Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Thoughtworks Responsible Tech Playbook

Martin Fowler talks about the newly-released Thoughtworks Responsible Tech Playbook

The playbook is a free PDF download of about 50 slides, the bulk of which is a summary of a dozen tools and methods that teams can use to better understand their responsibilities. Each summary is a couple of slides outlining the basics of the technique: what is it, who created it, when we should use it, how it works, and our perspective on its place in our development efforts.

Thoughtworks is, primarily, a consultancy which specializes in development tools and processes, and the playbook is basically links to a number of such tools and processes. Some of these tools were designed by Thoughtworks themselves, others are incorporated from outside Thoughtworks.

I definitely like the high-level three-step overview from the playbook:

  1. Open up perspectives: Solicit different points of view to think through a wider range of potential consequences and outcomes.
  2. Mitigate potential risks: Identify and address ethical challenges and vulnerabilities before they become bigger problems.
  3. Unpack stakeholder values: Ensure the technology is designed to meet the needs and support the values of those it is intended to serve.

I'm quite familiar with some of the techniques, such as Security Threat Modeling. Many of the techniques are new to me, and some sound interesting (Data Ethics Canvas, Consequence Scanning, Ethical Explorer), while others sound a bit gimicky and forced (Tarot Cards of Tech).

There seems to be a fair amount of overlap among the approaches, so probably there is a subset that gets you much of the benefit with a relatively small impact to your current processes.

There's a lot to chew on here, and some new ideas I'll probably think about some more.

Monday, October 4, 2021

The little drone and the Big Bad Hurricane

Chalk up another success for Alameda's Saildrone Corporation, which sent a specially modified Saildrone on a most remarkable mission last week: World First: Ocean Drone Captures Video from Inside a Category 4 Hurricane

Saildrone Inc. and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have released the first video footage gathered by an uncrewed surface vehicle (USV) from inside a major hurricane barreling across the Atlantic Ocean.

The Saildrone Explorer SD 1045 was directed into the midst of Hurricane Sam, which is currently on a path that fortunately will miss the US East Coast. SD 1045 is battling 50-foot waves and winds of over 120 mph to collect critical scientific data and, in the process, is giving us a completely new view of one of Earth’s most destructive forces.

Equipped with a specially designed “hurricane wing” enabling it to operate in extreme wind conditions, SD 1045 is braving Hurricane Sam in the open ocean, collecting real-time observations for numerical hurricane prediction models, which are expected to yield new insights into how large and destructive tropical cyclones grow and intensify.

SD 1045 is one of a fleet of five “hurricane” saildrones that have been operating in the Atlantic Ocean during this hurricane season, gathering data around the clock to help understand the physical processes of hurricanes. This knowledge is critical to improving storm forecasting and is expected to reduce loss of human life through allowing better preparedness in coastal communities.

Don't miss the embedded video. Go, go, little Saildrone!

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Bad Karma: a very short review

By way of one of my oldest and dearest friends, I encountered Paul Wilson's odd yet captivating BAD KARMA: The True Story of a Mexico Trip from Hell

Wilson grew up in the San Diego suburbs in the 1960's and 1970's and became an avid surfer during those peak days of "surf culture".

So when some of the other surfers that he knew invited him to go along on a surfing adventure to a renowned surfing beach in tropical Mexico, Wilson jumped at the chance.

Then everything went wrong.

This is an unusual book. It's not really clear why Wilson waited forty years to tell his story, and of course the reader is bound to be skeptical of the unreliability of memory after such a long time.

And Wilson is not a natural writer, so the book is, as my friend so memorably put it, "rather low prose".

But Wilson's tale is so dramatic and vivid, and Wilson is so enthusiastic about the telling of the story, that you can't help but be swept up in his excitement as you read it.

For anyone who has ever come of age and done those terribly stupid and reckless things that we do when we are a certain age, you'll be entertained (and, perhaps comforted) to see that there are people out there whose dreams of adventure were even more stupid and reckless than you ever thought possible.

And he saves the most remarkable part of the adventure for the last ten pages, so the ending is great!

Monday, September 27, 2021

The Linux Programming Interface: a very short review

When I was first starting out as a professional programmer, circa 1981, I spent the first few years of my career working on IBM mainframe operating systems.

In the late 1980's, I moved out of the IBM mainframe world and started working on Unix operating systems. At that time, I learned about Unix by reading books such as The Design of the UNIX Operating System and The Design and Implementation of the 4.3 BSD UNIX Operating System.

Later, I studied the books of Richard Stevens, such as Unix Network Programming and Advanced Programming in the Unix Environment (which was generally known to engineers as APUE).

Time passed (a LOT of time ... :) ).

This summer, via a colleague, I learned about the Michael Kerrisk's The Linux Programming Interface.

Kerrisk's book is an amazing resource for professional Linux system programmers. It is organized thematically, around topics such as processes, memory, I/O, networking, etc. Individual chapters can be read (mostly) independently, so you can jump to a particular section to study a particular topic, but a (highly) motivated engineer can also read the entire book, start to finish, for a complete treatment of the various ways that a Linux programmer can access the facilities of the Linux operating system programmatically.

Of course this isn't summertime reading (although it actually was for me :) ); it is reference material. And great reference material to have!

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Slow vaccine progress

Alex Tabarrok notes that September has been a relatively good month for vaccinations, world-wide, even if here in the United States it's been rather a stinker: One Billion Vaccinations in a Month!.

... over the last 30 days the world vaccinated one billion people.

Six billion doses administered in 9 months! That's definitely progress, even if I could always wish for more.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Java marches forward

Java 17 is now generally available.

For someone like me, for whom Java is a daily programming language, but only part of my overall technology stack, keeping up with Java nowadays is an exhausting proposition.

Look at the major changes that are included in Java 17!

Look at the release notes for Java 17!

But really, for someone like me, Java 17 is just part of that picture. I'm still generally using Java 8 in my day-to-day work, with small occasions when I use Java 9 or Java 11.

So it's not just Java 17 that I'm out of date on, it's also Java 12, Java 13, Java 14, Java 15, Java 16.

Luckily, the good folks at Oracle have this covered:

JDK 17 will be a long-term-support (LTS) release from most vendors, including Oracle. If you’re upgrading from the previous LTS release, JDK 11, then you have many more JEPs to look forward to, summarized here:

And boy, that's a big list.

As the Red Queen said, though, these are just the facts of life:

"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we've been doing."

"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"

For now, I'll keep on doing all the running I can do.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Simu Liu is having his moment

I've been a huge fan of Kim's Convenience for several years, it's one of the best "unknown" shows on TV.

It has great writing, and also a wonderful cast.

So I was thrilled when Simu Liu got a huge break as the star of the new Marvel Shang-Chi movie.

Anyway, Simu Liu is definitely having his moment.

Sorry for all the pop-ups and ads; the Huffington Post website has become a real cesspool.

Anyway, I hope he goes on to have more fine chances, he's a great actor.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Hard, hard work on the front (fire) lines

It's hard to even begin to comprehend the blood, sweat, and tears in this terse and rather bureaucratic description of the fight to save the homes of twenty five thousand people in the greater South Lake Tahoe area:

Yesterday hand crews assessed opportunities to build direct line along the fire perimeter from California State Route 89 west toward Scout Peak to reduce threats to structures in Christmas Valley. At Echo Lake firefighters were shuttled across by boat to work on structure preparations and hand crews assessed opportunities to build direct line along the fire perimeter from U.S. Highway 50 west toward Echo Lake. Near Pioneer Trail in South Lake Tahoe, dozers continued to build mechanical line along the bottom edge of the slope to keep the fire south of these communities. Engines patrolled and prepared structures that remained threatened. During night operations, specialized night flying helicopters were used to drop retardant from a mobile retardant plant to slow fire progression near Christmas Valley and hot shot crews built direct line along the fire perimeter on the northeast edge of the fire from Trout Creek toward Trimmer Peak.

