Friday, December 28, 2018

Just in time for New Year's Eve ...

... here's an important resource: Every Bar In Red Dead Redemption 2, Reviewed

Red Dead Redemption 2’s saloons are the hubs of their towns. Whether you want a full belly, a quick drink, a place to stay the night or even a haircut, you’ll find a saloon to meet your needs.

I think I'd better head off to Smithfield's Saloon, since my wife mentioned quietly yesterday that my beard was "looking a mite scraggly".

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Secret Place: a very short review

Tana French's The Secret Place has been sitting on my desk for an entire month now, fully-read.

Fully-read, but not fully understood, not fully resolved

Each time I read a Tana French novel, I think to myself: "this is it; her next book cannot possibly be any better than this one."

And then, the next one is better still.

In The Secret Place, French dives into that most complicated of all human complications: the mysterious transition from child to adult. More specifically, from girl to woman. The Secret Place is set in St. Kilda's, an all-girls boarding school, its partner all-boys boarding school just down the way a bit.

There's an exterior plot, of course, involving the Dublin Murder Squad detectives and their efforts to solve the case. And of course, they solve the case, and of course, nothing is really solved at all. This being Tana French and the Dublin Murder Squad, all of that is somehow almost taken for granted.

Meanwhile, the real story is about the girls at the school, as French tries her best to take us into the unfathomably complex mind of a 15-year-old girl:

Selena thinks about that. She hears all the voices from when she was little, soothing, strengthening: Don't be sacred, not of monsters, not of witches, not of big dogs. And now, snapping loud from every direction: Be scared, you have to be scared, ordering like this is your one absolute duty. Be scared you're fat, be scared your boobs are too big and be scared they're too small. Be scared to walk on your own, specially anywhere quiet enough that you can hear yourself think. Be scared of wearing the wrong stuff, saying the wrong thing, having a stupid laugh, being uncool. Be scared of guys not fancying you; be scared of guys, they're animals, rabid can't stop themselves. Be scared of girls, they're all vicious, they'll cut you down before you can cut them. Be scared of strangers. Be scared you won't do well enough in your exams, be scared of getting in trouble. Be scared terrified petrified that everything you are is every kind of wrong. Good girl.

At the same time, in a cool untouched part of her mind, she sees the moon. She feels the shimmer of what it might look like in their own private midnight.

She says, "We're different now. That was the whole point. So we need to be doing something different. Otherwise ..."

She doesn't know how to say what she sees. That moment in the glade sliding away, blurring. Them dulling slowly back to normal.

These tensions are of course common to every fifteen year old; there's nothing new about that.

Yet French manages to capture that knife-edge tightrope walk between terror and desire, and how every moment, every instant, feels like the one thing that will change everything, and how you simultaneously want everything to change, and yet you want nothing to change:

What's been coming to Becca, since this all began, is this: real isn't what they try to tell you. Time isn't. Grown-ups hammer down all these markers, bells schedules coffee-breaks, to stake down time so you'll start believing it's something small and mean, something that scrapes flake after flake off of everything you love till there's nothing left; to stake you down so you won't lift off and fly away, somersaulting through whirlpools of months, skimming through eddies of glittering seconds, pouring handfuls of hours over your upturned face.

She blots the extra ink from around the dot, spits on the tissue and dabs again. The dot throbs, a warm satisfying pain.

These nights in the grove aren't degradable, they can't be flaked away. They'll always be there, if only Becca and the others can find their way back. The four of them backboned by their vow are stronger than anyone's pathetic schedules and bells; in ten years, twenty, fifty, they can slip between the stakes and meet in the glad, on these nights.

What is real, really? What does it mean to be a grown-up, to be an adult, to be responsible? Do you remember what it was like when that concept both mesmerized and terrified you, simultaneously? French certainly does:

The lady detective and the man detective and McKenna all wait, staring at her from behind the sun-patterns slanted across the desk. They're so huge and meaty and hairy, they think they'll just squash her down till her mouth pops open and everything comes gushing out.

