Thursday, December 31, 2009

And here comes 2010! And I feel... old...

We've reached the end of another cycle around the sun. But this is semi-special again: we are entering the last year of another decade and it has a special psychological significance. We are not in the 2000s any more, were are in the 2010s! Thinking back in the past, I had a completely different expectation of what 2010 was going to be about: not really flying cars or robots helping us on everything we do; but where technology was more part of our surroundings.

Yes, we carry our pocket computers (our phones), but there is still a lot of "old style" things around. Newspapers, magazines and books can be found in every corner, in most people's hands in the bus. The bus also is not as connected as I was envisioning. I can theoretically check status of the buses in Seattle on their tracking website, but not all buses are available and it just doesn't feel like it's something that people believe needs to be there (for example, my bus that I take to work always says "no information available").

Cars also are only timidly more technological. Only the higher-end models have GPS (although I see a good amount of people with "tiny" GPS units glued to their windshield), collision detection, blind spot warning, back-up camera... Driving in 2010 is not really any different from driving in 2000.

Also, I've been observing negative effects of technology. People going around with their lives outside listening to their iPods not paying attention to what is going on, and whether somebody actually needs their attention. I feel bad for bus drivers when they have to make an announcement. Very few people in the bus are actually listening.

Oh, well, that's what progress is about. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad. The hope is that when it's bad we are learning and it will eventually turn into something better. As they say, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Progress is always better on the other side of our dreams.

Happy 2010!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Denied at Google - update

Just to make it even more interesting, I was starting to get "denied" messages on Google Reader (why did I decide to go back to that application anyway?), so I decided to log out and log back in. When I clicked on logout, I get the warning from Firefox saying that the connection is untrusted. Looking at the technical details, things get even more puzzling: uses an invalid security certificate.
The certificate is only valid for *
(Error code: ssl_error_bad_cert_domain)

Now my theory is that I have a misbehaving plugin on my Firefox. The odd thing is that I don't have many plugins installed, so I'm not sure which could be misbehaving. And if I turn one off, it required restarting Firefox, which might make the problems go away anyway.

Oh, well, I guess I'll just have to live with not knowing what happened.

Denied at Google

How great is it? I'm doing a Google search and receiving this awesome response:

<message>Access Denied</message>

Maybe Bing infiltrated my Mac laptop?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sometimes visualization helps

So everybody knows that the US health system is broken, right? Well, that makes finding charts to show that it's broken so easy. Look at this one from National Geographic:

Sadly, like most "easy to understand" graphs, it only gives you a way of seeing that there is a problem, but it provides no help in identifying what the problem really is. Where is all this money going if not to improve the general health of the population? Or maybe it's just because the cost of living is higher in the US, so doctors, nurses, and other health care staff get higher salaries and this increases the average cost? But maybe the high cost of living is caused by high medicals costs - and there you have your vicious cycle!

Other factors that probably should be taken into consideration here: how much is this actually due to external factors that make the population "sicker"? Bad nutrition, too much use of cars and other mostly-passive modes of transportation, too much sitting in front of the TV... Maybe the problem is not the left hand side of the graphic, but the right side of it.

Anyway, at least there is a lot of activity right now on trying to understand what is going on and how to improve it. It doesn't mean that it will make it better, but at least without this activity it would never be better.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Multiple failures

Engineered products generally are built with some level of redundancy or safety multipliers. But failures and accidents still happen, due to the rare chance of multiple rare events happening together (which is usually more likely to occur than people think, and that is what makes the design challenging). For example, an airplane is built to handle being hit by a bird during landing, but if that at the same time causes the pilot to despair and abort the landing accelerating and trying to change course too quickly, then it could cause an accident. In the software world it's the same thing. I've built software that can handle network outages and computer crashes, but when a computer crashes during a network outage that happened during a deployment, then you never know what is going to happen.

Well, but today's story was much less tragic. My alarm is set for 6:15 AM. At 7 AM Amy wakes up and wakes me up saying that it's already 7 AM and I'm still in bed! I try to remember if I had woken up by the alarm, turned it off and went back to bed, but I haven't. Before I explain what happened, I need to explain the setup that I have at home:

- There are two alarm clocks: one that has the alarm, but has no good clock display; and another that has good time display, but terrible alarm
- If I don't turn the alarm off, it goes for one hour and then turns off by itself.
- My alarm clock has three alarm settings: beep, radio (generally set to King FM) and sound (which can play one of 4 soothing sounds, like beach, rain, etc.)
- The alarm clock has a "sync to atomic clock" feature. It tried to auto-sync the time every so often (which also makes it a good alarm clock, as when there is a power outage at home at night, it automatically can find the time when the power is back)

Now to the story:

During the weekend I changed the alarm settings to make a beeping sound instead of the normal music (long story why that). When I reset the alarm on Sunday night I had forgotten of it and it beeped on Monday. So in the morning, with the light off, I thought I had changed it back to radio, but I hadn't:

- FAILURE 1 (human): it was set to "sound", which doesn't really wake anybody up. But there was one piece of the puzzle left: the alarm is supposed to run for an hour and it wasn't running when we woke up!

- FAILURE 2 (engineering): for some unknown reason, my alarm clock decided to readjust itself to about 35 minutes ahead. So the actual sound started playing at 5:40 and at 7 it was already off.

Oh, well, I was still able to get to work in time for my first and only meeting of the day (which is at 10 AM, and I arrived at work at 8:45). Alright, now that I've used my work time to write this story (while I was waiting for some data gathering process to run), it's time for me to get back to it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Misleading "price promotions"

One day in my far past I decided that I needed web hosting. After looking around for options, for some reason I'm not too sure of why anymore, I went with Textdrive. I was fairly happy and used it for one project that ended up dying after some time. Then Textdrive was acquired by Joyent. And with it I received a lot of other free products, like file storage, contact and calendar manager, and others.

Joyent continued its merry way acquiring other companies and merging products. One of the few "added" products that I used was Strongspace, a simple file storage solution. It was free and it felt like I was using at least some of the $15 I was spending with hosting every month.

Then they decided to migrate to "Strongspace 2.0", a much better system. And with it they were giving me a promotion:

More for less! Right? Not really. I used to pay $15 for the whole hosting, now they are offering me $4/month for just the file storage. The sad thing is that, as I said, it's the only thing I use. So I have to think about it...

Alright. Late for work. Time to go!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Quick update on my computer

Not that you reader really care about it, but I just want to confirm that I woke up this morning and my computer was still on! Now it's time for me to get back to work - and I mean this in multiple different ways:

1) At my paying work, I just have a lot of things to do, and things are certainly not moving as quickly as I was hoping, because I think I still don't fully know the answer to what I'm trying to write. So, subconsciously, I don't want to write whatever is in my head right now, because I know that most probably I'll have to rewrite a good part of it.
2) At my robot work, everything stalled too.
a) I finally had Openembedded building, but not yet doing anything useful for me. My next goal was to start writing my first vision software that would only test if there is something orange in sight. I'm still scared about build times.
b) I designed the I2C level translator PCB, but I still haven't had the courage to spend my first $50-70 to get it manufactured. I know that there will be something wrong with it, and I'm just not ready to throw this money and time away on "my education".

At least the wedding stuff is somehow moving.

My computer puzzle: solved! (I hope)

I think that today I finally figured out what was going on with my desktop. So here is the story:

I have a desktop that was running Windows XP. I bought it to play games (as you can't really play many games on a Mac) and to run the occasional software that either doesn't have a Mac version (e.g. CadSoft's Eagle, or has a much worse Mac version (e.g. Intuit's Quicken).

A lot of the games that I was playing I bought on Steam, which meant that they took a lot of disk space. Moreover, I was starting to be annoyed with the gradual lack of support for drivers and other things for Windows XP. So I decided to take the "hit" and to a double upgrade: (1) Buy Windows 7 and (2) Buy another 2 TB of HD.

Actually it was cheaper to buy two 1 TB HD, so that's what I did. So I now have 3 HDDs on my desktop and Windows 7. And everything seemed to be running ok. Until one day that I woke up in the morning and my computer was off without me turning it off. As I turned it back on, it stopped "mounting" one of the new HDDs! It could recognize it, but it just wasn't there to be used anymore.

I was puzzled, but had to do other things. When I came back to my computer: off again. And this time when I turned it back on it didn't turn itself completely. I had to turn off again and on again and everything seemed to be working for a few hours and it would shut down again (never when I was using it, though).

My first thought that it was some sort of sleep mode, but one piece of evidence that suggested otherwise was that Windows complained that I turned off the computer unexpectedly when it came back. So I dropped that theory.

