Monday, April 29, 2013

A Mother Lode weekend

On a glorious spring weekend, we took advantage of the unexpectedly nice weather for a weekend getaway to the Mother Lode.

Close to our house, California State Route 4 is a commuting artery, funneling fleets of suburban workers into Silicon Valley each day. Farther east, route 4 winds through the Sacramento Delta, and then across some of the richest farmland in the country.

But as you follow route 4 east of Stockton, it enters the foothills near the Civil War town of Copperopolis, and soon rises above the valley floor. From this point, route 4 is one of the most beautiful highways in the country, if not in the world.

At 4,300 feet, Arnold, California is the last town of any size on route 4. It has a supermarket, a hardware store, and the very fine Arnold Black Bear Inn, our home for the weekend. The Black Bear Inn is a beautiful facility, and Wendi and Bruce were superb hosts.

Arnold is about the same elevation as the Yosemite Valley, and slightly closer to the Bay Area than Yosemite is, so it's about a 3 hour drive from home.

Unless you leave during the worst of the Friday afternoon rush hour, in which case you get an extra 45 minutes or so of conversation time with your wife at 8 miles an hour. Which isn't so bad, if you're not in a hurry.

And we managed to get to Arnold in plenty of time to check in and grab a late dinner at the SnowShoe Brewing Company.

Saturday morning, after a wonderful breakfast, we were off "up the hill" to Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The park is home to two groves of California's Giant Sequoia Redwoods, the most magnificent trees you'll ever see.

Immediately inside the park you'll find the parking lot for the North Grove. Grab a couple water bottles and a comfortable pair of shoes and get out of your car! The self-guided nature trail through the North Grove is one of the nicest nature trails I've ever been on. It is wide and well-marked and gentle, a glorious 1.75 mile loop through the trees, suitable for a fast-paced 45 minute power walk, or, as we took it, a delightful 1.5 hour meander.

The Calaveras groves are located at the northern end of the Giant Sequoia's range, so these trees are somewhat smaller than the more famous groves in the National Parks to the south, but these trees are still remarkable. The nature trail booklet does a great job of educating visitors about the trees and their (human) history, and also includes some great tidbits; for example we were tickled that the guidebook described the highly unusual Snow Plant that we saw next to the path: entirely red, the Snow Plant does not contain chlorophyll and performs no photosynthesis, instead manufacturing its energy in a symbiotic relationship with underground fungi.

When you're finished wandering among the trees, climb back in your car and head further into the park. The park road crests slightly over 5,000 feet, then drops a remarkable 1,200 feet in just over a mile down to meet the North Fork of the Stanislaus River.

This is one of the most beautiful rivers in the Sierra Nevada (which is really saying something!), and the State Park road brings you right to the river's edge. Park in the lot next to the bridge and take any of the 5 sets of stairways down to the river side. Unpack your picnic, find a nice shady rock, and the next 90 minutes will pass like the sweetest daydream you've ever had.

After our lunch, we made our way back out of the park and decided to continue exploring "up the hill". Although we didn't have time to make it all the way to Ebbett's Pass, we did manage to make the 45 minute drive up to Bear Valley Ski Area, located at the 7,000 foot elevation.

This has been an extremely light winter in the Sierras, and the ski resort was already closed for the winter, dark and quiet. There were just enough patches of snow on the shady side of the road for us to stop and make a snowman, and then we headed back down the hill to Arnold. The Black Bear Inn makes a delicious afternoon cheese plate, and we joined the other guests in the common room for a wide-ranging discussion about absolutely nothing at all.

Sunday morning, after Wendi & Bruce's signature Pecan-encrusted French Toast, we packed up and headed down the hill to Murphys, California, one of the most famous of California's Mother Lode towns. Mid-morning found the town quiet and not-quite-yet awake, so we decided to start our day by visiting nearby Mercer Caverns before we lost our nerve.

People have been touring Mercer Caverns for 125 years, but the caves are still in very good condition, carefully tended to by the tour guides and staff. Differently from many cave tours, a Mercer Caverns tour is nothing but stairs: 440 stairs in total, equivalent to climbing down 20 flights of stairs and then back up 20 flights of stairs. The tight surroundings require the guides to take visitors down in small groups of 8-10, but allows each group to view the marvelous underground rock formations at close range; many of the most remarkable formations are just inches away!

Once we were done with the exhilarating tour, we were ready to take it easy, so we headed back to town to stroll down Main Street and soak up the atmosphere. I enjoyed a visit to the Old Timers Museum, with a wonderful docent and the great E Clampus Vitus Wall of Comparative Ovation.

Murphys was one of the most active Gold Rush towns; the diggings were so rich that claims were limited to an 8 foot by 8 foot parcel. Several buildings still standing in Murphys date back to the pre-Civil War days, and Murphys Hotel in particular claims many a historic visitor.

We found much to see in Murphys: we particularly enjoyed our visit to the Spice Tin, where we picked up several dry rubs and some curries and fragrant spices; and we spent quite some time sampling the custom Balsamic Vinegar infusions at Marisolio before deciding on the Fig Balsamic (a close winner over the Blackberry/Ginger Balsamic).

