization. This is not a challenge unique to Silicon Valley. The same argument could be made about government and the financial world. Washington may be corrupt and dysfunctional, but relentlessly tearing it down makes it that much harder for us to allow government to do what most of us expect and need it to; Wall Street may have been infected with greed, but we need a stable and innovative financial system to facilitate a vibrant economic system.

Between this, and "the memo", I feel like Google has a ways to go in terms of becoming more open and transparent. It's not easy for a media company to be, and to remain, open with its audience.

But it's vital.

De-construction proceeds

Yesterday, according to plan, piers E7 and E8 were imploded.

Some great video is available on the local CBS website: Caltrans Implodes 2 of 13 Remaining Foundations of Old Bay Bridge

Let's hear it for the bubble curtain!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Caliban's War: a very short review

Caliban's War, the second book in The Expanse Series, is better than the first.

And the first was quite good.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

In which people discuss things I don't understand

  • Meet Uber's newly chosen CEO
    Born in Iran in 1969, Khosrowshahi and his family fled to New York in 1978 following the revolution. In high school, he was class president and played lacrosse. He went on to earn a degree in electrical engineering from Brown University but took on a career on Wall Street after falling in love with a woman in New York.
  • Uber's New CEO
    The deeper takeaway, though, is that Khosrowshahi has demonstrated the patience and resolve to fix problems at their root. In the case of Uber, the business may be in better shape than Expedia’s was (pending the fixing of finance, of course), but as this year has made clear the culture needs a fundamental reworking, not simply a fresh coat of paint. Khosrowshahi seems like an ideal candidate to take on the problem at a fundamental level, and has already shown at Expedia that he is willing to walk the walk on issues of sexism in particular.
  • Uber’s Pick for Its New CEO Might Be the Anti–Travis Kalanick
    If Khosrowshahi accepts the job, he’ll take the helm of a company that seems to be in self-destruct mode. But looking at his history of building one of the most powerful online transportation empires in the world, he is clearly a compelling choice to take over the troubled Uber.
  • New Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi Knows Many Tricks—He'll Need Them All
    The 48-year-old Khosrowshahi has proved himself an adept dealmaker across a nearly three-decade career in finance and consumer-internet businesses. He spent eight years at technology-and-media focused investment bank Allen & Co., then joined IAC Interactive after helping company founder Barry Diller acquire travel website Expedia in 2001. He became CEO of Expedia as it went public in 2005, and led the company through a decade of acquisitions, growth, and stock appreciation.
  • ‘I have to tell you I am scared’: Dara Khosrowshahi says in a memo to Expedia’s staff that he has finally been hired at Uber
    he noted: “I have to tell you I am scared. I’ve been here at Expedia for so long that I’ve forgotten what life is like outside this place. But the times of greatest learning for me have been when I’ve been through big changes, or taken on new roles — you have to move out of your comfort zone and develop muscles that you didn’t know you had.”
  • Uber’s New CEO
    The Board and the Executive Leadership Team are confident that Dara is the best person to lead Uber into the future building world-class products, transforming cities, and adding value to the lives of drivers and riders around the world while continuously improving our culture and making Uber the best place to work.
  • HPE boss Meg Whitman re-entered the race to become Uber's CEO at the eleventh hour — but lost out anyway
    Whitman, who gave media interviews on Monday, said Uber's board approached her again over the weekend as a possible candidate.

    "They asked what it would take for me to change my mind,” she told The Financial Times. "I was not a contender for this job until the weekend

  • Travis Kalanick's Great Defender Writes a Hell of a Motivational Letter
    a Pishevar spokesperson released a letter Pishevar wrote to his lawyers last week, as they prepared to file that motion. And boy, is it something. The spokesperson, Marcy Simon, says it was meant to "fire up" the legal team, and that it's "from the brain." And in that brain, apparently, is a voluminous, somewhat outdated thesaurus.
  • Here are annotations to decode everything in Shervin Pishevar's epic Uber diatribe
    It's a heavy piece of writing, extrapolating on eight months of drama at the embattled ride-hailing company. Even readers intimately familiar with the saga may struggle to understand all of the letter.

