Saturday, May 25, 2019

One Fine Day in Alameda

Pretty good article: One Fine Day in Alameda

With summer almost upon us, it’s time to start planning seaside outings. But you don’t have to head to Marin, the Peninsula, or Santa Cruz for an escape to the beach. The East Bay’s own Alameda features sandy shores and outdoor activities galore.

Not a clunker in their list of suggestions, I'd say; well done!

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Up, up, and away

Let's try this whole thing all over again:

  • Salesforce Transit Center
    Thornton Tomasetti is the structural engineer-of-record and is also providing sustainability services for Salesforce Transit Center, a new transit terminal topped by a 5.4-acre public park. The project, awarded through a design and development competition, promises to transform the neighborhood and centralize transportation for the region, as part of an overall redevelopment plan for the city of San Francisco.
  • Contractor Gets Green Light to Fix Two Fractured Girders at Salesforce Transit Center
    The third-floor Fremont Street tapered plate girders help support the park directly above and the second-floor bus level—via a hanger at the midspan that thickens the web to 4 in. and slots through the bottom flange—directly below the girder level.


    As described by Bruce Gibbons, the TT managing principal in charge of the transit hub, the bolted fix would only repair the compromised region, at the 8-ft-deep midspan of each 80-ft-long girder, by bypassing the fractured area. The double splint consists of a sandwich of two Grade 70 steel plates, 2 in. thick, and a total of 20 in. wide, on both sides of the web. The bent plates will be a total of 14 ft long, centered at the girder's midspan. There will be 224 bolts, said Turchon. In addition, 8-in.-tall plates will be bolted to each girder’s vertical stiffener.

  • Update on Construction and temporary closure of the Salesforce Transit Center
    Actions taken since last Board meeting:
    • Fremont Street repair designed and material being procured; MTC Peer Review Panel (PRP) in concurrence
    • Same detail proposed at First Street with PRP concurrence
    • Load Shedding analysis completed and submitted to the PRP
    • Bolts in load path received Ultrasonic/Non-Destructive Testing; no damage detected
    • Initiated search for other areas susceptible to brittle fracture. PRP actively participating in review of the effort, supported by Ruby & Associates
  • Repair of Fractured Girders Complete at Shuttered Salesforce Transit Center
    To date, crews have removed all shoring from both sets of third-floor girders that span 87 ft and support both a public rooftop park above and hang the second floor bus level. All traffic lanes are now open during the day. Night street closures will continue throughout May to restore lights, MUNI overhead lines and to reinstall ceiling panels.

    Recommissioning of the 4.5-block-long facility will continue through the end of this month. The quality assurance process includes retesting and re-inspecting fire and life safety systems throughout the facility and retesting the building’s mechanical and electrical systems, reports TJPA.

  • Repairs on cracked beams finished at shuttered Transbay Transit Terminal
    The people behind the grinding effort to reopen the $2.2 billion Transbay Transit Center after its emergency closure last September is holding their breath and waiting to see what a peer review team will say about the inspections of the facility when it meets May 22.

    That’s because the say-so of the reviewers may be the last obstacle toward setting a date to finally reopen the building and let bus traffic roll once again.

    At Thursday’s meeting of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) board, Executive Director Mark Zabaneh said that it will take about a month from the time the review panel gives the okay for the building to open.

    “We would need about a four week period to get buses inside,” said Zabaneh, citing a need to get drivers used to navigating the facility once again.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

I entirely concur ...

... with this philosophy: 60 Days of Light

The phrase “60 Days of Light” first entered my vocabulary a few years ago in St. Petersburg, Russia (I don’t recall the Russian expression, but thats the rough translation). They are so far north they have almost continuous day light during this period, the sun barely sets, and when it does finally dip below the horizon, it is well after midnight. From mid-May (now) until mid-July, the darkest it gets is between sunset and sunrise look like dusk; Even around 2 a.m., the effect of sunset is muted and short-lived.

Love that graph of St. Petersburg!

(Of course, we have recently been spending the first of our 60 days with this: the second half of May 2019 will be the wettest in CA history for many locations., but still.)

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Responses to the letters to the editor in the local paper

To the woman who wrote A Heartfelt Message of Gratitude:

Thank you for writing, and for sharing your experience.

You are very right; it's just stuff.

Various things I've been reading

A little bit of this, a little bit of that.
  • Privacy Rights and Data Collection in a Digital Economy (Senate hearing)
    But there is a second, more fundamental sense of the word privacy, one which until recently was so common and unremarkable that it would have made no sense to try to describe it.

    That is the idea that there exists a sphere of life that should remain outside public scrutiny, in which we can be sure that our words, actions, thoughts and feelings are not being indelibly recorded. This includes not only intimate spaces like the home, but also the many semi-private places where people gather and engage with one another in the common activities of daily life—the workplace, church, club or union hall. As these interactions move online, our privacy in this deeper sense withers away.

    Until recently, even people living in a police state could count on the fact that the authorities didn’t have enough equipment or manpower to observe everyone, everywhere, and so enjoyed more freedom from monitoring than we do living in a free society today. [Note: The record for intensive surveillance in the pre-internet age likely belongs to East Germany, where by some estimates one in seven people was an informant.].

    A characteristic of this new world of ambient surveillance is that we cannot opt out of it, any more than we might opt out of automobile culture by refusing to drive. However sincere our commitment to walking, the world around us would still be a world built for cars. We would still have to contend with roads, traffic jams, air pollution, and run the risk of being hit by a bus.

    Similarly, while it is possible in principle to throw one’s laptop into the sea and renounce all technology, it is no longer be possible to opt out of a surveillance society.

    When we talk about privacy in this second, more basic sense, the giant tech companies are not the guardians of privacy, but its gravediggers.

  • Solving Puzzles to Protect the Cloud: CTO Taher Elgamal on His Role at Salesforce and the Future of Cryptography
    Elgamal sees interesting challenges emerging in the next decade or so as quantum computing becomes a reality. He’s passionate about agility in cryptography, noting that, currently, when changes need to be made because an implementation has been shown to have weaknesses, it causes a big slowdown for security engineers. We can’t wait ten years, Elgamal says, to start the effort to protect against new technologies.
  • Amazon’s Away Teams laid bare: How AWS's hivemind of engineers develop and maintain their internal tech
    The Away Team model and generally easy access to source code means that investment can easily cross service boundaries to enhance the power of the entire system of services. Teams with a vision for making their own service more powerful by improving other services are free to execute.
  • OPP (Other People's Problems)
    If it’s your job (or the job of someone who reports to you), great. Go to it! Tend your own garden first. Make systems that are as robust as you believe systems should be. Follow processes that you believe are effective and efficient. If you are not leading by example, you have to start there. Stop reading now and go fix the things!

    If there’s no clear owner, do you know why? Is it just because no one has gotten around to doing it, or has the organization specifically decided not to do it? If no one’s gotten around to doing it, can you do it yourself? Can your org do it, just within your org?

    If it’s someone else’s job, how much does it affect your day to day life? Does it bother you because they’re doing it wrong, or does it actually, really, significantly make it harder for you to do your job? Really? That significantly? There’s no work around at all? If it is not directly affecting your job, drop it!

  • Strong Opinions Loosely Held Might be the Worst Idea in Tech
    The idea of strong opinions, loosely held is that you can make bombastic statements, and everyone should implicitly assume that you’ll happily change your mind in a heartbeat if new data suggests you are wrong. It is supposed to lead to a collegial, competitive environment in which ideas get a vigorous defense, the best of them survive, and no-one gets their feelings hurt in the process.

    On a certain kind of team, where everyone shares that ethos, and there is very little power differential, this can work well. I’ve had the pleasure of working on teams like that, and it is all kinds of fun. When you have a handful of solid engineers that understand each other, and all of them feel free to say “you are wrong about X, that is absolutely insane, and I question your entire family structure if you believe that, clearly Y is the way to go”, and then you all happily grab lunch together (at Linguini’s), that’s a great feeling of camaraderie.

    Unfortunately, that ideal is seldom achieved.

    What really happens? The loudest, most bombastic engineer states their case with certainty, and that shuts down discussion. Other people either assume the loudmouth knows best, or don’t want to stick out their neck and risk criticism and shame. This is especially true if the loudmouth is senior, or there is any other power differential.

