Thursday, June 14, 2018

Here come the buses!

After 8 years of construction, the amazing new Salesforce Transit Center is (starting to be) open!

The Salesforce Transit Center is opening for Muni service on Saturday, June 16! While the full Transit Center, including the Grand Hall entrance and rooftop park, isn’t open until later this summer, the bus plaza will be operational for Muni routes 5/5R, 7, 38/38R, with the 25 Treasure Island beginning service to the bus deck when the Transit Center fully opens.

If I'm reading the exploded chart in the article correctly, the AC Transit buses will proceed counter-clockwise around the 2nd floor, picking up and dropping off passengers from the middle of the deck, not from its perimeter.

Which makes sense.

According to the Transbay Joint Powers Authority website, even the decorative metal grating around the 2nd floor facade is noteworthy:

Incorporating the groundbreaking geometrical pattern of Dr. Roger Penrose, the eminent British mathematical physicist, in the undulating metal facade
I have no idea what that means.

I'm still trying to wrap my head around the rooftop park. The exploded chart seems to indicate that there is only one set of escalators up to the park, leading up from the Grand Hall and depositing you right in the middle of the park.

From there, I guess, you can walk in either direction, and then return to the escalators to go down.

There are also, apparently, three sets of elevators.

And, of course, the gondola.

Doesn't seem like enough access points to the park, though; I guess I was thinking there would be ways to get up to the park at either end.

And the exploded chart doesn't really explain what happens on the rest of the street level, either. There is the Muni section between Fremont and Beale, and the Grand Hall between Fremont and First, but what is going on from First up to Second?

Well, we'll know soon enough; the entire thing is supposed to be open within weeks!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

WC 2018!

Yes, it's true: the 2018 World Cup starts in less than 24 hours!

Since I hail from the U.S. of A., where (a) we didn't even qualify for the tournament, and (b) we think that all sports can be reduced to statistics, may I bring you the 2018 World Cup, FiveThirtyEight style:

  • Uruguay Got The World Cup’s Ultimate Prize: Russia’s Group
    If the opening is here for an underdog, surely that team will be Egypt. The African side has not reached the World Cup since 1990, but it now features an attacker legitimately among the best in the world in Liverpool star Mohamed Salah. He is projected to return after separating his shoulder in the Champions League final. Whether Salah will be fit to start the tournament remains up in the air, and Egypt would likely struggle without its superstar. But if he can come back, he’s as sure a thing as there is in world soccer.
  • Can Morocco Squeeze Past Spain Or Portugal?
    Spain, perhaps more than any other national team, has an established identity. Despite turning over nearly all of its attacking and midfield players since 2010 — only Sergio Busquets remains in the same role he played on the team that beat the Netherlands in that final — Spain has maintained the same probing, passing style. No team in the world has depended less on crosses to move the ball into the penalty area.
  • France’s Group-Stage Tuneup Will Tell Us Whether It’s A Contender
    At only 25 years old, Paul Pogba has already played in the finals of the UEFA European Championships and the Champions League. He won titles with Juventus, and after transferring to Manchester United for a whopping $116.4 million, he has become a fixture in the center of the midfield at Old Trafford. But no matter how much he accomplishes, there are still questions about exactly how big a superstar he is. His technical ability and range are a rare combination. Whether French manager Didier Deschamps unleashes him to get forward and contribute to the attack or keeps him chained to a more disciplined midfield role will likely influence perceptions of Pogba’s performance at this World Cup.
  • Argentina Is The Team To Beat In Group D, But Can Messi (Finally) Win The Tournament?
    If there is to be an upset in this group, who better than Iceland to pull it off? The tiny Scandinavian nation is going to its first World Cup after a Cinderella run in the 2016 Euros and a shockingly assured European qualifying season. Iceland will not be trying anything unusual or pretty, but what it does is effective. Iceland will look for quick-hitting counterattacks and set play situations. If neither of Croatia or Argentina can sort out a solution to their tactical problems, Iceland’s clear understanding of its own style should give them a real shot at an upset.
  • Brazil Got A Lot Better Since The Last World Cup
    CONMEBOL qualifying is the most difficult of all the regional qualifying tournaments, and Brazil romped through with little difficulty. The Selecao rate as the best defensive team in the world by a significant margin. But the likely back line of Danilo, Thiago Silva, Miranda and Marcelo has an average age of 31, so they’re not exactly at the peak of their careers. Rather, manager Tite has developed a tactical system that protects the back line with two of the best defensive midfielders in the world, Casemiro and Fernandinho. Both players anchor three-man midfields for their club sides, Real Madrid and Manchester City respectively, where they are largely responsible for stopping opposition attacks in midfield on their own. For Brazil, they can share the load.
  • Mexico May Need To Beat Germany To Have Hope — Good Luck With That
    Mexico has an intriguing attacking corps but has also struggled to score. In its three friendlies in preparation for the tournament, it scored one goal combined against Scotland, Wales and Denmark. Mainstays for the team like Chicharito Hernandez and Raul Jimenez have struggled to make an impact leading the line, and even 34-year-old Oribe Peralta is getting minutes.
  • Belgium And England Headline The World Cup’s Most Lopsided Group
    It should be remembered that Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola coached the best domestic teams of the past two World Cup victors — Bayern Munich of Germany in 2014 and Barcelona of Spain in 2010 — and his influence is clear on Southgate’s plans. In the friendlies leading up to the tournament, England played a midfield three inspired by Manchester City, with one purely defensive player (either Jordan Henderson or Eric Dier) supporting two attacking midfielders, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard.
  • A World Cup Sleeper May Be Lurking In Group H
    Skillful wingers Keita Baldé and Mané offer Senegal’s main threat in attack, while the towering defensive presence of Kalidou Koulibaly makes the spine of the team seem stronger than its 33 percent chance of progression may suggest. Given the relative equality of the group, a strong performance from Senegal in its opener against Poland could dramatically change expectations.

And of course, because there's no such thing as too much of a good thing, two bonus links:

  • How Our 2018 World Cup Predictions Work
    At the heart of our forecast are FiveThirtyEight’s SPI ratings, which are our best estimate of overall team strength. In our system, every team has an offensive rating that represents the number of goals that it would be expected to score against an average team on a neutral field and a defensive rating that represents the number of goals that it would be expected to concede. These ratings, in turn, produce an overall SPI rating, which represents the percentage of points — a win is worth 3 points, a tie worth 1 point, and a loss worth 0 points — the team would be expected to take if that match were played over and over again.
  • https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/2018-world-cup-predictions/
    Soccer Power Index (SPI) ratings and chances of advancing for every team, updating live.

For myself, I'm rooting for Iceland, Costa Rica, and South Korea, but anticipating France, Germany, and Brazil.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Up, up, and away

One of the next-door neighbors in my office neighborhood is about to open for business, an event which will certainly continue the transformation of my work surroundings.

Certainly, no building is earthquake-proof, but the design of the new building is quite fascinating:

  • This tower will be the most resilient tall building on the west coast of the United States
    Arup’s structural engineers employed a holistic resilience-based seismic design approach to minimise damage in a 500 year earthquake and allow immediate reoccupancy after a seismic event, far exceeding building code criteria. Its iconic tapering form, small footprint, and location in the midst of the Transbay urban regeneration zone presented significant engineering challenges. Arup incorporated groundbreaking design solutions including an innovative viscous damping system within the architecturally expressed steel megabraces and uplifting megacolumns which significantly reduced seismic and wind demands and resulted in a steel material savings of approximately 3,000 tons.
  • The Resilience-Based Design of the 181 Fremont Tower
    The mega-brace system is three braces in one (Figures 3 and 4). The middle (or “primary”) brace is a steel box section and the two outer (or “secondary”) braces are comprised of built-up plates attached to two viscous dampers at one end. As the building flexes laterally in a wind or earthquake event, large (elastic) strains develop in the very long primary braces. The result is approximately 6 inches of lengthening or shortening in the primary brace between the connected nodes. Since the secondary braces are connected to the same mega-nodes via dampers, this relative movement is utilized to activate the dampers and dissipate energy. The system was tuned to optimize the wind performance. However, the damping additionally benefitted the seismic response of the tower by reducing the earthquake demands across several modes of vibration.
  • San Francisco’s 181 Fremont will Become the Most Earthquake-Resilient Building on the West Coast
    The REDi Gold Rating that 181 Fremont - which Arup was the structural engineer, geotechnical engineer, and resilience consultant for - achieved includes enhanced structural and non-structural design to limit damage, improved egress systems, contingency plans to reduce post-earthquake recovery times, and development of a tenant’s resilience manual of recommendations to keep their space earthquake-ready. A building with a REDi Gold Rating can expect its repair costs to be cut by approximately 10 times compared to code-designed buildings and can also reduce the expected functionality downtime from 18 months to less than a few weeks.
  • The Skyscraper Center: 181 Fremont
    The other key structural innovation of the tower is the notch at the center; this notch creates turbulence that helps reduce the aerodynamic pull of the wind, allowing the design to require less steel to resist lateral wind forces.

