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|Thursday, July 21st, 2011|
|Monday, April 25th, 2011|
Working from the New York office this week.
|Thursday, March 24th, 2011|
Thursday and Friday of last week, I went to Northstar at Tahoe with my extended team from work (30-40 people). I tried skiing once in early 2006 and didn't particularly enjoy it, although that may have been due to icy conditions. I had vaguely meant to try snowboarding instead if it ever came up again, so that's what I did this time.
Part of my rationale for snowboarding over skiing was that it should be easier to learn, since there are fewer degrees of freedom. To my surprise, this flip misapplication of mathematical intuition served me well. It turns out that a snowboard is quite stable compared to a skateboard; it's longer and wider, and there are simple ways of creating friction with the slope. So, even though recovering from an error is difficult, the sweet spot in the input space is relatively large. Learning did involve a lot of falling down in novel ways, but there was less getting tangled up than in skis, and it felt
less dangerous, at least. I was also able to perceive progress very quickly, which kept me from getting frustrated.
Dinner on Thursday concluded with two fingers of Lagavulin, ordered for me by Chandler. (I requested something peaty, and couldn't remember what I had tried before.) I was very amused to discover that he and I enjoy alcoholic beverages for the same reason; basically, "what is that flavor doing trapped in a glass?" Before bed, I taught a few more cow-orkers Zendo.
By Friday afternoon, I could execute some basic turns, though not with great reliability. I also got more comfortable gathering a little speed, which meant that I started to take harder falls; a common failure mode was to lose control while skidding on toe edge and slam into the ground backwards. The next day I had various bruises and stiff spots, but no lasting damage. Overall, I'd try it again, although I might invest in better clothing first.
I commented to papertygre
that there is a whole class of sports where you "become the ball"; you yield to some overwhelming force, making only fine adjustments as it pushes you along bodily. I would put snowboarding, skiing, sledding, sailing, hang gliding, and horseback riding into this category. Despite the elegance of playing rudder, I've never been particularly attracted to such pastimes, partly because the price of failure is practically unbounded. (I guess windsurfing is safe enough, and I remember enjoying that.) However, having tried it, I'm not sure that snowboarding on a groomed slope is much worse than swimming in the ocean, an activity I think nothing of. I guess it's one of those things that would seem harmless had I grown up doing it.
The bus trip home was an epic failure. Friday night had a remarkable variety of delays, including icy roads, leading to a minor accident which took two hours to resolve, then waiting for avalanche control to detonate explosives, and finally chain control turning us back. After a night in South Lake Tahoe, we made it as far as Walnut Creek before a second collision, at which point I gave up and took BART
to Millbrae, then had Kirsten retrieve me (and three other bus refugees). One of the reasons I've not been more keen on winter sports—aside from the cold, the expense, and the risk of injury—is the incredible inconvenience of simply getting to and from the slopes. At least I didn't have to drive, so I got to catch up on my reading.
|Sunday, March 6th, 2011|
Things Of Interest
by Sam Hughes
This guy's blog is wonderful, for example this entry
about meeting a favorite author. Also his short fiction; a friend at work retold me this story
without remembering the origin. I think the first page of his site I stumbled across was the delightfully deadpan "How to destroy the Earth
I found this article when looking for academic support for the aphorism "happiness is other people":What Makes Us Happy?
by Joshua Wolf Shenk
(Or a PDF
if you don't care for the video interview, needless pagination, and ads.)
It's primarily about a study which tracked a single population of Harvard undergrads for their entire lives. It's hard to summarize, and one of the points seems to be that human lives are also hard to summarize. I'm glad it's not my job to draw conclusions from this sort of data. I'm left with the sense that not only do we not understand each other very well, we frequently don't even know ourselves.
Kirsten and I finally saw "Black Swan" last Saturday. Aronofsky really had her number with the fingernail mutilation. It reminded me of hearing about Lesch-Nyhan syndrome
on the radio, and I wanted to read more.An Error in the Code
by Richard Preston (PDF
I read several of Preston's books in my teens: _The Hot Zone_, _American Steel_ (I'll never forget the story about the safety inspector), _First Light_. Good stuff. I wish more journalism was done in this form.
|Thursday, February 24th, 2011|
"When there is a drought, then prepare a stock of boats; when there is a flood, then store up carts." — Fan Li, fifth century BC
I saw this meditation on business cycles and contrarian investing in _Food & Money in Ancient China_, which I stumbled across in the Rosicrucian Research Library in San Jose, when tyrsalvia
took me there in 2003.
