Sunday, September 27, 2015

A warm day at the library

We found ourselves in Pasadena, CA, with a few hours to spend, and so I suggested that we make a trip over to the Huntington Library, which is just a few miles away.

Many years ago (too many to admit), I visited the Huntington as a child, and I was interested to see what I remembered, and what I didn't.

I remembered the gardens, and in particular I remembered the Bonsai Courts at the Japanese Gardens, as well as the amazing selection of palms in the Palm Gardens.

And I remembered the old house, and in particular I remembered the portrait gallery with Blue Boy and Pinkie at opposite ends, watching over us as we looked at all the Gainsboroughs, Romneys, Reynolds, and the like.

I bought a nice hat at the Admissions Booth, for I had forgotten mine; it has a nice embroidered squirrel next to the Huntington logo.

The Huntington seems to be doing quite well at keeping up with the times; far from being the musty old relic that I remembered, it has been steadily improving itself while still trying to retain the best parts of its past.

The entire building housing the new American Art section was not even present when I visited in the early 1970's, and it is still under construction, so I slipped through quickly to see a bit of this and that (Remington's Bronco Buster, a Georgia O'Keeffe, a John Singer Sargent, etc.).

It was good that we got to the gardens as early as we could, for it was a hot day in San Marino: at 10:30 AM when we began, it was already over 90 degrees, and by noontime it was well over 100.

So we sought relief from the heat and treated ourselves to High Tea at the Rose Garden Tea House. We were lucky, for I had not made reservations ahead of time, but I think we were just a little bit early and so they were able to seat us. It was a very nice tea, with absolutely wonderful tiny scones and a nice buffet of tea sandwiches, fresh fruit, and sweets.

Of course, the Huntington is not primarily about the botanical gardens, nor even about the art, though those are both world-class; the Huntington's true claim to fame is actually the library.

So as we made our way out, I found 15 minutes to wander through the library's exhibit hall.

In addition to the amazing treasures that I remembered from my youth (The Canterbury Tales! The Gutenberg Bible! The First Folio! The Declaration of Independence! Paradise Lost! Birds of America!), the library was just nearing the end of a fascinating special exhibit, celebrating the 800th anniversary of the creation of Magna Carta.

All in all, I felt like a king, and so we commemorated that by snapping a shot of me in my throne in the Shakespearean Garden.

A day later, we were back at home in the Bay Area, marveling at the fact that just 24 hours (and 400 miles) had gone by, but the temperature was now a full 25 degrees lower. 78 degrees at 2:00 PM, we decided, is pretty nice.

But so was our nice warm day at the library.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Unclean Diesels

I'm surely not the only one who is suddenly obsessing over minute details of emission control machinery.

If you're like me, start your quest for knowledge with Vox's superb explainer: Volkswagen's appalling clean diesel scandal, explained

Suffice to say, regulators were livid once they caught on. Last Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that Volkswagen had very flagrantly violated the Clean Air Act. Not only did the EPA order the German firm to fix the affected vehicles — which include diesel TDI versions of the Golf, Jetta, Beetle, and Passat — but the agency could end up levying fines as high as $18 billion. The Department of Justice is also contemplating criminal charges.

Then start following the links that Vox so wonderfully provides.

Here are a couple I found particularly interesting:

  • The tech behind how Volkswagen tricked emissions tests
    When carmakers test their vehicles against EPA standards, they place a car on rollers and then perform a series of specific maneuvers prescribed by federal regulations. Among the most common tests for passenger cars is the Urban Dynamometer Driving Schedule (UDDS), which simulates 7.5 miles of urban driving.


    Using a special engine setting for vehicle tests isn’t all that unusual, according to Consumer Reports. Most new vehicles do something similar because otherwise vehicles might interpret some of the testing procedures, like traction issues from being on rollers, as dangerous.

  • How Volkswagen Got Busted for Skirting EPA Diesel Emissions Standards
    “Developing an engine software to optimize certain aspects of an operation cycle that you know the parameters of is a challenge, but it is very possible,” says Thiruvengadam. “Knowing when to switch to the EPA-favorable cycle is the trick; it could be set up to detect the absence of steering-wheel movement, or, and this is known, we often turn off the traction control for testing purposes.” Either way, the result is the same: it turns the emissions controls on for EPA testing and off for real-world driving. Somewhat ironically, the presumed benefits of turning off the controls for normal driving include improved fuel economy and engine power.
  • VW's Emissions Cheating Found by Curious Clean-Air Group
    German and his group were actually trying to prove exactly what Volkswagen has been claiming for years: that diesel is clean. They asked West Virginia University for help. The school’s Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions had the right equipment -- a portable emission measurement system to stick in the car trunk, attached to a probe to shove up the exhaust pipe. German’s group, funded mostly by foundations, didn’t.