My next theory was that the power source was too weak for 2 new HDDs. I couldn't figure out how to prove it, so I bought a new bigger power source that arrived today (well, actually yesterday). After installed, I turned the computer back on and everything seemed normal, except that the HDD was still not being added. Tinkering around a little I found that it was simply not being assigned a name and fixed that.

I went out for dinner and when I arrived back the computer was still on! Very exciting! Then I went to watch the Top Chef final episode and when I arrived back to my computer... Surprise! It was off! I cursed it and turned it back on. New surprise: it came back on in the same place it was before! My computer had gone to sleep! Then everything clicked! This is what I think happened:

* By default Windows 7 puts your computer to sleep after 30 minutes in idle.
* However, my old power source did not support sleep mode, so when it would issue the sleep message, it wouldn't sleep exactly, it would just turn off.
* The new power source does support it, so it went to sleep as expected.

I turned off the "sleep in 30 minutes" and not I'm going to sleep myself and see in the morning if my theory is correct.

The conclusion is that maybe I shouldn't have bought a new power supply... It's also debatable whether I should have bought Windows 7. I have to agree that it was great that it automatically recognized my network printer, while for Windows XP it was extremely painful to get it to only half-work (I couldn't get the scanner to work at all and the printer printed every other request). But my video card that has only the latest upgrade for Windows 7, is still showing the same rendering bugs that I was seeing before.

I'll write more about Windows 7 some other day. It's certainly not as "refined" as some people claimed, but it's cleaner and prettier than XP. Also, it doesn't feel any slower than XP. And that's all I can say for now.

Friday, December 04, 2009

New lows - in temperature, that is

So it's pretty cold here in Seattle right now. The weather forecast is saying that tonight it might hit all the way down somewhere between 16-19F (between -9 and -7 degrees Celsius). In some parts of the country, this is nothing. But considering that the lowest recorded temperature for Seattle today was something like 18F, you can see it's pretty record-breaking.

I'm trying to keep myself warm. I've been staying home for longer lately, trying to think about the many things I have to think about. For example, I just bought a new set of HDs for my desktop and... Now my desktop decides to randomly shut down! How great is that? So I just ordered a new power supply and hope that this is going to solve the problem. That's the only theory I have so far. I just have to wait for it to arrive (probably sometime late this week or early next week) to confirm the theory.

I've also been trying to read things. I actually finished a couple of books:

Coders at Work, by Peter Seibel: quite interesting book. A set of interviews with some famous programmers. Unfortunately I didn't find it organized enough to be able to draw common themes throughout them. Perhaps that they all like to code and solve problems, they seem to have times in their lives that they just focus on getting something done, and times they are just coasting and making sense of what is out there. It was a fun read.

A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin: it's a classic fantasy book (published in 1996). Very deep and convoluted story, but felt a little slow at times. Maybe not slow, but perhaps a little too full of concurrent things that all tie to each other, so require cautious retelling in order to make sense. Great book, nevertheless. Now I have to read the next one: A Clash of Kings.

Inferno, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle: another classic. This was great that was a pretty short book (I read it in about 7 bus rides). It might have been a little better if I remembered Dante's Inferno, but besides that, it was very imaginative and slightly philosophical. Highly recommended, if you haven't read it yet. It was published in 1976.

Now I finally decided not to wait for the Kindle edition of The Gathering Storm, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. My back hates me for that. It's a big book (760 pages long) and only the first part of 3 of the conclusion of the series (i.e., it book 12 of 14 planned), so... we'll see.

Done with the report about things that are not very useful for other people except for me... Time to get back to thinking about life, FX, the universe and ABN.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Playing chess - Chess With Friends vs.

A co-worker a few weeks ago suggested that now that I'm "sheep" and I have an iPhone, I should get "Chess With Friends" and play chess against him. It's a free application that allows you to play against a specific person or a random person.

Before accepting his "challenge", I decided to download it and try a couple of games to see how my chess is doing. On my first game, I was playing with black and quickly I realized how rusty I was. But, after starting pretty badly, my opponent decided to play badly too and I ended up winning the game.

At this point, I decided to look around and make sure it was a good application. That's when I remembered that I had played with before and was slightly impressed with how much they had put into it. And they have an iPhone app. So I installed that app (also free) and started my first game on (playing with whites) and a second game on Chess with Friends (playing blacks).

The game was going quite slowly, so I decided to start a second game on (playing blacks), so playing 3 games at the same time.

One interesting thing about games is that they give you 3 days to move, or else you automatically lose. Chess With Friends doesn't have that restriction.

Why is this last information important? Well, after 5 days, the second person I was playing against on simply stopped playing, so I won the game by him giving up. The game was way too early to say who was winning. So I was back to 2 concurrent games. And I wasn't doing so great in any of them.

But then again the guy on Chess With Friends started making more mistakes than I was making and I won the game. On the other hand, the one on mostly dominated the game from the middle of the game and I ended up giving the game up after 27 moves.

Now comes the summary:

2 games on Chess With Friends, both playing as blacks and I won both games.
2 games on, one I won because my opponent stopped playing and the other I lost (playing with whites)

My decision then became: do I want to continue on a platform that is a little prettier (the iPhone app is not that great), with worse players, so easier to win; or do I want to do the, lose a lot of games (or have players simply disappear from time to time), but potentially learn more?

It's a tough decision... But I guess I made up my mind: and it's not for any of the reasons above. It's because of a very nice feature on after you finish a game you can request computer analysis of your game. And then you receive a nice play-by-play analysis of where I made mistakes and what I should have done. The report doesn't look very flattering:

Inaccuracies: 6 = 24.0% of moves
Mistakes: 2 = 8.0% of moves
Blunders: 1 = 4.0% of moves

Yes, I have a lot to learn! Only 64% of my moves were good. But, hey, it's been many years that I haven't played chess. And I did win those Chess With Friends games, so I'm not a complete loser!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Still in existencial crisis, I guess

So I'm still here and alive. I'm actually doing reasonably well, except for getting quite a nice cold last week and making me REALLY late on a project.

Well, I haven't been posting much, because I don't really know what to post about. I'm in a time in my life where I'm reading a lot, looking around a lot, but not doing much. I just don't really know what I want to do. I've been trying a few projects, but I always seem to find a reason why the project won't work and I stop or postpone it.

For example, tonight I was trying to fix a problem of buying the wrong component for the robot. I actually didn't buy the wrong component, just the wrong packaging for the component, SO8: a very tiny package that is made for surface mounting, so I can't really interact with it myself. Looking at other options, I found out that for what I want, there are no non surface mounting ICs on sale anymore.

But on the plus side, I could solve the problem by just using an n-channel enhancement MOSFET instead. So I went around and chose one that should work to buy. Total cost: components = US$2.50; shipping = US$7.00. Yuck! So I decided to look around for other components I want to buy and remembered that I still wanted a compass and a gyroscope. I went to look through the options and lo and behold: all of them are surface mount only (well, all the reasonable ones).

And then I'm back to where I started: I have to build a board and send it for somebody to manufacture it for me. After a few weeks I might get what I was hoping for and then try to heat the board so that the components would glue to it and test it. Oh, joy!

I'm not even talking about work here! It's kind of sad to see really smart people being afraid of accepting that they are smart and that they can stand behind their early decisions. What happens is that they have to find something that will make them feel better about it. The cost is a lot of disruption on the things they never really tried to understand.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Pricing tricks?

I was doing my daily time-wasting browsing around the internet when I came across MadWine - as you can guess, an online wine store. There are hundreds of them out there, so the finding itself wasn't that impressive. What actually impressed me is that I decided to click on their Montly Specials and then decided to get everything from $20-$40 and what do I see? US$ 19.99-priced wines! Finally a company that does not use those x.99 price tricks to make it feel like you are buying something cheaper than it actually is. Kudos for MadWine!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

5 years at Amazon, 5 years in Seattle

Time flies... And here we are, 5 years later looking back and trying to decide if it was all worth it. 5 years in a tech company doing software development is a long time. Especially if I add the fact that pretty much I never switched teams (although the team's main focus and even all system it maintains were eventually switched around from under us a couple of times), I become a very unlikely person. It basically puts me in the class of those "old grumpy men" that just stay around to criticize people and tell them stories of things that happened so long ago that it's not really relevant any more.

Every time that I go through those anniversaries, it's good to consider whether it's been worth it. And I can't really say it hasn't. I have built a lot of things and a few cool things. I still don't think I have reached my limit, but from time to time I start wondering if I'm close to it. Especially in the last couple of months that I have been building something that is very likely much more complicated than I had initially thought. The result of it is that it was released already a couple of times and when it starts getting used some major bugs start cropping up that force me to step back and review some of the assumptions that I had made before. After the third time that this happened I was really worried about my ability to actually ever get it right. More than this, my ability to get it right to a level that other people could get it right too (which has been proving to be even more complicated - when other people touch the code it seems to break it more than fix it - thank you extensive test suites that keep things mostly working). But it's so cool... At least I think it's cool!