    That's why Business Insider created an annotated version of the letter, decoding some of the thorniest sections and providing all the necessary context and references.

  • A judge just sent Benchmark’s dramatic lawsuit against Travis Kalanick to arbitration
    The decision is the latest dramatic turn in a rift between Kalanick and Benchmark Capital, once one of his closest allies, and moves the ugly fight between them out of the spotlight as Uber’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, tries to assert control.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

It's (de-)construction time!

Original East Span Demolition One Year Ahead of Schedule, Saving CA Millions

Caltrans today announced the demolition schedule for the remaining 13 marine foundations of the original East Span of the Bay Bridge, including a series of implosions anticipated over several weekends this fall, with a projected completion date by the end of 2017. The series of implosions to demolish the 1936 concrete structures are scheduled for six weekends, starting Labor Day Weekend, September 2, and then every other weekend through mid-November 2017. Caltrans will be combining multiple piers on certain demolition dates, allowing the demolition work to be completed a year ahead of schedule, saving taxpayers nearly $10 million.

Caltrans blasting away 13 of 19 remaining piers from old Bay Bridge this weekend

CHP officers will close off the Bay Bridge to traffic for at least a half hour. Highway patrol boats on the water will keep recreational boaters at least 1,500 feet away, and BART will delay trains going through the Transbay Tube for 15 minutes while the work takes place.

Will these operations be using the "bubble curtain"?

I'm not sure, but I think so. The answer lies here: Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee: Meeting Materials: August 29, 2017

With the experience gained in 2015 on Pier E3, and in 2016 on Piers E4 and E5, this year Caltrans is combining multiple piers on demolition dates, saving a year of work and over $10 million by accelerating the implosion schedule for the original Bay Bridge marine piers. Caltrans and Kiewit‐Manson, AJV, have gained the support throughout from environmental regulatory agencies for permits supporting this innovative implosion method that minimizes any impact to marine life during debris removal in the San Francisco Bay.  These innovative controlled charges have been shown to be more efficient and the environmentally preferable alternative to traditional marine foundation removal.

Out with the old.

On we go.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A little bit more on antifa

Others were, and are, at least as confused about antifa as I am. Several sent me some things to read, some of which shed more light than others, but all of which are pretty interesting.

Note that a number of these considerably pre-date last week's events.

  • Inside the Black Bloc Protest Strategy That Shut Down Berkeley
    What people on both sides of this argument need to understand is that black bloc isn’t a group; it’s just a tactic. Those who do it wear black, sometimes between layers of “civilian” clothes so they can slip in and out of their protester ensembles. They often carry gear that is defensive (masks to protect against tear gas), offensive (Molotov cocktails) or both (a placard that can double as a shield). They attack storefronts and clash with police in a “hit and run” style, University of San Francisco associate professor Jeffrey Paris has written. There is no formal network of people and no set principles, just a belief that demonstrating peacefully doesn’t accomplish nearly as much as a flash of rage.
  • 24000 Demonstrate in Berlin Against Reagan's Visit Today
    This evening's march was called by some 120 groups ranging from the Green Party through the violence-prone gangs known as the Anonymous. The demonstrators marched down the glittering Kurfurstendamm between solid rows of policemen in full riot gear. #24,000 Reported to March The police said some 24,000 marchers took part, including 2,000 Anonymous wearing black ski masks.
  • The Public Face of Antifa: Daryle Jenkins has stepped up to explain the shadowy group’s violent tactics to a wary world. It’s not easy.
    Jenkins, 49, is a black man who has devoted his life to fighting white supremacists, sometimes literally. He is the founder of the One People’s Project, easily the most mainstream and well-known anti-fascist, or antifa, organization. (Its motto is “Hate Has Consequences.”) Unlike other left-wing groups that track the far right, One People’s Project—which Jenkins runs with the help of a network of about 15 volunteers—confronts its enemies, whether that means getting in their faces at protests, doxing them, or contacting their employers.
  • The Rise of the Violent Left
    Antifa traces its roots to the 1920s and ’30s, when militant leftists battled fascists in the streets of Germany, Italy, and Spain. When fascism withered after World War II, antifa did too. But in the ’70s and ’80s, neo-Nazi skinheads began to infiltrate Britain’s punk scene. After the Berlin Wall fell, neo-Nazism also gained prominence in Germany. In response, a cadre of young leftists, including many anarchists and punk fans, revived the tradition of street-level antifascism.
  • The Roots of Left-Wing Violenc Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/448275/antifa-protest-donald-trump-roots-left-wing-political-violence
    Antifa are not a new phenomenon; they surfaced during the Occupy movement, and during the anti-globalization protests of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Antifa movements began in early-20th-century Europe, when fascism was a concrete and urgent concern, and they remain active on the Continent.