  • People + AI Guidebook: Explainability + Trust
    Key considerations for explaining AI systems:
    1. Help users calibrate their trust. Because AI products are based on statistics and probability, the user shouldn’t trust the system completely. Rather, based on system explanations, the user should know when to trust the system’s predictions and when to apply their own judgement.
    2. Optimize for understanding. In some cases, there may be no explicit, comprehensive explanation for the output of a complex algorithm. Even the developers of the AI may not know precisely how it works. In other cases, the reasoning behind a prediction may be knowable, but difficult to explain to users in terms they will understand.
    3. Manage influence on user decisions. AI systems often generate output that the user needs to act on. If, when, and how the system calculates and shows confidence levels can be critical in informing the user’s decision making and calibrating their trust.
  • Decision Tree Learning
    The Decision Tree Learning algorithm adopts a greedy divide-and-conquer strategy: always test the most important attribute first. This test divides the problem up into smaller subproblems that can then be solved recursively. By “most important attribute,” we mean the one that makes the most difference to the classification of an example. That way, we hope to get to the correct classification with a small number of tests, meaning that all paths in the tree will be short and the tree as a whole will be shallow.
  • Awesome decision tree research papers
    A curated list of decision, classification and regression tree research papers with implementations.
  • Video Game Workers See Power in a Union
    This is the first labor-related walkout in the video game industry, but it likely will not be the last. The sector has been under scrutiny for years over exploitative practices, including lack of job security, mass layoffs and “crunch.” Short for “crunch time,” crunch is an industry-wide practice that requires employees, especially developers, to put in extra, unpaid hours—making for 60 to 80-hour work weeks—to deliver a game by its release date. One of the most egregious examples of crunch came in October of 2018 when reports surfaced that employees of Rockstar Games were working 100-hour weeks to finish the game Red Dead Redemption 2.
  • This World of Ours
    The worst part about growing up is that the world becomes more constrained. As a child, it seems completely reasonable to build a spaceship out of bed sheets, firecrackers, and lawn furniture; as you get older, you realize that the S.S. Improbable will not take you to space, but instead a lonely killing field of fire, Child Protective Services, and awkward local news interviews, not necessarily in that order, but with everything showing up eventually. Security research is the continual process of discovering that your spaceship is a deathtrap.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

A nice collection of git links

Cue the line about how a master craftsman needs to thoroughly understand his tools, as we explore another fascinating series from the great Raymond Chen (After we first share one unrelated bonus link)

  • Learn to change history with git rebase!
    One of Git's core value-adds is the ability to edit history. Unlike version control systems that treat the history as a sacred record, in git we can change history to suit our needs. This gives us a lot of powerful tools and allows us to curate a good commit history in the same way we use refactoring to uphold good software design practices. These tools can be a little bit intimidating to the novice or even intermediate git user, but this guide will help to demystify the powerful git-rebase.
OK, that was a good warm-up. Now on to the main feature!
  • Stupid git commit-tree tricks, Part 1: Building a commit manually out of a tree
    I take a snapshot of what’s in our internal staging repo and push it to the public repo. All of the intermediate steps are squashed out, so that the public repo isn’t cluttered with noisy history.
  • Stupid git commit-tree tricks, Part 2: Building a merge commit manually out of a tree
    I want the commit to be a merge of win10-1507 and the changes specific to that branch. To do this, I use the commit-tree command, but provide multiple parents. The first parent is the previous commit for the branch, and the second parent is the incoming changes from its ancestor branch.
  • Stupid git commit-tree tricks, Part 3: Building a throwaway commit in order to perform a combined cherry-pick-squash
    Suppose you have a series of commits you want to cherry-pick and squash onto another branch.

    The traditional way of doing this is to cherry-pick the series of commits with the -n option so that they all stack on top of each other, and then perform a big git commit when you’re done. However, this mechanism churns the local hard drive with copies of each of the intermediate commits, and if there are merge conflicts, you may end up having to resolve the conflict in the same block of code over and over again.

  • Stupid git commit-tree tricks, Part 4: Changing a squash to a merge
    you could hard reset the master branch back to M1 and redo the merge. But that means you have to redo all the merge conflicts, and that may have been quite an ordeal. And if that was a large merge, then even in the absence of conflicts, you still have a lot of files being churned in your working directory.

    Much faster is simply to create the commit you want and reset to it.

  • Stupid git commit-tree tricks, Part 5: Squashing without git rebase
    Since all of the commits we want to squash are consecutive, we can do all this squashing by simply committing trees.


    The point is that we were able to rewrite a branch without touching any files in the working directory.

  • Stupid git commit-tree tricks, Part 6: Resetting by reusing an earlier tree
    This tree-based merge is the trick I referred to some time ago in the context of forcing a patch branch to look like a nop. In that diagram, we started with a commit A and cherry-picked a patch P so we could use it to patch the master branch. Meanwhile, we also want a nop to go into the feature branch. We did it with a git revert, but you can also do it in a no-touch way by committing trees.
  • Stupid git tricks: Combining two files into one while preserving line history
    For best results, your rename commit should be a pure rename. Resist the tempotation to edit the file’s contents at the same time you rename it. A pure rename ensure that git’s rename detection will find the match. If you edit the file in the same commit as the rename, then whether the rename is detected as such will depend on git’s “similar files” heuristic.¹ If you need to edit the file as well as rename it, do it in two separate commits: One for the rename, another for the edit.

    Wait, we didn’t use git commit-tree yet. What’s this doing in the Stupid git commit-tree tricks series?

    We’ll add commit-tree to the mix next time. Today was groundwork, but this is a handy technique to keep in your bag of tricks, even if you never get around to the commit-tree part.

  • Stupid git commit-tree tricks, Part 7: Combining more than two files into one while preserving line history, manual octopus merging
    The problem is that octopus merges work only if there are no conflicts. We’re going to have to build our own octopus merge.
    cat dairy fruits veggies | sort >food
    git rm dairy fruits veggies
    git add food
    git write-tree
    The git write-tree creates a tree from the index. It’s the tree that a git commit would create, but we don’t want to do a normal commit. This is the tree we want to commit, but we need to set custom parents, so we’ll ask git write-tree for the tree that would be committed, so we can build our custom commit.
Any series that culminates in the phrase "manual octopus merging" is epic.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Responses to the Letters to the Editor in the local paper

To the Traceys, who who wrote in with updates and thanks about their son Austin:

Thank you for writing. I am so very, very sorry.

Mental health issues are, in my opinion, the greatest unsolved tragedy of my time here on earth.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Thunderstruck: a very short review

Erik Larson is deservedly famed for his The Devil in the White City, which I enjoyed quite a lot when I read it years ago.

But Larson has written a number of books in addition to The Devil in the White City, and recently I happened to read Thunderstruck.

Thunderstruck is set at the turn of the 19th century, from about 1895 through about 1910, and focuses primarily on the unusual and turbulent life of Guglielmo Marconi, the Irish-Italian inventor who, at a very young age, moved to London and invented a set of devices which could send and receive messages using radio waves, something which quickly became known as the "Wireless Telegraph".

As a narrative device, Larson spins Marconi's story together with another story, that of H.H. Crippen, a physician of sorts and a peddler of the sorts of homeopathic "cures" that were popular at that time.

Alternating back and forth between the two stories, Larson brings things to a climax with a certainly entertaining depiction of a heinous crime and its unraveling by Scotland Yard.

But, overall, I found myself rather unaffected, for a variety of reasons.

Most importantly, the two stories didn't really have anything to do with each other, except for the rather boring observation that Scotland Yard were able to make use of the Wireless Telegraph during their apprehension of the murderer.

Furthermore, neither of the main characters are all that gripping. Marconi certainly had a vivid time in the world spotlight, rushing here and there to demonstrate his invention, build a company to deliver it, and grow it into a worldwide success. But Marconi (at least in Larson's telling) was a quiet, private, almost reclusive man, with not much more than a string of failed relationships to add background and color to the story of his tireless work on refining and improving the wireless transmitters and receivers.

Crippen, meanwhile, is even less appealing, and Larson is forced to tell Crippen's story primarily through the stories of those he came in contact with: wives, girlfriends, business associates, etc.

The most interesting character in the book, I thought, was the completely fascinating John Nevil Maskelyne: magician, entertainer, skeptic, and general gadabout; the best part of the entire book, in my opinion, is the wonderful story of how Maskelyne attempts to disrupt one of Marconi's public exhibitions of wireless technology by commandeering a wireless transmitter of his own and beaming risque limericks into the on-stage receiver. And, we must not forget, Maskelyne is one of those rare creatures whose own book is still read and enjoyed now, 125 years after it was first published!

As he always does, Larson does a fine job of painting the picture of the time, and the book is pleasant enough to read.

But I guess I think he tried to force his material to carry more than its fair share of a story, and the result felt to me like one of those situations where the enormous build-up with which Thunderstruck arrived led to an unavoidable disappointment when its reality sunk in.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

I've been out of date with my reading ...

... but here's a little snapshot, anyway.