Anyway, back to abstract thought: Amazon is a fun place to work. The distributed and isolated nature of the systems and organizations sometimes can look very unproductive (lots of people doing similar things all the time), but it fosters a very interesting split:

1) Teams that have strong people with good vision of what they want to do can get their things done
2) Teams that fall behind and become reactive to things that break can just find themselves digging bigger holes and never getting out of it. Some of them don't even realize it.

Fortunately I've always been working in teams that had more of #1 than #2. I have worked with #2 teams and having the knowledge that they exist out there makes me happy to keep myself put and keep moving forward towards what this "vision" is. I could talk about the vision here in this blog, but it's nothing very exciting to external users of the Amazon website, so I'll keep it for myself.

Enough about work, let's talk about Seattle... Seattle is a very interesting city. It's big enough to allow for some culture and activity buzz, but not that big that you are caught on the stress of too many things to do, and higher living costs. Having moved here from Oklahoma, I can't say there is anything that I really miss (maybe being able to find parking anywhere I go). And comparing to Sao Paulo, it's actually even more complicated to compare. What I miss about Sao Paulo is not the city, but the people. And I was never very social - but you don't have to be very social to have lots of friends and lots of options of things to do. In Seattle I have some good friends, but people are much more "reserved". Maybe it's just that I'm surrounded by not-so-social people.

Anyway, all in all, it has been a great experience. I like where I am and I am comfortable with where I'm heading right now. Next year is wedding year, so that will go by probably without many other things going on. Then, if I'm given the opportunity, I'll re-evaluate and see where I should be heading.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Autism in more than 1% of the children population in the US?

The number that this article from PsychCentral reports is quite scary. And the article probably could have been written in a more positive way: it talks nothing about what the root causes are and how to prevent it. It's only talking about the fact that it needs to be addressed by health care to take care of those kids and analyzed as for the impact that this will have in the economy when those children arrive at the workforce.

So I went out looking for articles talking about the possible sources for autism spectrum disorder. I'm not a medical doctor, so I'm certainly not the best person to rate these articles, but I found one that was quite complete-looking:

Autism Spectrum Disorders from The Environmental Illness Resource

There are lots of references out there, and many from not-so-impartial sources, like nutrition websites (that sell food supplements) that claim that it's because people don't do a complete detox before having kids; or genetics labs that keep pounding on the evidence of a genetic link to chance of developing autism (in many ways, everything is genetic, but genetics can't explain a 10-fold increase in number of autistic kids in a period of less than 10 years!); or some immunology magazines that keep repeating that there is no proof that there is a connection between autism and vaccination (there was a huge controversy about that some years ago because of a research that suggested that there was a connection).

In other words, people still don't know. It's probably somehow related to the immune system, but if it's a cause or just a correlation is hard to tell. Again, I'm still not sure how something like this could cause such a huge spike in the number of cases. But who am I to know those things?

Monday, October 05, 2009

There are bad spam message subjects...

Lately for some reason my almost spam-free Yahoo email was found by some "Canadian Pharmacy" mass mailer. They are all quite "harmless" and easy to identify, so I haven't been too bothered about them (except for feeling puzzled by the fact that they found my email address). Today, though, I receive an email with this subject:

"Learn where you will DIE!"

For the Canadian Pharmacy... Why?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

The "Winter" Olympics - how sad is the aftermath

So Rio de Janeiro won the Olympic nomination for 2016, how exciting! I hope the investments that will be generated to prepare for the event (two years after the World Cup, so a lot of investments being done) will be put in good use and not just mostly diverted to the pockets of few.

But I'm not here to talk about Rio, I'm here to say how appalled I am with the aftermath of Chicago losing the nomination. News agencies and blogs are "on fire" blaming it all on Obama, which is a very sad reaction. There are so many that I'm not even sure how to summarize their views, so I'll just paste some links (some of them are talking about other people criticizing):

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]

And then a few that blame Bush:

[1] [2]

The reality is much more complicated than those "specialized political reporters" can relate to, and that's what makes all this whole process ridiculous. Anyway, I guess I'm now one of those people complaining!

PS: I tried to add Snap shots on this blog just so that you could just roll over those links and have an idea what they are about without clicking on them. The problem is that this solution is a little intrusive, so I'm not sure how long I'll keep it around.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The unlikely day

Today I was "late" to work (later than usual - I try to get in before 8:30, but I arrived and it was almost 9) because school started at UW and, besides being normally late to catch my bus, the first bus that went through my stop was so full that the bus driver didn't even stop. And then the bus that I eventually caught stopped way more than usual. On my way in I saw an probabilistically unlikely event:

The building I work on has 11 floors (American way of counting, meaning that the ground floor is counted in these 11). 7 people got into the elevator and pressed: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11. 7 different floors for 7 people. How likely is that? Let statistics answer the question:

Model 1: all floors have the same likelihood to be selected (1/10):

10/10*9/10*8/10*7/10*6/10*5/10*4/10 = 6.0%

Model 2: the first two floors have half the chance of being selected (because many people that work on those floors walk up the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator)

18/18*16/18*14/18*12/18*10/18*8/18*6/18 = 3.8%

Model 3: the same as model 2 but taking note of the fact that nobody chose floors 2 or 3 (which I think is a little bit of a stretch to consider, but it makes the number pretty small, which enhances the point)

16/18*14/18*12/18*10/18*8/18*6/18*4/18 = 0.8%

So statistics says it's not very likely, but it doesn't seem as rare as my intuition says (maybe except for model 3, but that was added "arbitrarily"). Maybe it's because I have this policy that if somebody presses the floor just above or below me I'll just use the stairs for the difference. However, this time I was the first one to enter the elevator, so I wasn't able to make that decision.

Anyway, I probably should get back to work here. To add to the unlikeliness of today, I'm doing a third blog post is less than 24 hours. Quite odd indeed.

The strange way dreams tell us things

Last night I had a very odd dream that was a perfect example of how dreams sometimes are very good at distilling down what happened in the near past (generally in the previous day, sometimes it can extend further than that depending on how important those things are to your mental cataloging system). Before I go and talk about the dream, I'll talk about what I believe dreams are:

(note: this is not really my idea, but it's also not anybody else's idea. It's just a probably incorrectly mix of ideas that exist out there in the literature and interpolation points of my own here and there)

Dreams are a way of our brain to reclassify information in order to fit more things in less space (thus, using less energy). Every input we receive is somehow stored in a very close-to-raw state (where inputs include our thoughts at the time, feelings, etc. not only from our "externally-facing" sensors). Then we dream and those thoughts are mixed with the concepts that they are related to to strengthen those connections and weaken the parts that are not very interesting in the raw memory itself. And it's all made into a "partially believable" story in order to keep us asleep and not let signs of unexpected danger (something being amiss) wake us up.

So dreams show us two things: (1) What we have stored from the previous days and (2) the dimensions in which we are storing this experience.

Onto the dream:

In last night's dream I was at a friend's place (actually something that was supposed to be more like his mother's place) having a party with many other people. Then suddenly this friend "turned evil" and locked everybody in some rooms and left us there for a long time. I felt betrayed because for some reason I had invited most of the people that were in that party, but oddly nobody else thought it was a bad thing.

After some time the doors were opened and I went to talk with this friend and he was handling it all in a very friendly and fatalistic way saying something like: "That's how it's supposed to be, I can't help it"

And that's when I woke up. It makes so much more sense now! Alright, onto work!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A new year

So here I am back from the whole Jewish New Year experience. It's certainly my favorite holiday in the Jewish calendar, but I'm not really sure why as I generally don't do what I'm supposed to: contact people that I may have wronged during the previous year (generally by either taking a long time to reply to their emails, or not writing emails when I should have) and be sorry for it. What I end up doing is just thinking of my year in a much more abstract level, trying to identify what I shouldn't have done and be sorry for that.