What makes people think they know what a "500 year earthquake" is for the Bay Area? I'm skeptical.

Still, it's a beautiful and interesting building, and all indications are that it has been carefully designed and built.

It won't be the second-tallest building in San Francisco for long, though...

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Pew Group: a very short review

I really don't remember how The Pew Group ended up at my house. Did my sister-in-law send it to me? Did my mother drop it off? Did I pick it up at a garage sale? How am I so absent-minded?

Well, it doesn't really matter, I suppose: here it is.

And, so, what to do?

I read it.

And: it's delightful!

The conventions, such as they are, for a murder mystery, are pretty clear: there is a crime; there is a detective; there is a solution.

Bah!

Oliver stands this all upon its ear.

Oh, there's a crime, alright. But Oliver has no interest in that; in fact, he gets it out of the way with the very first sentence of the book:

You couldn't call it murder and she had no intention of doing so.

And so, off we go.

There are crime(s), there are detective(s), there are clue(s), but really, in the end, none of that matters.

What interests Oliver is what people do, when there are Things To Be Done.

Rarely in my experience has a book with so little plot had so much activity! And what lively characters, in boring, piddly, mundane Flaxfield, Suffolk, U.K.

The doctor is little interested in medicine; the vicar little interested in theology; the constable little interested in law enforcement; and, so forth.

All I can say is, if you bother to track down this little gem in some long-forgotten dusty corner of some second-hand bookshop somewhere: you have never had so much fun reading a story about a lost porcelain figure from a Sunday church sale:

He picked up a small piece of white pottery lying on its side near a brass ashtray. It was crudely but endearingly fashioned with three little figures sitting stiffly on a high backed settle not unlike the oldest family pews in St. Peter's. He knew the vicar had a small collection of English pottery; it would be quite nice to buy it for him although perhaps it wasn't quite the same as the ones he had seen on the vicarage mantle-shelf, they seemed to have more colour to them, with little branches of green leaves sticking out behind them.

Monday, June 4, 2018

The GitHub deal

It's no longer the center of my professional life, but I'm still close enough to the SCM sliver of the industry to understand that Microsoft just made a brilliant move.

Kudos to them, and congratulations to the team at GitHub (and "Hi!" to those few there who know me!)

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A visit to Wales, part 3: three days in Dublin

For various reasons, our holiday was split between North Wales and Dublin, Ireland. The two primary reasons were:

  1. When traveling to Europe, I VASTLY prefer to take a direct airplane flight. I'd much rather suffer through a single 10.5 hour flight than take a 2, 3, or even 4-leg flight, with layovers, extended flight times, and many opportunities for missed connections, lost baggage, etc. Aer Lingus happen to offer a direct flight from San Francisco to Dublin, and Dublin is (pretty) close to Wales, so I chose for us to fly to and from Dublin, and then we got from Dublin to Wales and back on Irish Ferries. Overall, this was a great decision, and I wouldn't change it, even if our flight to Dublin was delayed 2.5 hours due to a flat tire on our airplane.
  2. I've found that, when we get to Europe, the jet lag is SEVERE, so I've begun incorporating a minimum of 36 hours of "zoned out time" to start each trip to Europe. That 36 hours should probably be more like 48 to 60 hours, but that's not really the point. The point is: when we get to Europe, I want to arrive at some place where we can just check into a place and rest and recover, without any complications for trip planning. I want us to be able to sleep, and wake up, and go out and do things when we have energy, and come back when we want to rest, and for that to be as easy and simple as possible. I don't want to have to drive anywhere, or be on any particular schedule, and I want there to be plenty of interesting and easy choices when we do have the energy to go out. So that means I want to arrive at a city which is tourist-friendly, walkable, big enough to have lots of options for things to do and see, places to eat, public transit, etc. Dublin fit that bill, perfectly.

Anyway, even though seeing Dublin wasn't really the primary purpose of our trip, we still got to do it, so what did we do?

For one thing, we walked.

Dublin is a wonderful city for walking. Its downtown is compact, and easy to navigate, and full of innumerable places to go and things to see, all within easy walking distance of each other. And if you get bored or tired of walking, Dublin has good buses and light rail service to take you around.

And the walking is, for the most part, fun, because Dublin is full of interesting architecture, and great shops to stick your head into, and lots and lots of public art, some of it really surprisingly good (like a vividly-drawn tiled mosaic in a downtown parking lot, or the phenomenal Irish Famine Sculpture), others of it simply dreadful, but still oddly compelling, like, yes, that Molly Malone statue, and still others of it somewhere in between, like this curious set of gargoyles that we found mounted on fence posts at the St. James Hospital LUAS station.

For another thing, we ate.

The restaurants we found in Dublin, while occasionally disappointing, were overall extremely good. We had an absolutely fantastic breakfast at The Woolen Mills, where we were introduced to an Irish Boxty. We had a superb lunch at House, with a rich mushroom soup and delicious fresh-baked dark bread. We had a lovely dinner at Paulie's, a great pizza and fun appetizers. And we had a very pleasant afternoon tea at Bewley's, with an elegant selection of fresh-baked pastry treats.

And for another thing, we learned.

We visited several of the many locations of the National Museum of Ireland, which is not only a wonderful museum, but is free. Free! The archaeology museum had astonishing 5,000 year old precious metal artifacts: necklaces and bracelets and crowns. The decorative arts museum had both traditional and modern craft work, including a fascinating gallery of late-stage Waterford crystal, and a compelling temporary exhibition of the fashion design of Ib Jorgensen.

We walked through the grounds of Trinity College, and we toured the galleries of the Old Library, and we got up close and personal with the Book of Kells, and we went upstairs to the ancient reading room, and saw the harp.

We walked along O'Connell Street and looked at the General Post Office, with its bullet-pocked walls. And we walked along St Stephen's Green and cast our eyes to the Shelbourne Hotel, and to the Royal College of Surgeons, and thought about those spaces, and those places, and those times.

And, most of all, we made the trip just a few kilometers west of downtown, to Kilmainham Gaol, and walked through the museum, and took the tour, and read the letters, and looked at the photos, and stood in those same spots in the yard where so many others before us have come to look, and to listen, and to think, and to learn.

Oh, of course, we did some really mundane things, too (... cough ... Guinness! ... cough ...), like checking out the Oscar Wilde statue in Merrion Square, taking in the view from the Gravity Bar, walking along the Grand Canal, feeding the ducks in the St Stephen's Green ponds, and enjoying the perspective of the city from midway across the Ha'Penny Bridge.

There's a LOT to do in Dublin. We could have spent at least a week there, and found many more things to do.

But we were over our jet lag, and it was on to Wales.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A visit to Wales, part 2: castles!

As someone born and raised in the U.S. of A., my experience with Things Medieval tends to be mostly fanciful, and not much based in reality.

And yet, there we were, in North Wales, where medieval history is front and center.

Quoth the Wikipedia,

Following a series of invasions beginning shortly after their conquest of England in 1066, the Normans seized much of Wales and established quasi-independent Marcher lordships, owing allegiance to the English crown. However, Welsh principalities such as Gwynedd, Powys and Deheubarth survived and from the end of the 11th century, the Welsh began pushing back the Norman advance. Over the following century the Welsh recovery fluctuated and the English kings, notably Henry II, several times sought to conquer or establish suzerainty over the native Welsh principalities. Nevertheless, by the end of the 12th century the Marcher lordships were reduced to the south and south east of the country.

...

In 1274, tension between Llywelyn and Edward increased when Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn of Powys and Llywelyn's younger brother Dafydd ap Gruffydd defected to the English and sought Edward's protection. Because of the continuing conflict with the Marcher Lords and Edward's harbouring of defectors, when Edward demanded that Llywelyn come to Chester in 1275 to do homage to him, Llywelyn refused.

...

War broke out again in 1282, as a result of a rebellion by Llywelyn's brother Dafydd, who was discontented with the reward he had received from Edward in 1277. Dafydd launched a series of attacks co-ordinated with the Welsh rulers in Deheubarth and North Powys, who had been Llywelyn's vassals until 1277 and were now Edward's vassals. Llywelyn and the other Welsh leaders, including those in the south, joined in and it soon assumed a very different character from the 1277 campaign. It became a national struggle enjoying wide support among the Welsh, who were provoked particularly by Edward's attempts to impose English law on the Welsh. Edward, however, soon began to see it as a war of conquest rather than just a punitive expedition to put down a rebellion.

