Sunday, July 26, 2015

boy, snow, bird: a very short review

Somehow, on my nightstand (I suspect via my daughter, the insatiable reader), there appeared Helen Oyeyemi's boy, snow, bird.

(On the cover, and elsewhere on the Web, the title is capitalized, but in the book itself each page is headed boy, snow, bird, and so shall I.)

From the title, you might think this is a nature tale, some sort of Jack London youthful adventure, but you'd be wrong. Boy, Snow, and Bird are actually three separate women: Boy Novak, her stepdaughter Snow, and her birth daughter Bird.

Boy has escaped her horrifically abusive home in New York City in the early 1950's, and ends up somewhere in rural Massachusetts, where she marries Snow's father, and some time later has a daughter of her own.

There are lots of discussions of social issues, class and race and gender questions, as well as the more complicated issues that confront mothers, daughters, and (step-)sisters.

And of course, as so many reviewers have observed, it is vaguely a retelling of the fable of Snow White, though I'm not really sure that Oyeyemi cares all that much about that aspect, except insofar as it involves the complicated role that the ideal of female beauty plays in human life, and how that ties into those aforementioned class and race and gender questions.

I guess I'm making it sound rather dry, which is a shame, because boy, snow, bird is anything but dry. Oyeyemi is a marvelous young writer, absurdly talented and yet still confident enough not to flaunt that talent by rubbing your face in it.

Seemingly effortlessly, Oyeyemi produces astonishing, spellbinding passages such as this:

Bird really likes her bedroom. There are quite a few cobwebs in it and Bird has no intention of tampering with a single one of them, no matter how many times her mom says her room is a disgrace. At the very most Bird might dust a cobweb off with the tip of a feather, but only to keep it looking spick-and-span. A lot of the time there are tiny memorials on the walls, in the corner behind the wardrobe, little specks only Bird and the spiders understand the importance of. Flies and other weaker insects have fought epic battles against the spiders and they've lost, leaving behind them a layer of wing, or a thin black leg joint that holds to the wallpaper for as long as it can before drying out and peeling away. Bird enjoys the stealthy company of the spiders, and in all other respects her room is tidy. Her mom has asked her if she thinks she'll continue to enjoy the stealthy company of the spiders after one of them has taken a bite out her, and Bird answers: "We'll see." In the evening, when the street lamp just outside Bird's window switches on, the gray cobwebs quiver and glow around the blue moons. It's the kind of view that Bird doesn't mind risking a spider bite for. Back when she used to say bedtime prayers, right after she'd prayed for her mom and her dad and her grandparents and the Chens and Aunt Mia and Snow and anybody who was sick or in trouble or all alone, Bird would throw in seven words for herself: Let spiders spin webs in my hair. It'd be great if they could be persuaded to spin little hats for her, dusty towers of thread that lean and whisper.

You'll never think about spiders the same way again, even if you yourself never come to enjoy their stealthy company.

I have no idea what Oyeyemi will do next; I have this feeling she's just getting started.

Keep your eyes open for her; she's worth your attention.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Those old 3M games

It will probably come as no surprise to you to hear that I have a copy of nearly all of the games described here: The Post-It Note company's obscure boardgames.

In fact, I have TWO copies of Acquire; not quite sure how things ended up that way, but I don't mind, because one of the copies is very worn and all the paper stock nearly crumbles in your hands from play.

Our copy of Acquire has now been played by four generations of my family: my parents bought the game, and played it with me and my brother; I later kept their copy of the game and played it with my children; more recently, my wife and I still play Acquire with my grand-daughter.

Of the other games:

  • I don't have Executive Decision, and don't know why. Perhaps it never appealed to my father (who was the one who bought these games back in the late-1960's).
  • We had Quinto once, but it disappeared.
  • We still have Ploy, Jumpin, and Twixt. They are EXTREMELY abstract and, frankly, not much fun. The best thing about any of them is that fake Leonard Nimoy on the cover of Ploy, who makes that game look like it will be much more fun than it actually is.
  • As I said, we have two copies of Acquire and still play it regularly
  • Feudal, which is the one behind the gorilla and the propeller toy, might be the best of the bunch. It has these wonderful pieces which are sort of medieval toy soldiers, and you get to set them out on this chessboard-style grid and attack your opponent(s). The biggest issue with Feudal is that you really need 4 people to play it and we could never get 4 people who were willing to play it. So I'm afraid it's gathering dust somewhere.

Ah yes, those pre-Facebook days. When people entertained each other by setting up a boardgame on the table.

Try it sometime: go get Castles of Burgundy or Carcassone or Puerto Rico.