  • How the Boeing 737 Max Disaster Looks to a Software Developer (Free registration required)
    The flight management computer is a computer. What that means is that it’s not full of aluminum bits, cables, fuel lines, or all the other accoutrements of aviation. It’s full of lines of code. And that’s where things get dangerous.

    Those lines of code were no doubt created by people at the direction of managers. Neither such coders nor their managers are as in touch with the particular culture and mores of the aviation world as much as the people who are down on the factory floor, riveting wings on, designing control yokes, and fitting landing gears. Those people have decades of institutional memory about what has worked in the past and what has not worked. Software people do not.

    In the 737 Max, only one of the flight management computers is active at a time—either the pilot’s computer or the copilot’s computer. And the active computer takes inputs only from the sensors on its own side of the aircraft.

    When the two computers disagree, the solution for the humans in the cockpit is to look across the control panel to see what the other instruments are saying and then sort it out. In the Boeing system, the flight management computer does not “look across” at the other instruments. It believes only the instruments on its side. It doesn’t go old-school. It’s modern. It’s software.

  • TRITON Actor TTP Profile, Custom Attack Tools, Detections, and ATT&CK Mapping
    The TRITON intrusion is shrouded in mystery. There has been some public discussion surrounding the TRITON framework and its impact at the target site, yet little to no information has been shared on the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) related to the intrusion lifecycle, or how the attack made it deep enough to impact the industrial processes. The TRITON framework itself and the intrusion tools the actor used were built and deployed by humans, all of whom had observable human strategies, preferences, and conventions for the custom tooling of the intrusion operation. It is our goal to discuss these adversary methods and highlight exactly how the developer(s), operator(s) and others involved used custom tools in the intrusion.

    In this report we continue our research of the actor’s operations with a specific focus on a selection of custom information technology (IT) tools and tactics the threat actor leveraged during the early stages of the targeted attack lifecycle (Figure 1). The information in this report is derived from multiple TRITON-related incident responses carried out by FireEye Mandiant.

    Using the methodologies described in this post, FireEye Mandiant incident responders have uncovered additional intrusion activity from this threat actor – including new custom tool sets – at a second critical infrastructure facility. As such, we strongly encourage industrial control system (ICS) asset owners to leverage the indicators, TTPs, and detections included in this post to improve their defenses and hunt for related activity in their networks.

  • RIP Joe Armstrong (See also this twitter thread)

    (Yes, he was the man who invented Erlang. And did a surprising amount of other stuff that you never knew about.)

  • France’s Yellow Vests Challenge
    Over lunch at an Avenue Matignon café in Paris, I asked a literate media entrepreneur and political expert to explain the Yellow Vests mystery. Who are they, what do they want, who leads them? He started by offering a metaphor. The interior of France, some call it La France Profonde (think of Red States), is like a forest that has been progressively desiccated by climate change. Then gasoline was poured on the trees. Sooner or later a spark would set it ablaze.

    I’ve seen the desiccation, the emptying of France. In an October 2017 Monday Note titled The Compostelle Walk Into Another France, I recounted how, with daughter Marie, we walked through empty villages, no café, no bakery, no garage. Barking dogs roamed the streets during the day, the inhabitants having rushed to their distant jobs. I had had a similar impression years before, driving small country roads in Northern Burgundy, but walking the Compostelle (Camino de Santiago) made it more vivid.

    Over the past three or fours decades, La France Profonde has been slowly hollowed out as jobs moved out of the country or to larger urban areas. This desiccation isn’t unique to France, but gasoline was poured on the forest in the form of an accumulation of laws and regulations that exasperated the remaining France Profonde population, creating a schism between “real people” and “those people in Paris”.

  • Google I/O 2019
    This year’s developer festival will be held May 7-9 at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, CA
  • How Common Are Data Center Meltdowns?
    We all know about catastrophic headline-generating failures like AWS East-1 region falling apart or a major provider being down for a day or two. Then there are failures known only to those who care, like losing a major exchange point. However, I’m becoming more and more certain that the known failures are not even the tip of the iceberg - they seem to be the climber at the iceberg summit.
  • “Users want control” is a shoulder shrug
    There are some cases when a person really does want control. If the person wants to determine their own path, if having choice is itself a personal goal, then you need control. That’s a goal about who you are not just what you get. It’s worth identifying moments when this is important. But if a person does not pay attention to something then that person probably does not identify with the topic and is not seeking control over it. “Privacy advocates” pay attention to privacy, and attain a sense of identity from the very act of being mindful of their own privacy. Everyone else does not.
  • Tesla Full Self Driving ASIC
    Overall, it’s a nice design. They have adopted a conservative process node and frequency. They have taken a pretty much standard approach to inference by mostly leaning on a fairly large multiple/add array. In this case a 96×96 unit. What’s particularly interesting to me what’s around the multiply/add array and their approach to extracting good performance from a conventional low-cost memory subsystem. I was also interested in their use of two redundant inference chips per car with each exchanging results each iteration to detect errors before passing the final plan (the actuator instructions) to a safety system for validation before the commands are sent to the actuators. Performance and price/performance look quite good.
  • Highlights from Git 2.21
    An important optimization for Git servers is that the format for transmitted objects is the same as the heavily-compressed on-disk packfiles. That means that in many cases, Git can serve repositories to clients by simply copying bytes off disk without having to inflate individual objects.

    But sometimes this assumption breaks down. Objects on disk may be stored as “deltas” against one another. When two versions of a file have similar content, we might store the full contents of one version (the “base”), but only the differences against the base for the other version. This creates a complication when serving a fetch. If object A is stored as a delta against object B, we can only send the client our on-disk version of A if we are also sending them B (or if we know they already have B). Otherwise, we have to reconstruct the full contents of A and re-compress it.

    This happens rarely in many repositories where clients clone all of the objects stored by the server. But it can be quite common when multiple distinct but overlapping sets of objects are stored in the same packfile (for example, due to repository forks or unmerged pull requests). Git may store a delta between objects found only in two different forks. When someone clones one of the forks, they want only one of the objects, and we have to discard the delta.

    Git 2.20 solves this by introducing the concept of “delta islands“. Repository administrators can partition the ref namespace into distinct “islands”, and Git will avoid making deltas between islands. The end result is a repository which is slightly larger on disk but is still able to serve client fetches much more cheaply.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Babylon's Ashes: a very short review

It had been six months, so I picked up the next episode of The Expanse: Babylon's Ashes.

I'm not actually sure how many series I've read this far, i.e., all the way to Book Six. Patrick O'Brian's stories of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin is the only other that comes to mind.

Of course, O'Brian's books were one of the great literary achievements of the 20th century; that's a high bar!

But clearly The Expanse has something going on.

I agree with those who say that Babylon's Ashes was not the strongest of the series so far. Book Five was much better. The Free Navy are not very interesting, and I'm not sure where I stand on the investigation into the soul of Filip Nagata.

However, one of the strongest parts of the overall series is the way that characters with dark pasts are developed into rich and fascinating stories. Think of Clarissa Mao, or Basia Merton, or even Joe Miller from Book One (Leviathan Wakes).

And, we get some great space battles, we get a very new interesting character in Michio Pa.

My pattern of late has been to take a bit of a break between books. After all, I have much else to read.

But I'm sure I'll be back for Book Seven. I suspect that, just as summer turns into fall, Persepolis Rising will be finding its way into my hands...

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

For historians of the birth of computer games

Here's a pretty amazing resource:

  • The Infocom Cabinet: Binders and Folders of Infocom, Inc. (1981-1987)
    In 2006, documentary filmmaker Jason Scott began production on GET LAMP, a video documentary about the realm of text adventures and interactive fiction. Shooting and research time was roughly 4 years, during which Jason interacted with a large variety of members of the various communities and companies that made up the story of text adventures. Among these was Steve Meretzky, developer at Infocom, Inc, arguably the largest and most influential of the 1980s adventure game companies.

    During his time at Infocom, Steve Meretzky meticulously gathered thousands of pages of notes, journals, maps, memos, forms and other printable materials related to all aspects of Infocom, and kept them in his basement for decades. During the GET LAMP production, Jason Scott scanned in roughly 9,000 pages of these documents across a number of months, borrowing the materials from Steve and scanning them as quickly as possible, at around 600dpi. From these scans, a portion was used in the GET LAMP movie to illustrate various scenes and descriptions by interviewees.

  • Historical Source
    A collection of historical source files, for education and perusal.
  • Source Code For A Ton Of Classic Infocom Games Appears
    A generous benefactor has very kindly offered retro fans and the wider internet a glorious gift this morning: a dump of source code from classic Infocom text games, including the original Zork adventures, Shogun, and Infocom's adaptation of the legendary Douglas Adams novel, Hitchiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

Now, about those other 16 hours per day that I requested in order to study all this...