Many things happened this year. Certainly the biggest one is that I decided to get engaged (even though many of my friends and family already consider me married). But there were other smaller things that happened (and I've blogged about many of them in the past). Here are most of them in no particular order:

* I bought a house. It's been so long that I almost forgot that this was still this last Jewish year.
* I joined a Jewish choir, which has been an interesting experience
* I have decided to start working on a robotics project with a co-worker, which made me remember a lot of my undergrad education (actually it reminded me that I've forgotten a lot of it). It's still pretty early in the project, but just going through the state of the technology today has been quite exciting. I'll probably post more about this in the future when I have more to write about. Right now most of the things that I have done have been more in the "experimentation" realm and a little boring for the rest of the world.
* My older sister and her husband moved to Australia where they are enjoying their time amid sand storms and economic downturns.
* Work has been quite "exciting". Management changes, lots of hiring activity, a lot of time spent on future planning, and a lot more still to come (in all those areas, maybe except for hiring - we only have one position left).
* Trips? Not too many. Went to New York about a few weeks ago, drove around the Olympic Peninsula earlier in the year, hiked up Mount Si, and certainly a few others.
* Cooking? A lot of different things, including making Cheddar and Brie (the Brie didn't work so well, the Cheddar was ok, it had a strange sharp taste to it), I've subscribed to many cooking magazines but lately have been having more fun mostly inventing my own recipes.

There must be other things I should list here, but I'll stop now. I feel like if I try to be complete I'll never finish my post. I probably need to go to bed right now and continue my recovery from the 10+ hours of mostly standing that I did yesterday (Monday, actually).

Cheers! And I'm sorry for not communicating much. I need to learn how to just let go of the hundreds of things that I want to read/think and do something. Consider that my resolution for this year (although there isn't such a thing as an year resolution in the Jewish tradition, just an yearly reset of all your promises).

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

US Healthcare Reform

You might think that it's odd that I'll be posting about the US Healthcare Reform, huh? Well, maybe you won't find it that odd when you realize that I'm not really going to be posting anything useful about it. It's a very complicated topic that I will make strong claims that I don't really understand much to comment. I'll just say that the US Healthcare is completely broken and needs a reform. How to reform it is a completely different subject.

But to lighten the mood a little, and to give you the reason why I decided to post this, here is how much people are investing on trying to get their ideas out about this topic:

Protect Insurance Companies PSA

PS: I need to change the template of my blog. It really annoys me that this template is way too narrow for me to paste good images or videos. I'll figure something out sometime soon (eventually when I decide to use this blog more often again)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Recommendations - so easy to be wrong

I was looking at a small part of an interesting talk that happened in the JVM language summit, aboute the .NET reactive framework and then my eyes decided to look around at the "noise" in the page and I realized a very odd recommendation (highlighted in red):

Maradona in India? Huh?

It just shows how easy it is to get recommendations wrong. Probably it's a talk that has attracted soccer-enjoying people, like Europeans or South Americans, that are over 30 years old (to maybe still have a positive connection to the name "Maradona") and then suddenly there you have a recommendation. So right, but so wrong. Just tells you more about the few people that watched the talk than anything what the talk is about. Some people might claim that this is a sign of a good recommendations engine, I'll be ashamed of it.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Time keeps me away from my blog

I know I haven't been posting much lately. Life has been quite hectic, with a lot of things to think about, and not much time to figure out what to write here. Right now, for instance, I'm getting ready to leave to go to PAX. I'm not that excited about it, unfortunately, because it's going to be a zoo. They are completely sold out and, considering that last year was already a big chaos to do anything there and they weren't sold out, I'm not very hopeful I'll be able to actually try much. But we'll see...

Anyway, I'll get back to this in the near future. Let me get going not to arrive there way too long after the mobs of people.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Weird email

I just received a very weird email from somebody I don't know, sent to about 10 people, among which I know about 3 of them, asking urgently, with lots of capital letters, that he needs the email address from some other person I never heard before. This is what makes this strange:
  • The double randomness: a person I don't know asking for another person that I don't know
  • The fact that I know some of the people on the recipient list: and it's relevant. The person is asking for the contact of a researcher and the people that I know on the recipient list are all researchers
  • A web search can answer his question: why is he asking randomly if he could have found the answer by himself
  • The person that asked identified himself as a researcher from Iran. Maybe they don't have very reliable web access there with all the government trying to hide their internal problems...
Am I going to help? I don't think so. I wished I had the courage to do it, but unfortunately the web is too "dangerous" for you to be nice with a random person. There are too many things that can go wrong.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The weird new Yahoo! home page

I was looking at the interesting concept that Yahoo! is trying out with their home page: an aggregator of favorite pages. You can add new pages and when you hover over them you might get a preview before you actually click on it to navigate out to this page. In a way, it's a personalized portal with the websites you want to have.

I think it's a cool idea in general. Finally somebody big is giving up on being insular and accepting that it's much more beneficial to accept that other sites might have better content than you and try to use that to your benefit. The way Yahoo is trying to benefit with that is two ways:

1) The straight-forward of just being there to show you lots of ads. And it's very annoying! When you hover to get a preview, half of the preview pop-up panel is an ad.
2) The less direct of knowing what people want and being able to work to offer more of what they want. That can be done through providing suggestions of other things they might be interested, or simply a better experience on the preview pane (I'll talk about this below).

I've been quite disappointed with Yahoo lately. Haven't been able to see them moving forward on any of their main services and just adding more ads here and there. But I think this time they have something more interesting than just an ad farm. But it's certainly far from perfect (and final, as it's still just a sneak preview right now):

A) As I mentioned before, the size of the ads sometimes is a little too big and hides important space to get content.
B) They need to code their preview specifically for each website you want to add. Some already work, like gmail and Facebook. or most of Yahoo's properties, such as Flickr. But when it's not there, the results can be puzzling. I tried FriendFeed and it gave me very strange results from an "ediet" feed:

Ask Raphael: Getting a Tighter Butt- 2 days ago
Ask Raphael: Getting a Tighter Butt- 2 days ago
Ask Raphael: Getting a Tighter Butt- 2 days ago
Ask Raphael: Getting a Tighter Butt- 2 days ago
Ask Raphael: Getting a Tighter Butt- 2 days ago
Ask Raphael: Getting a Tighter Butt- 2 days ago
Ask Raphael: Getting a Tighter Butt- 2 days ago
Ask Raphael: Getting a Tighter Butt- 2 days ago
Ask Raphael: Getting a Tighter Butt- 2 days ago
Ask Raphael: Getting a Tighter Butt- 2 days ago

Twitter is also strange, as it seems to integrate with reading other people's feeds, one person at a time, and not the aggregation of the people you follow. At least the default is not looking at ediet, but the Twitter Blog.

C) It is making an assumption that you can fit the experience on a single page with a flat list of websites to look at, one at a time. A lot of what I look at today is through RSS readers and for that experience what saves me time is that the reader software aggregates each piece of the data on the feeds and display them chronologically, which simplifies the number of clicks that I have to do to read what is going on.

In any way, I think it's a good step forward from Yahoo, but it's not the final solution to what I would call a "personalized portal". Make it cleaner, less colorful, with less intrusive ads and allowing a mixed set of experiences and I might even consider using it.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

And the plans were set in motion

I've been meaning to send an email in some time, and I guess I finally did it today. All triggered by my sister now having a resident visa to stay in Australia for longer and even maybe work there.

I know I haven't been writing on my blog much. It's just that I haven't had that much to talk about. I'm working on a big project right now that has been pretty exciting (and a lot of work), but nothing that would fit in this blog. Let's just say that eventually it will very likely become much more like a programming language than anything that I really should be working on. But I guess I can't consider myself a "real" software developer until I've becomes dissatisfied with my programming language options and decided to create a new one.

Today it was Bite of Seattle day. Lots of sun, some food, walking around and staying outside. Over the years I think I learned not to have very high expectations about the event, as it's 70% just like any other festival (same vendors, same location), so I actually was able to have fun this year. Just aim low and everything that you get is good. Including an odd discussion with a guy working for Ocean Spray claiming that cranberries were going to have the same fate as bananas. Cranberries also were bred not to produce any seeds so once there is some disease that affects the current cranberry bushes, it's all over. You can't get some seeds and start again in a cleaner environment. I had never thought of that (and had completely forgotten about this "evolution" about the bananas until he mentioned it).

Alright. I think it's time for me to go on with my evening and rest a little.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Me? I'm still around

I need to apologize for my lack of useful posts lately. I'm going through another endless period of being busy thinking too much about things and not doing that many different things. Probably the only interesting that I can post is that last weekend I went to a wedding in Southern California and stopped at Los Angeles to meet with a friend from high school. He moved to the US for college and stayed around.

The interesting thing about meeting him is that he keeps in touch with a lot of our old high school friends, unlike me. In certain ways, it's because they are his last friends when he left Brazil. But probably the main reason is that I'm just not the type of person to keep track of all my friends and figure out what is going on with everybody. I did do some of it for some time, but it's just too much time spent doing something and not thinking about things. All that time was deprioritized.