Becca looks back at them and feels her flesh stir and transform silently into something new, some nameless substance that comes from high on pungent-forested mountain slopes. Her borders are so hard and bright that these lumpy things are being blinded just by looking at her; she's opaque, she's impermeable, she's a million densities and dimensions more real than any of them. They break against her and roll off like mist.

Reading The Secret Place, I was so drawn in, so engaged, so captivated by the feeling of being fifteen again, being young again, being free and different and somehow not yet even born, that I didn't want the story to end. I didn't want the mystery to be solved. I wanted it to still be a mystery.

None of them say anything. They keep their eyes closed. They lie still and feel the world change shape around them and inside them, feel the boundaries set solid; feel the wild left outside, to prowl perimeters till it thins into something imagined, something forgotten.

Oh, to be young again. Just. Exactly. So.

I want to stake down time, become impermeable, and never dull slowly back to normal.

Don't we all?

As it is after every Tana French novel, I have to rest now. I know it will be several months, at least, before I can begin the next book. To do so any sooner would be, somehow, wrong. I'm not ready; I must wait.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

My wife says I shouldn't be surprised ...

... she says this happens every year ...

Get to the holidays.

Go on vacation.

Immediately get sick.

Falconer's Crusade and Falconer's Judgement: a very short review

Ian Morson has written about half-a-dozen titles in a mystery series featuring Regent Master William Falconer of Oxford University.

The books are set in the middle of the 13th century.

Morson is a skilled writer, and he knows his tradecraft.

If you are interested in medieval times, and enjoy thinking about what it was like to live in England 800 years ago, you'll probably like these books. There's lots of fine intrigue involving Papal Legates, Baronial Uprisings, the Welsh Marches, etc., and lots of careful detail about the differences between Franciscans and Dominicans and Carmelites, how the role of the Abbot or Prior or Bursar affected your status in the monastery, etc.

But, really, the Middle Ages were a pretty nasty time (even if they did produce Roger Bacon), and it's not totally clear to me why people seem to have such endless fascination for such things.

I enjoyed the first two books well enough, but I think I've had my fill of Regent Master William Falconer and his times.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Bad Blood: a very short review

How ought society feel about the Venture Capital approach to business innovation?

At this point, it's been a central part of American society for almost 60 years, getting its start late in the 1950's as various West Coast companies sought to commercialize the broad range of technological innovations that had emerged during and soon after World War II (most people cite the founding of Fairchild Semiconductor in 1959 as the start of Venture Capital as a technique for company formation).

So it's not entirely new, and you would think that at this point its approach to business decision-making is fairly well-known.

But perhaps not as well-known as you might think?

Recently, I had a trans-continental airplane round-trip over a 3-day weekend, and I brought along John Carreyrou's Bad Blood, about the rise and fall of Theranos.

The book is sub-titled: "Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup", so clearly Carreyrou intended the book to be mostly about Theranos, but also about some broader topics as well.

Carreyrou is a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, and it's not entirely clear how much experience he has had with Silicon Valley Startups.

I was sitting at my messy desk in the Wall Street Journal's Midtown Manhattan newsroom casting about for a new story to sink my teeth into. I'd recently finished work on a year-long investigation of Medicare fraud and had no idea what to do next.

Carreyrou doesn't blow his own horn loudly enough here: he won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015 for his "Medicare Unmasked" articles for the WSJ.

Carryrou gets a tip from a health-care industry blogger and thinks it's right up his alley ("I'd reported about health-care issues for the better part of a decade"), so he decides to do a little digging.