I was able to find it again today with Google Books. So not everything is rotting. Unfortunately, the book is out of print, so I'd probably have to borrow it from a university library if I wanted to read it.
|Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011|
Wow, LJ is really rotting. I've found at least two bugs in it today.
I guess this shouldn't surprise me, given that I knew brad
had moved on to Google Buzz, Twitter, etc. Still, it's very sad.
The archivist in me is upset by the rate at which all documents seem to rot now. As I was rereading my own journal, and a few years of personal email, the number of broken links was really frustrating.
|Monday, November 29th, 2004|
I think I've straightened out the disk corruption issue. After considerable testing, I've determined that it only happens when using both SATA channels simultaneously, which means the controller (or its driver) is at fault. The disk controller is manufactured by Silicon Image, which is the new name of CMD Technologies—manufacturer of the old CMD640 chip, which was notorious for a similar problem
. (And it sounds like
the same design team may still be at work there.)
It turns out that what I'm observing is a known interaction
between the SiI3112 SATA controller and the nForce2 north bridge. (That page talks about Abit, but other mainboard vendors also had this problem.) In fact, my BIOS even had a setting to address it, but the documentation was in Engrish, so I didn't realize that. Selecting the most conservative value for the setting appears to have fixed things.
This does not give me a warm and fuzzy feeling about the server at work which is doing software RAID1 on the same combination of chipset and SATA controller.
|Sunday, November 28th, 2004|
I just tried to install SP2 for XP on the Windows box I use at home. Halfway through the process, I get an error message whining about a missing file. I verify that the original cab contains a compressed version of said file. I look in the directory where the installer unpacked itself; same file there too. I try to uncompress it with extract.exe, and it complains that the file is corrupted. I manually unpack the cab elsewhere, and recursively diff it against the files which are already halfway installed. Several files differ. This is a very bad sign; it probably means that the disk is failing. At least it's not the boot disk, and only contains some expendable junk; the service pack installer probably chose to use it as a temporary area because it had the most free space.
I go back to the installer and try to cancel. It makes some show of doing various things to back out the changes it has made, and then abruptly stops, says that the "uninstall" failed, and that Windows XP may not work now. Great. I dismiss that message, and before I can decide what to do next, it reboots without asking me!
Now I can't boot. Safe mode doesn't help. I figure I will try to repair with an XP install CD... this requires a floppy drive and matching cable, because my boot drive is SATA, and needs a special driver which I can only load from floppy. (I'm hardly in a position to experiment with making slipstreamed install CDs at this point.) First I have to clean off the top of my computer so I can open it; this includes removing a smaller Linux box stacked on top. The power cable doesn't reach to anywhere else I can put the box down, so I need to halt it cleanly; this becomes a small adventure in itself, because the X server has long since crashed, leaving the console unusable, and I end up using Christina's laptop to ssh in.
Finally the XP installer can see the right drive, but refuses to give me any useful repair options. I poke around a little with Knoppix, and find a batch file created by the service pack installer, which looks like it will undo most of the damage. (It's 425k of DEL and COPY commands on system files and backups.) After disconnecting some hardware so that the drive letters in it are correct, I run it from the recovery console. This gets XP booting again.
I try the service pack again from the boot drive, just because I'm feeling suicidal. It doesn't have any more trouble with data errors in the source files, of course, but it still doesn't run to completion. Sigh.
And now, I notice... at some point the install CD ran a chkdsk on my media disk (a third physical drive, distinct from both mentioned so far, and never involved in the problem at all). I now have exactly 10,000 fragments in \FOUND.000. Many of my directories are now flagged as files instead. Wonderful!
Everything really important is backed up regularly to several disks, one of which is attached to a different host. Still, I had forgotten how easily Windows can amplify a minor hardware failure into hours of frustration and a catastrophic loss of data. I don't really have time for games lately, and soon I won't need Windows for work. I think it's time to revisit Unix on the desktop; maybe something has improved in the five years since I last tried it.
|Tuesday, November 16th, 2004|
I've been asked to put out a fire involving some JS which has broken due to the latest IE patch.
I find myself examining a function named "TryToStartSomething".
I am not entirely sure what my purpose in life is; yet, I am suddenly quite certain that this task does not advance it.
Well, would you look at that
. And I've since been to Chicago, so I think I've got the blue states more or less covered.
"This item updates the Bookshelf Symbol 7 font included in some Microsoft products. The font has been found to contain unacceptable symbols." This is their idea of a "critical update"?!? If you are wondering what an "unacceptable symbol" is, let me give you a hint:
Pngcrush generates much smaller output than Photoshop or even ImageMagick, BTW.
|Saturday, November 13th, 2004|
Yesterday included a Microsoft presentation on the next version of Visual Studio. I think the sample application (something about real estate) was a poor fit for the audience, but the tools themselves were impressive. The editor can do all sorts of crazy things to your source code based on the AST, but when I asked the presenter about accessing that programmatically, he said it won't be possible until version after next. He also showed me that the compile and build tools for CIL targets are actually distributed with the runtime, and VS is just a pretty face, which really surprised me.