The highlight of the trip was going to The Getty Center. It's a great museum, both as the location and architecture of the grounds and the collection. The good thing is that we arrived there early enough that it wasn't too hot yet, and the crowds hadn't yet made it too hard to appreciate the exhibits. The bad thing is that I had to leave reasonably early to go to the wedding, so we didn't have much time to actually walk around that much. I probably was only able to see something like 10-20% of everything.

The less interesting thing that I can write is that yesterday we had the second installment of "4th of Pizza", the every-3-year pizza-on-the-grill party. This time the pizza didn't work as well. I made the dough and rolled it out way too early and didn't have space to put it in the fridge. The result is that it was all gluey and deformed when people tried to cook it on the grill. Quite messy! But it was all gone anyway. I've made 4 recipes of pizza dough (what was supposed to be good for 8 large pizzas) for about 20 people and I think it wasn't quite enough. People didn't have the opportunity to try to make dessert pizzas.

Now back to my programming language creation task.

When working at Amazon is shameful

Working for a very large company that you use is sometimes problematic. I've mentioned before that sometimes I have trouble enjoying other websites because of the things I work on. But the biggest problem is when the problem is not what I'm working on, but when where I'm working at looks bad. Today's example is:

It's even sold by Amazon (not a third-party merchant mistake - those happen quite often too)! Anyway, at least it's more fun to find those things than to realize that my current project is evolving into a complete language specification, which is driving me crazy.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


After reading Earth II, by Stephen Baxter on Asimov's Science Fiction magazine, I had to get his latest book, Flood. And today I finished reading it.

Like many of Baxter's books, this is another extrapolation on scientific theories to push humanity to the limits of society. Interesting read, if not a little on the sad side. I think talking about anything else about the book will spoil it somehow. It wasn't my favorite of Baxter's books (probably that would still be something on the Manifold series, probably Manifold: Time, but that's debatable. Like many other things, it's hard to me to talk about my favorites, as it would somehow mean that I would prefer reading it again than reading something new.

Anyway, if you like the genre, I recommend it. If you like romances or adventure with happy endings, you probably should stay away from this 490-page tome.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Starting to know people?

It's odd when I'm reading an article on a "popular" blog and suddenly I realize I know the people the person is talking about. Here is today's example:

Bye, bye Bay Area: Oberoi back in Seattle with stealthy startup

I used to work with both these guys! Actually I saw them at the U. District on Wednesday. They were walking around and I was inside a bus going home. Unfortunately I couldn't talk to them...

Sure, it's a little cheating that I'm looking at a Seattle tech news blog, but it's interesting anyway. From time to time I start to ask myself if I should take the time and start writing and replying to emails again... Get to know people again and not rely on talking to "hubs" to know what is going on. Then I realize how many things I want to do and I hide again.

Oh, well... Welcome back Gaurav and good luck!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Google square is funny (a.k.a. depressing)

So Google finally launched their "answer" to Wolfram|Alpha, Google Squared. It's basically a search engine that the results of the search are shown in a table in which you can actually try to extract "structured" information from. Pretty cool in concept. Is it cool on implementation too? Well, first I decided to stay away from their "suggested pre-canned searches" on the home page and chose things that are more "dear to my heart":

Adidas shoes

Out of their 10 top results, only 5 are Adidas shoes. There is one Nike shoe and some things I can't really tell what they are. It auto-suggests showing "brand", "color" and "condition" but it can only identify the brand of two things, color of two things (both wrong) and no conditions.

Ok, so maybe it's a bad example, what about something a little bit less popular:

Brazilian trees

Only 4 results, two from Wikipedia and one mostly wrong. It's interesting how it is able to combine results from multiple websites. Not too bad, but quite limited. Only 4 types of trees in Brazil? Where one of them is called "species"?

The third one is the charm, right?

French composers

Out of the 7 first results, 4 are French composers. The funny part of this is the choice of "date of death" and "year of death" and they don't match most of the time! More than this, in some cases the year contains the full date of death.

Good try, Google, but you need to try harder.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Non-scientific first impressions of Bing

So Bing is out, so I decided to give it a quick try before I quit for the evening. So I ran the last 3 searches that I did (only one of them was actually an all-web search, but I ran all of them anyway), and the results were quite interesting. They reminded me of the company that is behind this:

1. scalaz (the only web search): Bing thought I misspelled "scalar" and returned only "scalar" query results. There was a small link that I could press to return only "scalaz" results, which when I clicked worked ok.
2. java posse: The first hit was the website I was looking for. However, when you look at the "special internal links" you see "January", "February", etc. What are they? Links to some months of the show (it's actually a blog), but it doesn't contain the year, so not that useful. Also it doesn't contain all the months, just a random select few.
3. snooth cork'd: Again it tried to rewrite my query and use "smooth cork'd", which was quite odd. What I was trying to get is a traffic comparison between both wine organizer/social network sites. The best answer that I found? Wolfram|Alpha!

As you can see, there is an underlying common pattern here: more than Google, Bing tries to predict what you really want and, consequently, will get more things wrong. That's why Microsoft Office is so annoying sometimes. Maybe it's the same engineers that now moved to Bing! :-)

Some other day I'll spend more time on this analysis and find Bing's strengths.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

I love website bugs!

Sorry, a little software development joy. I was browsing around food links that I read on this article and when looking at and decided to look at what they think French Pantry Essentials should look like, I received the following message:

Server Error in '/' Application.
Parser Error Message: The server block is not well formed.
Line 7: <%@ userAgent = Request.ServerVariables("HTTP_USER_AGENT") userAgent = lcase(userAgent) if Instr(userAgent, "googlebot") then Response.redirect("") %>

You can see the full page here. Look also at the source code. In the bottom you will see the stack trace and a very useful warning message:

This error page might contain sensitive information because ASP.NET is configured to show verbose error messages using <customErrors mode="Off"/>. Consider using <customErrors mode="On"/> or <customErrors mode="RemoteOnly"/> in production environments.-->

Should I be the person seeing this? I really don't know why this is still the default behavior on web servers. It should be aware of the client and just dump debugging information if you have some sort of cookie set. Enough of seeing other people's code out there!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Repeating today's buzzwords

Today is the day of two new big service promises, but no deliveries: Microsoft's Bing and Google's Wave. Bing will apparently release next week for people to see, so maybe it's a better promise. Wave is supposed to only release later in the year, so I have to control my skepticism. But, on the other hand, the Wave presentation had so much more information than the Bing presentation that it's easier to be more excited about the former.

What are my personal impressions? Wave looks confusing, but maybe as an engine it might work. I'm concerned about the use of a "fake participant" on a conversation to do integration with external data sources. Sounds like a weird architecture (especially because it seems to work differently from a normal person). Identity is also a little interesting to discuss. But it's too early to tell.

Bing? That one is even harder to gauge. It seems like people that had access to it are excited about it. By only having access to a silly video and some screen shots, I can't see it. If Wave looked confusing, Bing looks even worse. The same interface for a lot of different use cases is generally a bad sign. I'll try to spend some time playing with it next week when it launches and then I'll give a real summary of my impressions.

I'll have to add that lately I have been trying to reduce my reliance on web search and I'm trying to focus on tools that are better for what I'm looking for. For example, if I'm looking for a website, I go to delicious or Twine. If I'm looking for a product, I first look for review sites and then the product. If I'm looking for a person or place, I go to Wikipedia.

But there are a few use cases I still need to fall back to web search. This is mainly important at work. For example, code samples, documentation, error codes, all of them are generally very hard to start with a specialized web site. Another annoying thing is that the integration of web search in my browser is easy. All other integrations are a little clunkier, which makes me sometimes use web search simply due to convenience.

Anyway, I'll continue keeping this goal in mind and see what it teaches me.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Web 2.0 maps... Should we really care?

I came across this on FriendFeed today:

From to Dot.gone - Web 2.0 Start-ups That Have Vanished

An image with Web 2.0 company logos that were active in 2006 and then annotated with which have gone out of business and which have been bought by other companies. In other words, it actually has one case of success (being acquired) and two of failure (going out of business and still being around - ok, some do have this odd plan of making money and being around, but this map doesn't identify the ones that are actually profitable right now).

I thought that the most interesting and telling thing of this map is that I probably only recognize about a quarter of them. Certainly I'm not in the target audience for most of those websites, but 25% seems a little low for companies that are hoping to get somewhere.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Shorts for the day

Life has been pretty tiring as of late. There was a big launch on Monday evening and that made me stay up pretty late and last night when I finally was able to sleep some I had dreams about co-workers mocking me for not hiring some candidate. Quite a joy.

Launch, you say? What launch? I didn't see anything different! Well, that's how it works for us back-end people. And this was one of our most visible launches, so it's out there somewhere. Just don't get confused by it.