Today hand crews will build direct line along the fires edge from Christmas Valley west toward Nebelhorn and from U.S. Highway 50 west toward Echo Lake and hot shot crews will continue hand line construction near Trimmer Peak at the northeastern most edge of the fire. In the community of South Lake Tahoe, dozers and hand crews will continue mechanical line preparations near Pioneer Trail and begin improving old road systems in the Cold Creek drainage. Air resources will assist firefighters on the ground with retardant and water drops to slow fire movement and cool hot spots along the fire perimeter as conditions allow.

Be safe. Be careful. We appreciate all you do.

Slow vaccine progress

As of September 1, 2021, the CA State Dashboard is now reporting that 47 million vaccine doses have been administered.

Broken down slightly more, the CA State Vaccine Dashboard is now reporting that 66.8% of the 12-and-older population is fully vaccinated, while another 10.2 percent are partially vaccinated, totaling to 77% of the 12-and-older population with some protection.

Unfortunately, the state is still recording 10 thousand new cases a day.

Given that there are approximately 34 million people ages 12-and-over in California, the 23 percent of those who are not vaccinated comprise some 7,800,000 people in California with no vaccine protection.

23 percent of a big number is a big number.

I fear we may see 10 thousand new cases a day for a long, long time.

Monday, August 30, 2021

The west is on fire

They just announced the complete evacuation of the South Lake Tahoe area.

I can't remember this ever happening before.

This is a big deal.

I hope those fire crews can catch a break soon.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Up, up, and away

Uh oh, this is not good:

  • Millennium Tower Sank More Even After Partial Work Stoppage, Documents Show
    on July 30, the homeowners association board agreed to put a two-to-four-week hold on shaft drilling work, documents show.

    But by that time, 39 shafts had already been installed. Soon, crews refocused on sinking 24-inch diameter piles along Fremont Street.

    But by mid-August, it was apparent from the data that the problem was more complex than fix engineers had hoped. Despite the pause, the building had settled another half inch – possibly due to soil being displaced during installation of the 24-inch piles. That prompted the board to put all pile installation on hold as of Monday.

    Data released by the city on Monday shows the tower is currently leaning 22 inches towards Fremont Street – compared to 17 inches when work began.
  • Millennium Tower's Accelerated Sinking Halts $100 Million Effort to Stop It
    an outside expert, Oakland-based structural engineer David Williams, tells NBC Bay Area that the new data on accelerating sinking is not nothing.

    "The trend is the thing that’s very disturbing, the fact that they have reactivated settlement,” he tells the station, adding that the speed of the new sinking is of special concern."
  • Repairs of Leaning San Francisco Skyscraper on Hold; Engineering Expert Blasts Plan
    Karp says each new piling being driven is causing more issues.

    “You never place piles or piers closer than three pier diameters apart. These are 36 feet [sic; I think the piles are 36 *inches* in diameter] so they should be nine feet apart and they’re, what? — five feet or something. As you do one, you’re disturbing the ground, then you go to the next one you’re disturbing the ground there and you go to the next one until you have a whole zone of disturbance that can’t be fixed,” Karp explained.
  • San Francisco's Millennium Tower fix halted after further sinking observed
    The fix has been likened to putting a bumper jack next to a flat tire, and involves the installation of piles 250 feet deep along the north and west sides of the tower, to be tied beneath the sidewalk to the original foundation.

From last summer, here's a picture and an article with more details on the repair that is being attempted:

  • Reviewers OK Fix for San Francisco's Leaning Millennium Tower
    The structural upgrade is designed to meet the requirements of the voluntary seismic improvements section of the San Francisco Existing Building Code.

    SGH’s Hamburger says his team selected the voluntary seismic upgrade route because it offered the easiest path through the permitting process. “The building code has provisions to allow VSUs without having to bring the building into conformance with the current code,” he says. The primary intent is to arrest settlement, but the 52 piles also will improve seismic performance, he adds.


    The existing mat is supported by 950 14-in.-square precast concrete piles. The aim is to remove 20% of the building weight from the underlying clay strata.

    The load reduction represents “what I could comfortably transfer from the new piles to the existing mat without major modification of the existing mat,” says Hamburger, whose client is Paul Hastings LLP, a lawyer retained by the tower’s developer, Mission Street Development. MSD is part of Millennium Partners.

    The system relies on loading each pile with 400 tons using a permanent hydraulic jack that reacts against a new mat extension. The jacks would be housed in a maintenance access vault above the mat. The scheme calls for a so-called indicator test pile, which is installed to scale.

    The weight loss would result in an almost immediate rebound of about 1 in. of the tower’s north and west sides. That would remove about 25% of the tilt, predicts Hamburger. “Over time, we expect another 25% to 50% of the tilt to come out through continued settlement of the south and east sides,” he says.

    Under the plan, piles would be drilled 4 ft, 9 in. on center under sidewalks—200 ft on the west side and 100 ft on the north side, just outside the tower footprint. The team has applied for an easement to work under the sidewalks, which meet at the block’s northwest corner.

    Piles would extend up through an 8-ft-wide extension of the tower’s 10-ft-thick reinforced concrete mat—4 ft from the old mat. New and old mats would be connected by chipping into the side of the old mat and coupling new and old reinforcing steel.

The plan was to install 52 new piles, and they've drilled the shafts for 39 of them, so they're about 75% done with drilling the shafts.

This troubled construction project is even more troubled now.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Backpacking 2021: Leavitt Meadows Trailhead, Hoover Wilderness

We missed our backpacking trip in 2020, but by Spring of 2021 we were all able to get our vaccinations, and we were raring to go!

Unfortunately, the horrible Dixie Fire had other plans for us, rendering our first planned destination unreachable, unbreathable, and wholly out of consideration for this year's trip. With a week to go before our planned departure, we switched to a second backup plan in Siskiyou county, but the Cronan and River Complex fires had eliminated that possibility as well.

With barely 72 hours left, we frantically searched for an alternate plan, but finding a place free of smoke and yet with permits available for last minute hikers such as ourselves was quite challenging. Finally, just as we were ready to give up, we came across a viable possibility, which was to hike up into the upper Walker River watershed in the Hoover Wilderness. Permits were available, and although there was considerable smoke in the area from the Tiltill fire, the forecast was for the winds to shift and blow the smoke elsewhere.

It was time to go, so we got up and went.

Leavitt Meadows is an enormous High Sierra meadow, stretching for several miles along the upper reaches of the Walker River. The Walker River, in turn, is one of the great rivers of the Eastern Sierras, and is well-known as one of the great fishing rivers of the Western United States.

We weren't planning on doing any fishing, but it's always a joy to hike along and camp near the great rivers of the Sierra Nevada, and the approach via Leavitt Meadows was particularly appealing as you can get several miles away from any roads or buildings just by walking the trail along the meadow. This is a very pleasant experience as you can put a lot of distance behind you with relatively little elevation gain.

Above the river we stopped for lunch at lovely Lane Lake, small but ever so picturesque.

About 1.5 miles beyond Lane Lake, we were able to make our way off the main trail and found a lovely campsite near a beautiful forty foot waterfall on Walker River. Although this has been an extremely dry year, and the river was very low, the falls were still running and very wonderful to view.

I had recently invested in a Supai backpacker's boat, and Lane Lake proved to be the perfect venue for an afternoon of High Sierra boating.

The Walker River watershed in this area is dotted with many other lakes, as well as various tributaries of the river, which has its headwaters near Forsyth Peak in Yosemite National Park. Trips both short and long are easy to fashion in this area, and we certainly enjoyed ourselves.

