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:
    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.


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!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Stuff I'm reading, hot days of summer edition

Never enough hours in the day for anything, sigh.

  • Millennium Tower keeps on sinking, but there may be a fix
    The LERA firm and DeSimone Consulting Engineers say the problem can be remedied by drilling 50 to 100 new piles down to bedrock from the building’s basement. Each pile would be anywhere from 10 inches to a foot in diameter.


    The high-rise’s 900 piles now descend 60 to 91 feet — well short of the 200 feet to bedrock.

    The engineering firms estimate the fix will cost $100 million to $150 million — more than your average home foundation repair, but a lot less than the billion-dollar-plus price tag that some experts have feared.


    One source told us that residents would probably be able to stay in the building while the repairs were under way.

  • Millennium Tower can survive Big One, city-ordered report says
    an engineering analysis ordered up by the city has concluded that, while the 58-story downtown high-rise continues to both sink and tilt, it can nonetheless withstand a magnitude 8.0 earthquake.
  • Structural Safety Review of the Millennium Tower
    Observations of the site conditions, geotechnical reports (Treadwell & Rollo, 2005, SAGE, 2016), building foundation drawings and settlement measurements indicate that the primary mechanism for the large vertical settlement is consolidation of the Old Bay Clay that exists at depths of roughly 90 to 220 feet beneath the ground surface. These Old Bay Clay layers underlie the Marine Sands (occurring at depths of 40 to 90 feet) into which the precast piles are driven. The deep-seated settlement occurs primarily below the building but extends gradually outside the footprint of the tower foundation. The consolidation of the clay layers is a relatively slow process, occurring over a period of years, due to the increase in effective stress in the Old Bay Clay layers. This understanding as to the mechanism of the settlement is important to help confirm that the settlement is not due to distress in the foundation piles that may affect their ability to sustain forces associated with gravity and earthquake loading demands.
  • The Hijacking of a $100 Million Supertanker
    Barely seven hours had passed since the gunmen had taken the ship. But already an international cast was activating: salvors from the region’s cutthroat ports, to scavenge millions from the wreckage; U.S. military investigators, to determine if Somali pirates had adopted brutal new tactics; and most urgently of all, an operative from the stony world of London insurance, to discover what really happened aboard his clients’ $100 million liability. Because if the hijacking of the Brillante Virtuoso wasn’t a case of fumbled piracy, it would be the most spectacular fraud in shipping history.

    The events of July 6, 2011, set in motion a tangle of lawsuits and criminal investigations that are still nowhere near conclusion. Six years after it was abandoned, the Brillante Virtuoso is an epithet among shipping veterans, one that reveals their industry’s capacity for lawlessness, financial complexity, and violence. This account is based on court evidence, private and government records, and more than 60 interviews with people involved, almost all of whom asked not to be identified, citing the sensitivities of nine-figure litigation and, in some cases, concern for their own safety. Everyone at sea that night survived. But the danger was just getting started.

  • As California’s labor shortage grows, farmers race to replace workers with robots
    Such has been the progress of ag-tech in California, where despite the adoption of drones, iPhone apps and satellite-driven sensors, the hand and knife still harvest the bulk of more than 200 crops.

    Now, the $47-billion agriculture industry is trying to bring technological innovation up to warp speed before it runs out of low-wage immigrant workers.

    California will have to remake its fields like it did its factories, with more machines and better-educated workers to labor beside them, or risk losing entire crops, economists say.

    “California agriculture just isn’t going to look the same,” said Ed Taylor, a UC Davis rural economist. “You’re going to be hard-pressed to find crops grown as labor-intensively as they are now.”

    Driscoll’s, which grows berries in nearly two dozen countries and is the world’s top berry grower, already is moving its berries to table-top troughs, where they are easier for both human and machines to pick, as it has done over the last decade in Australia and Europe.

    “We don’t see — no matter what happens — that the labor problem will be solved,” said Soren Bjorn, president of Driscoll’s of the Americas.

  • How Uber's Hard-Charging Corporate Culture Left Employees Drained
    As interviews with more than two dozen former and current Uber employees show, the company reached such great heights by asking forgiveness, never permission, and pushing to the limits everything that it could: laws, municipalities, markets — and workers.

    These employees — all of whom shared their experiences with BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity, mostly for fear of repercussion — described impossible workloads, around-the-clock emergencies, fear of management, a total erosion of work-life balance, and a pattern of public humiliation at the hands of higher-ups as Uber pushed to become the juggernaut it is today. Many attributed panic attacks, substance abuse, depression, and hospitalizations to the stress of the job. All — even those who ultimately enjoyed their time there — recall a uniquely high-pressure environment in which employees were regularly pushed to a breaking point, but afraid to quit and leave large amounts of equity on the table.

  • The Real Legacy of Crazy Horse
    The atmosphere primes Red Cloud’s students to be both community prodigies and the young leaders of an indigenous renaissance of sorts: The reservation’s young people are driving a new wave of activism, like that seen in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. It’s a subtle yet intense movement that promises to define the future of Pine Ridge. After all, roughly half its population is under 25.

    “We are part of the Seventh Generation ... prophesied to be the generation that creates those individuals that will spearhead the economic, spiritual, and social renewal,” Rosales said. The tall, slim 19-year-old sported a sharp haircut, Nike skate shoes, khaki-colored jeans, and a thick, crew-neck sweater when we spoke. Rosales was referring to a prophecy made by the Oglala Sioux leader Crazy Horse, who shortly before his death in the late 1800s predicted that a cultural renaissance was afoot. “We are going to be that group of people that makes that prophecy come true,” Rosales said. “Red Cloud is helping us to do that.”