...

Edward divided the territory of the Welsh principalities between himself (that is, retained under direct royal control) and his supporters through feudal grants, which in practice became new Marcher lordships. The lordships created were mainly grants to Anglo-Normans such as the Earl of Lincoln who received the lordship of Denbigh. But additionally, Edward's Welsh allies received back their own lands, but on a feudal basis; for instance, Owain ap Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn, of the princely house of Powys Wenwynwyn, received his ancestral lands as the lordship of Powys and became known as Owen de la Pole (or "Poole").

Lands retained under direct royal control were organised under the Statute of Rhuddlan of 1284, which declared that they were "annexed and united" to the English crown, although they did not become part of the Kingdom of England. They were the King's personal fief and in 1301, they were bestowed on Edward's son, Edward of Caernarfon (the future Edward II), with the title "Prince of Wales" and thereafter the lands and title became the customary endowment of the heir to the throne.

Well, anyway, there we were in North Wales, and the weather was beautiful, and called for a spot of traveling, and we had hired this brand new Ford Zuga which was just a joy to drive, so off we went to see some CASTLES!!

We didn't have to go very far to get started, as we could see the first castle from out our bedroom window! Our hotel was just across the River Conwy from the walled town of Conwy, so that was our first stop. There's a nice car park just south of the city walls, so we parked the car and spent a lovely hour walking the narrow medieval streets, stopping for a cappuccino and a scone, and poking our noses into the various shops.

This isn't the only castle at the mouth of the river Conwy, as it turns out: from our hotel room, we could see the site of Castel Deganwy, the ancient fortress of the King of Gwynedd in the 500's. Although we didn't make it up to that site, it was interesting to contemplate the varied choices made by the different kings in the different times: mountain top, or river mouth?

I wished we had found the time to explore Castell Conwy, which is said to be one of the best-preserved 750-year-old buildings you'll ever see, but such was not to be, as we had got a late start that morning and had other things to do.

Nonetheless, it was a beautiful building to walk around, and it made for a lovely view from our hotel room, high upon the hills above.

And similar sights greeted us elsewhere, for there are castles all around Wales, and we would frequently see them as we drove around.

But, really, enough of this nattering on about castles we didn't visit; what about the castles that we DID vist?!

One fine sunny morning, we headed out in the auto and made our way to Caernarfon, which is about as far north and west as you can get and still be in mainland Wales (Anglesey Island is farther north and west, but then, it's an island).

Caernarfon is the 800 pound gorilla of Welsh castles, not just for its historical and cultural significance, but for its overall entertainment value: this is a GIANT castle.

The castle towers stretch nearly 10 stories into the air, the castle walls are solid and nearly 5 stories tall themselves, and the interior of the castle keep is an immense expanse of lawn (of course, when originally occupied, the interior of the castle was packed with stores and barracks and production facilities and courts and all of the other Machinery of the State; for now, you just have to see that all in your imagination).

In addition to clambering around on the castle walls, the various interior spaces of the castle are filled with exhibits and displays, so there was lots to see and learn about.

I found myself a bit disappointed by the museums, because they mostly focused on the military history of the castle, and I wished I could have learned more about the other roles it played in the life of late-medieval Wales (trade, education, agricultural and industrial development, etc.), but since the castle was largely a military fortress, perhaps the museum's focus was appropriate.

Still, I always find myself wondering about the most mundane things when I'm wandering around a castle: "where did they keep the pigs and chickens?" "how did they make beer in the castle?" "where did people go to do their laundry?"

But, did I mention the part about clambering around on the castle walls?

We could have stayed at Caernarfon all day, but I was impatient, so we popped back into the auto and drove out onto Anglesey Island, up to the small town of Beaumaris.

Beaumaris Castle is often referred to as "the greatest castle never built," a nice tag line which cleanly encapsulates the very interesting story of the castle. By the time that construction on the castle was begun, in 1296, King Edward I and his master castle builder, James of St. George, were at the peak of their power, their skills, and their ambition, and so the plans and scope of Beaumaris Castle were extravagant in the extreme.

Although the castle was never finished, it is so beautifully located, and what was actually built is so beautiful, that it is a joy to wander about and contemplate.

Of particular interest, when we were there, was the work of a team of modern stonemasons, hard at work on repair a section of the main keep walls, using historically-accurate tools, techniques, and materials. As we walked about the castle, the "ting! ting! ting!" of their mallets and chisels upon the stone wall lent a fascinating sense of realism, making it almost possible to imagine being a craftsman hard at work inside the castle as it was under construction.

By this point, after all this hard work touring castles and keeps, we were tired and hungry, so we repaired to a friendly cafe on the waterfront and sat at the outdoor table and enjoyed Welsh Rarebit sandwiches and Jacket Potatoes with a view of the Snowdonia mountains in the distance.

And we declared the day a perfect success.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

A visit to Wales, part 1: family matters!

We took a simply lovely, though far too short, visit to Wales to visit our cousin.

... OK, let's see: your great-grandfather is my great-great-grandfather, right?

Yes, that was John Francis Xavier Goggin; here's a picture of him! He was born in 1847, in Limerick, Ireland.

OK, yes, that's my Irish side, for sure. But: 1847? Wasn't that the time of the Great Famine?

Oh, yes, definitely. I think they had to leave Ireland; pretty much everyone did. In fact, he was actually baptized in England in 1850; the family ended up in Hartlepool.

...

Wales is a beautiful place, particularly during late May, when the sun is shining and the grass is growing.

We stayed at an absolutely beautiful country house hotel.

The hotel was not far from LLandudno, a Victorian-era seaside resort, famous (or infamous) as, possibly, the place where Lewis Carroll stayed when he was writing Alice in Wonderland.

In addition to visiting the coast, we went walking in the Snowdonia National Park mountains, utterly beautiful, even on a day when the RAF are practicing their mountain-flying tactics overhead.

And we spent many lovely contented hours at the home of our cousins, which is nestled on a quiet country road, with a flock of sheep on one side and several mares with their colts on the other.

I'll have more to say about the entire trip later, just putting something short up now.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Devil's Interval: a very short review

I missed Linda Lee Peterson's first novel, and instead dove right in with The Devil's Interval

I think that starting with book 2, as it turns out, was Just Fine.

Peterson is quite ambitious, and tries to accomplish a lot, weaving together a complex plot, a lot of local San Francisco atmosphere, and some fairly strong secondary characters.

I think she is at her best when she channels her inner Janet Evanovich, with passages like:

He sat down gingerly on the edge of his chair. "Where's Michael?"

"Out being Father of the Year, where else? Leading his admirable, sainted, patient, kind, generous, self-righteous life," I said. I think I was shouting. I shook the thermos. It was full. "Coffee, and it's hot? Or, do you want tea?"

He waved his hand. "Whatever you're drinking, I guess." He hesitated. "You seem like you're on a roller coaster between manic and depressive, with a hangover holding the whole thing together."

"Right you are," I said grimly.

Peterson needs to develop this, but she's definitely got the skills to pull it off.

Where she struggles, I think, is in her attempt to simultaneously incorporate a harder edge, stirring in some grit and tragedy. It just isn't in her to have her bubbly, energetic, enthusiastic, unstoppable heroine-with-the-two-kids-and-the-suburban-household down in the muck and the mire. This part of The Devil's Interval is clearly heart-felt, but lacks depth and plausibility.

Still, her story moves at an enjoyable pace, and I was never bored or frustrated.

I see that she's now published a third Maggie Fiori novel, perhaps I will give it a try!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

smaze?

There was one clue I couldn't complete in last week's Split Decisions crossword puzzle by Fred Piscop.

It turned out that the missing word was: "smaze".

"Smaze"?

It's in the dictionary, alright.

But I've never heard it, in 57 years.

And the various spellchecking software on my various computers is dubious, and growls at me with little red underlining of this not-so-well-known word.

Perhaps it's new, and now I am on the bleeding edge.

At least on this beautiful Sunday morning the skies are blue and the air is clear and there's not a whiff of smaze to be found.

Happy Mothers Day!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Titles

Marking the end of one of the great political dynasties of my lifetime, Jerry Brown is retiring.

And so, we have an election.

There are 27 registered candidates for the June 5 primary election for Governor of California.

California, if you weren't already aware of this, is where 1 of every 7 Americans lives, and is now the 5th largest economy in the world.

So, um, it's actually an important election.

Anyway, one of the aspects of running for Governor of California is that, on the ballot, you get to list your "title".