Because this area is so accessible and quite popular, we saw a lot of other hikers (and not a lot of other wildlife), but the watershed is large and there are plenty of secluded areas where peaceful and quiet campsites can be found.

Given the way the trip had nearly ended before it even began, we all agreed that the trip wildly exceeded our expectations, and it was certainly great to be able to go back into the wilderness again with old friends.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Shape: a very short review

Jordan Ellenberg is probably the foremost writer in the micro-niche of what I'd call "layman's mathematics books," a speciality that is perfect for people like me (math nut since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, but have very little involvement with real mathematics nowadays).

Ellenberg's latest book is Shape: The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything Else.

It is, like all of Ellenberg's other work, simultaneously rigorous, educational, entertaining, and approachable, which is quite a hard combination to achieve.

Shape is a serious book, 500 pages of meaty material, and you aren't likely to race through it. You'll either find it fascinating, in which case you'll be stopping every few pages to let what he says settle into your mind, or you'll decide after a few dozen pages that it's not the book for you, in which case that's that.

I enjoy Ellenberg's work, and I hope he continues to write many more such.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Klara and the Sun: a very short review

I must first admit that I had not heard of Kazuo Ishiguro before I happened to pick up Klara and the Sun; clearly I've been missing out on the work of one of the great writers of our time.

I loved this book.

I read it very fast, as it is both extremely compelling yet also quite approachable. And, as I read it, I kept having different reactions.

At first I thought: "oh, this is clever! What an interesting idea!" About a quarter of the way through the book, I thought: "I think this would have made a fine short story, but I think he's exhausted everything he came here to say."

But as I continued reading, I found that on the contrary, he had much more to say.

Klara and the Sun is, I believe, deliberately intended to be both thought-provoking and disturbing.

It is also rather topical, which makes me wonder a bit how well it will age: will it still be relevant 75 years from now? Ishiguro takes on topics such as: the ethics of artificial intelligence; the ethics of genetic editing; equity of access to health care; equity of access to education; the increasing isolation and remoteness brought upon us by technology; job displacement by technology; and much more.

It's also quite clearly drawn from the last 18 months of global shelter-in-place, as one of the main characters is a young child, confined to her home, without playmates, being educated by remote professors over video hookups, sufficiently withdrawn that her family takes her to "interaction parties" where she can (with adult supervision) learn how to interact with other home-sheltered peers.

Other aspects of the book are more universal and timeless, such as the sub-plots involving the invocation of prayer and the search for a greater power in the presence of hopelessness and pain, and the observations about human relationships and how they change as we age.

I think that many different people will find many different things to say about Klara and the Sun. For me, I think I will stop with these two observations:

  1. All along, even while I was thinking to myself that this book, so easy to read and be fascinated by, was shallow and superficial, I kept abruptly realizing, time and again, how much deeper and richer it was than I had given it credit for ("Beach reading" this is not).
  2. Disturbing though the book is, literally from start to finish, I can't help but feel that Ishiguro, overall, means the book to be hopeful. I think he wants us to realize that we can in fact influence how it turns out; we don't just need to let the future happen to us without thinking about it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

California energy efficiency laws for computers

I don't think I paid enough attention to this five years ago: Dell won't ship energy-hungry PCs to California and five other US states due to power regulations

The standards [PDF] specify energy consumption targets that cover four non-active usage modes – short-idle, long-idle, sleep and off-modes – tied to the device's "expandability score" (ES), based on the number and types of interfaces, and on additional power requirements arising from add-on capabilities (graphics cards, high-bandwidth system memory, etc.).

The requirements thus vary depending in the device's characteristics, but as a baseline, desktop computers, mobile gaming systems, and thin clients manufactured between January 1, 2019 and July 1, 2021 can consume no more than 50/80/100 kWh per year for ES scores of less than 250, 251-425, and 426-690 respectively.

For such devices manufactured after July 1, 2021, the kWh per year limit becomes 50, 60, and 75. The Alienware Aurora Ryzen Edition model cited above lists [PDF] a short-idle energy consumption of 66.29 watts and 563.01 watts when stressed.

I don't know the terms "short-idle, long-idle" and "stressed" when used in this context.

Monday, July 26, 2021

(Slow) vaccine progress

Steadily, we make progress: One millionth Alameda County resident receives COVID-19 vaccine

One million Alameda County residents are fully vaccinated from COVID-19 or two-thirds of the county population, public health officials said Friday.

Of the residents 12 years old and older, 70.7% are fully vaccinated and about 83% have had at least one dose.

"It's been a long 7-month journey to get to this remarkable milestone in one of the largest and most diverse counties in the State," said Colleen Chawla, director of the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency.

But Chawla said, "We have more work to do to get to immunity from this devastating disease and we are moving deeper into our communities to engage our residents."

Wednesday, July 21, 2021


It's been a while (more than a decade, actually) since I worked seriously in C#, and so I had rather lost track of what's going on in that community.

But recently I stumbled upon BOTR, the DotNet Book Of The Runtime.

What a great resource! Each article is clearly written and useful on its own, but most of them lead further with many references to even far more detailed information about DotNet internals.

I have no idea if or when I'll ever be back in the C# programming world again, but it is certainly pegging my geek-o-meter to dig through this treasure trove of system programming details.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Wake: a very short review

After listening to an interview with the author on NPR, I picked up a copy of Rebecca Hall's Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts.

This is a very unusual book.

First of all, it is unusual because it is a graphic novel. I don't generally read many graphic novels, and it's been a while since I read one.

It's also unusual because it is, or tries to be, non-fiction. I guess the best way to describe it is as historical fiction. Hall, who is an academic historian and professor, wrote Wake as sort of a memoir of her work in trying to learn about the role that women played in slave revolts more than 300 years ago. The non-fiction aspect of Wake concerns Hall's efforts to uncover the truth about what happened during these incidents; the historical fiction aspect of Wake takes over when Hall, having reached the limit of what can be learned from the historical record, decides that, as she puts it:

It is time for a measured use of historical imagination in order to reconstruct a story.

Wake is simply remarkable, words fail me (which is why, I suppose, the graphical novel approach works so well). I found that I had to read through the book quite slowly, taking my time with the drawings, understanding the various perspectives that Hall was bringing.

Wake is not an easy read.

But I hope it finds an enormous audience, for surely it should.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Everything is buzzing, in the wrong way

These are NOT the headlines I wanted to see today:

  • L.A. County Sees Increased Spread of COVID-19
    The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health) confirms a 165% increase of new cases over last week with 839 new cases of COVID-19.

    The County’s daily average case rate is now 3.5 cases per 100,000 people, an increase from last week’s rate of 1.74 cases per 100,000.

    Today’s daily test positivity rate is 2.5%, also an increase from last week’s rate of 1.2%.
  • Los Angeles County sees exponential growth in Covid-19 cases as Delta variant becomes dominant, worrying officials
    "We do continue to see an uptick in cases and hospitalizations," Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday. "Deaths, fortunately, continue to be relatively low, but as hospitalizations continue to increase, we anticipate that deaths might also increase."
  • Average new COVID-19 cases double in Alameda County
    the county is experiencing an increase in COVID-19 cases that could exceed the spring wave earlier this year.

    Officials said it’s more than doubled. The average number of new cases was as low as about 30 a day. Now the average is up to 70 a day.

    Health officer Nicholas Moss believes we aren’t seeing the impact of the 4th of July holiday just yet.

    “It takes a few days when you’ve been exposed to COVID to get sick.”

Sunday, July 4, 2021

The Marriage Plot: a very short review

Jeffrey Eugenides, famous for several books, was new to me when I picked up The Marriage Plot, a gift from my sister-in-law.