What he finds shocks him! Among other things:

  • The company is full of young employees, just out of school, many with little or no experience in the areas in which they're working.
  • The company's offices are in a shabby warehouse in a bad part of town
  • There is very high turnover. Some people are quite successful and move rapidly up in responsibilities, while others are unable to fit in and soon leave or are fired.
  • People are working very long hours, nights and weekends, under tremendous pressure
  • The executives are tense and fearful. They require employees to sign onerous "non-disclosure" and "non-compete" employment contracts, deploy extensive security policies to try to contain knowledge of company secrets, and sternly lecture departing employees about their responsibilities when they leave
  • As a result, employees are often in the dark about the company's operations, and rumors and gossip spread widely.

Throughout Bad Blood, Carreyrou richly reports incidents like these, apparently feeling that, by themselves, they obviously and self-evidently indict Theranos and explain what went wrong.

But what Carreyrou apparently fails to know, is that all of the above, and more, is just Business As Usual in a Silicon Valley startup (believe me; I've been in-and-around them for three decades now).

This is what Silicon Valley startups are like.

It's a nasty, ugly, chaotic, disfunctional mess of a system.

And, putting aside the disagreeable behavior, it usually fails (it's well known that nearly all VC-funded startups go out of business before achieving success).

But, to riff on Churchill's famous line about Democracy ("it's the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time"), Venture Capital-funded startup formation is the worst form of business innovation except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

The core aspect of a startup corporation like this is that it tries to do the impossible.

  • "Let's build a simple and powerful calculation tool for interactively analyzing data" (Lotus 1-2-3, 1984)
  • "Let's build a program that lets you sit at your PC and access computers all around the world" (Netscape, 1992)
  • "Let's build a program that lets you search all the world's computers" (Google, 1998)
  • "Let's build a system that lets people give other people short-distance car rides, and get paid for it" (Uber, 2009)
  • "Let's build a system so that people can pay $10/month to subscribe, and then they can watch as many movies in the theater as they want" (MoviePass, 2017)
All of these things were loudly and roundly deemed to be Hopeless Problems when people set out to do them. (And that last one, clearly, was hopeless!)

If the goal was straightforward, or easy to accomplish, the VC-funding approach wouldn't be necessary; you could get ordinary funding to try to build such an enterprise.

Theranos, however, had a big goal!

As Carreyrou recognizes early on, they really did want to change the world:

It didn't take Ed long to realize that Theranos was the toughest engineering challenge he'd ever tackled. His experience was in electronics, not medical devices. And the prototype he'd inherited didn't really work. It was more like a mock-up of what Elizabeth had in mind. He had to turn the mock-up into a functioning device.

The main difficulty stemmed from Elizabeth's insistence that they use very little blood. She'd inherited from her mother a phobia of needles; Noel Holmes fainted at the mere sight of a syringe. Elizabeth wanted the Theranos technology to work with just a drop of blood pricked from the tip of a finger. She was so fixated on the idea that she got upset when an employee bought red Hershey's Kisses and put the Theranos logo on them for a company display at a job fair. The Hershey's Kisses were meant to represent drops of blood, but Elizabeth felt they were much too big to convey the tiny volumes she had in mind.

Her obsession with miniaturization extended to the cartridge. She wanted it to fit in the palm of a hand, further complicating Ed's task. He and his team spent months reengineering it, but they never reached a point where they could reliably reproduce the same test results from the same blood samples.

The quantity of blood they were allowed to work with was so small that it had to be diluted with a saline solution to create more volume. That made what would otherwise have been relatively routine chemistry work a lot more challenging.

Adding another level of complexity, blood and saline weren't the only fluids that had to flow through the cartidge. The reactions that occurred when the blood reached the little wells required chemicals known as reagents. Those were stored in separate chambers.

All these fluids needed to flow through the cartidge in a meticulously choreographed sequence, so the cartridge contained little valves that opened and shut at precise intervals. Ed and his engineers tinkered with the design and the timing of the valves and the speed at which the various fluids were pumped through the cartridge.

Hey, this is hard!

This is really hard!!

This is such a hard problem, that there is no way that a brilliant young scientist is going to figure this out in their dorm room on their own.

