Sunday, April 27, 2008
"Hillary Clinton couldn't get in because of sniper fire, and Senator Obama's at church."Whatever else you think of the man, you have to admit he's got a wicked sense of humor...
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
“Most software today is very much like an Egyptian pyramid with millions of bricks piled on top of each other, with no structural integrity, but just done by brute force and thousands of slaves.”Oh, how right he is. Much personal experience verifies this.
What's even more interesting to me is that there isn't much correlation (and maybe none at all!) between software systems a competent engineer would consider well-designed and commercial success. This strikes me as one of the biggest differences between software engineering and other kinds of engineering. I can't think of another engineering discipline where the shoddiness that is the norm in software engineering would be acceptable. Can you imagine the outcry if (just to pick one example) buildings fell down with fair regularity because of their poor design? Certainly the company responsible for such engineering would not enjoy commercial success. But with software it's different, much different. People are willing to put up with shoddiness to get the features and functions they want – even if they only work sometimes, or work in obscure or unobvious ways...
If you don't know Alan Kay, he's one of the more interesting characters from the early days of personal computing. I first ran into him as one of the inventors of the notion of object-oriented programming and windows-based GUIs. He's worked at PARC, was an Apple Fellow, a Disney Fellow, and worked at Atari, Applied Minds, and HP. More recently, he's one of the movers behind the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. Last I heard, he's now teaching at UCLA...
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Little Suzy had a box of very small kittens that she was trying to give away, so she had them out on the street corner with a sign "FREE KITTENS" next to them.As the puppy-blender would say: heh!
Suddenly a big line of big black cars came up with a policeman on a motorcycle in front. The cars all stopped and a tall man stepped out from the Biggest car.
"Hi, little girl, what do you have there in the box?" he asked.
"Kittens" Little Suzy says. "They're so small, their eyes are not even open yet."
"What kind of kittens are they?" he asked.
"Democrats" says Little Suzy.
The tall man smiled, returned to his car and they drove away.
Sensing a good photo opportunity, Sen. Obama called his campaign manager and told him about the little girl and the kittens.
It was planned that they would return the next day, have all the media there and tell everyone about these great kittens.
The next day, Little Suzy is standing out on the corner with her box of kittens with the "FREE KITTENS" sign and the big motorcade of black cars pulled up with all the vans and trucks from ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN.
Everyone had their cameras ready and then, Sen. Obama got out of his limo and walked up to Little Suzy.
"Now, don't be frightened," he said, "I just want you to tell all these nice news people just what kind of kittens you're giving away today."
"Yes sir, "Suzy said, "they're REPUBLICAN kittens."
Taken by surprise, Sen. Obama said, "But yesterday, you said that they were DEMOCRATS."
Little Suzy says, "Yes, I know. But today, they have their eyes open."
Friday, April 18, 2008
Near the end Yon writes these words that resonate strongly with me:
“We can win. But we can still lose.His book is fascinating and full of informed perspective that's almost entirely missing from the mainstream media. It's a book written by someone who is an unabashed supporter of the war in Iraq – but who is also an unabashed critic of how it has been conducted (most especially before General Petraeus took over). Michael Yon is a warrior himself (Green Berets), and has the professional soldier's ingrained habit of seeing the world pragmatically, honestly – you won't get a less biased view of Iraq from anyone else I've ever heard of.
And if we lose, Iraq will be the worst foriegn policy disaster in our history. Imagine Vietnam, then multiply it by al Qaeda and Iran.”
Run, don't walk, to buy his book. Whatever your view of the war in Iraq, you'll come away more informed.
Yes, I'm still smarting from April 15th.
But every once in a great while, some politician proposes action that's noble, not self-serving, and not motivated by a grab for money or power. The last such action I can remember (at the national level) was Zell Miller's speech at the Republican convention.
This morning I read of another, by a politician I have never heard of before (but whose name I will now watch for!): Representative Sue Myrick, Republican from North Carolina's District 9. Here's the lead of a press release she put out yesterday:
Today, Rep. Sue Myrick (NC-9) called on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to revoke former President Jimmy Carter’s passport. This is in response to the former President traveling to Syria to meet with Hamas, an organization officially designated by the United States as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.That is simply brilliant!