The Marriage Plot is sort of a romance, with a romantic triangle consisting of three Brown University students. One studies Biology, one is a Religious Studies student, and the third studies Semiotics. Madeleine, the Semiotics student, supplies the title for The Marriage Plot; she is writing her senior thesis on the marriage plots that underlaid the works of Austin, Bronte, Eliot, and other Victorian-era authors. Going into the book I thought this little detail was going to prove interesting and was greatly anticipating it, but it ended up being just a tossaway item, one in a fairly long list of tantalizing details of the book that only seemed to result in false hopes.

Our three protagonists finish college, travel the world, move on to graduate school, have adventures, yet somehow don't really seem to change terribly much, no matter how many earnest conversations on Derrida and Barthes ensue, or how many vivid encounters they have on their travels (one of them volunteers in one of Mother Teresa's convents in Calcutta).

One of my favorite parts of the book was an episode that occurred several times in which Madeleine experiences the odd feeling that she's somehow living out one of Ludwig Bemelmans's children's books:

On the day before they flew back to the States, Madeleine left Leonard in the room while she went out to buy him cigarettes. The summer weather was lovely, the colors of the flowers in the park so bright they hurt her eyes. Up ahead, she saw an amazing sight, a troop of schoolgirls being led by a nun. They were crossing the street, heading into the courtyard of their school. Smiling for the first time in weeks, Madeleine watched them proceed. Ludwig Bemelmans had written sequels to Madeline. In one, Madeline had joined a gypsy circus. In another, she'd been saved from drowning by a dog. But, despite all her adventures, Madeline had never gotten any older than eight.

Bemelmans, I think, made no bones about his Madeline: she was a child, and he was telling stories to children about children. But what sort of book is The Marriage Plot? At the end, it just sort of halts, having run out of steam more than anything else.

At some point, the voice also told Mitchell that, in addition to never living with Madeleine, he would never go to divinity school, either. It was unclear what he was going to do with his life, but he wasn't going to be a monk, or a minister, or even a scholar.

Eugenides appears to have just become bored of his three characters, and, having demonstrated that all failed to live up to their early promise, he washes his hands of them and walks away. The Marriage Plot seemed like an odd little book from an otherwise much-ballyhooed author. Probably I just didn't get it. Or maybe, it was just that sort of book.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

The ferries are buzzing, too

Today is the day the San Francisco Bay Ferries are back:

Yes, you read that right: more routes, more departures, lower fares.

Not often you see news like that.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Everything is just buzzing

It's been two weeks since the state re-opened, and everything is just buzzing. The roads are packed, as are restaurants, bars, etc.

And it's not just the retail world that's buzzing. Here's a thoroughly bizarre (paywalled, unfortunately) article, with a thoroughly bizarre headline: Alameda office building shopping spree widens in tech hub.

A shopping spree for office buildings in the tech and biotech hot spot of Alameda has widened with the purchase of another property on the island city by a Bay Area developer.

With the latest deal, Paceline Investors has now spent $69.3 million over the last few days for three office buildings in Alameda, focusing on an area whose tenants are primarily advanced technology and life sciences firms.

The buildings are all located in Alameda’s Harbor Bay district, an area dotted with an array of companies with cutting-edge products and services.

Real estate firms have undertaken property purchases or launched development efforts that indicate they believe the Bay Area economy will be fueled by the expansion of tech, biotech, and advanced manufacturing companies.

That neighborhood is not far from where I live, and I ride my bike through there several times a week.

Indeed, there have been a lot of development efforts in this business park.

But the buildings are standing empty!

There are at least 10 large office buildings, brand new, completely vacant. Many were built during the COVID shutdowns, but a number of them were built as long ago as 2019 and have never found tenants. Other, existing buildings are dotted with "For Sale" and "For Lease" signs.

There are two buildings that are fully occupied and very busy:

Of course, neither of these are "advanced technology and life sciences firms".

But they sure make very good coffee and wonderful bread!

I definitely don't understand how the Real Estate development world works.

Monday, June 28, 2021


While doing a bit of browsing on the Internet, I followed some links and came to a (relatively) ancient document: Pierre L'Ecuyer and Richard Simard. TestU01: A Software Library in ANSI C for Empirical Testing of Random Number Generators: User's guide, compact version. Département d'Informatique et de Recherche Opérationnelle, Université de Montréal, May 2013..

I guess it's truth-in-labelling, but I must confess that it's a bit startling when the "User's guide, compact version" runs to 219 pages!

But if you're at all interested in Random Number Generators, this is some amazing stuff. From the prologue:

TestU01 started as a Pascal program implementing the tests suggested in the 1981 edition of volume 2 of “The Art of Computer Programming”. This was around 1985. Three or four years later, a Modula-2 implementation was made, in the form of a library with a modular design. Other tests were added, as well as some generators implemented in generic form. Between 1990 and 2001, new generators and new tests were added regularly to the library and a detailed user’s guide (in french) was kept up to date. The f modules, which contain tools for testing entire families of generators, were introduced in 1997, while the first author was on sabbatical at the University of Salzburg, Austria. In 2001 and 2002, we partially redesigned the library, translated it in the C language, and translated the user’s guide in english.

These preliminary versions of the library were used for several articles (co)authored by P. L’Ecuyer, starting from his 1986 paper where he first proposed a combined LCG.

I love the brutal honesty that, after 28 years of effort, they considered that they had only achieved a "preliminary version of the library".

Random Number Generation is deep indeed, perhaps among the deepest of modern intellectual studies.

Anyway, I didn't know about this amazing effort until now, so here I am, some 36 years later, sharing it with those few who might not yet know of its existence.

Monday, June 14, 2021

There are all sorts of reasons why COVID data is hard to interpret

This detailed explanation letter from the Alameda County Public Health Department explains why overall COVID deaths in Alameda County have been restated from 1,634 to 1,223:

Alameda County previously included any person who died while infected with the virus in the total COVID-19 deaths for the County. Aligning with the State’s definition will require Alameda County to report as COVID-19 deaths only those people who died as a direct result of COVID-19, with COVID-19 as a contributing cause of death, or in whom death caused by COVID-19 could not be ruled out.

Alameda County has appx 1,671,000 people.

So, prior to this adjustment, we thought that appx 0.1% of the population had died of COVID so far; aligning the definitions with national standards shows us that 0.07% of the population has died of COVID so far.

Meanwhile, in more good news, the county continues to inch closer to complete vaccine coverage, with 1.98 million doses administered to this date.

And even closer to home, in my hometown 85% of the population aged 12+ are at least partially vaccinated; 71% are fully vaccinated. For the county as a whole, those numbers are 79% and 64%.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Vaccine Complexity

Through a combination of the amazing Tableau data analysis software, applied to the extensive California Open Data Portal datasets, you can now see an amazing breakdown of COVID-19 vaccination data down to the individual ZipCode level, across the entire state.

Spending some time with this visualization tool is amazing. Not only can you learn a lot about the situation across various areas of the state, the challenges of "vaccine equity" become crystal clear.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Less: a very short review

When I started reading Andrew Sean Greer's Less, I didn't understand why I was reading it, nor what all the fuss was about (Less won numerous prizes, including the Pulitzer).

But I found myself continuing to read, page after page, chapter after chapter, and quickly I became captivated and enchanted.

It's hard to explain why Less is so much fun to read, but almost every single page is graceful and sincere while still being outrageous and hilarious.

And that's a hard thing for a book to do!

Our hero, Arthur Less, doesn't take himself too seriously, and doesn't take the world too seriously, and yet still somehow has an entirely serious observation to make on almost everything, nestled down there in betwixt all the sly pokes and rude chuckles.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

News of the World: a (2nd) very short review.