The only way that something like this is going to come about, is if thousands of people work for years and years on it, and that will require millions and millions of dollars.

But is it a bad idea, on the face of it, to try to build such a piece of technology?

I'd say, no! It's actually rather a genius idea!

And Elizabeth Holmes sets about it in exactly the way that other VC-funded, Stanford-bred, Silicon Valley startups have: she talks to her professors, who hook her up with some deep-pocketed businessmen, and they found a company to see if they can do it.

And oh! what a company! In addition to those Stanford professors and VC investors, they recruit perhaps the finest Board of Directors that a young Silicon Valley startup has ever had:

In addition to [George] Shultz and [James] Mattis, it now included former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, former secretary of defense William Perry, former Senate Arms [sic] Services Committee chairman Sam Nunn, and former navy admiral Gary Roughead.


Not to mention the fact that this board had a special adviser named David Boies who attended all of its meetings.


and two new directors: Richard Kovacevich, the former CEO of the giant bank Wells Fargo, and former Senate majority leader Bill Frist.

I mean, my goodness! None of my companies ever had two Secretaries of State and two Secretaries of Defense on their Board of Directors!

I can't think of ANY startup that I've heard of who had a Board of Directors like that!

And the company's business plan was equally impressive: they signed contracts with both Safeway and Walgreens to put their blood-testing devices into retail locations nation-wide, they worked with the U.S. military to design a version of the device that would be field-deployable with military teams overseas, and hired the legendary advertising Chiat/Day to explain to the world how Theranos was about to change it.

And they got tremendous traction.

Safeway alone, to name just one organization, invested hundreds of millions of their own company's money, and even RE-FURBISHED EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEIR GROCERY STORES TO HAVE A FANCY BLOOD-TESTING CENTER (although these have now mostly been removed or re-purposed, several of the Safeway stores in my neighborhood still have these fancy enclosures, sitting vacant in the middle of the grocery store).

And then, it all fell apart. (And it wasn't just Theranos that failed; you can make a pretty strong case that Safeway's collapse and takeover by Cerberus Capital in 2014 was due to the impact of the Theranos failure.)

So what, exactly, went wrong?

From my point of view, this is where Carreyrou fails us.

His primary thesis, as far as I can tell, is that Elizabeth Holmes lost her mental compass, or perhaps had no mental compass to begin with:

And with actions that ranged from blackmailing her chief financial officer to suing ex-employees, she had displayed a pattern of ruthlessness...

the Theranos board couldn't even reach a quorum without Holmes.


nothing could be decided or done without Holmes's assent.

it was Holmes who was the manipulator. One after another, she wrapped people around her finger and persuaded them to do her bidding.


in her all-consuming quest to be the second coming of Steve Jobs amid the gold rush of the "unicorn" boom, there came a point when she stopped listening to sound advice and began to cut corners. Her ambition was voracious and it brooked no interference.

I think Carreyrou fails to make this case. (It doesn't help that Holmes declined to be interviewed for the book and so Carreyrou's strongest sources are disgruntled ex-employees and a collection of industry observers and academic commentators.)

I think you can tell the story of Theranos much more simply:

  • Elizabeth Holmes, young and tremendously ambitious, had an idea, a world-changing idea.
  • She was blessed with charisma and enormous persuasive powers, and managed to convince powerful people to support her quest.
  • Once those powerful people were involved, and had money and reputation at stake, they in turn convinced other powerful people to join in the effort. (Carreyrou's description of how this affected David Boies is perhaps the strongest part of Bad Blood)
  • The immense pressures that arise in the Silicon Valley startup scene caused people to make promises they couldn't keep, to make unjustified claims, to "fake the demo" (faking the demo, of course, has been a Silicon Valley stain of shame for decades).
  • However, simultaneously, other people, who should have known better (e.g., the board of directors at Safeway, the investment committee at Walgreens, the journalists at Fortune who plastered her on their magazine cover, all those Secretaries of State and Secretaries of Defense and Senators and Professors and CEOs), WANTED TO BELIEVE SO BADLY that they convinced themselves Theranos was farther along than it was.
  • In the end, Theranos couldn't deliver on their promise, and the company was dissolved.