    Testers drove the monitor-equipped diesels from San Diego to Seattle because if Volkswagen had gamed the emission test, they couldn’t be sure how, German said. In another cheating case years ago, he said, long-haul trucks were equipped with devices that allowed the engines to gradually discharge more and more harmful nitrogen oxides the longer the vehicle cruised at the same speed. The more emissions, generally speaking, the greater the engine power. The 1,300-mile trip under varying conditions would expose any such scheme in the VWs, German said.

    Meanwhile, the California Air Resources Board tested the vehicles in their laboratories and they passed.

    Open Road

    Then German received the results of the real-world tests.

    “We were astounded when we saw the numbers,” he said.

Vox brings it all back into focus:

This episode also raises questions about the future of clean diesel vehicles. Clean diesel appears to be a genuinely promising technology — in theory, such vehicles could get both excellent mileage and lower emissions. But this whole scandal raises serious questions about how well automakers can actually achieve both goals in practice.

What do we know, what do the computers know, and what do the computers allow us to know?

While we try to figure that out, let's not forget how manipulated we may have been, by those (few) media outlets we thought we could trust: Wired's native ad for VW diesel tech goes missing

As recently as last week, Wired magazine on social media was touting content sponsored by Volkswagen about "how diesel was re-engineered."

But this week -- just as VW faces growing scrutiny over software installed on its diesel vehicles that evades emissions tests -- previously published links to the branded content are no longer working.

A reference to the program was still visible until earlier today on the "Clean Diesel" section of VW's web site. Under a sub-section called "Diesel Gets WIRED" the site had said "Volkswagen and Wired Brand Lab have created an experience that will inform, educate, surprise, and change the way you think about diesel," while teasing content that describes "how a once unloved engine has cleaned up its act."

But the link urging viewers to "visit the Wired experience" was yielding only an error message as of Tuesday.

There are plenty of sad stories to go around, here.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

It's not just a game...

... it truly is an open world, just begging to be explored.

I was wandering around the Skellige Isles, basically picking up a number of lesser quests that I had skipped during my main path through the game this summer.

I was east of Kaer Trolde, far, far up in the snowy mountains, where I had descended into a monster's den in a cave under the mountains and worked through it carefully, leaving no nook unexplored.

When I emerged, I thought I'd head north and east, towards a small unmarked town on my map that I hadn't yet visited.

I crested a high snowy ridge above a narrow valley and looked down into the valley, where I could see the town buildings, a path through the center of the valley, and a small pond along the valley floor.

But, on the far side of the valley, against the opposing hillside, were two figures described by rocks, perhaps knights or monsters locked in battle.

It looked rather like the "Nazca figures", stick figures seen from far, far above.

Curious, I descended to the valley floor, swam across the pond, and hiked over to the area where the figures lay.

There were rocks, and valley floor, but you couldn't see anything recognizable from the valley floor, certainly not any shapes or figures.

The figures were only visible from the remote and nearly inaccessible peak that I had mostly blundered my way onto while wandering around.

What an amazing game, little details like that just waiting to be found.

How many more?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Stuff I'm reading, mid-September edition

It's such a beautiful day, why am I doing all this reading?

  • Microsoft showcases the Azure Cloud Switch (ACS)
    The Azure Cloud Switch (ACS) is our foray into building our own software for running network devices like switches. It is a cross-platform modular operating system for data center networking built on Linux. ACS allows us to debug, fix, and test software bugs much faster. It also allows us the flexibility to scale down the software and develop features that are required for our datacenter and our networking needs.
  • Improved Digital Certificate Security
    On September 14, around 19:20 GMT, Symantec’s Thawte-branded CA issued an Extended Validation (EV) pre-certificate for the domains and This pre-certificate was neither requested nor authorized by Google.
  • A Tough Day as Leaders
    In light of these events, we must reassert our commitment to stand behind our values and our position as a trusted industry leader. While our processes and approach are based on the industry best practices that we helped create, we have immediately put in place additional processes and technical controls to eliminate the possibility of human error. We will continue to relentlessly evolve these best practices to ensure something like this does not happen again.