News of the World, perhaps better known as "that movie that Tom Hanks was making when he caught COVID-19 on the set", turned out quite well, I thought.

It's nowhere near as good as the book, but I think that it did a very good job of capturing the essence of the book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Possibly vaccine progress?

It is a bit hard to see, but the diagram below, from the CA State COVID-19 dashboard, shows that the Alameda County count of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 is down to 68 patients.

Not only does that represent a 30% drop in patient count in the last 12 days, but perhaps even more importantly it is the lowest count of hospitalized patients in Alameda County since the counting began, back in March of 2020.

I haven't read any detailed analysis of this data, but I've certainly been watching these numbers every day for months, wondering if and when the hospitalization count would ever drop (note how stubbornly it hovered at ~ 100 patients for the last 2.5 months, even as daily case counts plummeted during that time).

Hopefully this is a real finding, and represents real progress.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Time to upgrade that phone!

I have an iPhone 6, meaning I'm locked on iOS 12.

I recently learned about the existence of Silence Unknown Callers.

That one feature, right there, might be enough to get me to finally buy a new iPhone.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Vaccine Progress

This is what public health success looks like (from the May 25, 2021 state dashboard page):

Now, 618 new cases and 8 new deaths in a single day is still a tragedy. Hospitalization numbers remain high, and vaccination numbers are still a long way from where we'd like them to be.

But as recently as early March, California was still reporting more than 2 thousand new cases a day, as well as more than 100 new deaths a day, so the progress here is dramatic.

I hope the state is able to continue to drive millions more vaccine doses through under-served communities, and the overall progress continues at this rate.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Friday, May 14, 2021

The Hollow Places: a very short review

A friend gave me T. Kingfisher's The Hollow Places.

Generally, the horror genre isn't my thing, but the book pulled me in quickly and kept me turning the pages.

Kingfisher is a pen name, obviously at least partly an homage to Stephen King, and Kingfisher's novel reminds me of a King work. I liked the quirkiness of the setting; I liked the fortitude of our two bumbling, stumbling main characters; I liked the roller-coaster pace of the book.

I breezed through the book in about 3 days, probably faster than it deserved, but it was right for me.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Up, up and away

The City of Oakland has accepted a proposal from Houston-based Hines Corporation to build a 622-foot-tall office building in Oakland: Mega office tower proposal in downtown Oakland hops ahead.

The tower, if built, would be 50% taller than any other office tower in Oakland, so this is a dramatic step for downtown Oakland real estate, and the Oakland planning commission seems to be bubbling over with enthusiasm:

“It is about time we had some truly tall buildings here,” Planning Commissioner Leopold Ray-Lynch said. “If we can get more of these, we can truly make Oakland a city that’s on the move, more than it is now.”

Hines, who are probably best known in these parts for the (somewhat controversial) million-square-foot Parcel F project in the city, certainly have the chops to pull this off.

But will they? It's not the first time that major Oakland real estate projects have been proposed, and many in the end were never completed or were completed after being reshaped in significant ways.

Yet Oakland has dramatically changed in the last five years. Perhaps now really is the time?

One thing that's not clear from the article is if this project would mean the shuttering of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory's Oakland Scientific Facility, which currently occupies this site, I believe. The supercomputers won't care, of course, they can probably just be trucked to some new location.

The site is just across the street, cater-corner as they say, from my wife's office. I suppose if it happens, she'll have a front row seat to the project!

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Penny Lane 2007-2021

Our hearts are broken as we say goodbye to our family dog.

My granddaughter grew up with Penny. Or maybe it was Penny who grew up with Hannah. Or I guess we all grew up together.

She always thought she was a lap dog, though 80 pound Labrador Retrievers can take up the entire couch.

She was always up for a selfie.

Best. Dog. Ever.

I'm sure I'll have more to say about Penny later, when the hole in our lives isn't such a gaping wound as it is today.

So for now, let me share with you a poem, written by the lovely poet Tom Luce, titled Buy a Dog.

As is often the case with poetry, this poem isn't actually about a dog.

I had a dream, it was a good dream
you were there and so was I.
We were so happy
I did not want to open up my eyes,
and we were driving down a road;
it was a long one.
There were signs all over;
the signs said "welcome to your life".
I looked over and you were smiling.
You had a great big smile going.
You turned to me, you turned and you said:
"all your life, all your life, I got your back."

So if you want to try
we'll make it you and I
we'll never be alone
we'll buy a dog and bring him home
he'll jump up on the bed
we'll be the best of friends
I think that we should try
I picture you and I...

I had another dream
I know you think, "how convenient"
but I swear it's the truth:
we were there, yeah, I was me and you were you.
We had a good long life on this planet
when we died we went to heaven,
saw that god was really Elvis!
Anyway, our souls were in the right place,
our souls were in the right place..

So if you want to try
we'll make it you and I
we'll never be alone
we'll buy a dog and bring him home
he'll jump up on the bed
we'll be the best of friends
I think that we should try
I think that we should try

And we'll take him on walks with us everyday
(underneath the summer sun).
He can ride in the back of our car when we go away
with his head outside of the window frame
and his tongue out.

It's a miracle that we're even here and alive.
Let's buy a dog and bring him home.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

My second Pfizer shot is done!

That is all.

(Well, at least until I need a booster shot...)

Monday, April 26, 2021

Vaccine progress

California has administered 28.5 million vaccine doses; 57% of eligible Californians (those age 16 or older) have received at least one dose of vaccine.

Among all 50 states, California is now 50th (last place) in new cases per 100K population over the last 7 days.

It's hard to look at this data and not feel some hope that the two observations are causally related.

Fingers crossed that it's working.

Wow Dan Kaminski died

I never got to meet Dan Kaminski, but I loved reading his work. He was not only a brilliant engineer but also a great communicator.

What a shame. 42 is way too young.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

That which connects Alameda CA and Ann Arbor, MI

Lovely short article: You can take a magical tour of Alameda's fairy doors with this online map

The rise in fairy doors on Alameda began about seven years ago and is largely attributed to Fred Hogenboom and his granddaughter, Serena. The pair built about a dozen doors from scrap wood in Hogenboom's wood shop, then installed them on trees and telephone poles near Hogenboom's home on Oak Street. After that, “social media got a hold of it and from there it just blew up,” Hogenboom said, laughing.


Alameda is a whimsical little city, but it isn’t alone in its fascination with fairy doors. San Francisco has seen its own fairy door boom in recent years, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, has mysterious doors that have been around since 1993 (the doors even have their own Wikipedia page). There are notable fairy door communities everywhere from New York and Washington, D.C., to Kentucky and North Carolina.

It just so happens, I do in fact know some lovers of fairy doors, both in Alameda, and in Ann Arbor...

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Vaccine progress!

Courtesy of the City of Berkeley Health Department, today I got my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine!

I was extremely impressed with the way the mass vaccination site was run. They were very organized, they moved everybody through smoothly and accurately, and everybody who I talked to was friendly and helpful.

Including the 15 minute wait time after the shot, I was through the entire process in barely 25 minutes.

Great work by Curative, who operate the clinic, and the City of Berkeley HD!

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Giant Cargo Ship Traffic Jams Everywhere!

Forget highways, Bay Area's biggest traffic jam right now is on the bay

For the past few weeks, San Francisco Bay has been packed with huge cargo ships. There were 15 of them anchored south of the Bay Bridge at midweek. There is so much ship traffic that there is not enough room inside the bay for them all to anchor safely. Nine more big ships were waiting in the Pacific, steaming up and down 20 to 30 miles offshore between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay.

Everything is complicated nowadays.