The wildcard round was a bit of an anticlimax, as it resulted in a final room containing the top four seeds. (One could argue that this means the system is working as expected.) The finals set seemed a bit easier than the previous rounds, but it wasn't obvious to all the competitors that the set of strings to count in the hard problem was a regular language.
Microsoft had given out these magnetic stick-and-ball sets, and last night I persuaded a bunch of people to play Zendo with them. It was interesting because these are very natural for building graphs, and I tend to look at even the standard Icehouse pieces as being in a graph, although I think modeling geometric relationships was the intent of the game designers. But playing with a group of programmers means that graph-oriented rules are natural and quickly solved.
Off to lunch with what remains of the TCers.
|Thursday, November 11th, 2004|
Hmm. So I solved *a* problem. The only person who did worse in my room was doeth, as predicted by the cookie. I meant to ignore the easy problem, but opened it first out of habit, and then wasted some time not figuring it out. I have no confidence that I would have gotten the hard with that extra 15 minutes, though... it was one of those problems that looks like DP, but in fact you can discard most of the search space once you understand what's happening.
The NVidia lecture about reusing GPUs as general-purpose floating point processors was cool, although the presenter spent way too much time needlessly bashing Microsoft. He also compared a GeForce 6800 to the Earth Simulator on the basis of FLOPS/dollar, which I found a bit dishonest.
The lunch was good; kind of a pan-Asian theme, with a cold shrimp salad, another salad consisting of watercress, water chestnuts, and crispy noodles, various stir-fry things, potstickers, and... pork buns! The fortune cookies were amusing... doeth got one saying "WHATEVER YOU DO, MAKE IT FUN", which does not bode well for his performance. Mine seemed to cover yesterday adequately, speaking about travel, pleasure, and meeting a friend, but it had nothing to say about today.
I'm going to ignore some of the room 2 action in order to practice and review my code template.
The network service in my hotel room is really weird. I can ping any host I like, but I can't initiate a TCP connection until I've signed through their little web page, and it makes me do that again once each day. This is very confusing; I wonder why ssh hangs, ping the destination host, get an echo, and assume the problem is at the far end.
If my roommate hadn't already paid for several days (at $10/day), I would momentarily contemplate tunneling all my traffic over ICMP through a cooperative host back in Orlando.
|Wednesday, November 10th, 2004|
Apparently TopCoder reserved my room for two extra nights, and they are going to deduct the cost from my winnings. I didn't exactly ask for this, but I suppose it's handy, since the hotel is actually overbooked, and I didn't arrange to stay elsewhere.
I found the TC team setting up in one of the ballrooms and said hello. I've been feeling a bit ill from lack of sleep, so I went across the street to get some food. There are no sidewalks here, so it feels quite hostile to pedestrians. I had a bowl of seafood udon, which made me feel considerably better. It contained, among other things, one giant tempura shrimp, and some so small I should properly describe them as krill.
After a little phone and email tag, I finally spoke with someone in HR at Google. The "systems lab" group is going to interview me tomorrow afternoon. Ben was hopeful that I would be there for lunch, but apparently not.
I slept about five hours, and now I'm watching X-Files. As usual, the less it has to do with aliens, the better the episode is. This one is about El Chupacabra, *chuckle*... memories of Diablo I. Scully: "Mulder, I know you don't wanna hear this, but I think the aliens in this story are not the villains, but the victims." LOL.
Perhaps I'll try to practice.
I'm composing this on a 737 flying from DFW to SJC. Borrowing Christina's laptop for the trip is going to do wonders for my LJ update frequency; I may have this trip written up before I finish editing my narrative for the GCJ.
I've never traveled with a laptop before, and I have to concede that stuck on a plane is one of the few places where they make sense. The keyboard is more or less tolerable... I wonder if they still make laptops without Windows keys? This one relegates the right-click button to just above F9, but the other Windows key (the one which actually gets in my left-handed way) is still eating into the space bar, along with a Fn key I'll never use.
I don't understand why laptops still have such awful battery life; this one can only manage three hours, unless you replace the CD-ROM with another pack. Why can't I buy a Pentium 100 with a whole day of disconnected uptime yet? Or maybe a VIA Eden with a passive display.