    In addition, we discovered that a few outstanding employees, who had successfully undergone our stringent on-boarding and security trainings, failed to follow our policies. Despite their best intentions, this failure to follow policies has led to their termination after a thoughtful review process. Because you rely on us to protect the digital world, we hold ourselves to a “no compromise” bar for such breaches. As a result, it was the only call we could make.

  • Amazon Web Services in Plain English
    Hey, have you heard of the new AWS services: ContainerCache, ElastiCast and QR72? Of course not, I just made those up.

    But with 50 plus opaquely named services, we decided that enough was enough and that some plain english descriptions were needed.

  • The guide to implementing 2D platformers
    Having previously been disappointed by the information available on the topic, this is my attempt at categorizing different ways to implement 2D platform games, list their strengths and weaknesses, and discuss some implementation details.

    The long-term goal is to make this an exhaustive and comprehensible guide to the implementation of 2D platform games. If you have any sort of feedback, correction, request, or addition – please leave it in the comments!

  • The Fundamental Challenge of Computer System Performance
    Performance is not just about capacity. Though many people overlook them, there are solutions on the workload side of the ledger, too. What if you could make workload smaller without compromising the value of your system?

    It is usually possible to make a computer produce all of the useful results that you need without having to do as much work.

    You might be able to make a system run faster by making its capacity box bigger. But you might also make it run faster by trimming down that big red workload inside your existing box. If you only trim off the wasteful stuff, then nobody gets hurt, and you’ll have winning all around.

  • Building a PC, Part VIII: Iterating
    What I've always loved about SSDs is that they attack the PC's worst-case performance scenario, when information has to come off the slowest device inside your computer – the hard drive. SSDs massively reduced the variability of requests for data. Let's compare L1 cache access time to minimum disk access time
  • “Private blockchain” is just a confusing name for a shared database
    Banks and financial institutions seem to be all over the blockchain. It seems they agree with the Bitcoin community that the technology behind Bitcoin can provide an efficient platform for settlement and for issuing digital assets. Curiously, though, they seem to shy away from Bitcoin itself. Instead, they want something they have more control over and doesn’t require exposing transactions publicly. Besides, Bitcoin has too much of an association in the media with theft, crime, and smut — no place for serious, upstanding bankers. As a result, the buzz in the financial industry is about “private blockchains.”

    But here’s the thing — “private blockchain” is just a confusing name for a shared database.

    The key to Bitcoin’s security (and success) is its decentralization which comes from its innovative use of proof-of-work mining. However, if you have a blockchain where only a few companies are allowed to participate, proof-of-work doesn’t make sense any more. You’re left with a system where a set of identified (rather than pseudonymous) parties maintain a shared ledger, keeping tabs on each other so that no single party controls the database.

  • This 4×6 index card has all the financial advice you’ll ever need
    Think managing your finances has to be complicated? Wonkblog contributor (and UC Chicago social scientist) Harold Pollack doesn't. After a talk with personal finance expert Helaine Olen, Pollack managed to write down pretty much everything you need to know on a 4x6 index card. And it would probably fit on a 3x5 index card if you really crammed (that last point, for instance, is probably not strictly necessary for managing your money).
  • The Witness: the creator of Braid talks about his fiendishly difficult new game
    Blow says that The Witness is "very deliberately an homage to Myst," and for anyone who's played both, this is clear from The Witness' earliest moments. You exit a strange cave and enter an island devoid of all other life. The only thing to do is wander around the island solving puzzles.

    However, with The Witness Blow seeks to fix "one of the things that's most broken about Myst and that whole genre of games." Namely: pixel hunting.

    "Point-and-click games generally have some version of pixel hunting," he says. "You look at everything you come across and wonder, is this thing interactive or what? In Myst, you come up to some elaborate, beautiful machine, and you start clicking on different parts of it, and eventually you find the knob that you're allowed to turn, and then you don't know what it does. Back at the time when that game came out, that was a totally acceptable thing to do. It was decades ago in game design. But these days, I don't think that's a very good idea."