Or maybe just go check your email again.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Close readings of code

In literature class, we all learned the notion of close reading, a disciplined approach to really studying and really understanding a work of literature.

Although program code is (usually) not literature, the techniques of close reading apply there, too.

Last winter, John Regehr's Nibble Sort Programming Contest inspired a number of truly wonderful close readings of code:

  • Nibblesort: Adventures in Optimization
    I decided to enter the contest because I don’t usually work on low-level optimization, either writing hand-tuned code or working on compiler transformations to make “normal” code execute in a more efficient way. I eventually submitted an entry that did pretty well (top half of the non-SIMD entries), and learned several “morals” about optimization along the way.
  • Parallel Nibble Sort
    I chose to implement the sort using a sorting network. I used the following minimum-depth network to sort 16 items, which was designed by David C. Van Voorhis.
  • Nibble Sort
    Being susceptible to nerd sniping, this problem stuck in my head and I ended up spending two Saturday afternoons trying to implement a fast solution.

Of the three essays, I liked Jordan Rose's the best, although all three are nice.

Let's hear it for close reading of code!

Oh, and lastly: I particularly enjoyed that the prize for the competition was a copy of Hacker's Delight, perhaps the most unusual and most wonderful, if most challenging, computer textbook ever written. I have the first edition of Warren's incredible book on my reading stand, and every so often I crack it open at a random page and disappear into half an hour of reverie...

Too bad I was never a compiler writer; I suspect I would have enjoyed it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Bloomberg interactive graphic on FIFA scandal

Oh, this is amazing: Following the FIFA Fiasco: Tracking the Charges Against FIFA's Executives and Partners

I love the way the tentacles spread out as you click on each link.

I could just click, and read, all day.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Tony Zhou on Chuck Jones

If you have any interest in cinema as an art form, you're probably already aware of Tony Zhou's superb series of video-essays, Every Frame a Painting.

Every single one of the essays in the series is wonderful, but I was completely taken by his recent work on Chuck Jones.

Chuck Jones, of course, was one of the creative visionaries behind the remarkable Looney Tunes cartoons produced during the 1940's, 1950's, and 1960's.

By the time I started watching Looney Tunes, Jones and the team were already at the peak of their form, and in my opinion they don't get anywhere near enough credit. Although these are animated short features, they are still remarkable, and enduring, works of art.

And so it's great to see them get the thorough, loving, and nuanced Tony Zhou treatment.

Spend some time with Every Frame a Painting, and with the Chuck Jones feature in particular; you won't regret it.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

What I Learned: a very short review

In this modern age, with its technological marvels, it has become feasible, even straightforward, to write and publish your own book, using services such as SmashWords, LuLu, etc. And having done so, you can even make your book available to anyone who wants on a marketplace like Amazon.

My father took advantage of this capability to write a book: What I Learned.

When I think about the lives of my parents, they've always seemed divided into three segments:

  1. Before Bryan was born
  2. When I was a child, living with my parents
  3. After I grew up

And of these three segments, the middle segment swells in my viewing to assume the largest size and greatest prominence.

But of course, upon reflection, that childhood time with my parents was barely 20% of their lives.

And thus events that assume an enormous size in my own memory (e.g., our Burmese cats), and which somehow seem like a story that was an entire chapter in my life, only have time for a short paragraph in a longer tale.

So while I've heard most of the stories in the book, on and off, over the years, it turned out to be quite interesting to hear them told in a different order, from a different perspective.

Although the book is subtitled "An Autobiograpy," and tends broadly toward a mostly matter-of-fact depiction of people, places, and events, it is certainly also a memoir, colored by my father's own perception of those parts of his life that he found most worthy of relating.

And yet it also wouldn't be wrong to call the book a testament, or a creed, for some of the most interesting parts are when he points a finger at a moment when something changed for him, or when he realized a point when he had made up his mind about something.

So I could wish there was a little less of the facts and figures, which although important and significant are a tad dry in the telling, and instead could wish there were a few more pictures (and that the pictures were larger and easier to see).

And I could also wish that he had let a bit more of his personality out, granted more prominence to more strongly-issued opinions and proclamations. He has always had interesting and unusual positions about Right and Wrong and Should and Shouldn't and Cause and Coincidence, but I suspect that a 50 year career in organized public education, organized armed services, and organized civil service has forced him, over the years, to organize his life and express himself civilly.

So although it's clear by the end of What I Learned that, in fact, some quite interesting things were learned, those positions, policies, and proposals are not expressed as boldly, baldly, and aggressively as they perhaps could and should have been.