If you're like me, you probably need to unplug your computer and take a break from the world after reading some of these articles.

But it's still worth knowing.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Berkeley antifa

Something very strange and awful happened in Berkeley yesterday: Black-Clad Anarchists Swarm Anti-Hate Rally in Berkeley

An anti-hate rally was disrupted when scores of anarchists wearing black clothing and masks stormed the demonstration in Berkeley and attacked several supporters of President Donald Trump. But police were able to head off any wider violence.

I wasn't there, and have no standing to comment, nor any deep understanding of this.

But I do know that this is not just an isolated incident. Some very strange and awful things like this have been happening around these parts for years, going back (at least) to the strange and awful Occupy Oakland period of 2011.

I never really felt that I understood Occupy Oakland, and as you can see in essays like these and these and these, a lot of other people have strange and awful and confused understandings of what happened then, too.

In particular, what happened yesterday in Berkeley sounds very much like what happened in 2011 in Oakland: Black Bloc: The Cancer in Occupy, and Infiltration to Disrupt, Divide and Misdirect Is Widespread in Occupy.

Sorry I have nothing more intelligent to say about any of this. But I do feel like it's very strange and confusing and I don't think any of the surface coverage (nor, really, any of the claimed "deeper" coverage) is really helping me understand it very well. After all, this sort of really strange and weird stuff goes back nearly 50 years, at least, in these parts.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

An end-August round-up of this and that

  • Roy sells ThoughtWorks
    ThoughtWorks, my employer, had some big news to share today. Our founder and owner, Roy Singham, has decided to sell ThoughtWorks to Apax Funds - a private equity firm based in London. Apax wishes the current management team to continue running and growing ThoughtWorks, using the same model that's driven our growth and success for the last twenty-odd years.
  • Someone who puts that kind of money down to buy a company is going to want to have a say in how it's run.
    The second rule of buyouts is that everything will change in the second fiscal year. They won't tell you NOT to do something, they just won't give you any budget for it.

    The first rule of buyouts is that the promises always come from someone who isn't in a position to back them up (like the old owner, or your boss's boss, who only have a single seat on the board between them).

  • Oakland grapples with Uber’s threat to sell massive HQ instead of moving in
    After spending two years bracing for Uber’s arrival, residents reacted with both worry and relief Friday after the ride-hailing giant said it may instead sell the building that was supposed to be its Oakland headquarters.

    Following Uber’s announcement that it is reevaluating plans for the Uptown Station building at 1955 Broadway, Oakland residents are left wondering what will become of the massive, vacant building in the heart of the city’s revitalizing Uptown neighborhood. The space, formerly occupied by Sears, has generated excitement and controversy ever since Uber announced its intention to move in two years ago.