“Former President Carter has acted in contradiction of international agreements to isolate Hamas. He has acted in defiance of both United States policy and international policy. His actions reward terrorists, lend support, and provide legitimacy to their belief that violence will eventually get them what they want,” said Rep. Myrick.
Most recently, our most excreble ex-President was seen hugging Hamas leaders and expressing his reverence for Yasser Arafat. At right he is putting a wreath on Arafat's grave, instead of dancing a jig on the gravestone as would have been much more appropriate.
Taking away this man's (I use the term in its loosest sense) passport seems completely appropriate. He has been acting against his own country's interests, and worse, for the interests of our enemies. He's an embarrassment to us all. In the good old days, we'd have quietly shuffled him off to a “clinic” where he could babble to himself harmlessly. Taking away his passport would hobble him nearly as well, and would help hide our most embarrassing ex-President from our neighbors.
Kudos to Ms. Myrick for such a wonderful idea! I'm sure it will never happen, but for once, a Washington politician has proffered an idea that I can support – something to celebrate!
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
So I was very interested to see this study of the asking price (normalized to the price per square foot) of houses in various San Diego County neighborhoods over the past year. The east county year-over-year numbers are in the screen grab at right. Jamul fared very well, showing just a 3% decline in the past year – knowing the volume out here is low, I'd guess that's well within the statistical margin of error from a wash. In general, my theory seems to be a reasonably good fit for the data, with some notable exceptions (some of which the study authors caution on due to lack of data).
We've got no plans to sell our place, but it's still comforting somehow to see that the apparent market value of our property hasn't disappeared...
The publisher of this book makes an extraordinary statement, the likes of which I've never seen before:
I HAVE NEVER BEEN PROUDER TO PUBLISH A BOOKI can hardly wait to finish this book tonight. If you don't already have a copy, stop whatever you're doing now and order one – you won't be sorry you did, whatever your views on the war in Iraq. Even if the only thing you get out of it is the pleasure of reading some inspiring stories of Americans at their best, it's well worth the price. And remember that the proceeds will help Yon – one of the world's finest independent journalists – keep up his good work...
Michael Yon changed my mind about the war in Iraq, by making me understand it for the first time.
From the very beginning I was against the war. I thought it would be a disaster, another Vietnam. And until I had the privilege of working on this book with Michael I was always for immediate pull-out: why should one more American die for a doomed effort?
Michael--who is as close to totally non-political as anyone I know--showed me two things. First, because I judged by Vietnam, the war of my youth, I had radically underestimated what American soldiers could do. I knew they could blow away any regular opponent on any battlefield. But wage a counterinsurgency against an enemy with broad support in the population? Win the "hearts and minds," to use the Vietnam era phrase that now can be used only ironically? That was asking too much, I thought.
I was 100 percent wrong. Today's American soldiers excel at counterinsurgency, because they excel at the most important thing: winning over the people by inspiring them with their own courage and compassion, discipline and determination. Reading this book is like watching the movie Apocalypse Now, but in an alternate universe in which the opposite always happens. Every time our soldiers get into an incredibly tense situation with some Iraqis who might be friends or might be enemies or murderers, some situation in which what's needed is amazing calm and courage to keep things from blowing up and ending in a blood bath, our guys pull it off!
Just wait until you read the Chapter "High Noon" (my favorite), the story of the American soldiers who have to arrest a corrupt but politically popular Iraqi police chief we had put in office in the first place because he had been a real hero in fighting the terrorists. He had to be removed by Americans to show the Iraqis we really did believe in the rule of law. The whole thing could have blown up into a one-town civil war with hundreds dead on both sides. Won't tell you how it ends, but you will be amazed and very proud.
The other thing Michael helped me understand is the difference between terrorists we just have to kill (often foreigners, or local criminals) and local insurgents we should have been working with all along. For almost five years I could not tell from watching the news--and certainly not from listening to the Administration--who the enemy was, what they wanted or why they were fighting. Not surprisingly it turns out that understanding the various people we were fighting--some of whom have since become great allies--was the key to winning the war, which we are now clearly doing.