Of course, he isn't running for president, and this isn't a platform, so to observe that this book misses a few chances to Shout About Things That Matter is unfair, because my father, whatever he has been through the years, is certainly not a shouter.

Overall, it's an interesting book, and certainly a well-written one, which flows along and leaves even me, who certainly should have known my father at least as well as most people, feeling that I now know him at least a little bit better.

And so I'm glad he wrote it, and I'm glad I read it.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Stuff I'm reading, mid-July edition

At last, summer is here; the weather is beautiful.

  • Reddit's Future Is the Future of the Internet
    Reddit’s conundrum is worth following not just because the site is one of the major anchors of the social web or because it attracts massive amounts of traffic - a whopping 164 million visitors each month. It’s important because the site is founded on principles that mirror the founding principles of the web itself. Reddit was conceived as an open forum, a place where conversation is self-regulated and community-driven, freedom of expression is prized above all, and authorities don’t meddle with - much less censor - content. And sometimes, wonderful things happen. But there’s also a dark side.
  • How does Shazam work
    This article is a summary of the search I did to understand Shazam.

    I’ll start with the basics of music theory, present some signal processing stuff and end with the mechanisms behind Shazam.

  • Key Takeaway Points and Lessons Learned from QCon New York 2015
    InfoQ reported from the event, and there are also numerous QCon photos on our Flickr page. This article, however, presents a summary of QCon New York as blogged and tweeted by attendees.
  • Java Annotated Monthly – July 2015
    You don’t always sign up for a free e-book about collecting garbage, but when you do, that book is by the unwavering Charles Humble at InfoQ. Within, you will find heaps of helpful pointers on monitoring and tuning, and a sweeping look at many practical topics in modern garbage collection. This book is an indispensable reference for new and old generations of Java developers alike.
  • The Java Garbage Collection Mini-Book
    The Java Garbage Collection Mini-book provides a concise, accessible guide for Java architects and senior developers who want to understand what garbage collection is, how it works, and how it impacts the execution of their programs.

    This book dives right into the details. Starting with an examination of the Java heap and pointers, safe-points, and generational collection, the book then explores each collector in turn, describing its memory structure, the basics of the algorithm, and its performance characteristics.

  • Interview: Larry Wall
    At FOSDEM 2015 in Brussels, we caught up with Larry to ask him why Perl 6 has taken so long (Perl 5 was released in 1994), how difficult it is to manage a project when everyone has strong opinions and pulling in different directions, and how his background in linguistics influenced the design of Perl from the start.
  • Getting into Linux Kernel Development
    The first thing that'll happen when you send the first version of your patchset to the mailing list is that it will be outright rejected. It's very uncommon that a patchset is merged immediately. Maybe you could've done something better, maybe you didn't grab some locks in the right order, maybe you missed a race condition, etc. It's important not to be dissuaded when your patch gets rejected. It happens to everyone, just take the feedback you got and move on.
  • IBM Cloud: it’s the infrastructure, stupid
    When everyone else in IT turned around one day and realised Amazon was going to eat their lunch just as surely as software was eating the world they had to do something about standardising and commoditising the infrastructure layers of the stack - storage, network and compute - in a topology that resembled Amazon’s own services, without directly aping them (Eucalyptus, acquired by HP, tried that route).
  • Speed Up Your Rails App by 66% - The Complete Guide to Rails Caching
    As a tip to newcomers to caching, my advice is to ignore action caching and page caching. The situations where these two techniques can be used is so narrow that these features were removed from Rails as of 4.0. I recommend instead getting very comfortable with fragment caching - which I'll cover in detail now.
  • The Web’s Cruft Problem
    Why does CNN show ads? To make money. Why does CNN include tracking services? To learn more about the reader, to show more targeted ads, to make more money. Why does CNN use social media buttons? To get people to share the article, to get more page views, to get more ad views, to make more money. Why does CNN include a weather widget? Ok I don’t get that one; they should really get rid of that.

    Again, I don’t mean to call out CNN as the "bad example," but rather use them to show a specific example of a model that has become pervasive for content on the web.

    My friend Brian Rinaldi recently wrote that the content model of the web is broken, in which he argues that we as web users thoroughly devalue content and writers. He argues that because we refuse to pay for content, content producers must resort to increasingly drastic tactics to make money off the content they produce - or have some ulterior motives to make the content production possible.

    Paywalls have failed (mostly), so we’re left with a bunch of sites that use an eclectic set of ads, tracking scripts, modals, and such, all in an attempt to scrape together enough revenue to fund the content that lives behind the cruft.