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The (un)happy Medium

Generally speaking, I feel like I ought to like Medium

So why is it that I seem to be actively avoiding every medium link that shows up in my various feeds, nowadays.

I can't clearly express the unease I have about the platform.

What do you think? Is Medium to be avoided, embraced, or is it just "meh"?

Sunday, April 7, 2019

We are stardust, we are golden; we are billion year old carbon

Every year, as we approach Earth Day, it's good to remember, and good to consider, this magical aggregate of dust upon which we all survive:

  • This Woman Paddled 730 miles up the Green River - to save our water systems.
    I’m paddling the length of the river, to try and understand that risk, my own and other people’s, and to see, from river level, what we could stand to lose if we don’t change how we use and allocate water. “Throughout the whole last century, if you needed more water it always worked out somehow, but it doesn’t work when you get to the point where you’re storing every last drop,” Doug Kenney, Director of the Western Water Policy program at the University of Colorado, tells me before I set out on the river. “You have to talk people through it, and explain that for every new reservoir you try and fill you’re putting more stress on the other parts of the system. Things are changing and we should behave in a way that limits our risk.”

    (See also: Heather Hansman: The Dam Problem in the West)

  • Letter From a Drowned Canyon
    On a map, Glen Canyon before its submersion looks like a centipede: a 200-mile-long central canyon bending and twisting with a host of little canyons like legs on either side. Those side canyons were sometimes hundreds of feet deep; some were so cramped you could touch both walls with your outstretched hands; some had year-round running water in them or potholes that explorers had to swim across. Sometimes in the cool shade of side-canyon ledges and crevices, ferns and other moisture-loving plants made hanging gardens. Even the names of these places are beautiful: Forbidding Canyon, Face Canyon, Dove Canyon, Red Canyon, Twilight Canyon, Balanced Rock Canyon, Ribbon Canyon. Like Dungeon Canyon, they are now mostly underwater.

    When the Sierra Club pronounced Glen Canyon dead in 1963, the organization’s leaders expected it to stay dead under Lake Powell. But this old world is re-emerging, and its fate is being debated again. The future we foresee is often not the one we get, and Lake Powell is shriveling, thanks to more water consumption and less water supply than anyone anticipated. Beneath it lies not just canyons but spires, crests, labyrinths of sandstone, Anasazi ruins, petroglyphs, and burial sites, an intricate complexity hidden by water, depth lost in surface. The uninvited guest, the unanticipated disaster, reducing rainfall and snowmelt and increasing drought and evaporation in the Southwest, is climate change.

  • How the Flint River got so toxic
    Why did Flint’s river pose so many problems? Before processing, the water itself is polluted from four sources: natural biological waste; treated industrial and human waste; untreated waste intentionally or accidentally dumped into the river; and contaminants washed into the river by rain or snow. The river is also warmer than Lake Huron, and its flow is less constant, particularly in the summer. All of this raises levels of bacteria and organic matter and introduces a wide range of other potential contaminants, whether natural or human-made.

    In fact, while the Flint River had been improving thanks to the new regulations, the departure of heavy industry, and local cleanup efforts, it had long been known as an exceptionally polluted river. Until very recently, it had been repeatedly ruled out as a primary source for the city’s drinking water. It is hard to imagine why anyone familiar with the river’s history would ever decide to use it even as a temporary water source. But they did.

  • Looking Again at the Chernobyl Disaster
    A neglected step caused the reactor’s power to plunge, and frantic attempts to revive it created an unexpected power surge. Poorly trained operators panicked. An explosion of hydrogen and oxygen sent Elena into the air “like a flipped coin” and destroyed the reactor. Operators vainly tried to stop a meltdown by planning to shove control rods in by hand. Escaping radiation shot a pillar of blue-white phosphorescent light into the air.

    The explosion occurs less than 100 pages into this 366-page book (plus more than 100 pages of notes, glossary, cast of characters and explanation of radiation units). But what follows is equally gripping. Radio-controlled repair bulldozers became stuck in the rubble. Exposure to radiation made voices grow high and squeaky. A dying man whispered to his nurse to step back because he was too radioactive. A workman’s radioactive shoe was the first sign in Sweden of a nuclear accident 1,000 miles upwind. Soviet bigwigs entered the area with high-tech dosimeters they didn’t know how to turn on. Investigations blamed the accident on six tweakers, portrayed them as “hooligans” and convicted them.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

A sense of fullness

Here's one take: Trump, following border trip, says country is full: 'We can't do it anymore'

President Trump, fresh off a trip to the U.S. southern border, doubled-down on his message that “the country is full”


“The country is full. We have ... our system is full. We can't do it anymore,” Trump said


The president shared the same message earlier in the day at a roundtable with law enforcement and immigration officials, telling any potential migrants to “turn around” because the U.S. “can’t take you anymore.”

And here's another: Heartland Visas Report

  • U.S. population growth has fallen to 80-year lows. The country now adds approximately 900,000 fewer people each year than it did in the early 2000s.
  • The last decade marks the first time in the past century that the United States has experienced low population growth and low prime working age growth on a sustained basis at the same time.
  • Uneven population growth is leaving more places behind. 86% of counties now grow more slowly than the nation as a whole, up from 64% in the 1990s.
  • In total, 61 million Americans live in counties with stagnant or shrinking populations and 38 million live in the 41% of U.S. counties experiencing rates of demographic decline similar to Japan’s.
  • 80% of U.S. counties, home to 149 million Americans, lost prime working age adults from 2007 to 2017, and 65% will again over the next decade.
  • By 2037, two-thirds of U.S. counties will contain fewer prime working age adults than they did in 1997, even though the country will add 24.1 million prime working age adults and 98.8 million people in total over that same period.
  • Population decline affects communities in every state. Half of U.S. states lost prime working age adults from 2007-2017. 43% of counties in the average state lost population in that same time period, and 76% lost prime working age adults.
  • Shrinking places are also aging the most rapidly. By 2027, 26% of the population in the fastest shrinking counties will be 65 and older compared to 20% nationwide.
  • Population loss is hitting many places with already weak socioeconomic foundations. The share of the adult population with at least a bachelor’s degree in the bottom decile of population loss is half that in the top decile of population growth. Educational attainment in the fastest shrinking counties is on average equivalent to that of Mexico today or the United States in 1978.
  • Population loss itself perpetuates economic decline. Its deleterious effects on housing markets, local government finances, productivity, and dynamism make it harder for communities to bounce back. For example, this analysis found that a 1 percentage point decline in a county’s population growth rate is associated with a 2-3 percentage point decline in its startup rate over the past decade.

Happily for me, I live in one of those areas where immigrants are welcomed; nearly everyone that I spend my waking hours with is either an immigrant or a child of an immigrant, and my part of the country is experiencing the most breathtaking growth, both cultural growth and economic growth, since the pre-Civil-War "Gold Rush" years of 1849-1850.

But I understand that other areas of the country are different.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Alex Honnold breaks it down

Two great tastes that taste great together! Alex Honnold Breaks Down Iconic Rock Climbing Scenes.

Thanks very much, GQ, for making and sharing this very entertaining 15 minute short feature!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

This seems pointless to me...

... I visit

... It shows me a story that looks interesting.

... I click on the link

... The web site loads, displays the same headline that I saw on, and then puts up a pop-up saying that I've reached my article limit and would I like to subscribe?

Nowadays, I just scan, and don't bother clicking on most of the links, unless I'm sure that they're to a site, like reuters or cnn or bbc, that isn't going to refuse to show me their article.

I realize that, for the most part, that means that I am that worst of news consumers, the headline-only reader.

So I compromise and I read the entire newspaper once a week, on Sunday.

It seems like not much happens between one Sunday and the next, actually, anyway.

So maybe I'm not missing much.

And I have more time to read books.

And play God of War.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Responses to the Letters to the Editor in the local paper

To the person who wrote the letter entitled: ‘Wellness center’ may end Crab Cove concerts, stating that free public concerts cannot be held near parks that "have a homeless shelter or offer homeless services next to or very close by", I would like to know:

Is this some sort of a legal requirement? Or are you just suggesting that most performers don't want to be seen anywhere close to a social services center?

For a spot of counter-evidence, such as it is, I offer: The Definitive Guide to San Francisco's Free Outdoor Concerts.

I'm not sure what the position of being "Alameda's Arts Advocate" is, but since you refer to "our Concerts at the Cove summer music concert series", I assume you are the person who schedules and invites local musicians to perform in these events, or it is your organization that does so?

If so, I'm sorry you feel that you'll have to move your concerts elsewhere, and I encourage you to reconsider, regardless of what happens in the surrounding areas of the city.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Weight of Ink: a very short review

Who can resist a love story?

Who can resist a love story, set in a library?