I am convinced that everything I once thought about the war was wrong. The truth is we are doing a great thing in Iraq, most of the Iraqi people really do want to be a united democratic nation and already consider America their greatest friend and ally. It would be a crime to turn tail now and abandon them now.
I owe all that to Michael's book, which is why I believe publishing Moment of Truth in Iraq may be the best thing I have ever done for my country.
Monday, April 14, 2008
You should build the majority of your machine from Erector Set parts, but it’s OK to make the core of it from the heart of an orphan child.In other words, it's ok to have key components be internally complex and abstruse, either because the algorithm is inherently complex or because it is highly tuned for performance. Sounds about right to me...but go read his entire (very short) post to see the rest of the story!
Sunday, April 13, 2008
New Direction for any war: Send Service Vets over 60!Though I'm sure this was intended purely as humor, there's a germ of truth in this, as well. The notion was explored in a science fiction novel I read recently (Old Man's War by John Scalzi). The sheer physicality of combat ensures that it's a young man's profession – but the technology of modern warfare is making some dents in that requirement. I suspect that wars of the future will be less and less fought by the young, an military organizations will increasingly need brains over brawn...
I am over 60 and the Armed Forces thinks I'm too old to track down terrorists. You can't be older than 42 to join the military. They've got the whole thing ass-backwards. Instead of sending 18-year olds off to fight, they ought to take us old guys. You shouldn't be able to join a military unit until you're at least 35.
Researchers say 18-year-olds think about sex every 10 seconds. Old guys only think about sex a couple of times a day, leaving us more than 28,000 additional seconds per day to concentrate on the enemy.
Young guys haven't lived long enough to be cranky, and a cranky soldier is a dangerous soldier. "My back hurts! I can't sleep, I'm tired and hungry" We are impatient and maybe letting us kill some asshole that desperately deserves it will make us feel better and shut us up for a while.
An 18-year-old doesn't even like to get up before 10 a.m. Old guys always get up early to pee so what the hell. Besides, like I said, "I'm tired and can't sleep and since I'm already up, I may as well be up killing some fanatical son-of-a-bitch.
If captured we couldn't spill the beans because we'd forget where we put them. In fact, name, rank, and serial number would be a real brainteaser.
Boot camp would be easier for old guys. We're used to getting screamed and yelled at and we're used to soft food. We've also developed an appreciation for guns. We've been using them for years as an excuse to get out of the house, away from the screaming and yelling.
They could lighten up on the obstacle course however. I've been in combat and didn't see a single 20-foot wall with rope hanging over the side, nor did I ever do any pushups after completing basic training.
Actually, the running part is kind of a waste of energy, too. I've never seen anyone out run a bullet.
An 18-year-old has the whole world ahead of him. He's still learning to shave, to start up a conversation with a pretty girl. He still hasn't figured out that a baseball cap has a brim to shade his eyes, not the back of his head.
These are all great reasons to keep our kids at home to learn a little more about life before sending them off into harm's way.
Let us old guys track down those dirty rotten coward terrorists. The last thing an enemy would want to see is a couple of million pissed off old farts with attitudes and automatic weapons who know that their best years are already behind them.
If nothing else, put us on border patrol....we will have it secured the first night!
The little lady at right, looking at me as I snapped her picture, is (I think) a female Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna). She's got her make-up on: a dusting of golden pollen clearly visible just behind er bill, between her eyes. The males of all the hummingbird species are much more showy, but the females are beautiful, too, in their own way...
Trying to capture these absurdly zippy little creatures on film is a real challenge. These photos are about 10% of the photos I took. Back in the bad old days of silver-halide film, this would have been an expensive morning! The series of male black-chinned hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) below is a good example. These sorry excuses for photos are the very best of about 40 that I took over a period of about 30 minutes. During that entire period, there was no moment when there were less than a dozen or so of these gorgeous birds buzzing around me to get to the feeders – so there was no lack of opportunity. But these little guys move so fast, and so rarely hover for more than a second, and flash their purple band so infrequently, that to get it all right (in flight, in focus, and showing purple) approaches impossibility. I've never done it yet, in several years of attempts...