  • If You've Got Nothing to Hide...
    Because the attack on the civil registry in Amsterdam is widely appreciated as an example of the work the resistance did during the war it is still very much present in the Dutch collective consciousness (though, unfortunately, less so with the passing of time). Apparently innocent database fields suddenly came back to bite a very large group of citizens.
  • The Man With No Name, my role model for life
    The Ennio Morricone Anthology - A Fistful Of Film Music is my stranded on a desert island album of choice. It hits every emotion that I could ever want and I dare you - no - I double dare you to listen to Man With A Harmonica or Navajo Joe and tell me you feel nothing. If I listen to this collection from beginning to end, I still get goosebumps.

It's not just a game, ...

... it's a journey through 1000 years of Eastern European history:

  • CD Projekt Red On The Making Of The Witcher 1: "We thought we could accomplish anything."
    "[This topic] could potentially spawn a minor dissertation," he admitted. "I haven’t even intimated at the more literary and cultural references [in the Witcher series], like the friction between the Romantic and Positivist worldviews, the coexistence of superstition and science, the Frozen or Ice Plains at the tail end of the game as reflecting a strong trope in Polish culture: namely, the revisiting of past triumphs and tragedies."
  • Wednesday, July 15, 2015

    "El Chapo Otra Fuga Más"

    Wow. Amazing video: Watch "El Chapo" Guzmán's escape and his amazing 4,591-foot tunnel.

    NOTE: Turn on subtitles to see the translation of the "narcocorrido" about the escape. Witness the moment of the escape and the amazing tunnel (4921 feet long, with a ventilation system, electric illumination, and motorized carts) that El Chapo Guzmán took to get out of the prison of El Altiplano, in Mexico.

    Tuesday, July 14, 2015

    It's not just a game, ...

    ... it's a reason to embark on a whole new movie franchise.

    Stuff I'm reading, Pluto fly-by edition

    The world keeps spinning, I keep reading...

    • On the various ways of creating large files in NTFS
      Another option is to make the file sparse. I refer you to the remarks I made some time ago on the pros and cons of this technique. One thing to note is that when a file is sparse, the virtual-zero parts do not have physical disk space assigned to them. Consequently, it's possible for a Write­File into a previously virtual-zero section of the file may fail with an ERROR_DISK_QUOTA_EXCEEDED error.
    • Trash Day: Coordinating Garbage Collection in Distributed Systems
      In this paper, we show that distributed applications suffer from each node’s language runtime system making GC-related decisions independently. We first demonstrate this problem on two widely-used systems (Apache Spark and Apache Cassandra). We then propose solving this problem using a Holistic Runtime System, a distributed language runtime that collectively manages runtime services across multiple nodes.
    • Inside NGINX: How We Designed for Performance & Scale
      NGINX scales very well to support hundreds of thousands of connections per worker process. Each new connection creates another file descriptor and consumes a small amount of additional memory in the worker process. There is very little additional overhead per connection. NGINX processes can remain pinned to CPUs. Context switches are relatively infrequent and occur when there is no work to be done.

      In the blocking, connection-per-process approach, each connection requires a large amount of additional resources and overhead, and context switches (swapping from one process to another) are very frequent.

    • The WTF economy is transforming how we do business
      What is the future when more and more work can be done by intelligent machines instead of people, or only done by people in partnership with those machines? What happens to workers, and what happens to the companies that depend on their purchasing power? What’s the future of business when technology-enabled networks and marketplaces are better at deploying talent than traditional companies? What’s the future of education when on-demand learning outperforms traditional universities in keeping skills up to date?
    • Monitoring 101: Collecting the right data
      For each resource in your system, try to collect metrics that cover four key areas:
      • utilization is the percentage of time that the resource is busy, or the percentage of the resource’s capacity that is in use.
      • saturation is a measure of the amount of requested work that the resource cannot yet service, often queued.
      • errors represent internal errors that may not be observable in the work the resource produces.
      • availability represents the percentage of time that the resource responded to requests. This metric is only well-defined for resources that can be actively and regularly checked for availability.
    • Defining a High Performance Team: It’s not just about Structure
      Flattened structure doesn’t mean no managers, or no hierarchy of responsibility. It more means that the leaders with more responsibility share openly and include people. This is what flattens the structure.

    Saturday, July 11, 2015

    Oh Boy! Oh Boy! Oh Boy!

    It's almost here!

    Patch 1.07 - Changelog

    The Witcher Wild Hunt 3: Patch 1.07 coming soon to all platforms!