Just as with job titles at many of the companies I've worked at recently, you can pick your own title when you get your listing on the ballot.

A few of the titles that are listed are pretty mainstream and as you would expect:

  • California State Treasurer (John Chiang)
  • Lieutenant Governor (Gavin Newsom)
  • California Assemblyman (Travis Allen)
  • COO, Justice Department (Amanda Renteria)

But, um, there are a few others.

Here are a sampling of the job titles of some of the other candidates:

  • Marketplace Minister
  • Graphic Artist
  • (none)
  • Entrepreneur/Economist/Father
  • Virtual Reality Manager
  • Mathematician
  • Senior Software Engineer
  • Transhumanist Lecturer
  • Puppeteer
  • Blockchain Startup CEO

Ah yes, California.

This sort of thing actually happens happens quite commonly around these parts

And, usually, it seems to turn out OK.

So we will see.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Song of the Lion: a very short review

Anne Hillerman continues her series of Navajo Police novels with Song of the Lion.

After what I thought was a somewhat weak second effort, I had some concerns approaching Song of the Lion.

Overall, Song of the Lion benefits from better plotting, smoother story-telling, and improved pacing.

Most importantly, with Song of the Lion, Hillerman succeeds by evoking the sense of place that is so much a part of these novels: the wide open spaces, the mountains and rivers and plants and animals, the spirits and traditions, the tens of thousands of years that have made the Great South-West what it is.

The drive worked its magic. The morning sun brought the landscape to life -- iron reds, subtle grays, warm browns. She passed the country she'd seen with Palmer, the dinosaur walkway, and rolled across the bridge over the Little Colorado River, the place where, after miles of meandering, the river begins to make its rock-rimmed descent to the canyon's ancient floor.

It is wise of Hillerman to recognize from where the strength and beauty of these stories springs, and to return to it time and again.

However, I could wish that she was working harder to develop her technical writing skills. All too often, her dialogue and descriptions are a bit flat, a bit bland, a bit ordinary.

Lee put his hat back on, making it easier to talk with both hands. "He wants me to do some contracting work if the project is approved and told me about the big powwow here. I'd never met him in the flesh. So I figured I'd mosey on out here and say hello. I wanted to find out about the hubbub over the hotel, or resort, or whatever the heck the plan is before I sign on to work with him."

Possibly the problem is that her stories are a bit over-stuffed: she always has a broad cast of characters, with various sub-plots, incidental encounters, and unrelated episodes filling the novel. This was true of her father's novels too, with rather the same result: sometimes you feel like you are just driving through these novels at highway speed, enjoying the view, but not really stopping to savor the individual details.

Whatever, I really can't complain. Song of the Lion is a lovely novel, I enjoyed reading it, and I hope Hillerman writes many more.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Derby 10.14.2.0 released!

It's been a while since I've written much about Derby; it's been pretty quiet.

But over the spring, we completed another release!

This was a patch release, with fixes for CVE-2018-1313.

More details here and here.

It's interesting to be on the "inside" of a vulnerability disclosure, even if this one wasn't tremendously high-pressure. Apache have a well-documented process for handling vulnerability reports, and the Apache Security team, as well as our correspondent Grégory Draperi, were extremely helpful and informative throughout.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Legacies

I was talking about the relatively new-ish notion of "Legacy Games," such as the enormously popular Pandemic: Legacy, or the newer (but maybe even hotter), Gloomhaven.

"I know what a legacy game is!" the conversation went, continuing, "it's a game that nobody plays anymore, like Myst."

Indeed, there is an Old Joke around Old Programmer Circles, that goes something like this:

What is the definition of legacy software?

It's software that works.

(The joke being, at least partly, that once a program finally starts to work and does something useful, nobody wants to change it anymore; they just want to keep running it, so it can do its job.)

A legacy board game, however, aims for a different interpretation of "legacy".

In a game like Pandemic: Legacy, or Gloomhaven, when a player character progresses through the game, the game is fundamentally changed by the passage of the character. Paths once taken, cannot be taken again. Events that occurred before, shall not happen afterwards.

Mechanically, the games accomplish this by simple measures: pieces are removed from the game; the game board is altered; new pieces are introduced; rules are altered in minor, but meaningful ways.

It's a beautiful use of the word "legacy," and reclaims it, I think, from those snarky computer programming types, with their bitter insinuation that the old is to be discarded, ignored, forgotten, consigned to the category of "boring: it works."

Instead, "legacy" is properly restored to its original, better meaning: "that which you changed, because you were there."

I've been thinking about legacies a fair amount recently, as I've reached That Age, the point where people that you strongly identify with start to disappear from your life, in a permanent way.

And it seems to me that a person's legacy is a beautiful thing.

We don't just exist; we don't just occupy space. We act, we alter, we influence, we engage, we cause.

The future, whatever it may be, is different, because It Came After Us.

It may be good, it may be bad (oh, let us, surely, strive for the good, whenever we can, hard though that is!).

But, one way or another, each of us leaves a legacy.

And I applaud the creators of games like Pandemic: Legacy and Gloomhaven for restoring "legacy" to its rightful place of honor.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Magpie Murders: a very short review

Magpie Murders is by Anthony Horowitz, who is not well known to me as an author, although apparently his young adult "Alex Rider" series is tremendously popular.

However, as a screenwriter, he wrote the beyond-wonderful Foyle's War, which by itself would be the accomplishment of a lifetime.

(And before that he adapted Caroline Graham's Inspector Graham series into Midsomer Murders! What a resume!)

Magpie Murders is a delightfully-executed showpiece of a murder mystery. Its hook is that it's a book-within-a-book, in which our heroine is the editor at a small independent press which publishes a series of cottage mysteries set in rural 1950's England. She has just received the latest in the series, Magpie Murders, only to discover that it is the last, for the detective Atticus Pund has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Only then it turns out that the author of these mysteries is himself rather a mystery; soon there is plot and intrigue both within and without the book, as our heroine tries to figure out what clues the book itself reveals about its author and his circumstances.

Without giving too much away, it turns out that our (fictional) author, who has become quite wealthy by making a career of writing murder mysteries, fancies himself a author of serious talents, and is disappointed that his attempts to write "literature" have been unsuccessful. Perhaps this is actually a book-within-a-book-within-a-book?

Along the way there are twists and turns, there are a delightful cast of characters both within the murder mystery and without, and there are entertaining sequences both in England of the 1950's as well as in England of present times.

And, this being an English murder mystery, there is wordplay, there are artifices, and, of course, there are castles, moats, and a vicar with a squeaky bicycle.

The endings, both of the book, and of the book, are quite cleverly arranged and delivered, and are very satisfying.

It's all truly delightful, even if it does seem rather like something you should be enjoying with your blueberry scones, clotted cream, and a nice pot of Earl Grey.

Recently my thriller diet has been considerably more gritty; mild disputations between the groundskeeper and the assistant at the surgeon's office are a fair bit afield.

Still, Horowitz is an author of tremendous skill, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Up, up, and away!

It's Earthquake Day today, so there's lots in the media.

Here are a few very interesting links:

  • San Francisco’s Big Seismic Gamble
    San Francisco lives with the certainty that the Big One will come. But the city is also putting up taller and taller buildings clustered closer and closer together because of the state’s severe housing shortage. Now those competing pressures have prompted an anxious rethinking of building regulations. Experts are sending this message: The building code does not protect cities from earthquakes nearly as much as you might think.
  • The HayWired Earthquake Scenario
    The HayWired scenario is a hypothetical earthquake sequence that is being used to better understand hazards for the San Francisco Bay region during and after an earthquake of magnitude 7 on the Hayward Fault. The 2014 Working Group on California Earthquake Probabilities calculated that there is a 33-percent likelihood of a large (magnitude 6.7 or greater) earthquake occurring on the Hayward Fault within three decades. A large Hayward Fault earthquake will produce strong ground shaking, permanent displacement of the Earth’s surface, landslides, liquefaction (soils becoming liquid-like during shaking), and subsequent fault slip, known as afterslip, and earthquakes, known as aftershocks.

    The most recent large earthquake on the Hayward Fault occurred on October 21, 1868, and it ruptured the southern part of the fault. The 1868 magnitude-6.8 earthquake occurred when the San Francisco Bay region had far fewer people, buildings, and infrastructure (roads, communication lines, and utilities) than it does today, yet the strong ground shaking from the earthquake still caused significant building damage and loss of life.