Hey, that last part? That's pretty much how every Silicon Valley startup story ends.

No news there.

It's that part just before it, the "we want to believe" part, that makes the story fascinating.

And I think that Carreyrou goes astray by trying to ascribe some malicious evil intent to Elizabeth Holmes.

People just want to believe in the impossible.

It would have been a good enough story as was, if Carreyrou had just left it there, and not tried to portray Holmes as this generation's Svengali.

Oh, well.

Give Bad Blood a try, if this is of any interest to you at all. It's a fast read, and quite fascinating.

Just understand that, yeah, it's ugly when the sausage is getting made.

Up, up, and away

Well, before you go up, you have to go down!

(YouTube video link: ) Oceanwide Center - Summer 2018 Update

Friday, December 14, 2018

Up, up, and away

Onward the path of science: Holes cut into steel contributed to beams cracking at SF’s Salesforce Transit Center.

Who do you get to look at your damaged steel beams? Well, how about Robert Vecchio?

Dr. Vecchio is a licensed professional engineer in New York, Massachusetts, Kansas, Washington, and Florida, and holds a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering and Supplement in Materials Science from University of Southern California, an M.S. in Metallurgical Engineering from Lehigh University, an M.S. in Civil-Structural Engineering from Manhattan College, and a Ph.D. in Metallurgical Engineering from Lehigh University. He was recently named a Fellow of ASME.

Over the past three decades, Dr. Vecchio has participated in some of the most challenging structure and system issues including the Exxon Valdez Hull Rupture, 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the Hell Gate gas main and Gramercy Park steam main explosions, the 4 Times Square scaffolding collapse, Indian Point NPP steam generator girth weld cracking, ACELA train brake failure and redesign, I-35 Minneapolis bridge collapse, FFS assessment of New World Trade Center Transportation Hub, and the tragic rescue and recovery efforts following the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.

That's quite the C.V.!

The Mercury News reports on Dr. Vecchio's findings:

Defects that occurred during fabrication, along with holes cut into the steel, are likely what caused two structural steel beams to crack just six weeks after the $2.2 billion Salesforce Transit Center opened to the public, officials said Thursday.

“It occurred very rapidly, and a lot of energy was released,” said Robert Vecchio, the president of New York-based LPI, Inc., which conducted a series of tests on samples taken from the steel.

The center closed in September after workers found the first crack in a four-inch-thick steel beam while installing ceiling panels. Authorities closed the center several hours later out of an “abundance of caution,” they said. A subsequent investigation revealed the second crack in an adjacent beam, both of which are in a section of the building above Fremont Street.

The cracks originated in an area where crews had cut “weld access” or “weld termination” holes. It’s unclear which type of hole the fabricators cut into the steel because they are not drawn into the shop designs.

NBC News has a slightly different take: Transbay Transit Terminal Reopening Uncertain as Engineers Continue to Examine Cracks in Critical Beams:

The cracks in critical beams that shut down the Salesforce Transbay transit terminal started at the rough edges of holes ordered cut in the four-inch thick steel during fabrication, a New York-based engineer told the project’s governing board Thursday.

NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit first reported the problems with the so-called weld access holes that crews using welding torches cut into the now cracked beams that support the terminal across Fremont Street. Engineers pointed to the corners of those holes as under particular stress.

The expert who is overseeing the testing and analysis of the cracks, Robert Vecchio of LPI Inc., said the cracks began with “a pre-existing defect that occurred during the fabrication.” He said the investigation showed tiny cracks in every sample they looked at. Cracks that “popped out” under stress. “We found these small cracks throughout all the sections that were removed from the girders.”