It's two great tastes, that taste great together: Rachel Kadish's The Weight of Ink.

Well, I'm not really being fair. It's not set in a library, it's set (partially) in a Rare Manuscripts Conservation Laboratory.

In a library.

Well, it's also set in a kibbutz in Israel.

Oh, and it's also set in 17th century London, during the time of the Inquisition, and the Plague, and yet also, the time of the birth of modern Philosophy.

It's a book about Baruch Spinoza, who you might never have spent much time thinking about (certainly I never did), and it's a book about being Jewish in England during a time when that was only barely legal.

And it's DEFINITELY a love story.

But it's rather a non-traditional love story, not least because a lot of it is about People Who Love Books, both now and then, back in the days when a book was still a thing that People Who Love Books built by hand, with agonizing care.

Our heroes and heroines are the sort of people who know immediately what a rare thing it is to find a 350 year old book, or even writing of any sort:

Her eyes were on the book. "Iron gall ink," she said after a moment.

Following her gaze, he understood that the damage had been done before he ever touched the ledger. The pages were like Swiss Cheese. Letters and words excised at random, holes eaten through the page over the centuries by the ink itself.

And they are the sort of people who can survive the most horrible tortures and injuries, and yet the thing that pains them the most is the loss of books:

Before she knew what she was saying, she turned to the rabbi. "What do you see," she said, "behind the lids of your eyes?"

For the first time there was unease beneath his silence. She felt a hard, thin satisfaction she was ashamed of.

"I shall not, at this moment, answer this question," he said. "But I will tell you what I learned after I lost my sight, in the first days as I came to understand how much of the world was now banned from me -- for my hands would never again turn the pages of a book, nor be stained with the sweet, grave weight of ink, a thing I had loved since first memory. I walked through rooms that had once been familiar, my arms outstretched, and was fouled and thwarted by every obstacle in my path. What I learned then, Ester, is a thing that I have been learning ever since."

The literary technique of trying to tell two stories, one old and set in the past, and one new and set in the current time, is well-known, and although it can be powerful, it can also be a bit of a crutch.

It also leads to a situation in which the book is packed full of characters, and can be a tad confusing when you jump back and forth, although I felt like, overall, The Weight of Ink pulled this off well, and did not over-burden the reader.

Some of the characters are extraordinarily compelling, and front and center is surely Ester, the 17th-century orphan girl who comes to live in the household of a blind, dying rabbi.

Other characters are, well, not quite so gripping, such as the young heiress Mary, or the extremely annoying graduate student Aaron.

But for my money, my favorite was the aging scholar Helen, absorbed in the study of history, dragging herself out of bed every day, overcoming her advanced Parkinson's disease, to get into the library and spend her time with The Books:

For a long time, Helen sat in the silent laboratory. All around her, on shelves and tables, on metal trays and in glass chambers, lay a silent company of paper: centuries old, leaf after leaf, torn or faded or brittle. Pages inked by long-dead hands. Pages damaged by time and worse. But they -- the pages -- would live again.

The climactic scene in which Helen must go to face the Dean, who waits for her to deliver her requested resignation, is remarkably more vivid and compelling and heart-wrenching than you could possibly imagine.

A large part of The Weight of Ink is the painstaking detective story of the literary historians, discovering The Books, poring over their contents, and then, slowly, but surely, reading between the lines to understand what they really say.

But The Weight of Ink succeeded, for me, because it balances that detective story quite nicely with the fill-in-the-blanks story of Ester and her adventures in London.

Bit by bit, page by page, Aaron and Helen come to understand what Ester's life was like, and what she did and thought and felt.

And yet, how could they? How could any of us know what it was like to be a young girl, alone in a city of tragedies at a time of horrors, still consumed by those most elemental of human passions:

"No," she said. "No, it's not that way. I choose with my heart, and my heart is for you." As she said it she felt her heart insisting within her ribs -- indeed, for the first time in her life she almost could see her heart, and to her astonishment it seemed a brave and hopeful thing: a small wooden cup of some golden liquid, brimming until it spilled over all -- the rabbi breathing in his bed, the dim candlelight by which Ester had so long strained at words on the page, the dead girl with her father in the cart. All that was beautiful and all that was precious, all of it streaming with sudden purpose here -- to this place where they now stood.

And, of course, in and around it all, there is that Birth of Modern Philosophy business, with plenty of Hobbes and Descartes and Spinoza.

And whether that's your thing, or not, probably depends a lot on how you feel about Philosophy.

The folly of her own words astonished her. She pulled the papers back from over the water, and read more, and as she read she saw the enormity of her blindness. In her arrogance and loneliness she'd thought she understood the world -- yet its very essence had been missing from her own philosophy.

The imperative -- she whispered it to herself -- to live. The universe was ruled by a force, and the force was life, and live, and live -- a pulsing, commanding law of its own. The comet making its fiery passage across their sky didn't signify divine displeasure, nor did it have anything to say of London's sin; the comet's light existed for the mere purpose of shining. It hurtled because the cosmos demanded it to hurtle. Just as the grass grew in order to grow. Just as the disfigured woman must defy Bescos, who'd consider her unfit for love; just as Ester herself had once, long ago, written because she had to write.

But I suspect that most People Who Love Books are also people who are quite interested in Philosophy, so I suspect that it's actually a pretty fair bet that if you want to read a love story (actually four or five different love stories, as it turns out) set in a library (yes, yes, I know, a Rare Manuscripts Conservation Laboratory), then you probably want to read a fair amount about the early days of Rationalism and its conflicts with the major Religious Philosophies of the day.

Or maybe you just want to read a great love story!

Oh, to heck with it: go read The Weight of Ink. It's well worth your time.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Responses to the Letters to the Editor in the local paper

To the woman who was upset that she found herself sitting in her car, waiting for the traffic lights to change:

Drive less.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

I really need to plan a trip

I keep thinking that I ought to plan a vacation in which I'd set my signposts based on Destination Libraries:

  • Oodi Helsinki Central Library
    The design divides the functions of the library into three distinct levels: an active ground floor that extends the town square into an interior space; “book heaven” on the upper level; and an enclosed in-between volume containing rooms to accommodate additional services and facilities within the library. This spatial concept has been realised by building the library as an inhabited bridge, with two massive steel arches that span over 100 meters to create a fully enclosed, column-free public entrance space, clusters of rooms grouped around the structure, and the open-plan reading room carried above.
  • The new Deichman library
    The library's architecture is closely tied to its role as a public space. The top of the building cantilevers out to announce its presence to the visitors that arrive from Oslo's city center and the central station. Cuts in the facade mark the entrances the east, west and south, welcoming people from all sides of the city. Diagonal light shafts cut through the building and connect indoor spaces with the streets outside and the nearby Opera House. After dark, the building will glow and change looks as a reflection of all the different activities and events that take place inside.
  • Look Inside the Most Cutting-Edge Public Library in the World
    Library lovers have a reason to visit Denmark: the Dokk1 in Aarhus was just crowned the best public library in the world.

    The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) awarded the Dokk1 with the best library title at a meeting in Columbus, Ohio, throwing a spotlight on the futuristic building that opened in June 2015. The largest public library in Scandinavia has books and workspaces like most public libraries, but serves other functions for the community by housing meetings, performances, art installations and places for kids to play.

Aww, who am I kidding? There's an entire web site: 1001 Libraries To See Before You Die.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Just some completely random stuff I had lying around

Came across it, thought it was interesting...

  • What It Was Like Being Criticized by Feynman
    Unlike any other physics textbook that I have ever encountered, The Feynman Lectures on Physics never bothers to explain how to solve any problems, which made trying to complete the daunting homework assignments challenging and time-consuming. What the essays did provide, however, was something much more valuable—deep insights into Feynman’s original way of thinking about science. Generations have benefited from the Feynman Lectures. For me, the experience was an absolute revelation.

    After a few weeks, I felt like my skull had been pried open and my brain rewired. I began to think like a physicist, and loved it. Like many other scientists of my generation, I was proud to adopt Feynman as my hero. I scuttled my original academic plans about biology and mathematics and decided to pursue physics with a vengeance.

  • What Happened to the 100,000-Hour LED Bulbs?
    There’s more to an LED bulb than just the LEDs. Outlets in our homes are actually fairly dirty sources of AC power. LEDs want clean, constant-current DC sources, so circuits inside the bulbs must rectify and filter the incoming AC, then limit current to the LED packages.


    Since the LED bulbs contain a number of parts, it’s natural to ask which ones might be responsible for failures. The US Department of Energy (DoE)’s solid-state lighting program supports research and development of LED technologies, and their website contains volumes of data on LED lighting systems. Their Lifetime and Reliability Fact Sheet contains data on the failure rate of 5,400 outdoor lamps over 34 million hours of operation. Interestingly, the LEDs themselves account for only 10% of the failures; driver circuitry, on the other hand, was responsible almost 60% of the time. The remainder of failures were due to housing problems, which may not be as applicable for bulbs in indoor use. This data shows that at least for catastrophic failures (where the lamp ceases to emit light), extending lifetime means improving the power supplies.