Another thing that I wanted to mention is that I've been reading Halting State by Charles Stross and there was one thing that I found funny. At some part of the book they were trying to track transactions that happened at a specific time to see what happened with something and one of the characters say: "Good luck grepping through those logs. It's almost a million entries a minute!" And they promptly drop the plan. A million log entries a minute for a bounded time range? That's really not that hard... Or maybe I'm just spoiled.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Back from Mount Si

Today I finally went to what is supposed to be Seattle's most popular hike, Mount Si. Unfortunately I think its popularity comes only from the proximity to Seattle (about 45-minute drive) and the good condition of the trail itself, but not really how nice the hike is. It's an 8-mile roundtrip hike where you hike up for 4 miles straight (gaining about 3500 feet, about 1 km) and then down for 4 miles back. There are pretty much no views in the middle of the way. If you don't make it to the top, you don't see anything beyond trees and some rare wildlife. But is the view from the top worth it? Oh, yes! It's amazing. If you get a clear day (which we didn't quite), you can see all the way to the Olympic Mountains.

Conclusion: did I enjoy it? Yes! Would I do it again? I don't think so.

Here are some pictures:

This is to show that unfortunately the day wasn't so clear. In this picture you can see the Olympic Mountains in the back and some hazy version of downtown Seattle and downtown Bellevue.

And this is the most interesting wildlife shot of the day (unfortunately not that sharp because it was a little dark from all the trees to take picture of a moving object):

If you can't identify what you are looking at, it's a snake, a Gartersnake to be more exact. Not dangerous at all.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

RSS in the news

There were two interesting articles on RSS published on "almost mainstream" news:

Steve Gillmor's Rest in Peace, RSS


Dave Winer's reply RSS is dead? My ass...

The interesting thing is that they approach the subject on two different ways and, of course, get to two different conclusions. I'll let you read the articles and get your own conclusions.

I think both are right, and both are wrong at the same time. On one hand, what Steve Gillmor is saying that what RSS lacks is the community is right. RSS is a one-way street that only supports third-party distributed commenting (by using whatever your reader supports, like Google Reader that supports commenting, sharing with your friends, and flagging news as interesting). And that's certainly a problem, as you lose people adding to your article.

However, I don't think that centralizing everything around a twitter-like approach, or FriendFeed, actually solves the problem. Look at me right now, I'm technically commenting on two articles at the same time and adding my point of view (that has more than 140 characters). That doesn't fit any of the two options.

I really like the concept of real-time that a short messaging system provides, but I also think that there is a need for other streams of information to be added based on your experience of what you like to hear about. So I want both, but I want both to work together as one. And add Facebook to the mix so everything becomes complete. I think of it as multiple dimensions working together:

Friendship: I do care what my friends are up to and worrying about. I don't really matter to get noise from them like "I wished Illustrator would stop crashing". But if you are just a person that from time to time has interesting thoughts to share, I don't care about you getting a free KFC grilled chicken.
Internal growth: for the things I'm passionate about, I want to be able to get in-depth discussions about it. I care to know about what the people that I think have good ideas about the subject are talking about, and, as I find new sources of information, I want to be alerted when these sources provide more information.
Society need: We all need to know what is going on around us in the society. We shouldn't hide from it, just because it seems boring and always the same. If you think something is boring, maybe for those things you just want a count of how many people are talking about it. For new things, you probably want to follow the development of it. So the system would be something like "alert! There is something new going on with..." and then you can select to "follow" the news (and maybe post a question about details you think are missing in the news) or just say "whatever... good to know, but I don't care to get more details"

There is an interaction between everything. My friends might want to make sure I'm following a story that I might have thought it was not interesting enough for my free time and vice-versa. People from my interest group might migrate to becoming my friends. Things that are just news might become part of my "internal growth" interests.

The question that remains is how you can get to it in a distributed manner. Building one big silo that contains all the dimensions is probably not what we want. Depending on my interests, the features that I care about are different. For example, if I care about photography, a good photo cataloging and visualization is needed. If I care about electronics, I need to have access to schematics. If I care about shopping, it would be good to have links to places where I can buy the products or navigate through their features. I don't think anybody can build a website that can handle all those use cases and still make it understandable.

Alerts on news and filtering is also very different than friend activities. For friends you care about dates and locations, and passing ideas. For news you care about classification of alerts and identification of story development. And actually it also has some features of the "interest" case above as different types of news probably require different interfaces to be able to efficiently understand and act on this news.

So what are the underlying elements that need to be combined? I can think of two main things:

1) People: we need a FOAF-like solution to identify people and be able to relate them across pages.
2) Subjects/interests: for you to be able to correctly alert on the things that I care about, you need to understand that I care about that. And as you are providing your interests in a separate website, having those being shared will certainly help.

Anyway, what started with a short discussion about two blog posts, ended up becoming this long article that I probably should spend more time thinking deeper about it. Actually, on the contrary, it smells like another project for me and I don't want to have another one on my list of things to think about and never getting to it (I've been keeping those on Evernote and I've been pretty happy about the experience so far. I just wished they had a Blackberry app)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

And what happened with the cheese?

I just realized I forgot to tell the end of the story of the cheese that I mentioned quite a while ago. So... It's actually done! How did it turn out, you might ask... Well here is a picture:

It feels a little bit like cheddar. It's a little crumblier than usual, and maybe a little on the sharp side. But nobody has fallen sick from eating it and I was happy. I'm not sure how long until I'll try it again, though. Probably I'll go for something different for some time, like brie, or a blue cheese. Then I might try another hard cheese. In any case, it's always very hard to make something that you'll only know if you were able to get it right many months from the day you did the work. At least hard cheese not like wine that you work for many days and then wait. You just have a few hours of work and then a few hours of cheese pressing and that's it. Blue cheeses require a little more constant attention.

But if I really want something that is quite risky to do at home, and requires a lot of attention, I should try to cure some meats... :-)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Impressions from WolframAlpha presentation

I've watched the Harvard's sneak preview of WolframAlpha if it does about 1/3 of what the presentation actually shows (it's very easy to tailor a presentation to things you know your software can do and hide things it can't), it would be impressive. However, there are some odd things that I'm not sure make much sense. One of the reasons I can't be sure is that the presentation itself was terribly recorded. You can basically hear Wolfram talking and typing on a computer, saying abstractly what he is receiving back, but they don't really show the images.

But in some cases he gives some fishy examples. For instance (as we are talking about fishy things), his question of "How much fish is produced in France?". It starts with useful information and then he says that it's "1/5th of the rate that trash is produced in New York City". Pretty, but why would you waste computing power to show such randomly useless data? It doesn't seem right, unless there is something else that is not being shown, or if it's not doing what it should be doing.

In general I'm eagerly waiting for it. Just thinking that I'll have a free Mathematica to play with, it's already worth it. I'm sure this they can get right! And if it can calculate the number of people that travel by plane from Oklahoma City every day divided by the square root of the average number of years that a French monarch stayed in power between 1224 and 1843, all the better! I always wanted to know that!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ashamed to be surprised

This evening I've been trying to do something productive while I wait for some work to "finish its thing" (which won't finish before I'll decide to go to sleep), and came across The United Nation's World Digital Library. It's pretty small right now, with only about 1200 documents from around the world. But that didn't prevent me from finding a map that puzzled me:

Brazil ca. 1875

I'm not sure how accurate it was supposed to be, but I found many things that I don't remember from my Brazilian history classes. There is a very good chance that it's just because I'm not very good at remembering things, but it could be that we just weren't taught this. I remember all the revolutions and all the slavery changes that happened at about that time, but I just don't remember having discussions about how states (or whatever form of local sectioning that was going on back then) were divided and which states existed.

I should do some more research online to try to find where this hole in my education memory is coming from.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Sad about semantics

On my way back home from work today (a day my bus didn't show up and I had to get a different bus home), I listened to The Semantic Web Gang and I was quite disappointed. It's not that the talk wasn't interesting. It was about ontologies and what it takes to build one, and it's probably one of my favorites in the area. What made me sad was the semi-conclusion that according to people's experience right now, manually building an ontology from scratch is easier than using any semi-automated methods to facilitate the construction. I'm sad about it because I'm learning that the hard way...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The society tries to be a power law

This was going to be a very long post, but after writing about 20 paragraphs of it, I decided that I should change it to be brief and remove all the references to my previous research (now you understand why it was going to be long).

Going to the point here, people have to be ready for the fact that human nature is to aggregate in a power-law fashion: very few people have a lot of <something> and a lot of people have very little of <something>. Nature (and I use nature in a broad sense here - more like "the physical reality"), although also exhibiting this behavior, acts in may ways to smooth this out. For example, the number of people I can know in my life is limited to the distance they are from me and how long it takes for me to get there.

