Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Curiosity, near and far...

Curiosity, near and far...  A couple of photos from today's dump of raw photos taken by Curiosity.  At left, a view into the distance – and at right, an extreme closeup of an interesting rock...

Things I didn't know...

Things I didn't know...  I use IntelliJ IDEA, from Jetbrains, as my Java and JavaScript development environment.  I've been using it for years, since (I think) 2003.  I started using it at the recommendation of a friend, and immediately liked it better than its main competitors (all of which I was familiar with).  Later, when I worked for ServiceNow for seven years, I used their standard IDE, which was Eclipse – but still used IntelliJ IDEA for my personal projects.  Since I retired, I've switched back to only IntelliJ IDEA.   

During all that time I've thought of IntelliJ IDEA as a sort of edge product, one of those things that a few borderline nut cases like, while everyone else uses the perfectly good (and free!) Eclipse.  I had no idea that IntelliJ IDEA, along with Jetbrains other products, have been gobbling the IDE space up.  I'm very glad to hear it, though – their products are first rate, the community is great, and they just keep making it better all the time (as the linked article points out).


I had the chance to meet some of the Jetbrains folks a few years ago.  Their development center (or at least, one of them) is in St. Petersburg, Russia, and their offices were near by those of a company I worked for at the time.  When I wrote and told them I'd be in town, they invited me down to their offices for a visit.  I had a grand time talking with some of their developers.  Since it was Russia, of course we also had vodka and chocolate :)

Zipf's Law holds...

Zipf's Law holds...  Zipf's Law is one of those observed mathematical relationships that is surprising because it's so simple – and because there's no mechanism to explain it.  I first ran into it when studying cryptography in the Navy, back in the '70s.  Basically, Zipf's law says that in any given text, the most common word will appear twice as often as the second most common word, three times as often as the third most common, and so on.  If you're trying to decrypt the bad guy's messages, and the bad guys used an old-fashioned cipher or code, knowing the way that words (and letters) are distributed can help.  That's much less true with modern ciphers, though.

Anyway, I remember thinking at the time that Zipf's Law was too simple to be for real.  I imagined that it was an artifact of military messages, because of the strange, passive voice filled, stilted, and acronym-stuffed prose the military favored.  Turns out that's not the case – in a recent test against the entire text held by the Gutenberg Project, Zipf's Law largely still holds.  How bizarre!


Collectivization...  Friend, former colleague, and fellow retiree Doug W. passed along this quote:
Back in the 1930s we were told we must collectivize the nation because the people were so poor. Now we are told we must collectivize the nation because the people are so rich.

  – William F. Buckley, Jr.
It's been a long time since I last saw that, and pondered on it. There is much truth there, condensed into a very small number of words.

When I was first reading about current events (late '60s, early '70s), the word “collective” had very negative connotations for any Americans who didn't identify as Communist.  These days one doesn't hear the word very often, but we are collectivizing, steadily.  Our healthcare system is heading quickly toward a “single payer” system – and that fits the definition of a collective perfectly.  The discussion about “minimum income” – which in some countries is very close to becoming the law of the land (I'm looking at you, Finland and Switzerland!) – is a move toward collectivization.  For me, at least, calling single-payer healthcare collectivized healthcare makes it sound much worse, and more threatening.  I wonder if that's true for younger people, those who likely have no idea what a collectivized Soviet farm was like?

It's been almost ten years since Buckley died, and proponents of liberty still have no intellectual support to replace him.  We sure could use a new Buckley right about now.  Can you imagine what his quips on The Donald, The Hillary, and The Bern might be like?

Fish and chips excellence...

Fish and chips excellence...  We needed to go to Ogden yesterday.  If you're not familiar with Ogden, it's a fair-sized city about 30 miles north of Salt Lake City, and about 30 miles south of us.  As we were there in the early afternoon, we decided to try a restaurant we'd not been to before.  We used Yelp to pick it: the best-rated place in Ogden that was open on Monday (most restaurants here close Sundays and Mondays).  The place we chose is called Sea Bears Ogden Fish House.  All we knew when we walked in is that Yelpers liked the place.  We had no idea what a treat we were in for!

The inside is clean and homey, with inviting decor and low lighting.  We were greeted by the male half of the couple who owns the place, fully outfitted in traditional Scottish costume, including a kilt.  Within a few minutes of conversation we discovered that his whole family works there, they're politically very compatible with us, and his wife (the cook and waitress) usually is packing heat (open carry), though she wasn't yesterday – and if you don't like that, they'll gladly tell you about some other places you can get a good meal.  Their sons also work there, though we didn't see them and I don't know what they do.

We ordered cod (they also have halibut, albeit at a higher price), and I asked for sweet potato fries instead of traditional chips.  I also ordered a crab cake (at $3 I could hardly resist!), and raspberry lemonade.  When our orders arrived, they also had cole slaw, which I didn't even realize was included.

How was it, you ask?  The fish was top notch, one of the five or six best I've ever had (and that includes memorable fish-and-chip experiences in England, Scotland, and Singapore).  Next time I'm going to try the halibut. The sweet potato fries were excellent, not oily at all.  The cole slaw was superb – the perfect blend of sweet and sour, and made with fresh Napa cabbage and carrots that had the dressing applied just before it was served.  The crab cake was ok; nowhere near the best I've had, but certainly edible (and $3!).  The lemonade was real, made right there with fresh lemons and raspberries – awesome!

After polishing off that treat, we joked with the owner that we'd love to have him open a branch in Logan.  To our surprise, he reacted by telling us it was already something they were considering.  It turns out that he and his wife grew up in Logan, and that they're doing well in Ogden and are looking to expand.  Holy cow!  So we've been enlisted to keep our eyes open for an opportunity – especially a disused restaurant that they might be able to lease complete with a kitchen.

Oh, that would be great if they were to open up here!  As things are now, though, they've just added one more reason for us to venture out of Cache Valley now and again...