When the holes were cut with torches, he said, workers left behind rough surfaces. Such rough areas should be ground smooth under building codes.

The subcontractor that fabricated the beams adds more detail, or, perhaps more confusion, to the picture. NBC News reports:

Robert Hazleton, president of The Herrick Corporation, the firm that fabricated the beams, spoke after the meeting. He said the cuts were not called for in the original design plans and in some cases were cut into the structures after they were already built – so they didn’t actually serve as weld access holes as defined by code. Documents show confusion about their purpose, location and specification.

While the Merc adds more background:

Weld access holes allow workers access to the beam so they can complete the weld, said Ashwani Dhalwala, a principal of AEC Solutions who has worked extensively on the issue of fractures in steel. Weld termination holes are used in areas where girders are joined together with a perpendicular piece of steel, called the web, in order to reduce stress, which is concentrated where the pieces interest. It’s a way to provide continuity between the pieces and reduce stress, he said.

“If you have a sudden discontinuity, then you have very high stressors,” Dhalwala said.

The holes were added after shop designs were submitted for approval. So, Herrick crews first built a set of girders without the holes and then had to build a new set of girders with them included, he said.

“Why they were added, that’s more of a design issue than a fabrication issue,” Hazleton said. A representative from Thornton Tomasetti, the design firm, declined to explain the purpose of the holes.

Confused yet?

I sure am.

But it seems like the takeaway, for now, is this:

But, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, the public agency in charge of building and maintaining the terminal, expects to have a plan for the repairs and an estimated reopening date in January, said Mark Zabaneh, the authority’s executive director. That plan will include bolting steel plates onto both sides of the girder to reinforce it.

I'm pretty sure we're supposed to read that as: "a plan ... in January," NOT as: "a plan ... and ... reopening ... in January."

But what do I know?

I'm just a software guy; bolting steel plates onto things is a long way from my bailiwick.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Four random Very Nice Things

Because who doesn't need some Very Nice Things, no matter what time of year it is?

  • People from all over the world are sending emails to Melbourne’s trees
    Dear Nettle,

    I just moved in three months ago and I’m very glad that I can talk to you through this system. I live in the first floor and I can actually see you through my window!

    I’m having trouble sleeping at night because of the noise of cars and ambulances at night, hope you’re not suffering that much and be able to have a good sleep.

    Thank you for blocking the noises from the street and wish the birds don’t do harm to you. Pleasant to meet you and have a nice day!


  • Flying Alongside Migrating Birds in an Ultralight
    For more than 20 years, Christian Moullec has been flying with migratory birds in his ultralight aircraft. He raises birds of vulnerable species on his farm and then when it’s time for them to migrate, he shows them how, guiding them along safe migration paths. To support his conservation efforts, Moullec takes paying passengers up with him to fly among the birds.
  • The Winners of the Information Is Beautiful Awards for 2018
    Since 2012, Information Is Beautiful has picked the best data visualizations of the year. Here are the winners of the 2018 Awards
  • Dear Curiosity: How NASA's rover makes Mars feel like home
    This essay is an entry in our "Dear Spacecraft" series, where we ask writers, scientists, and astronomy enthusiasts to share why they feel personally connected to robotic space explorers.

I could use a bit of a backup brain myself, these hazy crazy days.

I hear you’re beginning to feel your age. Your joints are growing creaky. Fine, floury Martian dust covers your every zip tie, rivet, and cable. Your wheels are cracked and haggard, your computer cobwebby. Your managers here recently switched you to a backup brain, after the one you’d been using started having issues with long-term memory.

Could you feel your mind ebb? Do you fear forgetfulness the way that I do? Does time seem to march faster with each passing sol, the way it does for me?