  • The best photos and videos of the 2017 solar eclipse
  • The story behind viral, iconic Smith Rock total solar eclipse photo
    Ted Hesser, a 31-year-old freelance photographer from the Bay Area, scouted locations at Smith Rock State Park in Central Oregon with his girlfriend, Martina Tibell, for a week. The two rock climbing enthusiasts spent days trying different climbing routes alongside other adventure photographers who all descended on the park looking for the perfect angle during totality.
  • Limiting Memory to Avoid the Oom
    While killing processes is never good, it is better than having the system halt due to memory exhaustion. Sometimes the oom kills Postgres, and that isn't a good thing either. This email thread explains how to use ulimit to cause Postgres sessions that consume a lot of memory to fail due to excessive memory requests. This avoids having them continue and be killed by the oom killer, which causes the entire database server to restart. The Postgres documentation also explains the behavior of the oom killer.
  • How Hardware Drives The Shape Of Databases To Come
    With so many new compute, storage, and networking technologies entering the field and so many different database and data store technologies available today, we thought it would be a good idea to touch base with Stonebraker to see what effect these might have on future databases.
  • Kurtz-Fest
    Stuart Kurtz turned 60 last October and his former students John Rogers and Stephen Fenner organized a celebration in his honor earlier this week at Fenner's institution, the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

    Stuart has been part of the CS department at the University of Chicago since before they had a CS department

  • The Enduring Legacy of Zork
    In 1977, four recent MIT graduates who’d met at MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science used the lab’s PDP-10 mainframe to develop a computer game that captivated the world. Called Zork, which was a nonsense word then popular on campus, their creation would become one of the most influential computer games in the medium’s half-century-long history.
  • The new 'Uncharted' is the best $40 you can spend on gaming in 2017
    "Uncharted: The Lost Legacy" sounds an awful lot like every previous "Uncharted" game. What that description doesn't tell you is how sharply executed and delightfully concise "The Lost Legacy" is.
  • Trashcan Sinatras 2017 acoustic tour
    Over the course of the tour, Frank, John and Paul will play each of the just over 100 songs that the band has written and recorded to date. Prepare for deep album cuts and obscure b-sides (many of which have never been played in concert)

And, we close with a question: who really should get credit for:

Never check for an error condition you don't know how to handle.
Was it: (a) Henry Spencer, (b) Steinbach, (c) Daniel Keys Moran, or (d) unknown?

Saturday, August 19, 2017

P ?=? NP, attempt number 117

Professor Norbert Blum of University of Bonn has published a paper seeking to show P != NP: A Solution of the P versus NP Problem

I have no ability to critique the paper, though I did skim through parts of it. Complexity theory has progressed tremendously since I studied it as an undergraduate in the early 1980's.

But here are a few links, for those who are interested:

Thursday, August 17, 2017

That Vice News Tonight mini-documentary is extremely powerful.

Wow.

Have you already watched the Vice News Tonight mini-documentary on the events in Charlottesville?

It's really powerful, really disturbing, really hard to watch. I don't know a lot about Vice News Tonight, but apparently it's an independent journalism effort receiving funding (and air time) from HBO. This is the first and only Vice News Tonight documentary I've ever watched.

I was really moved by the Vice News Tonight reportage, and by the work of correspondent Elle Reeve, about whom I knew nothing before seeing that report. She did some very fine reporting, I think.

I'm paying particular attention to this issue all of a sudden because my daughter now (since 1 month ago) lives in Richmond, Virginia, just one mile from Monument Avenue, the probable next locus of confrontation.

I haven't ever visited Richmond, but hope to do so one day, now that my daughter lives there.

In the meantime, I'm paying a lot more attention to events in Virginia that I did before.

As are we all.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Spider Woman's Daughter: a very short review

Over more than three decades, Tony Hillerman wrote a series of absolutely wonderful detective novels set on the Navajo Indian Reservation and featuring detectives Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and Sergeant Jim Chee.

Recently, I learned that, after Hillerman's death, his daughter, Anne Hillerman, has begun publishing her own novels featuring Leaphorn, Chee, and the other major characters developed by her father, such as Officer Bernadette Manuelito.

So far, she has published three books, the first of which is Spider Woman's Daughter.

If you loved Tony Hillerman's books, I think you will find Anne Hillerman's books lovely, as well. Not only is she a fine writer, she brings an obvious love of her father's choices of setting, of character(s), and of the Navajo people and their culture.

I'm looking forward to reading the other books that she has written, and I hope she continues writing many more.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Windows Update: 1, Fallout 4: 0

I was starting to get interested in Fallout 4, which seems like a fairly interesting game.