  • The Most Misread Poem in America
    But this isn’t just any poem. It’s “The Road Not Taken,” and it plays a unique role not simply in American literature, but in American culture —and in world culture as well. Its signature phrases have become so ubiquitous, so much a part of everything from coffee mugs to refrigerator magnets to graduation speeches, that it’s almost possible to forget the poem is actually a poem.


    The poem isn’t a salute to can-do individualism; it’s a commentary on the self-deception we practice when constructing the story of our own lives. “The Road Not Taken” may be, as the critic Frank Lentricchia memorably put it, “the best example in all of American poetry of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” But we could go further: It may be the best example in all of American culture of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Book of Numbers: a very short review

One of my summer projects was to read the book that (it seemed) everyone couldn't stop talking about back in June: Joshua Cohen's Book of Numbers.

Maybe "read" isn't the right word to use with Book of Numbers, though.

Perhaps it would be better to say that I marched through it, like an army might march through foreign territory.

Or to say that I explored it, like an adventurer might explore unmapped lands.

Or to say that I rolled around in it, like a dog in grass.

Or to say that I crawled back and forth on it, like a baby on the living room rug.

If these are strange things to say, well, it's because Book of Numbers is a very strange book, and it isn't really a book that you "read" in a normal sense.

Joshua Cohen's Book of Numbers is a book about a man named Joshua Cohen, who is writing a book.

Joshua Cohen, in Book of Numbers, is writing a book about a man named Joshua Cohen, who is not a writer, but rather is an Internet luminary.

To make things (maybe) somewhat easier to follow, the Joshua Cohen who is an Internet Luminary is not referred to in the book as Joshua Cohen, but rather as "the Principal," when he is referred to at all. Mostly, the Joshua Cohen who isn't referred to as Joshua Cohen speaks about himself in the form of long recorded interviews, in which he speaks of himself in the third person.

OK, maybe that didn't make things easier to follow.

It probably doesn't matter anyway, because by the end of the book it's been wrapped in several more layers of indirection, and has become a book about the leaking of the materials used in the making of a book about Joshua Cohen by Joshua Cohen about Joshua Cohen by Anonymous by Joshua Cohen.

Feh. Anyway...

The Internet luminary's company is clearly supposed to be Google, but in Book of Numbers it is referred to by a different name, Tetration.

The luminary himself, however, is I think supposed to be Steve Jobs, perhaps just because he's a more interesting character to parody; er, uh, that is, to write thinly-disguised historical fiction about.

But it probably could have been any Silicon Valley monomaniacal leader: Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, it probably doesn't really matter, for the purposes of Book of Numbers.

Indeed, I suspect Cohen doesn't really care about those sorts of details; he's after the flow, the feel, the whole zeitgeist of it all.

And so Cohen spends much of his time embracing the now, and being hip.

For example, the high tech industry is famous for making up words and coining jargon, both for good reasons and for lazy ones, and so Book of Numbers at times seems to be nothing but coined words in an imaginary language, such that you find yourself having to wade through pages and pages of gibberish like

Point is, what was important was not the organism itself but the connections among the organisms. The algy had to make the connections. We figgered if we could index all the tech links, and apply to each a rec link, whatever terminology we mortally employ, we could engineer the ultimate. The connection of connections.

How a single user regarded a thing would be comptrasted by what things existed. Not only that but the comptrasting of the two would be automated. Each time each user typed out a word and searched and clicked for what to find, the algy would be educated. We let the algy let its users educate themselves. So it would learn, so its users would be taught. All human language could be determined through this medium, which could not be expressed in any human language, and that was its perfection. The more a thing was clicked, the more perfect that thing would be. We would equate ourselves with that.

I think this passage is trying to say something about Google and about how the act of searching for information has become more important than the information itself ("not the organism itself but the connections among the organisms").

And I think this passage is trying to say something about how modern "big data" algorithms have capabilities that are beyond the comprehension, in the aggregate, of the programmers who build those systems ("So it would learn, so its users would be taught.").

And I think this passage is trying to make some sort of simile about how searching the Internet for the truth has become some sort of odd new religion, with the results of your search treated as holy writ ("this medium, which could not be expressed in any human language, and that was its perfection").

And I think this passage is trying to say something sly about Steve Jobs and his legendarily obsessive perfectionism ("we could engineer the ultimate").

And I think this passage is trying to say something sly about Larry Page, and Page Rank, and how it's hard to distinguish between Google the company, Google the employees, and Google the product ("We would equate ourselves with that.")