    Certainly moving away from incandescent bulbs to more efficient lighting makes sense, but maybe we never really needed 100,000 hour bulbs in the first place. The lifetime of even 7,500-hour bulbs is long compared to the rapid pace of advance in lighting technology. Does it makes sense to buy expensive long-lived bulbs today, when better, cheaper, more efficient ones may be available in the near future?

  • Where Do I Start? A Very Gentle Introduction to Computer Graphics Programming
    If you are here, it's probably because you want to learn computer graphics. Each reader may have a different reason for being here, but we are all driven by the same desire: understand how it works! Scratchapixel was created to answer this particular question. Here you will learn how it works and learn techniques used to created CGI, from the simplest and most important methods, to the more complicated and less common ones. Maybe you like video games, and you would like to know how it works, how they are made. Maybe you have seen a film a Pixar film and wonder what's the magic behind it. Whether you are at school, university, already working in the industry (or retired), it is never a bad time to be interested in these topics, to learn or improve your knowledge and we always need a resource like Scratchapixel to find answers to these questions. That's why we are here.
  • The 26,000-Year Astronomical Monument Hidden in Plain Sight
    On the western flank of the Hoover Dam stands a little-understood monument, commissioned by the US Bureau of Reclamation when construction of the dam began in 01931. The most noticeable parts of this corner of the dam, now known as Monument Plaza, are the massive winged bronze sculptures and central flagpole which are often photographed by visitors. The most amazing feature of this plaza, however, is under their feet as they take those pictures.

    The plaza’s terrazzo floor is actually a celestial map that marks the time of the dam’s creation based on the 25,772-year axial precession of the earth.

  • All the Bad Things About Uber and Lyft In One Simple List
    Here’s the latest evidence that Uber and Lyft are destroying our world: Students at the University of California Los Angeles are taking an astonishing 11,000 app-based taxi trips every week that begin and end within the boundaries of the campus.

    The report in the Daily Bruin revealed anew that Uber, Lyft, Via and the like are massively increasing car trips in many of the most walkable and transit friendly places in U.S.

    It comes after a raft of recent studies have found negative effects from Uber and Lyft, such as increased congestion, higher traffic fatalities, huge declines in transit ridership and other negative impacts. It’s becoming more and more clear that Uber and Lyft having some pretty pernicious effects on public health and the environment, especially in some of the country’s largest cities.

    We decided to compile it all into a comprehensive list, and well, you judge for yourself.

  • Diagnosing 'art acne' in Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings
    Even Georgia O'Keeffe noticed the pin-sized blisters bubbling on the surface of her paintings. For decades, conservationists and scholars assumed these tiny protrusions were grains of sand, kicked up from the New Mexico desert where O'Keeffe lived and worked. But as the protrusions began to grow, spread and eventually flake off, people shifted from curious to concerned.

    A multidisciplinary team from Northwestern University and the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico has now diagnosed the strange paint disease: The micron-sized protrusions are metal soaps, resulting from a chemical reaction between the metal ions and fatty acids commonly used as binder in paints.

    Inspired by the research, the team developed a novel, hand-held tool that can easily and effortlessly map and monitor works of art. The tool enables researchers to carefully watch the protrusions in order to better understand what conditions make the protrusions grow, shrink or erupt.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Somehow, "transient ischemic attack"...

... sounds both terrifying, and yet abstract and innocuous, all at the same time.

When it's your mom, doncha know, those stupid words are just noise in your ears.

All you hear is your dad saying: "she didn't sound right, and so when she said she just wanted to go home and rest, I said: no, dear, we're going just down the road here, to the E.R.".

My favorite part from the email he sent me later:

I let her off at the curb and she walked in to the ER so in a few seconds I realized there was valet parking and I gave the man the keys and rushed in to stand next to her.

If there's anything that sums up my parents, and the 65 years they've spent together, well, that's it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

This, as they might say ...

... is littoral-ly bloggable: A stealthy futuristic ship is docked at Pier 30-32 in SF. Here's what it is.

When commissioned this weekend as the USS Tulsa (LCS-16), the 421-foot-long vessel will be the newest in the U.S. Navy's Independence class of littoral combat ships. Littoral refers to operations near shore, or just off the coast.

"It looks like something out of Star Wars," says Mike Rainey, a Navy public affairs officer, who is helping organize a ceremony on Feb. 16 to commission the ship.

The ship's relatively small size, a trimaran design with three hulls and a helicopter flight deck astern make this ship fast, agile, maneuverable and able to perform a wide array of missions. Earlier ships of this size and mission type maxed out at around 17 knots (about 20 miles per hour), while the LCS (powered by two gas turbine engines, two main propulsion diesel engines, and propelled by four water jets) can zip through the open seas at speeds up to 44 knots (51 mph).

I suspect that the closest the USS Tulsa has ever been to Tulsa is when she was first launched from the boatyard in Mobile.

At any rate, welcome to the Bay Area, USS Tulsa and her crew!

Sunday, February 10, 2019

ProPublica and the Navy Times on the McCain and Fitzgerald collisions

This weekend, ProPublica's website is running two blockbuster hard-hitting reports on the McCain and Fitzgerald destroyer accidents of the summer of 2017:

The two reports make a strong case that technology by itself is worse than meaningless; you have to invest in people. Training, communications, support: all these things are critical.

Copeman fired off a couple more memos before retiring, hoping he might at last get the leadership’s attention.

The first warned of the fleet’s increasing “configuration variance” problem: The same systems operated in dozens of different ways on different ships, confusing sailors as the Navy shifted them from one vessel to another.

“I liken it to this,” Copeman told ProPublica. “You have a car with a steering wheel and a gas pedal and one day you walk out and get in your car and an iPad sits were your steering wheel used to be and the gas pedal is no longer there.”

Copeman enlisted a four-star admiral, Bill Gortney, to sign the memo and distribute it in the upper echelons of the Navy. His memo would prove prescient. Four years later, confusion over the McCain’s new steering system caused the ship to turn in front of an oil tanker.

See also this set of articles in the Navy Times:

a lack of training in basic seamanship fatally combined with material deficiencies to create “a culture of complacency, of accepting problems, and a dismissal of the use of some of the most important, modern equipment used for safe navigation.”

Wow, there's a lot to think about in these articles.

It's interesting, although perhaps a stretch, to consider the above information against the recent report of the Lion Air tragedy in Indonesia: Lion Air’s deadly flight was a 13-minute struggle between man and machine:

A little over a week after the crash, Boeing put out a bulletin advising airline operators on how to deal with erroneous sensor information that would lead to “uncommanded nose down” maneuvers, while the FAA ordered flight manuals to be updated with the process to follow in such a situation. Boeing has said that the aircraft is safe, and that it is working with regulators and investigators to understand the factors leading up to the crash.

The directives prompted several of the biggest US pilots’ unions to say this was the first time they were hearing of the new anti-stall system. “Before the crash we were not provided any information on the MCAS or even its existence,” captain Dennis Tajer, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, the union for American Airlines pilots, told Quartz.

He added that bulletins after the crash provided clarity on differences between the override process for this 737 variant compared with the older 737NG model, which the Max succeeds. “We have those differences… [and] are asking further questions to better understand our airplane’s automated flight control systems,” said Tajer.

Tajer added that the directives and bulletins describe a “fairly complex emergency situation,” involving a system that can engage soon after takeoff, when the plane is still at a low altitude, and a number of alerts that could prove confusing or distracting.

Powerful technology is worse than useless if you can't figure out how to operate it.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

How Schools Work: a very short review

Frankly, I was rather pre-disposed to have a bad attitude toward Arne Duncan's How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success from One of the Nation's Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education.

For one thing, political memoirs generally leave me cold. It's too much "history is written by the victors," for me, for one thing. And they are written (duh!) by politicians, who while they may be very smart in many ways, are usually not experts in the particular field in which they are commenting.

Moreover, over the years, I hadn't really paid much attention to matters of public education policy (shame on me!), so I didn't have a lot of burning questions of my own on which I was hoping to hear from Duncan.

So I approached How Schools Work with a fair amount of trepidation.

But I was quite surprised!

Duncan is a great writer; How Schools Work moves right along, with a nice mixture of concrete anecdotes, more abstract material about policy struggles, and frank and honest self-evaluations of where he felt he got things wrong versus where he still feels strongly that he understands the way things ought to be.