But, I just got Windows 10 Creators Update installed.

Which, you might think, would be a good thing!

Unfortunately, it seems to have been the kiss of death for Fallout 4.

This is not the first bad experience I've had with the Fallout games. Fallout New Vegas was totally unplayable on my machine, as well.

When will I learn?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A few things you could read about "that Google memo"

Start by reading the memo itself.

You may find it hard to read. I confess I skimmed a few parts, but I carefully read the "Suggestions" section at the end.

Then, here are some links you can chase.

Lots to think about here.

Arcadia: a very short review

I've been trying to put my finger on why Iain Pears's Arcadia is such an engrossing and entertaining book.

For one thing, it's a book that you can enjoy in many different ways:

  • Like Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog, it's a delightful piece of time travel fiction.

  • Like David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, it's a collection of multiple stories, involving the "same" characters in wildly different settings, inter-twined and juxtaposed.

  • Like C.S. Lewis's Narnia series, and George Orwell's Animal Farm, it's a rumination on current events, by way of a complex fantasy allegory describing how characters work out their problems in a completely different world with completely different rules.

  • And, oh, yeah, like George Orwell's 1984, it's a dystopian novel about the dangers of science, technology, and authoritarian social structures.

Uhm, that's a lot of pretty wonderful books to compare Arcadia to.

Yet I don't feel it's unfair to put Arcadia in the midst of such a discussion; Pears is a superb writer and pulls off these various technical exploits with flair and ease.

But I'd like to suggest that Arcadia's main interest lies in a slightly different direction, something suggested less by the above comparisons but more by Yuvah Noah Harari's Sapiens.

Harari, as you will recall if you've read Sapiens, advances the premise that what makes Homo Sapiens unique is that we are creatures who can envision, imagine, and communicate about things that don't (yet?) exist. That is: Sapiens can invent fiction; Sapiens can tell stories.

I think Pears is fascinated by that most basic of questions that faces writers of fiction: can a story actually change the world?

Early on, we are introduced to our protagonist, Henry Lytten, who has had a number of careers in the past, but now entertains himself by working on his book, a passion he's had since his youth, when he used to read "tales of knights and fair maidens, of gods and goddesses, of quests and adventures."

Regularly, he meets with his friends in the pub; they are all storytellers, and they discuss their efforts. This week, it is Lytten's turn:

"Very well, gentlemen, if you could put your drinks down and pay attention, then I will explain."

"About time."

"In brief..."

"Surely not?"

"In brief, I am creating the world."

He stopped and looked around. The others seemed unimpressed. "No goblins?" one asked hopefully.

Lytten sniffed. "No goblins," he said. "This is serious. I want to construct a society that works. With beliefs, laws, superstitions, customs. With an economy and politics. An entire sociology of the fantastic."

"An entire sociology of the fantastic." Oh, my, that is a gorgeous turn of phrase.

But: creating the world? Constructing a society? How does this actually work, in practice?

Later, Pears tries to explain this in more detail.

I spent many years reading -- really reading, I mean, in libraries at a wooden desk, or curled up on a settee with a little light, holding the book in my hands, turning the pages, glass of brandy, warm fire, all of that. Anyway, I was reading La Cousine Bette by Balzac (which I also recommend) and was struck by how convincing were both the characters and the situations he described. I wondered whether Balzac had taken them from personal observation and simply amended real people and circumstance to serve his purpose.

Then it dawned on me in a moment of such excitement I can remember it perfectly well to this day. Of course he had done that; he had transferred reality into his imagination. But -- and this was my great insight -- he must, at the same time, have transferred his imagination into reality. Clearly, in an infinite universe every possibility must exist, including Balzac's. Imagining Cousin Bette called her into being, although only potentially. The universe is merely a quantity of information; imagining a fictional character does not add to that quantity -- it cannot do so by definition -- but does reorganize it slightly. The Bette-ish universe has no material existence, but the initial idea in Balzac's brandy-soaked brain then spreads outwards: not only to those who read his books, but also, by implication, backwards and forwards. Imagining Cousin Bette also creates, in potential, her ancestors and descendants, friends, enemies, acquaintances, her thoughts and actions and those of everybody else in her universe.