But really, I have no idea.

It's like trying to read a bowl of potato soup.

And this isn't just an isolated incident: I found myself having experiences and reactions like this every few pages (rather exhausting, with a 600 page book!).

On and on the book goes, and on and on I read, as Cohen spins story after story, winding them around and together in various dream-like recollections, all based on the premise that Our Great Internet Luminary is relating stories from the birth of the Internet.

So we hear stories about startups in garages, technology breakthroughs, new ideas arriving unexpectedly and not immediately being recognized, opportunities lost and found, empires rising and falling, populated by businessmen, engineers, politicians, bankers, lawyers, schemers, and dreamers.

And Cohen takes care to wind all sorts of real-world topics into the book: hackers, information warfare, commercial interests, terrorism, the impact of pornography on the growth of the Internet, the impact of 9/11 on the growth of the Internet, the enormous re-shaping of the world's industries by the Internet from entertainment to journalism to retail to transportation, etc.

It's all so relevant, and all so important, and yet all, in the end, so terribly unsatisfying.

Maybe it's because I lived through all this in person, and so I find it hard to be struck anew by it, having been struck by it plenty hard enough plenty of times already.

And maybe it's because I have the rather cynical view that the high tech industry in general is far too disturbingly a world of celebrities, and trendiness, and so a book like this which seems to be all about celebrity and trendiness, and very little about humans and real life, leaves me rather at sea.

For whatever reason, I'm afraid that I am not able to join the seemingly endless parade of reviewers who couldn't wait to heap praise on Book of Numbers, who couldn't wait to anoint it the book of the year, or the book of the Internet, or the book of the something.

It's skillfully constructed, it's timely and relevant, it certainly wanders in the midst of the issues of the day.

But in the end I rather doubt this is a book I will return to, or think much about six months from now.

So be it.

Thank you Google (I think)

The robocallers have gotten unbelievably out of control, it's just a complete farce.

At this point, I simply never take a call from a number that isn't in my contacts list. Never. Period.

And don't tell me about the Do Not Call registry. I've added my number to it dozens of times. No relief.

So it's wonderful to see that somebody who might actually be able to do something about the problem is taking real action: Protecting people from illegal robocalls.

It’s difficult for Google to take action against callers because they often use untraceable phone numbers, fake company names, and massive global networks of intermediaries. However, today we’re filing an action in California against one search engine optimization company for making these robocalls and confusing our users. It’s unfortunate when a problem must be addressed in a court of law, but we believe this course of action will protect our users and discourage this practice more broadly.

So, Yay! Google!

On the other hand, it really does freak me out that we've truly gotten to the point where we are now depending on corporations to protect us from attacks, because our government cannot.

That is Not Good.

I don't have the answer. I hope Google can help in this situation. But I also worry about the increasing role that mega-corporations are playing in our personal lives, and the increasing unwillingness of Americans to seeing a role for government to play in protecting citizens from harm.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Another StackOverflow milestone

I've crossed the 10,000 reputation level on StackOverflow.

My father would say, and rightly so, "who cares?"

There's a couple reasons I do care, though, so maybe others find them interesting.

Firstly, advancing through the levels at StackOverflow gives you access to more tools and power on the site itself. This is relevant to me because I use StackOverflow a lot (obviously) for my professional work. I probably go to the site two or three times a day to search for answers to common programming questions. So the more access that I have to the guts of StackOverflow, the better I'm able to take advantage of it for getting my own work done.

Secondly, StackOverflow is a pretty interesting site, in general. In many ways, it tries to do similar things to a site like Google, or a site like Wikipedia, or sites like Quora; namely, StackOverflow is trying to get people to work together to

  • organize their own pool of information
  • help each other to get their questions answered
  • preserve their findings and knowledge for the future

But StackOverflow goes about this giant problem (arguably, THE giant problem that human beings have) in a very different way than those other sites do.

And I kind of like StackOverflow's approach, so I (broadly speaking) prefer to patronize it than those others.

And I am also interested in seeing how the StackOverflow experiment plays out, because I think it's doing some pretty interesting things and generally is a lot more pleasant to use than Google (with its subtle mind control over my search results, tilting them towards advertising and commercial interests) or Wikipedia (with its endless writing and re-writing and power struggles) or Quora or ExpertsExchange (with their paywalls and barriers and teases and come-ons).