I hope the skies clear for you soon. I will be thinking of you. Thank you, Curiosity, for giving me Mars.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Salesforce will have a Chief Ethical Officer

This is interesting: Paula Goldman Joins Salesforce as VP, Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer

Paula has extensive entrepreneurial experience managing frontier market businesses, ranging from managing an affordable private school in rural India to a micro-enterprise syndicate in post-war Bosnia. As founder and director of Imagining Ourselves, a project of the International Museum of Women, she led the creation of one of the world’s first online museums. Paula’s work was recognized with the Social Impact Award from the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and a Muse Award from the American Association of Museums.

Paula earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University, where did a dissertation on how unorthodox ideas become mainstream. She holds a Master in Public Affairs from Princeton and a B.A. with highest honors from UC Berkeley.

There's considerable additional information on the website.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Gaming time

This is, sometimes, the time of the year when I find a few spare hours to play some games.

And, indeed, over the Thanksgiving break I managed to crack open Obduction, which I hadn't really played since the fall of 2016, and discovered that it's still beautiful, and still fun.


  • Winners of the 2018 IFComp
    The Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (IFComp) welcomes all kinds of text-driven digital stories and games, making them freely available in order to encourage the creation, play, and discussion of interactive fiction.
  • Queen Sacrifice: Ruth Haring, 1955-2018
    You can’t fill the shoes of a queen. You can only hope that another pawn will come along with the courage and persistence to promote itself to a queen. Someone with the courage and persistence of Ruth Haring.
  • The Last Chess Shop in NYC
    A film about Chess Forum and its owner, Imad Khachan, a Palestinian refugee who came to America to get a PhD in American literature and ended up as the owner/operator of a classic NYC establishment.
  • Far From a Turkey Shoot
    The sixth game, however, brought an announcement of checkmate that no one alive saw coming:

    It came from a supercomputer named Sesse running the chess engine Stockfish: Black has checkmate in 36 moves beginning 68…Bg5-h4! At first this looks suicidal since after 69.h5-h6 Black’s king is cut off and his knight and bishop look far from stopping the pawn. But after 69…Nd4-f3 (or 69…Nd4-c6) 70.h6-h7 Nf3-e5+ 71.Kg6-h6 Bg5+, White’s king is evicted and after 72.Kh6-h5 Kf8-g7 73.Bc4-g8 Kg7-h8, the compulsion to move (called Zugzwang) forces White to unguard the pawn since his king is frozen.

  • A Tiebreak Win and the Problem of Draws
    The title match tiebreaker gave 25 minutes plus an extra 10 seconds per move, the same as in the famous Melody Amber tournaments, whereas the World Rapid championships give 10 fewer minutes. My preliminary results show an average dropoff of 200–210 Elo in the Ambers and 280–290 Elo in World Rapids. Caruana’s quality of 2575 (with huge error bars from under 100 relevant moves in the three tiebreak games) was consistent with this, but here is what I measured for Carlsen:

    2945 +- 190.

    Since the error-bars are two-sigma, this was more than one standard deviation higher than Carlsen’s rating at standard time controls, and higher than his IPR for the twelve regulation games of the match. Clearly Caruana ran into a buzzsaw.

  • Hitman 2 Is My 'Forever Game'
    I first heard the term "forever game" during the press buildup for No Man's Sky. It denotes the idea of interactive infinity—a game that you can play forever, the one game to rule them all. A forever game means that you don't need any other videogames. It's the one piece of entertainment that is vast enough, complicated enough, and good enough to obviate your need for all other games, forever and ever, amen.
  • I was going to write about my most anticipated game of 2018, but I played 136 hours of 'Red Dead Redemption 2' instead
    if "Battlefield V" is a good game, "RDR2" is a fantastic game. Gorgeous visuals, a great story, a wide-open world to explore, good acting, and the general vibe of the Wild West all come together to make what is probably the best game I've played in a very long time.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Good picture to post today

That good looking fellow, second from right (the one in the glasses)?

Yep, that's my dad.

Tall Building Safety Strategy

I came across a very interesting document the other day, called the Tall Building Safety Strategy.