Normally, a big ship like the T.Jefferson would sail up the Oakland Estuary straight from sea and not have to spend time at anchor. It would be accompanied by tugs and navigated under control of one or more pilots. The 1,200-foot-long ship would be turned 180 degrees in a basin a ways up the estuary. The turning basin has a diameter of just under 1,500 feet, so turning a 1,200-foot ship there is a delicate maneuver.

My son used to attend junior sailing classes in that turning basin, which is in the section of the estuary close to Coast Guard Island and across from the Encinal Yacht Club in Alameda.

Learning to sail those little Optimist dinghies was a wonderful memory ... I'm glad he never had to avoid the T. Jefferson!

The Known World: a very short review

Early in the new year, browsing through the scads of "best books of 2020" lists that always appear in various publications, I was struck by a note from one critic, who said something to the effect of: "yes, it's 18 years old, but The Known World is still one of the best books you could possibly read."

So I tracked it down, and spent the next two months slowly reading it, and I can confirm that that critic was entirely correct.

I'll be thinking about The Known World, and about how deeply it's affected me, for many months and years to come.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

How important is that Amazon unionization question? Possibly, quite important.

Corey Quinn explains why: You Can’t Trust Amazon When It Feels Threatened.

This teaches us that—when it’s a big enough deal—Amazon will lie to us. And coming from the company that runs the production infrastructure for our companies, stores our data, and has been granted an outsized position of trust based upon having earned it over 15 years, this is a nightmare.

Or, possibly, it was just a Really Stupid Tweet.

Anyway, worth a read.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Vaccine confusion

Here's a snapshot of today's display on the California state Vaccines Dashboard:

I'm trying to understand what those percentages mean.

The "(78%)" for doses administered clearly means that California has administered 78% of the doses it has received -- as of today, California has received 17,661,490 doses of vaccine.

But what about the percentages "(13.7%)" and "(14.9%)" for "People partially vaccinated" and "People fully vaccinated"?

It seems like this should be interpreted as "this is the percentage of the overall population of California".

But the overall population of California as of 2020 is 39.4 million. and 13.7% of 39.4 million is 5,398,000 people, a vastly different number than 4,445,354.

If I reverse the computation, by computing ( (100 / 13.7) * 4,445,354) and also ( (100 / 14.9) * 4,825,765), I end up with 32.4 million.

Is the dashboard assuming that the California population is 32,400,000 people?

It's not like fully vaccinating nearly 5 million people is nothing, of course! But I think it's actually only about 11% of the state population, not 13.7 percent.

I must be misunderstanding something basic.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Antikythera Cosmos work at UCL

A very nice video with an accompanying paper: A Model of the Cosmos in the ancient Greek Antikythera Mechanism

Using our identified period relations for all the planets, we have devised new theoretical planetary mechanisms expressing the epicyclic theories, which fit the physical evidence. For the inferior planets, previous 2-gear mechanisms are inadequate for more complex period relations because the gears would be too large. Two-stage compound trains with idler gears are necessary, leading to new 5-gear mechanisms with pin-and-slotted followers for the variable motions (Fig. 3c). For the superior planets, earlier models used direct mechanisms, directly reflecting epicyclic theories with pin-and-slotted followers. Here we propose novel 7-gear indirect mechanisms with pin-and-slot devices for variable motions (Fig. 3d), analogous to the subtle mechanism that drives the lunar anomaly. Compared to direct mechanisms, these are more economical; a better match for the evidence; and incorporate period relations exactly for higher accuracy. The crucial advantages of indirect mechanisms are expanded in Supplementary Discussion S4. Without these compact systems that can all be mounted on the same plate, it would have been impossible to fit the gearing into the available spaces. Proofs that the mechanisms in Fig. 3 correctly calculate the ancient Greek epicyclic theories are included in Supplementary Discussion S4.

I'm not sure how much of this is actually science, it strikes me more as some sort of historical-fiction-done-by-astronomy-loving-nerds.

But it's still quite interesting, and it's got some fun number theory.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Vaccine progress is so slow

Three months into the vaccination effort, I was really hoping for a larger acceleration. But the State's vaccine dashboard is, frustratingly, reporting that the state is averaging just 200,000 doses administered per day.

At this rate, there are still 21 months of vaccination to go before the state is fully vaccinated.

So slow. So slow.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Super Mega Cranes!

I obviously wasn't paying attention three months ago, for I totally missed this news: Port of Oakland to Receive Three Giant New Container Cranes As Tall As 40-Story Buildings. My apologies, I was distracted. I'll try to pay more attention in the future!

But they're here, and they're real, and so here's a detailed follow-up report on the three new Super Mega Cranes that are now installed at the Port of Oakland: Watch a Timelapse Video of Those Three New Giant Cranes Go Up at the Port of Oakland

The three cranes, reportedly now the largest in North America, stand 442 feet tall and move with "greater efficiency" than the smaller models already at the Port. As we learned when they arrived, the cranes are capable of lifting containers up to 174 feet above the dock, and reach 225 feet across cargo ship decks. And the Port of Oakland needs these extra-large cranes to stay competitive, and to be able to offload containers from some of the ultra-large ships now floating around the world.

Forty-story construction projects in Oakland have become almost mundane over the last few years, as a huge residential housing boom in downtown Oakland has raised multiple such condominium towers. I suppose from the highest levels of these new towers, residents will have quite the view of the new cranes.

As the article observes, not only are the cranes getting bigger, but the container vessels are getting bigger, too: If You're Near the Bay Today You Can Watch One of the World's Largest Cargo Ships Carefully Steer Into Port

"The San Francisco Bay is one of the most challenging pilotage grounds in the world and safely piloting these huge ships requires expertise and significant training,” says Capt. Joseph Long, president of the San Francisco Bar Pilots Association, in a statement to KPIX.

In the list of large container ships traipsing the oceans, the MSC Anna ranks high among them — with the top 15 all measuring 400 meters in length, the same as the MSC Anna. The extra width and height of the ship make it an extra challenge for getting safely into the Bay and under two bridges, into port.

Don't miss the fun videos!

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Where are the CDC getting their numbers about Missouri COVID?

I don't understand why the CDC COVID Data Tracker is showing such strange numbers for Missouri.

Here's the map:

And here's the top of the numbers that are behind that map:

I've searched all around the Internet, and nobody else seems to be reporting that Missouri are recording 12,000 new cases a day.

But the other top states that I checked (California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, New York) seem to be matching the numbers that you can find on the state websites. (FWIW, here's the Missouri COVID dashboard, showing that they are currently getting appx 350 new cases per day, state wide.)

I'm puzzled: what's going on here?

UPDATE: Buried in a footnote on the CDC page, we find:

On 08 March 2021, Texas reported 1,295 and Missouri reported 81,806 historical counts of probable cases. This raised the total number of new cases in both Texas, Missouri, and the U.S. during on this day and correspondingly affects the 7-day rolling average of new cases. Without the inclusion of these probable cases in COVID Data Tracker for 08 March 2021, the resultant new cases in the United States on 08 March 2021 would be 41,237.

I guess I wasn't the only person who was puzzled.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Ocean Cleanup is going live!

I had somewhat lost track of The Ocean Cleanup, the ecologically-oriented organization founded by 18-year-old Dutch inventor Boyan Slat a decade ago. I had been paying closer attention to it for a few years because it was doing a lot of research and development from its Alameda, California research site.

So I was pleased to discover that they're continuing to make progress, and this winter they have begun deploying their cleanup machines in major rivers around the globe.

Today, we announced that we are partnering with Konecranes to handle manufacturing and series production of Interceptors in their MHE-Demag facilities in Malaysia – with two in production right now. Over the last year and a half, we have gained valuable insights into the Interceptor technology and, together with Konecranes’ MHE-Demag, we have made updates to the design that improve its operational and manufacturing efficiency.