This is as marvelous and compelling a vision of the power of the imagination as I could ever want.

Of course, Pears knows that it isn't, certainly, as simple as that.

Not many people, I suppose, have even the remotest chance of seeing their literary creation in the flesh. Henry is convinced that Shakespeare knew his Rosalind personally in some guise, but that is quite rare. I am sure Dickens would have jumped at the chance of some time in the pub with Mr. Pickwick. No doubt Jane Austen would have got on like a house on fire with Mr. Darcy, and what about Bram Stoker spending an evening chatting away to Count Dracula over a cup of cocoa.

Things move on, and there is some folderol about time travel, and the multiple universes hypothesis, and other notions of that sort, but really, Pears is after something simpler.

Something more fundamentally human.

Something more fundamentally powerful.

Something more fundamentally literary:

"Nothing could happen, because there was no cause of anything happening. Similarly, without effects, there could be no causes. That was to ensure it could have no past or future."

"She got it wrong?"

"No. That girl messed it up, and you don't seem to have helped just now either."

"Rosie? How?"

"She walked into it. You say hello, they say hello back, which they otherwise would not have done. Cause and effect, you see. Anyone who says hello must be real. They must have parents, grandparents, all the way back. That girl started this frozen experiment moving and developing, and that is causing it to join up to the past and future. When I arrived, the effects had already spread back that far. it is now clear the shock waves have spread very much further."

You say hello, they say hello back; anyone who says hello must be real.

What a beautiful sentiment.

What a marvelous illustration of the magnificence and wonder and joy of communication, of imagination, and of storytelling.

Arcadia is a book you can enjoy on many levels.

I certainly did.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Software Engineering Interns at Salesforce

I hope you can find a few minutes to read this wonderful article by Aditya Shetty: More Than a Brand Name and a Tech Stack: What I Learned During My Engineering Internship at Salesforce.

Aditya sat at the next desk to mine during his summer at Salesforce, and I really enjoyed getting to know him during a brief summer that went by very fast.

He's already a very good software engineer; I think he will be a great one, assuming that's what he decides to do.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Backpacking 2017: Trinity Alps, South Fork of the Salmon River

Some backpacking trips go exactly as planned.

Others do not.

This one did not go as planned, but in the end it was wonderful, in that "well, nobody was seriously hurt, after all!" way that mis-adventures sometimes happily are.

To get to the headwaters of the South Fork of the Salmon River, you need to be prepared to do a bit of driving:

  1. Make your way from wherever you may be to the quirky little town of Weaverville
  2. Head north from Weaverville, where you might decide to spend the night at the lovely little Bonanza King Resort if you wish
  3. The next morning, drive up the 20+ mile dirt road to the very end, where you'll find Big Flat Trailhead. This road will take you 75 minutes to drive. Honest.

From the Big Flat Trailhead, ready your pack, and don't forget to make sure you secure your car carefully so that it's completely boring to any California Black Bear who might wander through the campground (this is not uncommon, since the habitat of the California Black Bear is nearly a 100% overlap with the areas of California where there are campgrounds).

Once you're safely out of your car and ready, the rest is easy: walk south.

The canyon which forms the watershed which holds the headwaters of the South Fork of the Salmon River is a spectacularly beautiful mountain canyon. From the trailhead to the end of the canyon is a gentle, peaceful, 6-mile hike which starts at about 5,000 feet of elevation and climbs slowly and steadily to around 5,800 feet near the south end of the canyon.

Most hikers who enter the Trinity Alps Wilderness from this trailhead area actually headed out of the canyon, to one of a variety of destinations: southwest to the Caribou or Sapphire Lakes, south to Deer Creek, south-southeast to Ward and Horseshoe Lakes, or southeast to Bullard's Basin and the mining ghost town of Dorleska.

Instead, we decided to stay in the Salmon River headwaters canyon itself.

Well, I should be a bit more honest.