This report is part of a larger project, called Tall Buildings in San Francisco:

The San Francisco Tall Buildings Study is the first study in the nation to look at the impact of earthquakes on a large group of buildings higher than 240 feet. The resulting report will characterize the issues and available information; propose regulatory and procedural recommendations where appropriate; and identify areas where future studies would be helpful.

The San Francisco Office of Resilience and Capital Planning under City Administrator Naomi Kelly is working with the Applied Technology Council (ATC) to conduct the Study. ATC is a non-profit organization with a mission to develop and promote state-of-the-art, user-friendly engineering resources and applications for use in hazard mitigation. A panel including the City Administrator, Department of Building Inspection, Department of Emergency Management, and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is overseeing the various work products. In addition, a broad group of tall building stakeholders and experts will meet several times during the study to provide additional feedback and review.

This is kind of new ground. As the report observes, there are a lot of topics here that haven't received much discussion.

Partly this is because the West Coast is different. New York City doesn't have earthquakes. Nor does Chicago, or Atlanta, or Houston, etc.

And, until very recently, people on the West Coast chose to spread out, rather then to increase urban density. Even in my childhood, when we moved to Los Angeles in 1970, the L.A. City Hall had until very recently been the tallest building on the West Coast.

But it's all different now. Urban density is racing upward, as people on the West Coast finally have come to understand the downsides of urban sprawl. From San Diego and Los Angeles, to San Jose and San Francisco, and all the way to Seattle and Vancouver, the West Coast's modern urban centers are being built much more along the lines of Manhattan, with extremely dense urban cores and an anticipation that these cores will not be just places of work, to which people commute to and from the suburbs, but centers of urban living.

And so the Tall Buildings Safety Strategy report poses some extremely challenging questions, for example:

Studies conducted in this project estimate that for a tall building designed to current standards, it might take two to six months to mobilize for and repair damage from a major earthquake, depending on the building location, geologic conditions, and the structural and foundation systems. Long downtimes in tall buildings can have disproportionate harmful effects on residents and businesses in San Francisco. By the City’s tentative recovery goals, even three months of downtime is unacceptably long for major employers and other recovery-critical uses.


The San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) and the Department of Emergency Management (DEM) should coordinate a study to evaluate the adequacy of automatic fire suppression and occupant evacuation systems in tall buildings for conditions following a significant earthquake. The study should be coordinated with other City departments and within the broader context of the San Francisco Emergency Response Plan to evaluate whether (1) the in-building secondary water supply for automatic fire suppression in tall buildings is sufficient to inhibit fire spread and allow safe evacuation, and (2) the building code provisions that rely on elevators for evacuation during a fire emergency will be effective following an earthquake.


Cordons or barricades are often needed to protect the areas around a damaged building. The cordoned area is generally based on the perceived level of damage and the risks posed by potential aftershocks, wind loading, time-dependent creep effects, or other factors. While cordons may be required around buildings of any height, the disruptive implications of current generic guidance for cordon distance increase dramatically with building height, potentially leading to unnecessary closure of neighboring buildings and infrastructure.


As described in the project report, the 240-foot height criterion for the initial database was somewhat arbitrary. To the extent that the San Francisco Building Code imposes elevator, fire safety, and other requirements on high-rise buildings defined as those taller than 75 feet, it would be useful to expand the database to include at least all buildings above this height.


Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

This is really complicated stuff, and it isn't going to be easy to address.

It's really fascinating to see that the City of San Francisco is targeting these problems head-on, or at least openly admitting that they exist.

Hopefully other major West Coast cities are doing the same thing, or are at least closely following this work in order to benefit from it and incorporate it into their own plans.

One day, there will be a mag-8 earthquake somewhere on the populated region of the West Coast; perhaps it will even happen during my lifetime.

I sure hope we are prepared, taking the proper time during these (relatively) easy times to prepare for what will, someday, happen.

As the ant said to the grasshopper...