According to the website, they will be deploying at least one River Interceptor here in California, somewhere in Los Angeles County, presumably on the Los Angeles River somewhere close to its mouth in Long Beach.

The Ocean Cleanup website has lots of great multi-media information about their projects, but I also really enjoyed this nice set of overhead shots from the Dailoy Overview website of the first River Interceptor in Klang, Malaysia. Check out the zoomed-in picture showing the catamaran filling up with plastic rubbish!

Friday, March 5, 2021

Vaccine Confusion

According to the Bloomberg vaccine tracker, the entire world is currently averaging about 7 million doses administered per day.

Approximately 2.2 million doses per day are being administered in the United States.

I don't understand how this can work, if the entire rest of the world isn't even managing 5 million doses administered per day.

Oh, dear.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Steady vaccine progress

Bloomberg reports an acceleration in doses administered as the winter travel conditions of mid-February abated:

The biggest gains came through this past weekend with a blockbuster three days of peak doses reported—2.2 million doses delivered on Friday and 2.4 million each on Saturday and Sunday. The push drove the seven-day average back to 1.6 million doses per day.

On Monday, the CDC reported 1.7 million doses administered.

Closer to home, it's beginning to seem almost routine to meet a neighbor and have them tell us that they've received one or even two doses. (Near my home, we have a lot of elderly neighbors, we are still among the young people in our area.)

Case loads still seem extremely high, but perhaps we don't expect those to drop immediately, as the vaccines continue to go to those who are most at risk of death, not those who are most commonly infected.

So hopefully we will soon begin to see an impact as hospitalization rates start to drop?

And then, since death rates are a 6-week trailing data point beyond hospitalization rates, we might see death rates start to drop by mid-April?

Something to hope for as the daffodils pop and the redbuds begin to send out their beautiful little pink flowers.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Steady Vaccine Progress

As California passes the 8 million doses administered mark, the SF Chronicle posted this short table:

Vaccinations in the Bay Area
County	        Doses administered	Doses per 100,000
Napa	        42,854	            30,693
Marin	        76,672	            29,496
Sonoma	        127,381	            25,488
Contra Costa	290,359	            25,420
San Mateo       191,486	            24,952
San Francisco   199,987	            22,857
Alameda	        364,416	            21,996
Santa Clara     404,238	            20,972
Solano	        85,493	            19,350

Since both the current vaccines are 2-dose regimens, this translates to about 8-12% of the population is fully vaccinated, with another 4% or so having received their first dose.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Vaccine administration does appear to be speeding up

AIUI, over the past week the USA has averaged 1.25 million doses administered per day.

But yesterday there were 1.6 million doses administered.

Also, yesterday the doses were about evenly split between first dose and second dose, which is I guess exactly as it should be once the large scale rollouts are all underway.

Meanwhile, here in California, the state is administering just under 200,000 doses a day, and today it should surpass 8 million doses administered, which means (more or less) that 10% of the state's population has been vaccinated.

That's still agonizingly slow; somehow the state has to get much closer to 500,000 doses a day, and soon.

Before it's too late (if it isn't already).

500,000 doses a day would still mean six more months to vaccinate the state.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

The impact of the Remote Work switch reaches far beyond the engineers no longer at their desks

Eater San Francisco is running a long article that explores all the enormous shifts and changes that are underway: 10,000 Salesforce Employees Never Have to Buy Lunch Downtown Again.

As the article describes, this isn't just "ping-pong tables and snacks;" it stretches much farther and will re-shape the city and, eventually, the entire Bay Area.

“People would take a little detour after they got off the bus and come and get coffee before they went into their office,” describes Crabbe. “It wasn’t solely Salesforce. There’s a whole economic ecosystem there with all of the companies in that area. There are banks, lawyers, architects, all kinds of people. … And there are people who live down there. The East Cut is a neighborhood. For me, that’s the most heartbreaking thing: We don’t get to see our regulars taking their kids to the rooftop park. We really miss that community. And yes, a lot of it was commuters, but not all of it.”

I haven't been back to the East Cut, where I spent 50 hours a week for 3.5 years, for nearly a year now, and I can only imagine how much it has changed. But people still live there; they can tell us what it's like now:

“It’s completely desolate,” says Keeling. “In the surrounding neighborhood, as well as the park itself, there’s nothing going on. ... It’s going to decimate food retail and other food businesses.” Observing the “gargantuan” tech offices, he fears empty towers and vacant storefronts, juxtaposed with all of the people who need homes in San Francisco. “Looking at all those empty towers, it’s staggering. You have these oversized shafts of glass and steel with no one inside them. It’s eerie.”

And it's not just the East Cut. The entire city will be re-formed, as Eater SF describe in a related article: Off the Grid Is Unlikely to Relaunch Any of Its Food Truck Events in 2021

Apart from its marquee weekend events, the company has focused almost all of its efforts on food truck hubs providing lunch for office workers in San Francisco’s downtown areas — over time, those proved to be much more reliable sources of business for the trucks that participated, Cohen says: “About 75 percent of our public market spaces were serving business lunch needs more so than suburban market needs.”

With office workers continuing to work from home for the foreseeable future, those markets were essentially dead in the water. And because Off the Grid is such a power player within the Bay Area mobile food landscape, its virtual disappearance from the scene has had massive ripple effects for local food trucks and pop-up vendors, many of whom were forced to rebuild their entire business model from scratch in order to survive.

Some of this business will indeed re-form, since people need to eat, after all.

But when people are spread out all over the place, where do the food trucks go to find their audience? Some areas are still being active:

it’s likely that the company will look to launch additional locations in more residential areas once we head into the spring and summer — not “markets,” but “food spots,” like the ones currently running in Alameda, Serramonte, and SFO, that function only as takeout pickup locations for a small number of trucks. One advantage of these more modest locations is that participating trucks only have to pay a flat fee, instead of giving the 10 percent cut of their sales that Off the Grid typically charges on top of the fee.

It isn't just food trucks and Michael Mina restaurants that are affected, of course; these are just some of the core topics that Eater SF pay attention to. But the same sorts of transformations are affected every other part of life in San Francisco, and every other part of life throughout the Bay Area.

At some point, a new normal will emerge. San Francisco will surely remain one of the great tourist destinations of the world, with its year-round climate, its spectacular scenery, and its easy access to the rest of the West Coast.

And I don't believe, in my inner heart, that Remote Work is really viable as a long-term approach. Sure, there have been a few successes, such as GitLab, GitHub, Atlassian, Red Hat, etc.

But software development, in the large, which is what the companies in San Francisco do, whether they be straight-up tech companies like Facebook or Twitter, or financial companies such as Charles Schwab or BlackRock, or even entertainment companies such as Lucasfilms or Pixar, is fundamentally and crucially a social activity, requiring enormous interactivity among its participants.

We may be (slowly) improving at holding 15-person Zoom meetings from our bedrooms, but the productivity levels are far from what you achieve with a handful of engineers, a couple boxes of pizza, and a whiteboard that fills the entire wall.

A colleague of mine said to me the other day: "I feel completely adrift; I don't understand how to be effective. In the office, when I got stuck, I'd just get up, stretch my legs, walk around, and ask people questions. Before long, I figured out what was blocking me, and I was back in gear again. Now, I just stay stuck."

How do you form teams, and launch projects? How do you make new connections in other parts of your company? How do you identify and recruit new employees? How do you run a college intern program? All of these activities have for many decades depended on large groups of talented individuals gathering in shared spaces to collaborate.

Some of this never actually changed during 2020: friends I know who worked at early-stage startups say that these companies mostly continued as they were, with a small unfurnished space in some non-descript office building, a bunch of folding tables and Office Depot chairs, and extension cords littering every inch of the floor. That activity will surely continue, but the vast majority of the people in tech industry don't work in those startups, they work in the mega-corps.