  • News from the HayWired fault
    Today, though, I wanted to provide some details from the original quake. In 1868 a committee was convened to create a report on the event, but it never finished a report, so whatever work they did was lost. We only know as much as we do because after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the commission set up under UC Berkeley’s Andrew Lawson to investigate it decided to add a chapter on previous earthquakes. There were enough survivors of 1868 at the time to record quite a bit of detail. So here are some tidbits from the famous Lawson Report of 1908 about the Hayward quake of 1868.
  • The California earthquake of April 18, 1906. Report of the State Earthquake Investigation Commission
    The fact that the California earthquake of April 18, 1906; occurred a little after 5 A. m., before people in general were up, is one cause why we have so little reliable information regarding the exact time at which it occurred. In answer to questions sent out by the Earthquake Commission, a very large number of replies were received, but it is quite evident, from the variations among them and from the fact that many only gave the time to minutes, that these times are very unreliable. The general descriptions show that the earthquake began with a fairly strong movement which continued with increasing strength for an interval variously estimated, but which really amounted to about half a minute; then very violent shocks occurred, and quiet was restored about 3 minutes later.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Whales!

As this afternoon's ferry was approaching the dock, the captain came on the loudspeaker and said:

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. The ferry is approaching the dock and we will be docking soon. It looks like the two whales are still out by the day mark near the dock.

We couldn't see much from the windows of the ferry itself, but once we were on shore and looked out to the day mark, sure enough, there were indeed whales! Swimming about and spouting spray from time to time!

Thirty years in Alameda and that's a first!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Happy 90th Mr. Lehrer

Here's a nice tribute from Ken Regan: Tom Lehrer At 90.

It's got some nice links, too, including:

I have to admit I heard most of my Tom Lehrer songs on Dr. Demento, but I don't think it matters how you got to Tom Lehrer, as long as you got there.

Why, we had a great discussion at the office the other day about I got it from Agnes, which I was rather red-faced to admit went totally over my head when I listened to it as a precocious 12-year-old in the early 1970s.

Faithful Place: a very short review

The third in Tana French's superb Dublin-based mystery novels is Faithful Place.

French's approach to the series is quite unusual. A supporting character in an earlier novel becomes the main character in a subsequent one, and, over time, we get to know a variety of characters who are interconnected in various ways.

But one thing this means is that the books are different, because the characters are different. When you read, for example, a Sue Grafton novel, at some point you knew what to expect.

French's books don't have that quality. Each is different, and stands on its own (though I'm going through them in order, as I think she probably expects readers to do).

Faithful Place is different from the first two works in several ways, but the most notable one is a matter of style. Whereas the earlier words were lyric, moody, enigmatic, Faithful Place is like a truck on a highway: straightforward, blunt, powerful.

There isn't, really, much of a mystery here, in a way. The mystery is more about subtler things, involving how families manipulate themselves, how grudges and hurts thought to be long overcome are still alive, and how people often struggle to do the right thing about those that they care about the most.

It's gritty, it's harsh, it's blunt, and I roared through it like that proverbial truck on a highway, pausing only briefly for rest and refreshment before moving on.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Life moves along

Does anybody know of a way that I can find out the names of the people in this amazing picture?

I recognize some of the most obvious ones: Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young, Coretta Scott King and her children, Ralph Abernathy, John Lewis (?), Julian Bond (?), but I'm sure that somewhere, there must be a copy of this picture with everyone tagged? I'd love to know more about the picture, and more about the people in it, besides those who are of course well-known to us all. The best I found was this, which is fascinating but I was hoping for even more.

Meanwhile, in other completely unrelated, but interesting to me, news:

  • It was just as big a storm as predicted: Record April Rains Raise Rivers And Flood Concerns
    Yosemite National Park closed campgrounds and lodging in its busy Yosemite Valley because of flooding concerns, with the Merced River there expected to peak 5 feet (1.5 meters) above flood stage on Saturday.

    ...

    Bodega Bay in the county received nearly 6 inches (15.2 centimeters) of rain for the day

    ...

    Lake Oroville has been filling up all winter, and more water was coming in than flowing out Friday. The water level Friday night had topped 793 feet (242 meters). If it reaches about 830 feet (253 meters), water managers said they may open the gates to the spillway.

    ...

    California officials say they hope to avoid using the main spillway but are confident it can safely function.
  • Test Drilling Launched at the Sinking Millennium Tower
    Crews have quietly launched a $9 million exploratory drilling project at the Millennium Tower to evaluate a planned fix for the sinking and tilting structure, NBC Bay Area has learned.

    The project started earlier this month on Beale Street and involves drilling holes between 200 and 300 feet down to bedrock. The goal is to see whether the method will stabilize the troubled foundation.

    ...

    The so-called micropile strategy is not new; it was used to shore up the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas, which sank some 18 inches during construction before being stabilized by more than 500 micropiles.

  • Micropile Underpinning of the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino
    The approach was to drill and install micropiles through holes cored into the mat and not bonded in the mat, so that the piles could be jacked into the ground and maintain the building at a desired level. Then structural beam supports would be installed to act as permanent attachments and jacking frames. The entire system had the capacity to lift the center of the tower if that proved to be necessary. In order to support the center core, a layout consisting of 536 micropiles (Pin Piles) was developed by the structural engineer, Lochsa Engineering. Due to the limited plan area and the fact that it would be impractical to delay elevator construction to drill inside the shafts, all piles were located outside of the shafts. The resulting system was designed to support the core as if it was one very large pile cap. All the micropiles used to support the hotel core were 200 feet deep, were fully bonded with grout to the various soil and caliche layers and were isolated from the mat. The decision to drill 200 feet was based on a fairly substantial caliche layer being encounter at the depth in a preliminary methods hole and subsequent boring also often encountering a similar layer.
  • FORM S-4 REGISTRATION STATEMENT
    On February 2, 2018, Mr. Somorjai sent an email to Mr. Schott requesting a meeting to discuss various commercial matters, including joint business development ideas.

    ...

    On February 26, 2018, Mr. Schott met with Mr. Benioff. During the course of this meeting, Mr. Benioff described the importance of an integration platform to Salesforce’s strategic plans, and observed that MuleSoft’s products could be the foundation of Salesforce’s integration platform. Mr. Benioff asked Mr. Schott if the MuleSoft board of directors would be open to the possibility of considering a combination of the two companies. Mr. Schott responded that, although MuleSoft was not for sale, the MuleSoft board of directors would consider in good faith any reasonable offer it received from Salesforce.

    ...

    Between the afternoon of March 18, 2018 and the morning of March 20, 2018, representatives of WSGR continued to negotiate and finalized the draft definitive merger agreement with representatives of Wachtell Lipton.

  • SPRING EDITION: March 2018
    Ridership on WETA’s San Francisco Bay Ferry has increased by 94 percent since 2012 to more than 2.7 million riders annually. The demand for ferry service has grown across all four service routes

    ...

    WETA has already been modernizing and expanding its fleet, investing in infrastructure improvements, and planning for new service:

    • Two of four new 400-passenger, 27-knot vessels have already entered service, with the third entering service in May and the fourth in December.
    • Three new 445-passenger, 34-knot vessels for the Vallejo/North Bay services are expected in late 2018 and 2019.
    • The North Bay Operations and Maintenance Facility in Vallejo opened in 2016, and the Ron Cowan Central Bay Operations and Maintenance Facility in Alameda is scheduled to open in Summer 2018.
    • A major expansion of ferry landing facilities at the San Francisco Ferry Building is currently under construction with two gates scheduled to open in November.
    • A Richmond ferry terminal is under construction and new service from Richmond to San Francisco is scheduled to start in Fall 2018.
  • Alameda’s Ferry Nightmare
    The city downsized parking for the ferry terminal after area neighbors complained. “We protect our property values and make sure that this is a safe place for residents and homeowners,” said Dawn Jaeger, executive director of the Harbor Bay Isle Association.

    Under the city’s new rules, four homeowners associations received parking permits for residents of the area. Ferry commuters aren’t allowed access to the permits.

    The city’s decision on ferry parking comes as the Harbor Bay ferry has been experiencing a surge in popularity. The ferry’s ridership has surged by 68 percent in the past five years, according to a city report last fall.

  • Raising the Speed Limit on Future Growth
    The final and perhaps most critical issue I want to highlight also relates to skills: We’re not adequately preparing a large fraction of our young people for the jobs of the future. Like in most advanced economies, job creation in the United States is being tilted toward jobs that require a college degree (OECD 2017). Even if high school-educated workers can find jobs today, their future job security is in jeopardy. Indeed by 2020, for the first time in our history, more jobs will require a bachelor’s degree than a high school diploma (Carnevale, Smith, and Strohl 2013).

    These statistics contrast with the trends for college completion. Although the share of young people with four-year college degrees is rising, in 2016 only 37% of 25- to 29-year-olds had a college diploma (Snyder, de Brey, and Dillow 2018). This falls short of the progress in many of our international competitors (OECD 2018), but also means that many of our young people are underprepared for the jobs in our economy.