I couldn't identify the female at left, below, but I enjoyed the way she was watching my reflection in the feeders.
What do we feed our hummers? That's easy: a mixture of 4 parts water to 1 part ordinary cane sugar (by volume, in both cases). We put orange food coloring in because it helps attract orioles to the feeders (they are noticably partial to the color orange). Sometime last year it dawned on us that the food coloring was actually the most expensive part of making hummer juice – so I went a-googlin’, and found several online sources for bulk food coloring. We bought a gallon, along with a nice dispenser that makes it simple to measure (2 squirts per quart!) as well. This has worked out great.
In addition, once the volume the hummers are eating picks up a bit we will start making hummer juice in 5 gallon batches. Last year this greatly reduced the labor for us to keep the feeders full; we only needed to make a batch about once every three days. The large batch also cuts down on another problem: when we made the hummer juice a feeder or two at a time, there would inevitably be small differences in the sugar content at each feeder – and the hummers would show a clear preference for one (I'm guessing the one with the highest sugar content). They'd abandon all the other feeders until their preferred feeder ran dry, and they they'd go to the next best one. Now with all the feeders filled from the same batch, they spread out more evenly amongst the feeders (we have as many as nine up at a time).
The little lady at right is one I can't identify Her chin is strikingly white, and she's got a distinctive dark patch in front of her eye – both of which features don't match any of the hummingbirds in Sibley's. Sigh...
These photos were all taken with a Canon 10D, using a Canon 100mm macro lens. Most of these were taken at a range of between 2 feet and 4 feet. The hummingbirds at our feeders are quite used to Debbie and I; we can stand directly next to a feeder and have our eyeballs just a few inches from the hummingbirds feeding or buzzing around. Sometimes they even land on us! But the camera – especially the mirror noise as I take a picture – seems to spook them, and they often scoot right out of my photo before the shutter opens...
The batch below are all male Anna's hummingbirds – the showiest of them all right at the moment:
The black-chinned males also have particularly showy and aggressive display (to court females): they zoom up 50 feet or more high, then fly at full speed nearly straight down. Just before they hit the ground, they do an incredibly tight U-turn – I think in less than a 5 foot radius – and zoom almost straight back up. They make a distinctive sound as they make that U-turn, so it's easy to know when one of them is displaying, so you can watch (they repeat the display many times). Usually the bottom of their course ends up just in front of some manzanitas, in which a gaggle of females will be watching, swivel-headed. It's almost as much fun to spot them as it is to watch the male displaying!
Finally, a couple of females at the feeders...
Saturday, April 12, 2008
I remember as a wee lad reading science fiction books that speculated about the nature of the two tiny, strange moons of Mars. The actual nature of the moons was unknown – the instruments of science couldn't see that far in those days. Some authors speculated that they were actually spaceships from some alien civilization; others speculated that they were the current home of Martians who escaped from whatever disaster had befallen their now-dry planet. All of these notions were then at least nominally plausible, as science could not naysay them. Today we have a closeup portrait of the moons, and I'm sure we'll get even better ones in the future...
NASA also released an anaglyph (a stereo “3D” view) that's worth checking out if you own a pair of red/blue viewing spectacles. The anaglyph was made by combining two photos take a few seconds apart, during which time the MRO spacecraft moved enough to provide a slightly different perspective. I had a little trouble fusing the right side of the anaglyph, where the stereo separation was most dramatic – but it was worth some patience with my eyeballs, as the depth effects are stunning...
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
“The papers sucked hard enough to pull Jupiter out of orbit.” Mr. Lileks, there's a reason why your readers love you...
... I ordered something chickeny and opened the papers.