We're all trying to re-learn all the skills that we've developed over years of experience, all the techniques that we acquired at school, but this is slow, slow going (and the schools are all closed, too!)

The world is changing, but it will take us a long time to get back to the level of dynamism and activity that we were at in 2019.

And, for now, the hub of that innovation and creativity sits empty and idle, while people are practicing getting onto their conference calls and declaring that "I'm not a cat".

Monday, February 15, 2021

Gears 5: a very short review

Gears 5 is a very fun shoot-em-up game, with lots of squishy alien baddies to vanquish, and all sorts of different sci-fi action in the process.

Unfortunately (for me), Gears 5 is really a multi-player tactical game, to be played online with your friends; the "campaign mode" is pretty much just a multi-hour tutorial on how the combat mechanics work.

There's an "open world" of sorts, but really it's not very open, it's just a pretty landscape that you can zoom around in while you stop off at various locations for various missions. Stories, background, NPCs, locations; Gears 5 doesn't bother with that, it's all about Vanquish The Baddies!!

Very fun, just not what I was looking for right now.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The Jewels of Paradise: a very short review

When I finish a book, it's typical that I either:

  • like the book, and have a reasonable understanding of why I like it,
  • or, dislike the book, and have a reasonable understanding of why I dislike it

But with Donna Leon's The Jewels of Paradise, I find myself in a funny sort of different state: I really liked the book, but I find it a bit challenging to say why.

The Jewels of Paradise is a nicely-constructed dual-timeline who-done-it, with our heroine, in the current timeline, attempting to solve a mystery that happened 300 years ago.

For a who-done-it, it's a bit low key, for she spends most of her time in the library reading books, and when she isn't reading books she's having a coffee and trading emails with her sister. There's a bit of intrigue about a mysterious fellow who tails her as she walks around Venice, and some more intrigue about a sharp-dressing lawyer who may be trying to play all sides off against each other.

But don't expect a lot of action and thrills and chills in The Jewels of Paradise; about as close as we get to that comes at the conclusion of one of her carefully-worded emails:

She pushed the "send" key, thinking that a person could get to enjoy this James Bond stuff, locked up everything, and went home.

In the end, it is the contemplation of the similarities and contrasts between present-day times versus how things were in the late 17th century that are the most interesting parts of the book. Some things are the same, others are different, but in the end people are people and isn't that really what a who-done-it is all about?

After all the emotion and tumult of the last few months, it was lovely to spend some quiet wintertime hours sitting in my rocking chair, reading a book about a woman who likes to read books.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Praxis Fiber Workshop

In the world of Fiber Art, this is big news!

  • Praxis Fiber Workshop welcomes the TC2!
    The new Digital Weaving Lab at the Praxis Fiber Workshop at Ohio, USA recently welcomed the TC2 loom. And what’s more exciting is that Cathryn Amidei, who’s been associated with Digital Weaving Norway for ages now, is at the helm of affairs…as the Director! She tells us all about the Centre, its Digital Weaving Lab and the plans that are in the pipeline.
  • Director
    Cathryn has been engaged with Jacquard weaving for 15+ years. She has travelled extensively, studying and teaching on the TC2. She spent a year living in Norway working and walking at Tronrud Engineering Headquarters: the Digital Weaving Norway production facility.
  • Cool Cleveland! Praxis Fiber Workshop
    Praxis Fiber Workshop is dedicated to supporting the textile arts, especially the ancient art of weaving. But its new exhibit, Digital Garden, brings that art into the contemporary age, with a display of digital weavings. Curated by gallery director Connie Fu and digital weaving lab director Cathryn Amidei, supported by Kayli Salzano, the show features the work of seven artists including Amidei, Jovencio de la Paz, Gabrielle Duggan, Marianne Fairbanks, Robin Kang, Janice Lessman-Moss and Robert Mertens.

    The exhibit heralds the debut of the new Praxis Digital Weaving Lab.
  • Contact
    The longer I work in this media, the more finely tuned I become to the nature of the matrix and the materials. The materials of the threads, their origins and their dispositions are familiar to me. I am drawn to them, they surround me in many variations. It is also true that the longer I work, the more I explore and thus, the more I see that I do not know. Each piece I make includes those tiny incremental steps forward from the piece before, as well as the hidden processes, the invisible hours and motions and states of mind and body during execution.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

This is, understandably, quite controversial

I imagine that conversations like this are happening all over the country right now: An inside look at how one Bay Area school district is preparing to reopen March 8

The district announced last month a framework to reopen March 8 if three key components fall into place: if public health conditions allow, if a program to test all teachers and students is launched and if an agreement is approved with the teachers union.

In the Golden State, with 6 million public school students, the California Teachers Association has said it wants all educators vaccinated before returning to the classroom; many local unions have also adopted this sentiment.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, has said he will not force schools to reopen. Instead, he wants to give them an incentive, proposing a $2 billion “Safe Schools for All” plan, which has been met with criticism from superintendents, unions and lawmakers. It would give schools extra funding for COVID-19 testing and other safety measures if they resume in-person classes. Schools that reopen sooner would get more money.

"Our goal is to open a hybrid TK-5 program that consists of part-time in-class instruction and part-time on-line instruction," district spokeswoman Susan Davis said. "In adherence to county and state public health mandates, our plan is to divide our classes into small cohorts of students and maintain social distancing and mask-wearing for all staff and students. We have also put considerable effort into upgrading our ventilation systems."

"We've all been operating under the assumption we needed to be fewer than 7 cases per 100,000 residents in the county to reopen, but some significant adjustments in the guidance that came to us on Jan. 14 from the governor's office and from the state department of public health are aimed at allowing schools to reopen when the case rate is 25 per 100,000," Pasquale Scuderi, the district superintendent, said in a Jan. 26 video.

I guess one good thing is that, at this point, everybody's at least talking about what the right answer is.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Early vaccination results from Israel are very promising

Take a look at this story that ran on the BBC today: Covid: Israel's vaccine rollout linked to infection fall. There is some remarkably good news from Israel, which have already succeeded in vaccinating half (!!) of their population.

Israel's vaccination programme is showing signs of working to drive down infections and illness in the over-60s.

The fall appears to be most pronounced in older people and areas furthest ahead in their immunisation efforts.

This suggests it is the vaccine, and not just the country's current lockdown, taking effect.

There are lots of details in the linked article.

Vaccine Confusion

On the up side, California has now administered more doses than we've had positive tests: 3.4 million doses have been administered as of Jan 30; 3.3 million positive tests as of Jan 30.

On the down side, it's just so slow.

It took 3 months for California to administer 3 million doses. There are 40 million people in California.

Can we include more vaccines? It seems like America should be pushing for approval of (at least) the vaccines from:

  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Novavax
  • Astra Zeneca

And what about others, such as the Bayer/CureVac mRNA vaccine, or the vaccine developed by Baylor College of Medicine?

Friday, January 29, 2021

Vaccine Confusion

The California Vaccine Dashboard says that Alameda County is currently administering about 8,000 doses per day.

Since both the current vaccines require 2 doses, this means the county is effectively vaccinating 4,000 people per day.

Since Alameda County population is approximately 1.6 million, this means that it will take 400 days to vaccinate 100% of the population, which means we might get there by March 1, 2022.

That's still a long ways away.

On the other hand, the state dashboards also show that Alameda County is currently experiencing about 500 new COVID-19 cases per day.

So for every new case of COVID-19, eight other people are getting protected.

That's something to be happy about.

But 8,000 doses administered a day. It. Just. Seems. To. Be. Taking. So. Long.