  • Crossword
    This puzzle is a collaboration by the singer/songwriter Weird Al Yankovic, working together with Eric Berlin, a writer and puzzle editor from Milford, Conn.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Fabiano!

Well here's something that I was somewhat wondering if I'd live long enough to see: An American Will Play For The World Chess Championship

For the first time since Bobby Fischer captivated the country, a U.S. grandmaster has a shot at becoming the undisputed world chess champion.1 Fabiano Caruana, the current world No. 3 and the top American chess grandmaster, won the right today to play for the game’s most coveted prize. He’ll face the reigning world champion, Magnus Carlsen of Norway, in a 12-game, one-on-one match in London in November. It won’t be easy. Carlsen, the current world No. 1, has been champion since 2013 and became a grandmaster when he was 13 years old. He most recently defended his title in 2016 in New York City.

And, for a slightly more chess-oriented bit of coverage: Caruana Wins FIDE Candidates' Tournament

Fabiano Caruana won the 2018 FIDE Candidates' Tournament in Berlin convincingly. He defeated Alexander Grischuk in the final round with the black pieces. Sergey Karjakin blundered but held the draw vs Ding Liren, and both Kramnik-Mamedyarov and Aronian-So were also drawn.

Caruana will face Magnus Carlsen for the world chess championship in London in November.

Now I just have to wait 6 months.

At least I have 56 wonderful games to play through, to keep me busy until then.

By the way, Caruana's result is clearly the most impressive aspect of the tournament, and there's no way to understate 5 wins from 14 games in a field of this strength.

But don't overlook the amazing performance of 25-year-old Chinese superstar Ding Liren, who managed to play all 14 games without a single loss, and ended up coming in 4th, just 1.5 points behind Caruana. Absolutely phenomenal!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Plato at the Googleplex: a very short review

I happened to dig down through the stack and found Rebecca Goldstein's Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away.

Not that I, personally, was all that worried that Philosophy was going to go away.

But this is, obviously, a book for people who are interested in Philosophy, of whom there are two sorts:

  1. People who pursue, or who have pursued, Philosophy as an academic discipline.
  2. People who have a casual interest in Philosophy, and who were assigned, say, parts of The Republic during high school, or who took "Great Western Philosophers" as an elective in college

Myself, I'm more in the latter category.

Anyway, Goldstein is attempting to write for both audiences, which is rather a challenge.

The way she handles this is to, more-or-less, alternate the chapters in her book between audience one and audience two.

For audience one, there are chapters dense with an assessment of current academic views on Philosophy in general, and on how Plato's thinking is currently received, in particular.

There are lots of footnotes in those chapters.

And passages like

In the Thaetetus, Plato moves (though somewhat jerkily) toward the definition of knowledge as "true belief with a logos," an account. This is a first approximation to a definition that philosophers would eventually give: knowledge is justified true belief. The same true proposition that is merely believed by one person can be genuinely known by another, and the difference lies in the reasons the believer has for believing. The reasons have to be good ones, providing justification for his belief, making it a rational belief. These are all evaluative notions. The definition of knowledge forces a further question: what counts as good reasons? All of these are questions that make up the field of epistemology, and they are questions Plato raised.

Which, if you're in audience one, is probably just what you were looking for!

In the other chapters, aimed more at audience two I guess, Goldstein tries a different approach, in which she imagines that Plato were somehow magically alive today, 2,500 years later, wandering around in his toga, carrying a laptop computer, and interacting with various people.

The title of the book comes from one of these chapters, in which Goldstein describes Plato's visit to the headquarters campus of Google (the "Googleplex"), where Plato is to give a speech for an audience of Google employees.

Other such chapters imagine Plato appearing on a cable talk show segment, Plato in a town hall forum at the 92nd Street YMCA in Manhattan, Plato assisting with the answers on the Ask Margo website, and Plato participating in a MRI brain-scanning experiment.

It's a clever idea, but terribly hard to pull off; Goldstein does better than I anticipated, and surely much better than I would have done myself.

But it's still pretty contrived.

I guess the bottom line is that it's an interesting book.

If you are interested in Plato, that is.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Private Equity 601

On the day that both Claire's and Toys 'R' Us file for bankruptcy, perhaps we can pause briefly and contemplate:

  • How vulture capitalists ate Toys 'R' Us
    After big success in the 1980s, Toys 'R' Us' performance turned lackluster in the 1990s. Sales were flat and profits shrank. Toys 'R' Us was a public company at the time, and the board of directors decided to put it up for sale. The buyers were a real estate investment firm called Vornado, and two private equity firms named KKR and Bain Capital. [...]

    The trio put up $6.6 billion to pay off Toys 'R' Us' shareholders. But it was a leveraged buyout: Only 20 percent came out out of the buyers' pockets. The other 80 percent was borrowed. Once Toys 'R' Us was acquired, it became responsible for paying off that massive debt burden[...]

    [...]

    Whatever magic Bain, KKR, and Vornado were supposed to work never materialized. From the purchase in 2004 through 2016, the company's sales never rose much above $11 billion. They actually fell from $13.5 billion in 2013 back to $11.5 billion in 2017.

  • Claire's Plans Bankruptcy, With Creditors Taking Over
    Claire’s Stores Inc., the fashion accessories chain where legions of preteens got their ears pierced, is preparing to file for bankruptcy in the coming weeks, according to people with knowledge of the plans.

    The company is closing in on a deal in which control would pass from Apollo Global Management LLC to lenders including Elliott Capital Management and Monarch Alternative Capital, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter isn’t public. Venor Capital Management and Diameter Capital Partners are also involved, the people said. The move should help ease the $2 billion debt load at Claire’s.

  • America’s ‘Retail Apocalypse’ Is Really Just Beginning
    The root cause is that many of these long-standing chains are overloaded with debt—often from leveraged buyouts led by private equity firms. There are billions in borrowings on the balance sheets of troubled retailers, and sustaining that load is only going to become harder—even for healthy chains.

    The debt coming due, along with America’s over-stored suburbs and the continued gains of online shopping, has all the makings of a disaster. The spillover will likely flow far and wide across the U.S. economy. There will be displaced low-income workers, shrinking local tax bases and investor losses on stocks, bonds and real estate. If today is considered a retail apocalypse, then what’s coming next could truly be scary.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Candidates Tournament, midway through

We're nearly halfway through the 2018 Candidates Tournament (6 of the 14 rounds have been played).

The contest is hard-fought, with not much space from first (Caruana) to last (Karjakin). There have been 9 decisive results, and 15 draws. Of the decisive results, 5 have been with the white pieces, and 4 with the black pieces. Kramnik's games have been the sharpest, as he has had 2 wins, 2 losses, and 2 draws. Only Ding Liren, the 25-year-old Chinese superstar, has no decisive results yet, playing 6 draws so far.

Meanwhile, if all these beautiful, if deep and mysterious, grandmaster chess games aren't providing you enough entertainment, perhaps you need to liven things up (and no, I don't mean you should start rooting for the University of Maryland Baltimore County Retrievers, wonderful though last night's result was)?

Rather, you could get your way over to Twitch, and tune in to the hottest e-Sport online: I Want My ChessTV

Compare that to a typical session with the Chessbrahs, the most popular chess streamers on Twitch. Over the course of one of their streams, which can last up to four hours, you might see chairs thrown amid a torrent of f-bombs, freestyle rapping mid-game, and a never-ending barrage of trash talk. This is the new, online era of chess—set to the soundtrack of dance music.

Although certainly not the same thing as the Chessbrahs, chess as an e-Sport is finding, perhaps, some real traction.

Here, locally, there's a significant e-Sports chess event just a few weeks away: PRO Chess League Finals Set For San Francisco

The world's best chess players will travel to San Francisco to compete in a live championship organized by Chess.com and Twitch, the companies announced today. This epic event will be the culmination of Chess.com's Professional Rapid Online (PRO) Chess League, a groundbreaking, season-long competition with the world's top chess players representing international regions. The two-day event kicks off at 10 a.m. on April 7 at the Folsom Street Foundry and will also be live-broadcast exclusively on Chess.com’s Twitch channel (twitch.tv/chess).

Twitch have immense resources behind them, as they are part of Amazon, now.

So, who knows? Maybe this is really a thing?

American Gods: a very short review

Once again late to the party, I came across Neil Gaiman's American Gods.

And devoured it.

My reaction to Neil Gaiman, in general, is quite similar to my reaction to Stephen King: amazing, fascinating, compelling books, but often the subject matter, or theme, or setting, is too disturbing for me and I avoid even attempting the book.