    In additional to several dozen bug fixes, we get:

    • Introduces an alternative movement style for Geralt. To enable, go to the Gameplay\Movement Response submenu.
    • Introduces a number of changes in selected game-world areas to prevent players from unexpectedly progressing quests or leaving the playable area by climbing certain elements of the landscape.
    • Introduces a number of fixes, improvements and clarifications in the map-pins and objectives for multiple quests.
    • Adds a stash for player convenience. Players can now store loot in their stash, access to which is available in different parts of the world. Stash locations are marked on the map.
    • All crafting components and alchemy ingredients now weigh nothing.
    • Introduces a number of improvements in the game streaming system. Players should experience fewer blurred textures, NPC spawn times should be markedly reduced, and there should be an overall improvement in the speed with which game assets are loaded. Streaming system improvements should be most noticeable on consoles and systems with non-SSD drives.
    • Adds a Books tab to the Inventory panel.
    • Introduces a number of additional loading screen hints.
    • Introduces a pinning feature for formulae and diagrams. Ingredients and components for pinned formulae/diagrams are highlighted in the shop view. This should greatly facilitate the purchase of currently needed elements.
    • Introduces a feature whereby currently equipped items are highlighted in the Repair panel, facilitating prioritization of items needing repair.
    • Adds a feature whereby read and unread books are marked differently in the Inventory panel.

    All that and horse armor, too!

    Is it just me, or does that full Skellige heavy armor kit make Geralt look obese?

    For now, I'm sticking to my gorgeous light armor set.

    Oh boy oh boy oh boy.

    Wednesday, July 8, 2015

    Stuff I'm reading

    I've been busy at work recently.

    Good busy, but busy.

    But maybe I'll find some time to read...

    • Keys Under Doormats: Mandating insecurity by requiring government access to all data and communications
      In this report, a group of computer scientists and security experts, many of whom participated in a 1997 study of these same topics, has convened to explore the likely effects of imposing extraordinary access mandates.
    • More about the NSA's XKEYSCORE
      E-mails, chats, web-browsing traffic, pictures, documents, voice calls, webcam photos, web searches, advertising analytics traffic, social media traffic, botnet traffic, logged keystrokes, file uploads to online services, Skype sessions and more: if you can figure out how to form the query, you can ask XKEYSCORE for it.
    • The CAP theorem series
      Let me introduce a new series of posts on the CAP theorem. CAP is a well known theorem conjectured and proven by recognized researchers in distributed systems, namely Eric Brewer, Seth Gilbert and Nancy Lynch. It is also widely used to categorize distributed applications.
    • You Do It Too: Forfeiting Partition Tolerance in Distributed Systems
      The CA--consistent, available, but not partition tolerant--category in CAP has a very specific history. Not only forfeiting “partition tolerance” can be understood as impossible in theory and crazy in practice (P--partition tolerance--as an illusion of a choice), but there is also an overlap between the CA and CP categories. As a result, many consider that it’s impossible to build a production CA system. This is wrong, both in theory--the CAP theorem does not say that--and in practice--you can build a system without partition tolerance, and sometimes you should.
    • Comments on "You Do it Too"
      The entire point of the CAP theorem is that such systems cannot exist. The existence of such a system, even theoretically, would disprove the theorem. You’ve got a paper to publish.
    • Is Linux TCP/IP Stack Really That Slow?
      In most cases, the answer is surprisingly simple: because the vendors ported their existing code to VM format, and replaced direct access to dedicated hardware with calls to Linux kernel (thus making every possible mistake they could). Vendors that spent time optimizing the code (Vyatta, Juniper) got the performance you’d expect (Juniper managed to push 160 Gbps through their vMX).
    • Routing Protocols and SD-WAN: Apples and Furbies
      You see, shifting traffic across alternate paths works very well in SD-WAN world, because the amount of shifted traffic represents a minuscule part of the overall traffic in the ISP network, whereas shifting traffic based on routing protocol decisions results in significant traffic shifts, which can result in interesting feedback loops in oscillations.
    • Don’t Be Fooled By Phony Online Reviews
      The Internet is a fantastic resource for researching the reputation of companies with which you may wish to do business. Unfortunately, this same ease-of-use can lull the unwary into falling for marketing scams originally perfected by spammers: Namely, fake reviews and dodgy search engine manipulation techniques that seek to drown out legitimate, negative reviews in a sea of glowing but fake endorsements.
    • Updating Probability of Damage Rolls
      One of my goals was to structure all of my pages so that I'd first give you the solution you were looking for, and then give you an idea that would change the way you thought about the problem. For the damage rolls page, the problem you're trying to solve is how to set up the rules for the dice so that you get a distribution of values that you like. You fiddle with the rules, look at the distribution, fiddle with the rules again, look at the distribution, and keep fiddling until you get the distribution you want. The big idea was that you should start with a distribution, and then work backwards towards the code. That way you don't have to keep fiddling with parameters.
    • Games vs Sports
      From a game design "formalist" point of view, they are not different. A rules-centric view of games doesn’t care whether the interface is computerized, mediated via apparatus, or physical, so it makes no distinction between computer chess and physical chess; similarly, it makes no distinction between the rules of, say, baseball, implemented within a computer or by players on a field. They’re both still recognizably baseball.
    • Episode 163: The Gruen Effect
      Retail spaces are designed for impulse shopping. When you go to a store looking for socks and come out with a new shirt, it’s only partly your fault. Shops are trying to look so beautiful, so welcoming, the items so enticingly displayed and in such vast quantity, that the consumer will start buying compulsively.