However, broadcasting and now the web are breaking a lot of those barriers that nature was adding and making it easier for those "inequalities" to happen. Twitter is a huge example of it: it's very easy to follow somebody and you have the tendency to follow who your friends are following and there you have CNNs or Ashton Kutcher with almost a million followers (at the time that I write this, probably much more when you read it). And that gives you power and people need to be ready to handle this unequal power.

The event that triggered this post was the whole Stephen Colbert and the NASA module name. He has so many people that watch his show that pretty much anything he enlists his people to do it's very likely he will be able to get done. So he won the vote for the name of the NASA module. And NASA had to handle it by backing out of the idea to do it and named a treadmill C.O.L.B.E.R.T. instead.

And this morning, to make sure I wrote this (even being late to have breakfast and start my day), I watched this sort-of-interesting interview with Andrew Keen that talks about the same thing (but I think he doesn't really get the core reason for it): the web is dominated and will be dominated by a few players and the rest will be followers. He calls this a feudalism-like system. Interesting...

Alright, now I can start my day.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The joy of a calculator

It's actually interesting that I feel excited arriving at my home office and seeing a calculator by my computer. Not a simple 4-operation calculator, but my programmable, discontinued, HP 48GX. It reminds me of the time that I actually used it for doing more than just the 4 operations, when I was in undergrad. In graduate school I think I never really had to use it, as most complicated mathematical equations I had to solve I would do it directly on the computer (but there weren't too many of them - most things were conceptual and not numeric).

Different times, being a different person, able to go months sleeping 4 1/2 hours a day (I did some of it during graduate school too, but I think my average went up to something like 5 or 5 1/2 hours), learning and doing lots of different things. I can't say I'm not happy today, but I was a different type of happy then. I had more friends around, more music around, and more different projects that were actually getting done and not just in this design and early implementation phase forever.

Now you might be asking: why do I have a calculator by my computer? Can't computers do it all? Yes! But not while you are playing EVE Online. I'm at a point in the game that I gave up on just going around doing work for other people, and I'm mining and manufacturing goods to sell. So you have to look at things that I can make (i.e., I have all the skills needed and can mine/purchase the raw materials for), calculate how much my cost to make it would be and how much people will pay for it and see how many I have to make to get the ROI for purchasing the blueprints.

They are all reasonably simple calculations. Most products that I've analyzed only make sense to manufacture if you go mine all the raw materials (you can only sell it for more than what the raw materials cost), and I try to stay away from those. But there are a few that seem to make sense. So if I feel like I have enough time, I go mine myself and increase my profit, but if I don't, I can just buy what is needed and I still make a profit.

But why do I do this? Why play a game that the only thing you do is "work" and not get anything new out of it? I probably wouldn't do it if that's all I was going to do for eternity. My hope is to raise enough money to be able to buy a better ship and get back to doing work for other people. I need it not to be destroyed when the mission asks me to do something that takes me to a lair of pirates that kill me in a few seconds - I have lost about a 2 million ISK (the currency in the game) ship in the near past because of it.

Ah, fishing with a calculator...

PS: note that this is also a project that ends up being close to unfinished, as I have only been playing once or twice a week (and maybe coming online once or twice more just to set up my skill training queue), so don't expect me to be "rich" anytime soon.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Nothing like TV to change your mood

After a very non-productive day (well, that's probably a little too extreme - it was as productive as a 4-hour planning meeting can be), it's interesting how watching some TV can make it all seem trivial. It's our brain being transported to the world of fiction and leaving behind this confusing but mundane existence.

And it all gets better when it's the puzzling end of the second season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I won't add any spoilers here, even thought I know that most people won't watch it. It's not that it's a good series, but it seems like at the end of the second season they found something that has some potential of being more than just "let's run from the machines and be lucky". I don't know if they will be able to follow-through with it, but I'm actually happy that they are trying.

This is the news for today. It's the weekend now and I have to start planning on what will be the list of things I will mark as "oh, well... another weekend without doing them". Call me the optimist.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Chag Sameach

Lots of food, more than normal amount of wine... It should be Passover... Chag Sameach to everybody that actually understands what it's about.

This year, after a lot of confusion, the first seder ended up being in my place with my girlfriend's parents. Small group, lots of reading... It was good and much less confusing than usual. Also the food was pretty good. I've decided to try doing the classics that I've never done before: matzo ball soup and Haroset. But of course I can't really just do simple things, so the matzo ball soup was from scratch including the chicken stock (I started all the prep work last night and was cooking it all morning long, starting at 6:15 AM to about 1 PM); and I've tried to Haroset recipes, a simple one mostly with dates (I've added some nuts to the recipe to make it closer to the consistency I'm used to), and another one with a good amount of spices (also making a few substitutions because Amy doesn't like hazelnuts). It was all good, except for the fact that the soup needed a little bit more salt.

And I also had to work today, which was fun. I've learned the importance of organization and knowing exactly what I had to do, or else I wasn't able to context change very efficiently. But it all worked well. I was able to get about 70% of the things I wanted to do done, which is about average for a normal day. Oh, well... There is always tomorrow.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Twitter, twitter, twitter - there, I said it!

I was once accused of talking too much about twitter on this blog. I'm not sure I agree with that accusation, but I'll write about it today, because I couldn't let this article go by without posting it here:

BakerTweet, the Arduino-based pastry early warning system

With the growth of twitter use by companies to do direct advertisement to their core clients (clients that are interested in what you are doing, so they follow you explicitly), I shouldn't have been surprised by somebody creating a hardware piece that integrates with the company in more fundamental levels, but I was. My mind still had twitter being this computer thingy that allowed short, but free text messages to go around that were produced by a person.

This company is now proposing the scheduling of static, "soul-less" messages... But I think it's great! Not because of what it's trying to do, but for what it means. Easier direct communication between people. The part of the implementation that I don't enjoy much is that it now loses the human side of being able to get feedback from your customers, which I think is 100 times more powerful than being able to message things out. It creates a sense of power to the customers, and make them want to come back.

Anyway, all is going to be over soon, as Google will take over twitter...

Monday, March 30, 2009

They finally caught up with my idea

If I don't do it, somebody finally will... Meet Demy - The Digital Recipe Reader

I don't know much about it yet, besides a very short article on engadget, so I won't comment on it yet. But I did sign up to be told when it's available and this is the message that I've received:

Not a good sign. But let's wait and see.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Green Festival, garden, chainsaw, work, babies, eve online... All things!

I always have a hard time to decide if I should write a title to a post before or after the post itself. In general I try to do it before to restrict the contents of the post, but what it does is that it ends up being out of sync with it. So today I decided to just add everything in the title and see what I can cover in the post. If some things are not mentioned, oh, well... Just know that they are important somehow to my current mental state.

Starting with yesterday: we went to the Green Festival mostly because we've received a free admission by shopping at PCC. It was interesting. There were about 4 types of groups represented: home improvements (solar panels and windows being the most common), green associations (like some sustainable neighborhood groups), organic/natural food sources (with lots of things to try - with an very large amount of teas, actually), and natural clothing/diapers/beauty stuff. There were also a few other things, like the Rachel Corrie Foundation with tasting of Palestinian olive oil and Za'atar (but they weren't there for the food).

In general, the festival wasn't terrible, but it wasn't that exciting either. Maybe it would have been better if we actually watched some of the talks. Just going around the people selling/advertising things you don't really get all that the festival was about.

Then today the day started with family things: talking with my parents, then talking with A's parents and then transformed into working at the garden and cutting down trees with a chainsaw (yes, I still have all my fingers - although it's not that easy to cut a finger with a chainsaw. It's easier to get a tree falling on your head, or things splintering into your eyes, or a chain breaking and flying to your arms, torso or legs. None of those things happened). Now the garden is a little bit more open, has two new trees, a rhubarb plant and I'm US$550 richer (through not being $550 poorer). There is still a lot to do, but we are slowly getting there.

Now going back to the past and considering my two new "projects" (not in many details. More details to go onto the other blog some day): a new recipe organizer project and EVE Online. A and I (where I is not an acronym) have decided to cook more often. What that means is that we plan recipes on the weekend and days each will be cooking. It's been interesting, but I feel like I can make the experience better.

First it still seems that we end up wasting food, because we try to diversify our meals and end up with ingredients that we have to buy in a larger quantity than we need for the recipe and don't use that in another recipe. Maybe if we were more aware of ingredients that would be left over, we could plan meals around those (if we could easily search for recipes by ingredient). Second, I would like to force more variety, especially on vegetables. Having something to make us aware of our imbalance might help on planning. Finally, I want to keep track of what we've tried and how it worked so that we can know what we can suggest to other people.