I think I'm not the only one who sees StackOverflow this way; as Jeff Atwood admitted when he started StackOverflow seven years ago, StackOverflow consciously set out to kill off some of the worst of those other types of sites, such as the frustrating ExpertsExchange.

From the view point of (a small amount of) history, StackOverflow has at least partially succeeded: ExpertsExchange, if not completely gone, has changed dramatically, even if it was quite painful for the people who were actually involved with ExpertsExchange.

StackOverflow, of course, is changing too, and the world is changing (as are Google and Quora and Wikipedia, etc.). So what does the future hold for this giant experiment? I have no idea, but I'm sure that, before too long, more change will come. But for now, StackOverflow is still behaving in a way that works for me, so I'm still there.

So, anyway, there you go; that's enough about that.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt: a very short review

Well, that's done.

I don't want to confess how many hours Mr. Steam is telling me that I played that game over the last 3 months.

Absorbing, moving, frustrating, exciting, dramatic, beautiful, tragic: this game was all those things.

Now I have to resume the rest of my life.


Oh, wait!

Witcher 3's First Expansion Release Date Announced

CD Projekt Red has announced that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt's first paid expansion, Hearts of Stone, will arrive on October 13.

Looks like the rest of my life is just going to have to wait.

Uhm, what?

I've been way too busy with work recently, but this MUST be noted: Software pioneer McAfee files paperwork to run for president

The antivirus software pioneer John McAfee on Tuesday filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to run for president.

The paperwork was confirmed as authentic by Kyle Sandler, who is identified as one of the campaign’s directors and responded to a request for comment from a contact form on McAfee’s personal website. The filing lists an Alabama address, and noted that McAfee would be “founding a new party yet to be announced.”

I'm not sure exactly how to describe my emotions as I contemplate the possibility of a Trump-McAfee debate; I think it's that sort of combination of morbid fascination and terror that has no simple word to sum it up.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Here, there, and everywhere

I'm flying solo for a few days; my mind is wandering.

  • What Killed 60,000 Antelope in 4 Days?
    Genetic analysis so far has only deepened the mystery, as the bacteria found were the garden-variety, disease-causing type.

    "There is nothing so special about it. The question is why it developed so rapidly and spread to all the animals," Zuther said.

  • How former San Francisco 49ers Chris Borland's retirement could change NFL forever
    Borland has consistently described his retirement as a pre-emptive strike to (hopefully) preserve his mental health. "If there were no possibility of brain damage, I'd still be playing," he says. But buried deeper in his message are ideas perhaps even more threatening to the NFL and our embattled national sport. It's not just that Borland won't play football anymore. He's reluctant to even watch it, he now says, so disturbed is he by its inherent violence, the extreme measures that are required to stay on the field at the highest levels and the physical destruction 
he has witnessed to people he loves and admires -- especially to their brains.
  • The forgotten part of climate change: slower winds
    In his paper, online this month in the journal Ecology, Barton points out that global wind speeds have decreased by some 5 to 15 percent over the last three decades, and are expected to decrease another 15 percent in the coming century. You’ve heard of global warming? Get ready for “global stilling.”
  • The main reason wind energy output appears lower in 2015? 2014 was a record high wind year
    While the first half of 2015 has seen below average wind speeds, a more meaningful comparison against a longer-term average shows 2015 wind output to be within the normal bounds of inter-annual wind output variation.
  • Everything Is for Sale: Life along the longest yard sale in the world
    The world's longest yard sale runs for nearly 700 miles along a mostly vertical line connecting Alabama and Michigan, from the first Thursday in August through the first Sunday. It's called the 127 Sale, since most of it takes place along US Route 127, but that road ends in Chattanooga. There it's met by the sale's southernmost stretch, which winds for more than a hundred miles through the woody piedmont of the Appalachian Mountains, starting in northeast Alabama and veering over to slice off a corner of northwest Georgia, before coming to an end where 127 picks up just across the Tennessee line.

    Chattanooga used to be the end of the whole sale, not just its namesake road. When it started in 1987, the sale was a 350-mile jaunt up through Tennessee to Covington, Kentucky, just this side of Ohio; it added the southern extension a few years later. Since then it's sprouted up the road in northerly bits and pieces, officially ending in Ohio for a while, and later barely sneaking into Michigan. For the last three years, the northernmost point of the sale has been in Addison, Michigan, 20 miles north of the state line, at the place where US 127 intersects with the town's sleepy Main Street. From start to finish, it's 690 miles.