      This is the Gruen Effect.

    • Gruen Day 2015
      On July 18, the Bay Area Infrastructure Observatory (BAIO) invites you to celebrate the lofty aspirations and historical legacy of the suburban shopping center at Gruen Day 2015.

      Festivities will include an afternoon of talks, tours, and hanging out in the food court at Bay Fair Center, which opened in 1957 as one of the first Gruen designed shopping centers in the country.

    Monday, July 6, 2015

    Fare Thee Well finale show

    It sounds like the final night was quite the show, even if there was a bit of audience drama, and it apparently was the best-attended of the Chicago shows.

    (I guess Levi's Stadium is substantially bigger than Soldier Field nowadays; the last time I was in Soldier Field was in 1984, before the renovation, and I understand the updated stadium is nicer, but smaller.)

    Everybody seemed to agree that it was a delightful finale. Billboard reports that they handled my wife's personal favorite (Terrapin Station) well: Grateful Dead, Trey Anastasio Bid Final Fare Thee Well at Third Chicago Show: Concert Review

    Anastasio seemed to be channeling Bob Dylan with his vocal lead, and launching into the three-act "Terrapin Station," a Dead anthem if ever there was one, brought the vibe right back to 1977 with the unmistakable intro that is "Lady With a Fan."

    "Terrapin," of course, is treacherous territory, not only because of its complex key changes and tricky time signatures, but it’s the sort of psychedlia that could easily veer into Spinal Tap "Stonehenge" territory if not handled the right way -- which is to say, delicately.

    To that end, the band did pull it off

    Over at Ultimate Classic Rock, Ben Djarum even finds nice things to say about late-era songs: Grateful Dead Hit Emotional Peak for Final ‘Fare Thee Well’ Concert: Set List and Photos

    The first real surprise of the night came in the form of pianist Bruce Hornsby’s delightful take on the song “Built to Last,” the title cut of the Grateful Dead’s final studio album. Up to this point, the song has had a relatively brief track record, played only in 1989 and 1990, but its inclusion last night was a revelation.

    Although I'm surprised they didn't play Brokedown Palace at all, over all five nights, there's no way to complain with last night's setlist: Althea, Truckin', Not Fade Away, Terrapin Station, I Know You Rider, Throwing Stones, and Touch of Grey.

    And, something I surely wish I had seen, China Cat Sunflower, perhaps even more of a "Jerry" song than Saturday night's Friend of the Devil. I guess that modern technology has helped a bit:

    Anastasio utilized a Mu-Tron envelope filter to nail the tone Garcia favored during the composed sections of the song

    And a full fireworks show during the intermission!

    It was fun going to the show, it was fun following the shows from afar, and it certainly gave me the excuse to drag some of my old albums out from underneath the pile of books on the shelf and re-spin them (yes, they're CDs now, but ...).

    But it's Monday morning, and I've got plenty to do, so off we go...

    Sunday, July 5, 2015

    Fare Thee Well, Chicago Day 2: Wave that flag!

    Well, the reviews are in for Saturday's 4th-of-July Grateful Dead show at Soldier Field in Chicago.

    Surely this must have been the show with the highest pressure and the highest expectations, due to the symbolic nature of the date, and the fact that it was the next-to-last of the shows.

    And perhaps the pressure got to everybody.

    Review: Grateful Dead pay slack tribute to legacy, writes Chicago Tribune entertainment critic Greg Kot, clearly disappointed.

    For this weekend’s shows, which the band has said will be its last, the core four brought in Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio and keyboardists Bruce Hornsby and Jeff Chimenti to fill out the lineup. But despite the formidable chops of the newcomers, the show developed little pace, with slack arrangements and some deep cuts that felt indulgent rather than revelatory.