There are some websites out there with the ability to search by ingredients, to keep track of recipes and nutrition. However, they have two main problems: they are great for the recipes they have, but it's painful if you want to add recipes from different sources, like magazines. Also, in the nutrition side, they focus on calories/protein/carb/fat counting, and I don't think that this is what I want to track. What I want is to track things like grains, fruit, vegetables, etc. I don't mind much those nutrient counts.

Now onto EVE Online... Well, not much I can talk about this one that I haven't mentioned before. I'm still playing. Maybe 15 minutes to 1 hour every day or so. But I've reached the point where I was disappointed last time: one that your enemies get much better than you and you have to keep killing one or two and getting back to fix your ship. Then go back to it and slowly finish it. That's hard to do playing only at most 1 hour at night. So, we'll see...

I guess that's it. I was planning on going to a concert tonight, but spending the afternoon in the garden drained all the energy I had (ignoring the fact that the concert starts in 5 minutes and we finished the garden work for the day only half an hour ago and had to shower...). Now it's time to sit down and rest until dinner time.

Did I cover everything? Almost... I've skipped babies... That's just friends getting to the "having babies" period of their lives. It's exciting!

Friday, March 20, 2009

And that's the end of Battlestar Galactica

(don't worry, no spoilers here)

So I just came out of the final episode of Battlestar Galactica. I'm glad it's over. It wasn't a bad last episode, but it was a little long. Two hours of scenes that just didn't seem to finish. It's like the director knew that it was the end of it (or sort of - more on this later) and could make us bored. The series was good. Lots of people try to compare it to Babylon 5 as for the depth of the plot, but I think BSG was a little more linear, more focused on developing the characters than the story of old races just wanting to destroy the universe, while other old races don't want it to happen, but don't want to do much either.

In the end they both center around the human race and the evolution of it. That we have cycles, but we get better over time. And of course both of them have spaceships and space battles (although certainly BSG battles were much more intricate). It's actually interesting to watch again "old" series and see how much more effort has been put into realism and even acting.

What makes me sad is that it's not really over. They employ this "leftover energy" to just bank on it. Next month there is a new series starting, Caprica, from the same producers of BSG. It happens chronologically before BSG, which allows them with some opportunity to bring back the characters for a special appearance here and there.

But if this was not enough, they are also advertising for a new movie, Battlestar Galactica: The Plan, which is supposed to show the events of BSG in the eyes of the cylons. Give me a break... Just let it go and move onto new ideas! Don't do like Crusade, the spin-off from Babylon 5 that had some interesting ideas, but just didn't get anywhere and died after 13 episodes. Check the wikipedia page that I've linked above to see some information about the mess that happens in the series, including episode orders and chronological orders...

Alright, now that I was person number 1 million to post about the last episode of BSG, I can go and rest. Weekend ahead!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Blogging and reading and spending my time

Maybe it's because I'm an engineer, maybe because I have been working for "real" for some time, but one of the things that I spend a lot of time doing is paying attention to how I'm spending my time. Probably I do this to convince myself that I haven't done XYZ because I really didn't have time, and not that I was procrastinating. One of the things that I pay the most attention about is my time spending reading books.

As mentioned in more than one occasion before, because now my commute is much longer than it used to be, I'm now reading much more on the bus, which means that a larger piece of my day is spent on reading things. At the beginning I mostly read books, and was going through them in a rate of almost one a week (until I hit The Time or Our Singing, which was way too long to finish in a week).

But after some time, I felt like I had to spend more time better. So I decided to get a newspaper on my Kindle to read in the commute in the morning and leave the book only for the way back. I mentioned this already in the previous post that it didn't work quite well to do this morning-afternoon division, but I'm still sticking to it. Just going way slower through Tobias Buckell's Crystal Rain.

This weekend and early this week, though, I decided to add one more thing to my list of current reads. Something that was bothering me greatly that I had stopped devoting time to reading: scientific papers. But not only this, in the spirit of a previous post I'm actually planning on taking the time to play around with the algorithms, post about them (not on this blog or else I would lose the few visitors I still have to this blog), and maybe even start discussions with the authors. That last part I'm a little afraid to commit to, based on my history of taking months to reply to emails. But at least I think I should start something.

And that should have made me quite energized and excited, right? That's what I thought so, but I still haven't felt it. I'm still a little numb. It feels like I need some sort of big change in something I'm doing. I just don't know which kind of change yet. Maybe I'm spending way too much time looking at shoe sizes and considering how wrong it all is. My orderly brain is shutting down not to thing too much about why such a simple concept can be implemented in such a terrible way. For example:

* Who came up with the idea of making US shoe sizes go to size 13.5 and then wrap back up to 1?
* Why did Mexicans decide that 26 for a shoe size is too big, so some brands simply decided to drop the "2" and call it a number 6? And, yes, there is a second number 6 for kids.
* Why are women's and men's shoe sizes different for the same shoe in US, Australia, UK (although some brands don't make it different), and Japan (although also the difference is not everywhere) - probably there are others too?

I'm writing code that, given a set of locales, it spits out all possible sizes in global order from smallest to largest. Yes, global ordering is not technically possible, but approximate global ordering can be good enough. I thought that this task was going to take about a day and a half to be done, but I've been working on it for about 2 1/2 days now and, although it's close, it's not finished yet. I'm yet to build all possible variations on size combinations.

Alright, I think i've spent enough time on this post already. I should go to bed. For some reason I woke up last night at 5 AM feeling fully refreshed, which was odd considering that I went to bed at almost 2 AM. Maybe that's one of the reasons why I'm feeling extra numb today.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The confusion about taxes

Before you waste your time reading this, I have to warn you that I'm not an economist. My single class during college on economics for engineers cannot be considered background for what I'm about to discuss here, but I felt like it and, well, that's the beauty of self-publishing.

Anyway, now onto the point: I was reading an article on The New Yorker today:

NOT INSANE by Hendrik Hertzberg

The article discusses in general a controversy on how to give stimulus to the economy. He said that one of the latest suggestions by a group of republicans (that have to be contrary to the government - but that's reserved for a post on politics, which that's not the goal of this one) is to do a "payroll-tax holiday for a couple of years". In other words, not collect tax on salaries for some time, effectively increasing people's salaries.

The author then says that it's not a terrible idea, just not the best one and then suggests considering this later as a substitution for taxing things we don't want people to do, like carbon footprint, or using natural resources, polluting, etc.

It's an interesting thought. Tax what you don't want people to do, and not tax what you want to happen more often. Great alignment of incentives, right? Well, I quickly see four main problems with this:

1) It causes a shift on all finances: you make more money, but your cost of living also increases (as companies are now taxed more to produce things). In other words, automatic inflation. And what happens on a time of inflation spike? Everything that you've saved immediately loses value. You stop trusting savings, which increases the risk of the market and makes investments harder to happen.

2) It makes taxing more subjective: how to tell that my pollution should be taxed more than the other company's pollution? And I'm planting trees. Should I be getting some of my tax back even though it's hard to tell exactly how much a tree is offsetting my carbon footprint? It's very easy to get money out of money. It's all in one unit of measure.

3) Globalization: if you don't make the whole world adopt this, suddenly all your products become pretty much impossible to compete with foreign products. It's already hard because of the cheap labor in countries like China and India, now you add more taxes on the products. You can try to "fix" some of it by raising import taxes, but then you're going against the main conclusions of globalization: the competition and increased market of a globalized world is worth in the long term any cannibalization of local markets.

4) What about the things that are not tied to consuming? What about health care and social security? If you have a taxing plan that allows people to pay less taxes if they are smart, the income of the government will reduce over time instead of increase, which works against the needs for any first world country with populations that will keep aging and needing help. Yea, yea, we are talking about republicans that believe that public health and social security are a waste of government money and that people should be choosing what they want to do with their own health. I did consider this line of thought for a long time, but that goes against people's nature. I don't know how many times I've heard sick people deciding that it was better to just go to a pharmacy and pick up something that does not require prescription and get the wrong thing, just because going to a doctor was too much hassle. That's a sign of a broken system.

Anyway, as I said, who am I to have ideas about this? I'm sure those people that are proposing this had endless discussions with economists that built multiple models of the economy and believe that it does make sense in the medium or long term. It was an interesting article, nevertheless. I'm actually enjoying starting my week reading The New Yorker and skimming through the Wall Street Journal every morning. It's all because the Kindle 2 is a much better device for reading news.

The only problem with this is that I'm reading less books now. It takes me about 1 hour to go through the WSJ, which only leaves about 30-40 minutes of book reading every day. On Mondays that's usually taken by reading The New Yorker. So now I probably need to start reading when I'm at home too. So many things to do... But that should be the topic of another post some other day.