American Gods is plenty disturbing, no doubt about it.

But it is also intoxicating and absorbing.

Whenever I think about Stephen King, and how he must work, I envision that there is some moment where he suddenly gets an idea, vivid and remarkable, and then he develops it and develops it and develops it, and the result is The Dark Tower, or some such.

With American Gods, I wonder if the original spark for Gaiman was actually captured in the title of the book, and perhaps went something like this: Who are the American Gods? We know about Norse Gods, and Greek Gods, and Egyptian Gods, and Chinese Gods, so surely there must be American Gods?

And as he thought about this, perhaps he thought, well: people came to America, and so perhaps their gods came to America, too?

Hyacinth learned some French, and was taught a few of the teachings of the Catholic Church. Each day he cut sugar cane from well before the sun rose until after the sun had set.

He fathered several children. He went with the other slaves, in the small hours of the night, to the woods, although it was forbidden, to dance the Calinda, to sing to Damballa-Wedo, the serpent god, in the form of a black snake. He sang to Elegba, to Ogu, Shango, Zaka, and to many others, all the gods the captives had brought with them to the island, brought in their minds and their secret hearts.

And yet, gods also emerge from a place, so what sort of gods might emerge from America? Well it would depend a lot on what Americans believed in:

"I can believe things that are true and I can believe things that aren't true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they're true or not. I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles and Elvis and Mister Ed. [...] " She stopped, out of breath.

Shadow almost took his hands off the wheel to applaud. Instead he said, "Okay. So if I tell you what I've learned you won't think that I'm a nut."

"Maybe," she said. "Try me."

"Would you believe that all the gods that people have ever imagined are still with us today?"

"... maybe."

"And that there are new gods out there, gods of computers and telephones and whatever, and that they all seem to think there isn't room for them both in the world. And that some kind of war is likely."

But what would happen as these new gods emerged? And what would happen to those old gods, here in America?

"This is a bad land for gods," said Shadow. As an opening statement it wasn't Friends, Romans, Countrymen, but it would do. "You've probably all learned that, in your own way. The old gods are ignored. The new gods are as quickly taken up as they are abandoned, cast aside for the next big thing. Either you've been forgotten, or you're scared you're going to be rendered obsolete, or maybe you're just getting tired of existing on the whim of people."

The problem is, as Gaiman observes, that America is America, and that has some pretty serious consequences, both for the old and for the new:

There was an arrogance to the new ones. Shadow could see that. But there was also a fear.

They were afraid that unless they kept pace with a changing world, unless they remade and redrew and rebuilt the world in their image, their time would already be over.

American Gods is already 17 years old, and as I read through it I thought it was fated to be a book stuck in a certain time. After all, for a book about "gods of computers and telephones and whatever," there isn't a self-driving car or a social media app or a virtual reality headset to be found anywhere in the book.

But as Gaiman, an Englishman and yet also a converted American, knows deeply in his soul, so much of what makes America America is distinct from the momentary matters of a certain time or place:

"The battle you're here to fight isn't something that any of you can win or lose. The winning and the losing are unimportant to him, to them. What matters is that enough of you die. Each of you that falls in battle gives him power. Every one of you that dies, feeds him. Do you understand?"

Laser-focused and razor-sharp, Gaiman's clarity of vision and courage to let the truth emerge from the telling produces a sure and solid result, a book that doubtless will be read and re-read decades from now, for its story, in the end, is timeless.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Candidates Tournament is underway!

The 2018 2018 Candidates Tournament is underway!

The official site is having some troubles, but you can find all the games at several other sites, including ChessBase, for example.

Kramnik is off to a strong early start, with 2.5 points from 3 games, but the action has been lively and it is far too early to see how this goes.

Must. Find. Time. To. Follow. These. Beautiful. Games!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Ancillary Justice: a very short review

You'd probably have to be living in a cave, or be paying absolutely no attention at all to the world of Science Fiction, to be unaware of Ann Leckie and her record-shattering Ancillary Justice.

Ancillary Justice won the Hugo award, the Nebula award, the Arthur C. Clarke award, the British Science Fiction Authors award, and heaven knows how many other awards.

There's no disputing that Ancillary Justice deserved all this acclaim. If the point of Science Fiction is to warp your world-view, to push you a bit outside of your comfort zone, to make you imagine different worlds, different ways of being, different notions of existence, then Leckie has it all.

In spades.

And she manages to make it not only mind-bending, but also very entertaining.

But somehow, it is all ... a bit ... odd?

The oddness comes at you from all directions.

Why is every character referred to as "she", even though some are male, and some are female. Or something.

Why do they all wear gloves?

What is the whole sub-plot about singing/chanting/humming?

And don't even get me started on the whole topic of whether a hive-mind artificially intelligent machine can somehow rebel against itself and spontaneously bifurcate into multiple independent consciousnesses.

Ancillary Justice is certainly interesting, but I guess I was hoping for a bit more derring-do and a bit less introspection.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Loitering: a very short review

Oddly, I came across Charles D'Ambrosio's Loitering via the Acrostics puzzle in the Sunday New York Times.

However it arrived on my desk, it was truly a wonderful find!

Loitering is somewhat a re-issue: apparently D'Ambrosio had released many of these essays 15 years ago, in an alternate collection that is now out of print. So many of the essays are nearly two decades old; others are newer.

Old, new, or in-between: these are phenomenally good essays, and D'Ambrosio is a writer of startling skill.

As the greatest writers do, D'Ambrosio sees everything through the lens of language.

This can be a disconcerting experience. For example, here is D'Ambrosio, who has become interested in how mobile homes are constructed, marketed, deployed, and lived-in (perhaps he is thinking of buying one?), visiting a suburban town where a number of these homes are in use:

I stopped a couple of places to look through a few more completed houses. All along I'd been intrigued by the lack of language inside these model homes. There were no words, spoken or written, and even the few decorative books seemed mute on the shelves -- not words, but things. Language in the modular industry belongs largely to the manufacturing end of the business, and there, in technical brochures and spec sheets, it's thick and arcane, made up of portmanteaus and other odd hybrids that are practically Linnaean in their specificity. You get Congoleum and Hardipanel Siding and Nicrome Elements. At the factory all that language is assembled and given narrative development in the tightly plotted path the house takes as it progresses from chassis to truck. But once inside the finished home it ends, there's a kind of white hush, a held breath, and all narrative, defined simply as a sequence of events in time, is gone. Silence and timelessness take over so that when the door opens and you cross the threshold you feel you've stepped out of life itself.

Who tries to interpret a mobile home in terms of its language? Who contemplates "Language in the modular industry?" Who visits a mobile home assembly line and observes that "language is assembled and given narrative development?"

A writer does.

At least, a writer of D'Ambrosio's bent does.

But what is this "language inside these model homes" that he is so interested in?

As he explains, it's truly there, if you just know how to look:

In house #19 I find an icy aspect to the arrangement of family artifacts and like Keats before the Grecian Urn I can't quite puzzle out the story. Photos have been framed and set out on tables and shelves but the pictures are of those same corny people who haven't aged a bit since they came with your first cheap wallet. Who are these blonde women with unfading smiles? Whose bright kids are these? What happy family is this? In the kitchen two ice cream sundaes sit on the counter. Those sundaes will never melt, nor will they be eaten. The cookbook in the kitchen is open to a recipe for blueberry pancakes but in the living room a bottle of wine and two glasses wait on a coffee table. What time of day is it?

Yes, indeed, there is language here, and D'Ambrosio has found it.

(By the way, I love the gentle allusion to the famous first sentence of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.")

Loitering continues along like this, nearly every essay a gem of blinding clarity that wastes nary a word, aiming directly and unerringly to the heart of the matter.

Not everything is perfect: I got very little out of the essay Hell House, except to admire its skill in execution; and the essay Misreading was a complete miss for me.

But when D'Ambrosio is on, oh boy is he on.

Take, for just one more instance, since I can't bear to let this pass un-celebrated:

... the difficulty of writing ... of capturing the sound of the sentences, a sound that isn't precious, by eliminating, as much as possible, the emotional fussiness of commas -- instead using hard consonants and the natural stresses of our largely iambic language to create the rhythm.

I mean, do you see what he just did there?

Along the way, there is plenty more. The best of the lot, I think, is an epic essay that starts with a wounded robin, spends pages in the most complex literary analysis of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye that I think I've ever read, and ends up being not an exegesis, or at least not only an exegesis, but really an investigation of the loss of D'Ambrosio's younger brother to suicide as a child.

Loitering is a book for the ages; I will surely pay attention to D'Ambrosio's other work, when I encounter it.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Oh my goodness this is complicated

I'm not in finance.