    In Rolling Stone, Will Hermes chimes in: Grateful Dead's Goodbye, Night Two: Chemistry Lost, Cash-Grabs Abound

    And the chemistry wasn't there like it was for Night One, or the best parts of the two warm-up shows in Santa Clara last week. Tempos were sluggish or weirdly accelerated; there was little overarching sense of flow. The ringers — Anastasio, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, pianist Bruce Hornsby — played well, but didn't always sync with the original band members, and rarely tapped into the musical mind-meld characteristic of the best Dead shows.

    As happens during dull stretches, attention wandered. One might have thought about shows past. About what a shame it is to have to sit through songs as boring as "Liberty" "Lost Sailor" and "Saint of Circumstance" — even when lit up with nice spots of improvisation — during such a special night, or another pro-forma bar-band run-thru of Willie Dixon's "Little Red Rooster." Looking up to the sky above Soldier Field, one might have pondered the Direct TV blimp with the flashing side panel, which alternated quotes from Grateful Dead songs and animated dancing bears with ad pitches ("HIGHER SATISFACTION THAN CABLE" "THE MOST PGA COVERAGE" "STREAM ON ANY DEVICE"). And it might have driven one back to the concession stands for another $11.75 beer.

    But who knows? As the gang at JamBase point out, a large part of this event was about the event itself, rather than the details of the shows.

    Deadheads from around the U.S.A. and well beyond have descended upon Chicago for the run making for an International crowd heavy on those from out of town. Attendees have been swapping stories, making new friends and meeting up with old friends all weekend long in The Windy City.

    Just as with on Friday, the energy in Soldier Field was far beyond any typical concert as many of those in attendance spent an ungodly amount of time and money making their Chicago trip a reality.

    I certainly had that experience last weekend in Santa Clara. Hanging out in a line for something-or-other, I started chatting with the fellow in front of me, who had driven all the way from Colorado with his family, making a summer-vacation-in-California out of the experience, taking his kids to the beach, and using the show as an experience to make it all happen.

    And even though I could take a pass on Standing On The Moon and Saint of Circumstance and West L.A. Fadeaway, this show still had Me and My Uncle, Deal, Bird Song, and (but of course, it was the 4th of July) U.S. Blues.

    And of course it had to close with One More Saturday Night since it was, after all, Saturday night.

    And what about this neat trick for the encore: Grateful Dead Celebrate July 4th With Empire State Building Light Show

    The Grateful Dead celebrated Independence Day Saturday night with a synchronized light show atop the Empire State Building in New York City that was broadcast live to the sold-out crowd at Chicago's Soldier Field during the band's encore performance of "U.S. Blues."

    The LED tower lights glowed red, white and blue — colors fit for both the Stars and Stripes and the famous Steal Your Face skull — while an assortment of Grateful Dead imagery appeared on the mast of the Empire State Building. The display was coordinated and created by the band and Empire State Building lighting designer, Marc Brickman.

    There's a nice copy of the video on YouTube, synchronized to the original studio version of the song.

    Wave that flag!

    Stuff I'm reading, nation's birthday edition

    Happy 4th, if that's your thing wherever you are...

    • What Turing Himself Said About the Imitation Game
      Turing’s fundamental message about thinking in his 1952 radio broadcast was that we shouldn’t set the bar any higher, or any differently, for computers than we do for people. We don’t decide that our fellow human beings think by putting their brains under a microscope—ordinary everyday interaction is enough. That was Turing’s astute observation. If you want to tell whether a machine thinks, try communicating with it.
    • Preview the new JDBC 4.2 for SQL Server Driver
      The JDBC Driver for SQL Server is a Java Database Connectivity (JDBC) type 4 driver that implements full compliance with the JDBC specifications 4.1 and 4.2 and supports Java Development Kit (JDK) version 1.8. There are several additional enhancements available with the driver. The updated XA Transaction feature includes new timeout options for automatic rollback of unprepared transactions. And, the new SQLServerBulkCopy class enables developers to quickly copy large amounts of data into tables or views in SQL Server and Azure SQL Database databases from other databases.
    • s2n : an implementation of the TLS/SSL protocols
      Ignoring tests, blank lines and comments, s2n is about 6,000 lines of code. s2n's code is also structured and written with a focus on reviewability. All s2n code is subject to code review, and we plan to complete security evaluations of s2n on an annual basis.

      To date there have been two external code-level reviews of s2n, including one by a commercial security vendor. s2n has also been shared with some trusted members of the broader cryptography, security, and Open Source communities. Any issues discovered are always recorded in the s2n issue tracker.