I don't have enough of the runtime environment for work with me to test anything, but after so many ACM contests, I'm no longer scared by the idea of writing hundreds of lines of code with no opportunity to test. I already wrote a Perl script which is untestable because I don't have an NTFS partition here... how weird is that?
They are showing "13 Going On 30", but thankfully I can't hear it. At least I'm not in the middle seat for this leg. I'm sure I asked the person who arranges travel for TopCoder for window seats, and there are empty window seats on this flight. I wonder who they roomed me with at the hotel.
Holy crap, the "lavatories" on this aircraft are actually just that! I don't recall seeing a *sink* in one before, even on a jumbo jet to Hawaii. Maybe I've just been avoiding them for so long that I forgot?
There was a woman in first class who had the strangest dog... it looked like a retriever, maybe three feet long, but its legs weren't more than eight inches. I wonder if it was an established breed, or just an isolated dwarf mutant. I couldn't take a good picture at the gate before she put it away, inside what looked like a gym bag.
|Tuesday, November 9th, 2004|
The TopCoder Open has four sponsors this year: Microsoft, Yahoo, Intel, and NVidia.
So naturally I'm packing an IBM duffel (ACM finals) and a Google briefcase (from last month). I could also wear a Sun backpack (TCCC) if I wish. Sadly, however, I can't scare up any ATI-branded luggage, nor even a tee-shirt.
Being a sandwich sign for VIA would be ideal; maybe I should convince *them* to bankroll a programming contest.
|Tuesday, November 2nd, 2004|
Come on folks... let's vote out the "Culture of Life". (Bush authorized 152 executions while Governor of Texas.) Maybe we can get some "Policy of Truth" instead, eh?
|Monday, November 1st, 2004|
I waited in line at the main county library for almost four hours to vote today. I was really just there because Christina wanted some company, since I'm quite confident that the line will be much shorter at my precinct's polling place on Tuesday. We have only 5670 people registered in our precinct, and it's open for 12 hours; the counter on the sole optical scanner at the library was at a little over 2000 when we used it, and those people queued up in only three hours. But I guess she anticipates working until after 7pm Tuesday.
In a classic coal-to-Newcastle maneuver, I took my own book with me to the library. I haven't been in that building for a very long time, despite now living quite close to it. I should have visited the lowest floor, where the children's books are... assuming they haven't rearranged everything, I expect that would induce quite the flashback. I remember spending a lot of time browsing the Asimov down there.
The line seemed to have a lot of young people in it, and a middle-aged woman just in front of us admitted she had only voted once before in her life. Bush has certainly done wonders to revive our sense of civic duty. There were also a few monitors from different organizations wandering around, counting heads, advising people that they could vote as long as they were in line when the poll "closed", etc. Orange county is a good place to vote, anyway: we have paper ballots which are optically machine-read, and the county Supervisor of Elections ignores the bogus "felons" list from the state.
I heard zero political discussion while I waited. I considered asking my neighbors in the line some prying questions, but my natural introversion won out.
But I did make a very painful attempt at a political discussion with two drunk people Saturday night. We couldn't even agree on the definition of inflation. One of them works as an accountant, which unfortunately leads him to believe he is an expert in economics too. He was a Bush supporter who believes Kerry would be even worse for the economy. I tried to talk about the money supply and the effects of deficit spending, but couldn't penetrate their drunken interchange of prices in money and costs in labor. I then advanced the proposition that at least Kerry might veto some bills, thereby spending less or interfering less, to which he responded that "studies show" more legislation gets passed when the parties of the President and the majority in Congress differ. *boggle* We both gave up arguing at about that time, before I could get anywhere near my original point.
Tax rates are nearly irrelevant when estimating the effects of fiscal policy; taxes introduce a little redistribution, and a lot of friction, but they don't change the net effect of government on the economy. All that really matters is what government spends, irrespective of whether it balances that spending with taxes now, or later, or never. By spending money (either taxes, or new money printed or "borrowed"), government competes with citizens for goods and services. If the money is new, then inflation occurs, and your money buys less. If the money was taken as taxes, then average prices remain the same (although demand for specific goods is changed), but you have less money. The fraction of resources which the government commandeers remains independent of the tax rate. (Consider, by contrast, the net effect of a hypothetical tax, the revenue from which the government never spends or loans. Some deflation occurs, because everyone has less money, but there are no other global changes.)
So the Bush tax cuts are a red herring, and Kerry's proposed tax structure is only redistribution. You cannot "stimulate" the economy, except in a short-term and illusory way, by reducing taxes. You must reduce government consumption, or wait for productivity increases to allow growth. All that matters right now is the massive spending (whether "deficit" or not) on useless things like airport "security" and military hardware, and the domestic labor lost by drawing up reservists, and the productivity lost to the constant psychological warfare of "terror alerts".