Perhaps the biggest problem with this (slim!) volume is that Duncan attempts too much. He covers a lot of ground and necessarily leaves many critical topics covered in only a cursory fashion.

But surely the purpose of a book like this is to take people like me, and get them to comprehend a least a little bit of the enormous complexity of trying to fashion a social system that will help each child as much as possible.

If Duncan can manage to get his readers to at least fathom some of the underlying issues that are under debate, that by itself is worthwhile.

Sadly, the problems he wrestles with are hard, very hard, but I can report that How Schools Work is certainly worth your time.

Get educated!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

For Jazz super-fans? Or maybe for all music lovers...

Natalie Weiner, whose day job is sports journalism, has initiated a project she calls The 1959 Project, with a simple goal: each day, she'll publish some notes about This Day In Jazz History, 60 years ago.

As a nearly-60-year-old reader, I applaud!

It's a photoblog, so a big part of the appeal are things like this:

The above photo is undoubtedly the best-known part of the package. 57 jazz musicians, from Thelonious Monk to Mary Lou Williams to Lester Young, photographed on a Harlem stoop by Art Kane in order to demonstrate the genre’s vitality. It inspired its own documentary, and in 1998, a hip-hop version from XXL.

Looks like this will become a daily read for me, at least for the foreseeable future.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Elements of Eloquence: a very short review

Perhaps my favorite holiday gift this year was a delightful little book that my daughter gave me: The Elements of Eloquence

In high school (or perhaps earlier), we all learned about some basic techniques of language, such as simile, analogy, metaphor, alliteration, meter, and rhyme.

If these things interest you, then you might (or might not) be surprised and fascinated to learn that they are just the start of an entire menagerie of techniques, studied and refined for thousands of years.

For example, there is synaesthesia, where one sense is described in terms of another ("music that stinks to the ear").

Or hyperbaton, in which the word order is intentionally incorrect ("Take you to him I will").

Or diacope, in which the same word or phrase is repeated, after a brief interruption ("Bond. James Bond.")

Or assonance, which is sort of like rhyme, and sort of like alliteration, except it involves the vowels in the middle of words ("a stitch in time saves nine", "high as a kite").

And on, and on, and on.

In this marvelous little book, which I recommend to everyone who has any interest whatsoever in the way that language becomes literature, Forsyth dives deeply into all sorts of little-known, but extremely powerful, techniques like these.

In the same way that learning just a little bit about music helps you treasure Beethoven, or learning just a little bit about painting helps you be astounded by Rembrandt, learning just a little bit about these language tools will enrich the next essay you read.

And the next book. And the next poem. And the next play.

Which is an example of scesis onomaton, and of anaphora, and of tricolon.

Thank you, Mr. Forsyth!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Old and boring

Periodically, I happen to fly into or out of Chicago, and, for various reasons, I often use Chicago's secondary airport, Midway Airport, located on the South Side of Chicago.

If conditions are just right, it's not uncommon that our flight path takes us along an easily-visible east-west trunk route in Chicago's far south suburbs, a stretch of Interstate Highway that is, simultaneously, I-80 and I-294, and which also connects I-90, I-94, I-57, I-65, I-355, and probably more freeways that have been built since I lived in Chicago.

Anyway, right in the middle of that part in the world, in between the cities of Harvey and Homewood, sits a Gigantic Hole In The Ground, with a 10-lane super-highway running right through the middle of it, which always fascinates me when I fly over it. (Yes, this is the sort of thing that fascinates me.)

I recently came across a nice article about what this hole in the ground is all about, and it spurred me on to chase some more links: Tunnel Vision

The history of Chicago can be told as a series of escapes from wastewater, each more ingenious than the last. Before the Civil War, entire city blocks were lifted on hydraulic jacks to allow for better drainage, and the first tunnel to bring in potable water from the middle of Lake Michigan was completed in 1867. In 1900, engineers reversed the flow of the Chicago River to protect the city’s drinking water, shifting its fetid contents from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi, enraging the city of St. Louis (which sued, and lost) and, years later, making Chicago the single-largest contributor to the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1955, the American Society of Civil Engineers declared the river reversal one of the seven engineering wonders of the United States, alongside such better-known undertakings as the Hoover Dam, the Empire State Building, and the Panama Canal.

By the mid-20th century, the metropolis was once again plagued by persistent flooding problems. In 1978, Illinois Republican Sen. Charles Percy, looking back at decades’ worth of damage, declared Chicago the site of “the worst urban flooding known to any major city in America”—structural damage in neighborhoods, plus sewage in the river and the lake to the tune of 200 million solid pounds each year.

I moved to Chicago in 1981, but I didn't really know any of this. Yes, they told us the stories about reversing the river, and how the city had terrible water quality problems, and I knew about dying the river green for St. Patrick's Day ("to cover up the sewage", the wags said).

But I don't remember hearing anything about the Deep Tunnel project, which is a bit odd, as it's the sort of thing that I would have remembered.

Meanwhile, the project went on.

And on, and on, and on.

Renamed the TARP, or Tunnel and Reservoir Plan, the project finally started to come operational about a dozen years ago.

Although the tunnel itself is enormous, what really makes the project work is the Thornton Composite Reservoir, which can hold ...

... brace yourself ...


The tunnel took a long time to drill (excuse me, to "bore"), but the reservoir was no simple project, either:

the north lobe of the Thornton Quarry was converted into a reservoir with the capacity to retain nearly 8 billion gallons of CSO prior to treatment.

It sounds nicer if you say CSO, rather than "combined sewer overflow," doesn't it?

You can see a great picture of the Thornton Reservoir partially full in this article, which has lots of other detail: Chicago's Deep Tunnel Project Holds 17.5 Billion Gallons of Sewage Underground

You may say that all of this could have been avoided if the city was not designed on a combined sewer system, but the problem is, that was the best thing engineers knew how to do in that day. You might be surprised when studying the past of waste engineering that modern day practices really weren't developed but in the last 50 or so years. Many places around the world have combined sewer systems, mostly stemming from successive waste management developments. As cities transitioned from open channel sewage systems, many places simply covered the channels with metal plates or concrete arches, creating 'closed channel' systems. For a long time, no engineers saw the need to manage and treat wastewater or stormwater, as the effects of maltreatment were largely unknown.

Well, those effects are known now, and we're finally starting to deal with the mess properly.

And even if sewage systems aren't really your thing, it's nifty to know those little details; for example, that you can schedule yourself a tour of a bit of the Chicago City Limits which is located 365 feet underground: This Is The Deepest Depth A Human Can Go In Chicago City Limits

How low can you go within Chicago city limits?

About 365 feet below ground, according to Kevin Fitzpatrick, managing civil engineer for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.

That's where the floor of the Calumet TARP Pumping Station pump rooms rest far below Chicago's Riverdale neighborhood at 400 E. 130th St.

It's the lowest inhabitable point in Chicago.

The pumping station is part of the Calumet Water Reclamation Plant, which is a component of a massive system in Chicago and the suburbs designed to protect water quality in Lake Michigan and the Chicago Area Waterway System and to manage stormwater.

And you can try to wrap your head around its size and complexity by contemplating strange metaphors, such as those shared by the Slate article:

“I’ve been hearing about Deep Tunnel forever,” Frank Pajak, director of the Central Stickney Sanitary District, told the Tribune after that February storm. “I was at the ribbon-cutting (for the reservoir), and it looked great. So why am I still getting calls about people standing in ankle-deep sewage in their basement?”

One retort from the MWRD: If you think this is bad, imagine what shape we’d be in without all these tunnels. Small storms no longer contaminate the river, and the capacity of the system is still increasing—McCook will nearly triple in size by 2029. That being said, on account of an EPA funding dispute in the 1970s, the final system will be smaller than its designers envisioned. The congested network of neighborhood sewers in Chicago and its suburbs—local roads leading to the Deep Tunnel highway—also remain an unresolved issue. In many storms, says Aaron Koch, who served as chief resilience officer for the city and now works as the Chicago director of the Trust for Public Land, the Deep Tunnel is helpless to empty undersized sewers battling against supersize storms and sprawl. “What the Deep Tunnel system represents is a bathtub, and if you don’t have big enough straws to get to the bathtub, it doesn’t matter how big your bathtub is.”


It’s a cautionary tale for a time when climate change has the nation’s planners, scientists, and engineers contemplating enormous endeavors like storm surge barriers or more radical, long-term geoengineering schemes. It’s also a reminder that any project that spans six decades from commencement to completion will be finished in a different world than the one in which it was conceived.

So, the next time you find yourself flying into or out of Midway Airport in Chicago, you can look out the window over the immense South Side of Chicago, and see if you can see that enormous quarry with the freeway right down the middle of it, and now you can understand just what exactly it is being used for, nowadays.