  • How Could Google's New Logo Be Only 305 Bytes When Its Old Logo Was 14,000 Bytes?
    The old logo uses a complicated serif font which can only be created using bezier curves. All together, it has 100 anchor points, resulting in a 6 KB (6,380 bytes) file. When compressed, the size comes down to 2 KB (2,145 bytes).

    A simplified version of the new logo, on the other hand, can be constructed almost entirely from circles and rectangles (with the exception of the lower-case g)

  • As CS50 Attracts Students, Parodies Pop Up on Campus and Online
    A Tumblr blog, also titled “#notCS50,” purports that the posters and social media activity are a concerted effort to challenge the popular course, which has attracted hundreds of students in recent years, boasts corporate sponsors, and has managed to keep Widener Library open later in the evenings and circumvent the Administrative Board, which was until recently the College’s primary disciplinary body. It has even spread to Yale.
  • First fully automated restaurant opens in San Francisco... but it only sells superfood Quinoa
    A San Francisco fast food restaurant has opened with no waiting staff or cashiers and instead dispenses its meals using a giant vending machine.

    Customers of eatsa, in the middle of the city's financial district, order their dishes on iPads, which are prepared by staff in a hidden kitchen and delivered to the fully automated 'cubbies'.

    The only staff that can be seen are in store to help customers with problems they may have with the software.

  • A Roadmap for a World Without Drivers
    Let’s call this the Consensus Model, and let’s stipulate that much of the Consensus Model is correct. Nevertheless, there are profound security risks that will delay and complicate the full deployment of AVs. Once those risks are addressed, consumers will respond to the low cost and high convenience of AVs by increasing their consumption of transportation, most likely to high levels not contemplated by most analysts. And if those two forecasts are correct, most investors and analysts are making fundamental mistakes about the implications of AVs on existing industries, and on industries that will emerge once enabled by AVs.
  • Are unscrupulous scalpers ruining the Disney Dining Experience?
    If you’re not familiar with the Disney dining system, guests can make their advanced dining reservations (ADRs) 180 days out (up to 190 days if you’re a guest of a Disney resort). Disney opens online reservation at 6AM Eastern and phone reservations at 7AM. So set that alarm clock early, fire up all the computers at your house, and have your credit card ready.
  • Someone Made A Documentary About GTA V's Wildlife, And It's Great
    The creatures of GTA V all lead secret lives that we often never get to see while playing. They hunt. They eat. They try to survive.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Strange strange strange

I have no idea what to make of: 'Gone Girl' Suspect Confesses to Reporter - As FBI Listens In and Orangevale’s Matthew Muller being investigated for other home invasions.

One thing is for sure, after several years of paying attention to this case: it's clearly the strangest thing that's happened around these parts since this case.

From the SacBee article:

Muller is the suspected mastermind in the March 23 kidnapping of Denise Huskins, who says she was drugged and taken from her Mare Island home by an intruder in the middle of the night. Huskins was released two days later in Huntington Beach. She and her boyfriend, Aaron Quinn, told authorities they were bound with zip ties and forced to consume drugs that put them to sleep. Vallejo police at the time publicly labeled the case a hoax, but FBI documents released this week make clear that the agency is taking it seriously.

Search warrants unsealed Monday show the FBI seized five drones, remote controls, video cameras and other items linked to Muller from a self-storage unit he rented in Vallejo. Other items confiscated included a blood pressure cuff found in a stolen white Mustang discovered near the Muller family vacation home in South Lake Tahoe. Huskins and Quinn told investigators their assailant had checked their blood pressure after giving them drugs.

The FBI now links the case to a Dublin home invasion last month in which a man fought off an intruder. The intruder escaped but left behind a cellphone that led agents to Muller, who was arrested at the South Lake Tahoe house.

Detectives in Palo Alto and Mountain View say they’re also looking into Muller’s possible involvement in home invasions in 2009 that had similarities to the Vallejo and Dublin cases. He was originally a suspect in the Palo Alto case, but authorities believed they had insufficient evidence to arrest him, said Palo Alto police Lt. Zach Perron. The case has remained open.

When the case first broke, I sure thought it was a hoax.

Looks increasingly like I was wrong.