The new Eminem music video going around is very affecting. I am impressed. First he surprised me with "Lose Yourself", and now "Mosh". (Although allroads
points out that it sounds like a dirge, and isn't as listenable without the video.) But then, I am very fond of exhortative music.
posted a link to OkCupid's political quiz
. I feel that my results from this sort of quiz are very noisy, because the questions are not carefully worded (and perhaps I overanalyze). I'll break down a few from this one to show you my problems.
Some questions ask for opinions which I deliberately isolate from my reasoning about government policy:I am troubled by the eroding distinction between entertainment and marketing.
Professional athletes are paid too much money.
It bugs me when somebody names their child something like 'Sunshine' or 'Charm'.
It should be legal for two consenting adults to challenge each other to a duel and fight a Death Match.
Just because I think certain behavior is undesirable doesn't mean I want a law against it. Maybe I recognize that my opinion is only taste, or I prefer a cultural response to a legal one, eg censure instead of jail time.A person cannot be truly spiritual without regularly attending church or temple.
You can be a rigidly secular authoritarian. What can a question like this measure about my political views?Something like the theory of Natural Selection explains why some people are homeless.
People shouldn't be allowed to have children they can't provide for.
There were several of these "are you a Social Darwinist" questions. The answer is no—because it's scientifically discredited, not because I've got a bleeding heart.The fact that many people starve to death is unfortunate but unavoidable.
What the hell is this supposed to measure? My ignorance? Feeding people is easy, except in places with constant war or poor infrastructure (like most of Africa). It's certainly not an economic problem; there is no dearth of food in the world. So I guess this question assumes that I like starving people, then asks how I feel about interventionist foreign policy? Well, technically we could "avoid" starvation deaths by killing all hungry people with bombs.
(As for the homeless people in America, well, there's no shortage of housing, but that actually has a significant cost of production, plus land is scarce. Their continued homelessness just indicates a shortage of compassion. For virtually all of human evolutionary history, compassion toward anyone outside your band was not strongly adaptive, so this is really no surprise.)The world would be better if there were no huge corporations, just small businesses.
What if you believe that small businesses would usually be more competitive than huge corporations, if only government interfered less in markets? This is one of the critical places where Greens and Libertarians overlap
.People raising children have a responsibility to live up to society's standards.
Again, the fact that this is a question in a "political" quiz shows an inability on the part of the authors to separate culture from government.If a company invents a pill that cures cancer, they should be allowed to charge whatever they want for it.
Presumably as a good libertarian I'm supposed to agree with this. Yet a true libertarian wouldn't agree with the implied consequences, because he recognizes "intellectual property" as artificial scarcity created by government intervention in the markets. So, yes, they can charge whatever they want, but likely they won't get it, except for a single pill from which to reverse-engineer the ingredients.It's wrong when environmental regulation puts people out of work, like when limits on logging make it harder for loggers to log logs.
Well, what if the environmental regulation in question assigns a value to water quality downstream from the logging activity? I guess I'm less than an anarchist if I'm willing to accept any regulation as justifiable, though.Most people are too stupid to know what's best for them.
Believing this doesn't imply that government knows either, or that it is ethical to make choices for others, even when furthering their interests is your ostensible goal. It seems like a purely antidemocratic statement. Maybe some libertarians take it as axiomatic that whatever you do or want is "best" for you?Being poor and black is an advantage in getting into college.
A terribly noisy question, due to its imprecision; there are two possible interpretations, each of which has a clear factual answer. Ceteris paribus, yes, it would be an advantage. But across all Americans, the correlation would be negative. (Across applicants could go either way, because some self-selection occurs.) So "being" poor and black helps, except for all the ways it hurt you in the past.Eventually, a computer will write the best novel ever written.
At least we have returned to the realm of opinion with this question. The only humble answer is "mu". (Unless humans are defined as computers, or presently simulated by one....) Does it try to ask "are you a Luddite"?The life of one American is worth the lives of several foreigners.
Ahh, *societal* Darwinism. Just posing a question this deep is more useful than any quiz results, although answering it honestly is difficult. If you value "national defense" as more than an empty threat, then I think you have to agree. I suppose "the lives of peaceful people are worth more than the lives of bellicose people" is an easier way to swallow it.I think everyone has a right to the basic material necessities of life.
Probably libertarians are supposed to require the pedantic insertion of "to pursue" before they can agree.
So we've got at least 15 out of 42 questions where my answers depend either on personal beliefs which I make every effort to keep out of politics, or fine details of how I read the question.