Friday, January 11, 2019

It's not just a game, ...

... it's an equine-bonding, ASMR-inducing stress release exercise: The Only Part of 'Red Dead Redemption 2' That Matters Is My Horse

Though I’ve put a lot of time into the game, I haven’t made much progress in the traditional sense. I’m still stuck in the early missions, but I’ve maxed out my bonding level with Jeffy, and she’s eaten better than the entire encampment of humans I’m supposed to be caring for. We’ve galloped beneath the arc of rainbows, lassoed deer, and ignored troubled citizens attempting to wave us down for assistance. The only time I dip my toe into the wilder aspects of the Wild West is so I can earn enough money to upgrade Jeffy’s saddle, stirrups, or stock up on horse reviving tonics in the event of the unthinkable.

My son watches me play, some weekends, and he says: "Why did you just ride by that person? That was a quest; you could have stopped and had a new mission to go on!"

And I say: "Yes, but I'm just having too much fun riding around on my horse."

I haven't had any ASMR, though.

Maybe I haven't ridden far enough on Penny yet.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Suspended Sentences: a very short review

Patrick Modiano was the 2014 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, which I think is often given for an entire body of work, not a single piece of work; Suspended Sentences is part of that body of work.

The three novellas in Suspended Sentences are all stories set in France, specifically in Paris, during and shortly after World War II.

Reading the stories, I felt very strongly reminded of the famous 1942 movie, Casablanca; in fact, one of the primary characters in "Flowers of Ruin," the third novella in Suspended Sentences, is a Moroccan man who is (probably) a smuggler:

He invited us to dinner, as was his wont, at the restaurant on Avenue Reille. His friend from Air Maroc was there that evening. And, as usual, he handed out "duty free" cartons of American cigarettes, perfumes, and fountain pens, and little souvenirs he'd brought back from Casablanca.

While the movie Casablanca, with its wide-ranging collection of miscreants, people on the run, and chance encounters, was in the end hopeful, Suspended Sentence is much grittier, much more honest, much more real, and, inevitably, much sadder. Things are lost, and not found. People come, go, and do not come back. Connections are missed; opportunities go wanting.

Still, it is somehow peaceful to follow along with Modiano as he tells the stories of ordinary people doing ordinary things, and what happens as they do so, even if they don't manage to actually save the world.

Life, after all, is not a movie.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Current score: Pacific Ocean: 1, Ocean Cleanup Project: 0

Well, darn: Ocean-Saving Device to Clean Up Great Pacific Garbage Patch Breaks, Will Return to Port

An ocean-saving device deployed in September to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has malfunctioned and will have to be towed back to port.

During a routine inspection on Dec. 29, crew members discovered that a 60-foot end section of one of the booms that scoops up trash from the surface of the ocean had detached, 23-year-old inventor Boyan Slat wrote in a Jan. 1 blog post.

"Although it is too early to confirm the cause of the malfunction, we hypothesize that material fatigue (caused by about 106 load cycles), combined with a local stress concentration, caused a fracture in the HDPE floater," Slat wrote.

There's a lot more posted on the Ocean Cleanup website.

Happily, they're not giving up:

We are returning to port with terabytes of data that we will use in coming weeks and months to develop the necessary upgrades.

It's not just a game, ...

... it's an interactive birding simulator: Birding Like It’s 1899: Inside a Blockbuster American West Video Game

I spent most of my time finding birds, and was impressed with the breadth and relative accuracy of the species represented. Birds change with habitat: Roseate Spoonbills and Great Egrets feed in the bayous of Saint Denis. Laughing Gulls and Red-footed Boobies roost along the coast, while eagles and condors soar over mountain peaks. Each of these are crafted with accurate field marks and habits. There are dozens of species I couldn’t even find, including Carolina Parakeets, Ferruginous Hawks, and Pileated Woodpeckers. Like real life birding, you’re never guaranteed to see anything.


But that doesn’t mean it’s a game for birders. This game exists in a time where humans mainly viewed birds—and all of the natural world—as ripe for exploitation rather than appreciation.


In fact, the disastrous intersection between humans and the environment is the game’s major theme. A sense of foreboding follows me around the lush world, knowledge that humans were at work destroying it all.


The trouble is, as a birder, it’s not a lesson I needed to learn. I know full well about the continued decline of bird populations, habitat loss, and environmental degradation. That the game could elicit such deep feelings of sadness and regret is to its credit, but I was often left feeling hopeless and wanting to get outside to enjoy real nature while I still could. My mom always used to tell me to stop playing video games and go outside, but this is the first game that made me want to.

(In my defense: it's cold and rainy this weekend. I might just do most of my birding indoors for a little while longer.)

Up up and away (on the ferry!)

The big new ferry enhancements funded by last summer's Regional Measure 3 are starting to roll out.

The new gate G is now open: Alameda/Oakland Passengers Now Board at Gate G in San Francisco.

All San Francisco arrivals and departures on San Francisco Bay Ferry’s Alameda/Oakland/San Francisco route now occur at the newly opened Gate G. Gate G is further south from Gate E and can only be accessed at this time via a pedestrian bridge that connects to The Embarcadero.

The dock expansions have been underway since 2012; you can see the original plan here: Downtown San Francisco Ferry Terminal Expansion. Make sure you scroll down through that large document to see the wonderful historical pictures of the Ferry Building as it looked nearly 100 years ago!

Meanwhile, the new maintenance facility is now in full operation: WETA Opens New Ferry Maintenance and Operations Hub in Alameda

The San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) Board of Directors officially opened the new Ron Cowan Central Bay Maintenance and Operations Facility in Alameda on Thursday, December 13, 2018.

The $50 million facility serves as an operations and maintenance hub for WETA’s San Francisco Bay Ferry fleet serving Alameda, Oakland, Harbor Bay, San Francisco and South San Francisco. The project represents the first new major construction at the former Naval Air Station Alameda and is a part of the Alameda Point development.


Features of the new facility include:

  • Marine facility with berthing slips for 12 ferry vessels
  • Equipment and working yard that supports light repair and maintenance work
  • Dispatch and operations hub
  • Emergency response center
  • Fuel facility with a total storage capacity of 48,000 gallons
  • Site improvements including expansion of the San Francisco Bay Trail
  • New harbor seal float to prevent habitat displacement

I need to find a good (i.e., a dry) day to go out and see if I can find this new trail expansion segment.

Also, the new ferry line to Richmond is beginning operations!

  • Richmond ferry to SF begins Thursday, ushering new era for water travel in the Bay Area
    Promising an alternative to the harrowing Interstate 80 grind from Hercules all the way down to the Bay Bridge, a new Richmond terminal will on Thursday begin offering weekday commuter service to San Francisco. It’s the latest upgrade in a series of expansions for the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA), also known as the San Francisco Bay Ferry, which runs routes from Vallejo, Oakland, Alameda and South San Francisco.


    The ferry will also be a significant driver of development in a city that has largely been passed up by the Bay Area’s real estate boom, said Richmond Mayor Tom Butt. A private operator had tried to implement ferry service from Richmond to San Francisco in the early ’90s, he said, but a sluggish economy and the lack of public subsidies made it unfeasible. It didn’t help that the ferry was slow, Butt said, with trips lasting just shy of an hour. WETA’s ferry will shuttle passengers in roughly 35 minutes.

    Brooke Maury and Sarah Rosen sold their San Francisco apartment for a condo in Richmond’s Marina Bay neighborhood, roughly a mile-and-a-half walk from the new terminal, in anticipation of the ferry’s opening. Both commute into San Francisco, packing themselves into overcrowded BART cars, an experience they’re looking forward to leaving behind.

  • SF Bay Ferry services starts heading to Richmond next month
    "The ferry really sells itself. It kind of goes around all that traffic that you experience there on I-80. You avoid the Bay Bridge and you come right into San Francisco after a nice, relaxing ride on the boat," said Hall.

Lastly, a rather confusing message from announces an additional run from Harbor Bay to San Francisco:

San Francisco Bay Ferry is adding an additional departure from Harbor Bay to San Francisco on weekdays beginning Monday, January 7. The vessel will depart Harbor Bay at 9 a.m. and arrive at the San Francisco Ferry Building at 9:30 a.m. This run will be in place on a trial basis -- we'll send out another BayAlert if anything changes.

Beginning Monday, the morning departures from Harbor Bay will occur at 6:30, 7:00, 7:30, 8:00, 8:30 and 9:00.

The website, however, still lists only 4 morning runs.

What's this about a 8:00 morning run?

Perhaps the email meant to announce an 8:00 AM run, not a 9:00 AM run, and somehow the confusion turned into a message that listed both?

Who knows?

But ferries in the San Francisco Bay are the way to go, believe me!