  • Saving forests saves lives
    this is not “a cheap fix for climate change”: we’re going to have to do a lot more than mitigate the pace of deforestation if we want to have a chance at meeting that goal. But it is a reminder that incentives matter, and that at the margin, small sums can tilt the balance in surprisingly meaningful ways.

    What’s more, preventing deforestation has substantial benefits which have nothing at all to do with climate change.

  • BBR: Congestion-Based Congestion Control
    Rethinking congestion control pays big dividends. Rather than using events such as loss or buffer occupancy, which are only weakly correlated with congestion, BBR starts from Kleinrock's formal model of congestion and its associated optimal operating point. A pesky "impossibility" result that the crucial parameters of delay and bandwidth cannot be determined simultaneously is sidestepped by observing they can be estimated sequentially. Recent advances in control and estimation theory are then used to create a simple distributed control loop that verges on the optimum, fully utilizing the network while maintaining a small queue. Google's BBR implementation is available in the open-source Linux kernel TCP
  • Breaking open the MtGox case
    the shared keypool of the wallet.dat file lead to address reuse, which confused MtGox's systems into mistakenly interpreting some of the thief's spending as deposits, crediting multiple user accounts with large sums of BTC and causing MtGox's numbers to go further out of balance by about 40,000 BTC.
  • Current Harvard Oddness
    Sometime back, the powers-that-be at Harvard decided that they didn't like the Harvard final clubs (Harvard's kind-of-like fraternities, "social clubs" that have been around for ages, but that are not in any official way affiliated with Harvard). There's plenty of reason not to like them, but at least initially concerns about sexual assault seemed to be the motivating factor. So the powers-that-be decided that if you belonged to some private single-sex organization, they would not let you be captain of a sports team, or be approved by Harvard for a Rhodes fellowship, or things like that. A number of faculty -- perhaps most notably, Harry Lewis -- objected to this policy, on multiple grounds. (Perhaps one large one is that there are many private single-sex organizations that are quite positive, and it seems odd to put all these organizations under the same blanket policy.) So after it was clear that there was some significant faculty objections, for a bit it was temporarily shelved, and a new committee put in place to make recommendations.

    Several weeks deep in the summer, the report comes out, suggesting policies even harsher and more draconian than the original plan.

  • Maryam Mirzakhani, 1977–2017
    She made several breakthroughs in the geometric understanding of dynamical systems. Who knows what other great results she would have found if she had lived: we will never know. Besides her research she also was the first woman and the first Iranian to win the Fields Medal.
  • AI leads to reward function engineering
    With the recent explosion in AI, there has been the understandable concern about its potential impact on human work. Plenty of people have tried to predict which industries and jobs will be most affected, and which skills will be most in demand. (Should you learn to code? Or will AI replace coders too?)

    Rather than trying to predict specifics, we suggest an alternative approach. Economic theory suggests that AI will substantially raise the value of human judgment. People who display good judgment will become more valuable, not less. But to understand what good judgment entails and why it will become more valuable, we have to be precise about what we mean.

  • Inside Salesforce’s Quest to Bring AI to Everyone
    “What do I work on next?” Most of us ask that question many times every day. (And too many of us end up answering, “Check Facebook” or “See if Trump tweeted again!”) To-do apps and personal productivity systems offer some help, but often turn into extra work themselves. What if artificial intelligence answered the “next task” question for you?

    That’s what the Salesforce AI team decided to offer as Einstein’s first broadly available, readymade tool. Today Salesforce offers all kinds of cloud-based services for customer service, ecommerce, marketing and more. But at its root, it’s a workaday CRM (customer relationship management) product that salespeople use to manage their leads. Prioritizing these opportunities can get complicated fast and takes up precious time. So the Einstein Intelligence module—a little add-on column at the far right of the basic Salesforce screen—will do it for you, ranking them based on, say, “most likely to close.” For marketers, who also make up a big chunk of Salesforce customers, it can take a big mailing list and sort individual recipients by the likelihood that they’ll open an email.

  • Is Productivity Growth Becoming Irrelevant?
    Our standard mental model of productivity growth reflects the transition from agriculture to industry. We start with 100 farmers producing 100 units of food: technological progress enables 50 to produce the same amount, and the other 50 to move to factories that produce washing machines or cars or whatever. Overall productivity doubles, and can double again, as both agriculture and manufacturing become still more productive, with some workers then shifting to restaurants or health-care services. We assume an endlessly repeatable process.

    But two other developments are possible. Suppose the more productive farmers have no desire for washing machines or cars, but instead employ the 50 surplus workers either as low-paid domestic servants or higher-paid artists, providing face-to-face and difficult-to-automate services. Then, as the late William Baumol, a professor at Princeton University, argued in 1966, overall productivity growth will slowly decline to zero, even if productivity growth within agriculture never slows.

    Or suppose that 25 of the surplus farmers become criminals, and the other 25 police. Then the benefit to human welfare is nil, even though measured productivity rises if public services are valued, as per standard convention, at input cost.

  • The Long Dark -- "Make It Right" -- WINTERMUTE LAUNCH TRAILER
    Welcome to The Long Dark —an immersive survival simulation set in the aftermath of a geomagnetic disaster. Experience a unique first-person survival simulation that will force you to think and push you to your limits with its thought-provoking gameplay.

Gap in posting

Wow. I've been so busy recently! It's amazing how the time flies. Of course, we were busy...

It was a wonderful (if emotional) trip.