    • Let's Encrypt Releases Transparency Report -- All Zeroes Across The Board
      This is actually pretty important for a variety of reasons. First, it clearly acts as something of a warrant canary. And by posting this now, before launch and before there's even been a chance for the government to request information, Let's Encrypt is actually able to say "0." That may seem like a strange thing to say but, with other companies, the government has told them that they're not allowed to claim "0," but can only give ranges -- such as 0 to 999 if they separate out the specific government requests, or 0 to 249 if they lump together different kinds of government orders. Twitter has been fighting back against these kinds of rules, and others have argued that revealing an accurate number should be protected speech under the First Amendment.
    • Blaming the Victim
      The compromises at OPM and at Sony Pictures have revealed some truly pathetic security practices at both organizations, which certainly made the bad guy's job very easy. Better security practices would undoubtedly have made their job harder. But it is important to understand that in a world where Kaspersky and Cisco cannot keep their systems secure, better security practices would not have made the bad guy's job impossible.
    • The Harmful Consequences of Postel's Maxim
      Jon Postel's famous statement in RFC 1122 of "Be liberal in what you accept, and conservative in what you send" - is a principle that has long guided the design of Internet protocols and implementations of those protocols. The posture this statement advocates might promote interoperability in the short term, but that short term advantage is outweighed by negative consequences that affect the long term maintenance of a protocol and its ecosystem.
    • ISDN: The Untravelled Path of Mobile Computing
      The reason for this is that Japan's national phone carrier, NTT, had a vision for the future in which people who were out on the road with their mobile computing devices would stop off at a payphone and plug in to make "data" calls. ISDN was an international standard for a natively digital phone system, which offered 64 kbps line speeds.
    • Running Effective Retrospectives
      let’s take a look at how an average team can apply scientific retrospectives to the process of team improvement, by sitting down with Scrum Mistress Alice and her team of Rockstar Ninja Samurai Cowboy developers at Poogle (a search service that helps desperate travelers locate the nearest lavatory).
    • Lost Highways
      Vermont is unusual in that, if a road has been officially surveyed and, thus, added to town record books—even if that road was never physically constructed—it will remain legally recognized unless it has been explicitly discontinued.

      This means that roads surveyed as far back as the 1790s remain present in the landscape as legal rights of way—with the effect that, even if you cannot see this ancient road cutting across your property, it nonetheless persists

    • Google Street View - Allure of the Seas | Royal Caribbean
      At Royal Caribbean we like to push the boundaries of technology & innovation, so we are excited to reveal the world's first, exclusive "access all areas" tour onboard Allure of the Seas, using Google Street View technology.

    Saturday, July 4, 2015

    Fare Thee Well, Chicago day one

    Reports are in from the first night in Chicago, and it sounds like it was a wonderful show

    The setlist hits some big highlights for me: Scarlet Begonias, Jack Straw, Box of Rain, Bertha are all personal favorites, and the long jazzy selection from Blues for Allah must have been just marvelous.

    Meanwhile, I bet it was an experience just to watch the pilgrimage: I’m spending $4,768 dollars to see the Grateful Dead this weekend

    Beyond the shows themselves is a full calendar of ancillary events and expenses, a schedule to rival SXSW. Every jam band west of the Mississippi is coming into town to play… pre-parties, after-parties, and all the live-streaming parties to boot. And named for the 1978 Grateful Dead album and eponymous song, “Shakedown Street” will be the crowded, bacchanalian bazaar that inevitably pops up in the parking lots, where you can buy or trade anything

    Beyond just free trade, as Wired observes, the Grateful Dead "community" can claim credit for a number of inventions: Call Them Hippies, But the Grateful Dead Were Tech Pioneers

    Long before it became necessary (or cool) to do so, the band embraced a DIY ethos in everything from manufacturing its own gear to publishing its own music to fostering a decentralized music distribution system. The Dead’s obsession with technology was almost inseparable from the band’s psychedelic ambition and artistic independence.

    Lastly, while I've got your attention, even though it has nothing to do with the Grateful Dead except for the title, I enjoyed this article quite a bit: A Long, Strange Trip Downwind Faster Than the Wind

    When we had only equations to present, we were nearly universally ridiculed. When we built and demonstrated a manned cart beating the wind, people complained we had no theory to back it up. To this end another friend offered, “Sure it works in practice – but can you prove it works in theory?”

    Hey, it's a beautiful day (Happy 4th of July!); now go find a copy of American Beauty and put it on, and sing along with a friend.