Originally, we were contemplating going to Ward Lake. But, after more study and reading, I realized that this particular destination was going to be beyond our capabilities for a one day hike:

Total Length (round-trip): 12 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,549’ to the saddle, then -460’ down to the lake
Difficulty: Moderate-to-Strenuous
or, more colorfully:
High above the densely forested moraine, just beginning to emerge against the cloudless blue, rose a massive fortress, a sheer vertical wall of gray rock, toward which our trail zig-zagged.

Uhm, yeah.

That wasn't going to work.

So instead we decided not to take the Kidd Creek trail to Ward Lake, and proceeded south, remaining in the main canyon of the South Fork of the Salmon.

Which is beautiful and delightful, and we made quite good time, until at about 3:00 PM we found ourselves at the far south end of the canyon, confronted by canyon walls on all three sides (east, south, west).

I had (sort of) a plan for this, for I had spotted on the map that the true headwaters of the Salmon River was found at Salmon Lake, a mere three quarters of a mile from where we stood.

And a mere 1,300 vertical feet above our 5,800 foot elevation at the time.

There is no trail to Salmon Lake, but we were standing on the shore of the Salmon River, looking up its course as it descended the narrow and steep canyon above us, and it seemed, tantalizingly, close.

So, with our minds probably clouded from the fatigue of the first 5.5 miles that we'd already hiked, we decided to try to go off-trail and bush-whack our way up the river canyon to the lake.

I estimate that we made it about one tenth of the way to the lake over the next 30 minutes, climbing slowly and stubbornly through dense manzanita fields that clung to scree slopes of sharp fractured shale that shifted unexpectedly and continuously underneath our feet.

And then the lightning clapped, and the thunder boomed, and the rain began.

And, at last, we came to our senses.

After we realized that our plan was hopeless, and we re-grouped back at the trail, we were soaked from the rain and a bit dispirited, even more so when we realized that the mid-slope ridgeline we were on held no decent campsites of any sort.

Worse, several of us had fallen during the bushwhacking on the wet shale, and so twisted ankles and bloodied shins were widespread.

As we sat, resting and recovering, watching a pair of trees on the opposite side of the canyon smouldering from lightning strikes, we cast our eyes below us, and realized that the canyon floor below us was beautiful, had a reliable source of water, and was almost certain to contain some spots where we could make camp.

So back down we headed, retracing our steps about a half mile down the trail until we were back to the canyon floor, then hiking another half mile or so south until we indeed found a spectacularly beautiful location to stay: not too far from water, but not too close either, with just enough trees for shelter, but just few enough to give us glorious views of the canyon ridges above.

Completely exhausted from more than 9 miles of walking with full packs, we just managed to set up camp and prepare dinner before it was fully dark and the stars were out.

Yet the next few days passed blissfully: each day dawned with blue skies and mile weather and we found many nearby areas for lovely day hikes, including an enjoyable long walk up the trail to the pass on the border of Trinity and Siskiyou counties, where we unexpectedly found a beautiful high mountain meadow, with hawks soaring and calling overhead and chipmunks and rabbits and quail busily occupying themselves amongst the meadow grasses.

Quite reliably, it thundered and lightninged and rained every afternoon, and once even delivered a dramatic 15-minute hailstorm, but after surviving our disastrous first day's hike, it all seemed like icing on an unexpectedly tasty celebration cake.

So if you ever find yourself wanting to go backpacking in the headwaters canyon of the South Fork of the Salmon River in the Trinity Alps wilderness, let me offer these simple suggestions:

  • Yes, Ward Lake is a long haul, and that ridgeline ascent is as miserable as you fear.
  • But Salmon Lake is even harder. You'd need to be a mountain goat to get there.
  • And, if you spot a lake on the map, even if it looks "close" to the trail, but when you go and search the Internet and you can't find EVEN A SINGLE PICTURE of anyone who's actually made it to the lake's shore, stop and recognize what that means: You Ain't Gonna Get to Salmon Lake
  • So just be happy exploring the beautiful Salmon River canyon instead.

That's what I have to say about that. Enjoy the pictures!