I'm a software engineer.

But, really, the two professions are not all that far apart.

So I feel like I ought to be able to grasp some of the most basic aspects of finance.

But this baffles me: Volatility Jump Has Traders Asking About VIX Note Poison Pill:

An ETP meant to mirror moves in the front of the VIX’s futures curve plunged more than 75 percent in after-hours trading following an 80 percent spike in contracts that comprise its underlying index during the trading day, potentially putting in play triggers that would enable the fund’s owners to liquidate it to avoid losses.

OK, so an "ETP" is an "Exchange Traded Product":

Exchange-traded products (ETP) are a type of security that is derivatively priced and trades intra-day on a national securities exchange. ETPs are priced so the value is derived from other investment instruments, such as a commodity, a currency, a share price or an interest rate. Generally, ETPs are benchmarked to stocks, commodities or indices. They can also be actively managed funds. ETPs include exchange-traded funds (ETFs), exchange-traded vehicles (ETVs), exchange-traded notes (ETNs) and certificates.

(Please ignore the acronym defined in terms of other acronyms, for now)

And the VIX is the "Volatility Index":

VIX is the ticker symbol for the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) Volatility Index, which shows the market's expectation of 30-day volatility. It is constructed using the implied volatilities of a wide range of S&P 500 index options. This volatility is meant to be forward looking, is calculated from both calls and puts, and is a widely used measure of market risk, often referred to as the "investor fear gauge."

But what actual ETP's are we talking about, here? Well, here they are: Comparing VIX ETFs/ETNs (XIV, SVXY)

The VIX (CBOE Volatility Index) was created in 1993 to measure the 30-day implied volatility using at-the-money S&P 100 Index option prices. In 2003, the VIX was calculated based on the S&P 500 Index, and it seeks to estimate future volatility by averaging the weighted prices of S&P 500 options over an array of strike prices. Rather than trading options or futures on VIX, sophisticated investors may consider exchange-traded products (ETPs) linked to the VIX, such as the VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Short-Term ETN (NYSEARCA: XIV) and the ProShares Short VIX Short-Term Futures ETF (NYSEARCA: SVXY).

Uhm, er, ok. All clear now?

Well, some people weren't: Volatility Inc.: Inside Wall Street’s $8 Billion Mess

The fallout from the implosion of this vast array of arcane bets mounted quickly on Tuesday. Credit Suisse moved to liquidate one investment product and more than a dozen others were halted after their values sunk toward zero.

The meltdown began last week when stocks started to plunge and volatility spiked to levels not seen since 2015. The VIX -- officially, the Cboe Volatility Index -- surged to 50 on Tuesday, before dropping to 30.

Well, don't feel bad. This is hard for everyone, I think.

Matt Levine takes a swing at it: People Are Worried About the Stock Market

The CBOE Volatility Index, the VIX, is a measure of short-term expected volatility in the S&P 500 Index; it closed at 17.31 on Friday and 37.32 on Monday. That is a 115.6 percent move, but, eh, you know, it is also a 20 percentage point move, and off a pretty low base.

But the great thing about modern finance is that it inexorably turns abstract quantities into prices. The VIX is not investable -- you can't buy the VIX for $17.31 or whatever -- but you can get pretty close. For instance there are VIX futures, and exchange-traded products based on those futures that attempt to capture the daily changes in the level of the VIX. If you owned the iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures exchange-traded note (ticker VXX), then you were up ... huh, well, 33.5 percent yesterday, a nice day but not quite the 115.6 percent gains you might have hoped for. (The VXX "continued to climb in post-market trading, shooting up as much as 48 percent since the close.").

If on the other hand you owned the VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Short-Term ETN (ticker XIV), or the ProShares Short VIX Short-Term Futures exchange-traded fund, which are meant to provide the inverse of the daily VIX performance, then you were ... hmm ... [rechecks calculations] ... yes it says here you were down 115.6 percent yesterday? I mean, you weren't. For one thing your downside is limited to 100 percent; you can't owe the ETN more money than you invested.

"Your downside is limited to 100 percent."

OK, that part I understand.

It's still pretty complicated, though.

Pseudonymous blogger Kid Dynamite takes a swing at it, too: $XIV Volpocalypse – A Sea of Disinformation and Misunderstanding

There are multiple kinds of ETPs (Exchange Traded Products).

ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds) are generally easy to understand: the ETF holds a basket of stocks (or something else), and there are APs (Authorized Participants) who can bring that basket of stuff to the issuer in exchange for new ETF shares, or bring the shares of the ETF to the issuer in exchange for the basket of stuff. This “creation/redemption” mechanism allows arbitrageurs to keep the trading price of the ETF very close to its NAV (net asset value). If the ETF trades rich (above NAV), the arbs will short the ETF, buy the basket of stuff, and create new shares by delivering the stuff to the ETF, closing out their short. If the ETF trades cheap (below NAV), arbs will buy the ETF, short the basket of stuff, and bring the ETF to the manager, receiving the basket of stuff to close out their short. Simple, right?

Then we have CEFs (Closed End Funds), which don’t have this creation/redemption mechanism. Some of them have a provision where shares can be redeemed, sometimes only at specific fractions of NAV, but with CEFs there are no Authorized Participants who can create new shares to arb situations where the CEF trades rich to its NAV.

Finally we have ETNs (Exchange Traded Notes), which are debt instruments of an issuer, whose value is tied to some underlying formula based on the performance of specific assets. With ETNs, as with CEFs, it is often only the issuer who can create new shares to arbitrage situations where the ETN is trading rich. Many ETNs also have redemption mechanisms where holders can deliver shares (in minimum block sizes) to the ETN in exchange for the underlying assets or value thereof.

Is this helping? I dunno.

Kid Dynamite himself acknowledges that this is some pretty abstract stuff, and suggests that you might have an easier go of it with an older article that he wrote: A Leveraged ETF Trading Flow Case Study: Gold Miners – $GDX $NUGT $DUST

There’s a triple leveraged INVERSE ETF – $DUST (no positions) – which seeks to deliver negative 3 times the daily return of the same index. Here’s another confusing part for some people – its rebalance flows are in the same direction, even though it’s leveraged short. Let’s walk through it, shall we?

$DUST had $209 MM in assets as of 9/30/14. That means they’d need -3*209 = -$627 MM in (short) exposure to the GDX. Today, GDX was up 6.7%, so their short hedge portfolio is now worth $42 MM more (a loss of $42 MM for $DUST), or -$669 MM (their short went up in gross notional value). Their assets are now $209 MM – $42 MM = $167 MM. For the new (tomorrow) assets number of $167 MM, they’d need -3*167 = -$501 MM in exposure – so they need to COVER $168 MM in short exposure. In other words, the leveraged short ETF ends up short too much exposure when the underlying index goes higher, so they need to cover some of their short.

"Triple-leveraged inverse ETF".

Ugh.

And I've studied mathematics most of my life!

OK, one more time, back to the ever-patient, ever-accurate, ever-useful Matt Levine, the best financial writer ever to write a daily blog: Are Banks Worthless?

the XIV is just, you know, it is complicated, there are formulas in the prospectus, etc. Another complaint is that its complication might have caused it to blow up. Actually "might" is too weak a word; as Charles Forelle pointed out, the prospectus says, bold and underlined, that "the long term expected value of your ETNs is zero." Even if the VIX goes down, the XIV -- which is a bet on the VIX going down! -- will also lose money over time. If you bought XIV to bet on vol going down, and vol went down, and you lost money anyway, you might be aggrieved. "What a complicated product," you might complain, correctly, even though you were warned.

But what actually happened is that on Monday the VIX went up by 116 percent, and the XIV went down by 93 percent, and Credit Suisse AG, XIV's sponsor, announced that it would usher XIV off into the great financial-products hereafter. If you bought XIV to bet on vol going down, and vol more than doubled in a day, then you get up from the table, you shake everyone's hand, you say "well played XIV," and you walk away with dignity. You did that! That's on you. Perhaps you didn't understand the intricacies of the formulas in the prospectus, but the intricacies of the formulas didn't matter. You made a bet on the VIX going down, the VIX went up by 116 percent, you lost. That is that.

Let's see if I got this:

  1. Stock prices were remarkably stable, mostly going up, but basically not going up or down very much.
  2. People figured out a way to speculate on stock prices continuing to go up, or at least on stock prices not going up or down very much
  3. They made money on those speculative trades, enough money that they went and borrowed large amounts of additional money, in order to make more money.
  4. Then stock prices went down. A lot.
  5. And those people were sad.

You know, in some ways I think I'm smarter after all of this.

In other ways, I think, not.