The papers suck. Pardon the language, but for heaven’s sake, the papers sucked. The papers sucked hard enough to pull Jupiter out of orbit. I had gotten used to the underwhelmingly ordinary Arizona paper, but the LA Times and the San Diego paper were a new level of sucktitudinousness. The SD paper was like a slab of Sominex pounded into thin folded sheets, and I don’t know if it was the lead story – “Sweeping Regulatory Powers Sought,” or something equally deadly – or the cookie-cutter design, but man, that thing was dull; when I finished I felt like I’d put 50 cents into a soda machine, got nothing, and realized I didn’t really want any soda anyway. On to the LA Times, which surprised me – I have almost no experience with the paper, except its reputation, which surely was exaggerated. Well. I blew through it quickly, and when I was finished the only impression it left was astonishment that a market that large had such a weightless, arid, aimless paper. It has the typeface of a better paper, but that’s about it. I finished both before I was halfway through my Ironed Chicken Sandwich – really, it was so thin, that’s probably how they cooked it – and I spent the rest of my time reading the internet on my iPhone.
I wandered down the street to a coffee shop, had some ice cream, and finished my news reading on the iPhone.If I’d never had one of those “you know, newspaper might be in trouble” moments, that would have been it. Actually, that morning I’d spent a solid half hour at the airport with the Wall Street Journal, which was and is a great paper. Why? Four things: Diversity of subject matter, a focus on subjects not easily given to ideological slants, quantity of stories, and lively writing.
Monday, April 7, 2008
When I think of Estonia and her forcible incorporation into the USSR by the Soviet Union, I am often reminded of Kitty Genovese, the New York City woman who, in 1964, was stabbed to death near her home in the Kew Gardens section of Queens. The Genovese case became know for the psychological phenomenon called the "bystander effect", in which violence is perpetrated on someone within hearing of neighbors, but the cries are not noticed.But this is not a bitter article, not at all. It's a brief look back at the journey of independent Estonia, the entire history of which fits into a single person's lifetime – some elderly Estonians today can still remember the Estonia's first declaration of independence. The article's conclusion sounds very, well, American:
And how very un-European! The majority of the ethnic Estonians I know would largely agree with Juri's sentiments in this article. The Estonian citizens I know who are ethnic Russians are decidedly more mixed in their views, leaning much more strongly towards either pro-Russian or pro-Eurosocialist views.
Soon, ceremonies will take place in the city of Parnu on the Baltic Sea in Estonia at the place where the Endla Theater -- the birthplace of Estonian independence -- was blown up by a hostile power in 1961. 90 years ago on February 23, Estonians proclaimed to the world in Parnu their desire to be free. Although actual memories of the Endla Theater now live on only in the elderly, Estonians of all ages give thanks that the only soldiers they will see in Parnu on Independence Day, other than the ones accompanying invited dignitaries, are their own. The message to everyone in the world who enjoys freedom is that one really does need to remember to give thanks in a conscious manner for liberty - something that can all too easily be replaced by a life in the absence of freedom.
Take it from the Estonians, we know what we're talking about.
Estonia ranks as one of world's most free economies. I'm a bit worried about the long haul for them, because of the drag associated with being a member of the European Union (there are benefits as well, of course). Juri Estam, a prolific writer with many articles on the web, seems to share my concerns on that point. But the existence of so many Estonians of like mind with Juri Estam is cause for great hope...
Saturday, April 5, 2008
Ponder that the next time you munch on a graham cracker.
Yup, a graham cracker – invented in 1829 by the Presbyterian minister (and nut case) Sylvester Graham. For the above-mentioned purpose.
Read more about Reverend Graham from Cecil and Barbara.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Friends visited the desert this past weekend, and they tell me that nearly everything is past prime already – only the ocotillo and cactus are still looking good. My next weekend is (sadly) devoted to doing my 2007 tax returns, so it's unlikely that I'll get out there.
Closer to home, the ceanothus are gorgeous right now, and we have a few other flowers out as well. Most are still in the future, though. Our streams are still running, and our front yard is dominated by (gasp!) grass instead of fillary and other weeds. That won't last long, but we're sure enjoying it while we can. It's novel for us desert-dwellers to look out our window and see lush greenery!
I've been putting in some long hours at work, doing something very different and exciting with a small team of developers. Yesterday we hit our first milestone, very successfully. Software products are never actually “finished” – there are always bugs to fix and more features to put in. But there are usually a few identifiable moments in a software product's life, such as the first time you look at the product and think “Dang! We've really got something here!” That's the milestone we hit yesterday...
That's a lupine above and right; and some assortments below...