Our shopping urges fulfilled, we picked up sandwiches from the Alchemy deli and headed down the road to nearby Chatom Vineyards, a most pleasant winery with a fine garden and delightful shaded picnic tables. Chatom is perhaps not as well known as several other Murphys wineries, but we thought it was an excellent place and well worth the visit.

It's hard to pick any particular favorite from the weekend, but one thing is for sure: after spending three decades in California and somehow never managing to make it up scenic route 4, I'm sure that this visit won't be our last!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

MadMen of the new millenium

I've been just unbelievably busy of late. For one thing, we've got a big event this week at work, which is keeping me quite occupied.

But I did finally find 30 minutes to read through the nice article in this month's Vanity Fair about that other software company founded by a Harvard drop-out: Facebook Leans In.

If you've seen The Social Network or watched the 60 Minutes episode or even if you've just been anywhere but buried in a cave above the Arctic Circle, you probably know a lot of this already.

But the article is well-written, and well-researched, and worth reading if you're at all interested about the way that technology, culture, and business are commingling.

A few of my favorite bits:

  • A nice look back at how the advertising industry has undergone a series of technology-driven upheavals:
    Month after month, the technology’s popularity grew astronomically. In just one year, the number of users of the free service exploded by 2,500 percent, but still, no one could quite figure out how to make money from this gigantic audience. We’re talking not about Facebook here but about radio, which, at first, like social networks, seemed destined to be a financial flop. And in that tale—and in the history of advertising, from newspapers to Google—lie lessons to remember when considering the prospects for Facebook.
  • A succinct summation of how advertising adapted to the Internet, and vice versa:
    companies had access for the first time to people on the verge of buying, with ads displayed only after users signaled their interest in particular products by the words in their searches. Click-throughs, pay-per-click, and marketing based on someone’s intent to buy became widely accepted as the long-hidden secrets that had cracked the code
  • A great sound bite about how Facebook once again stood the world on its head:
    There was no click leading to a quick purchase, as with Google, or a push to buy a particular product, as with broadcast commercials. “There was a period when all the [chief marketing officers] said, ‘If you can’t be TV, can you at least be search?,’ because they understood that,” Sandberg says. “But we’re not search, and we’re not TV. We’re a third thing.”
  • A solid illustration of that tangling of technology, culture, and business that I mentioned earlier:
    entire divisions have been created within companies with the job of interacting with customers on Facebook. For example, L’OrĂ©al, the cosmetics company, has a staff of 400 people who post content on Facebook every day, according to Marc Menesguen, the company’s chief marketing officer. “It’s a lot of work and requires a lot of commitment,” he says.
  • And, although it's just a few words in a long article, a peek at the thought process of the man behind it all:
    “The way we look at it is that, if we are doing our job well, then people will come to Facebook to consume a lot of content,” he said. “If people don’t connect to the advertising content, then it’s not good for anyone. It’s not good for the people using Facebook, it’s not good for the advertisers, and then ultimately we don’t make money.”

Zuckerberg's assessment reminds me of the words of Engine Charlie, who once said

for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa
Our modern Internet behemoths (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Netflix, Twitter, ...) are reshaping the world: The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed.

It's important to pay attention to the perspective that Eichenwald's story in Vanity Fair brings, because the changing of the world is not simply due to technology; it's more complicated than that.

But that's all about that for now; big day tomorrow, and so to bed...

Friday, April 19, 2013

Spring is in the air ...

... and an old man's thoughts turn to Abe Maslow's (corrected) hierarchy of needs...

  • Essentials of Garbage Collection
    How do we teach students the essential ideas behind garbage collection?

    A garbage collector (GC) implementation must address many overlapping concerns. There are algorithmic decisions, e.g., the GC algorithm to use; there are representation choices, e.g, the layout of the stack; and there are assumptions about the language, e.g., unforgeable pointers. These choices, and more, affect each other and make it very difficult for students to get off the ground.

  • Stanford NetSeminar - Teemu Koponen (Nicira/VMware)
  • Privacy technologies: An annotated syllabus
    Last semester I taught a course on privacy technologies here at Princeton. Earlier I discussed how I refuted privacy myths that students brought into class. In this post I’d like to discuss the contents of the course.
  • Jeremy Cole: InnoDB
    I’ve written the following posts about InnoDB internals, structures, and behavior
    I particularly liked B+Tree index structures in InnoDB
    However, the root page itself can't actually be split, since it cannot be relocated. Instead, a new, empty page is allocated, the records in the root are moved there (the root is "raised" a level), and that new page is split into two. The root page then does not need to be split again until the level immediately below it has enough pages that the root becomes full of child page pointers (called "node pointers"), which in practice often means several hundred to more than a thousand.
  • The Matasano Crypto Challenges
    Most of the challenges take the form of practical attacks against common vulnerabilities, many of which will be sadly familiar to you from your own web apps. To keep things fun and fair for everyone, they ask you not to post the questions or answers online. (I cleared this post with Thomas to make sure it was spoiler-free.)
  • The Planetary Super-Surface of San Bernardino County
    As it happens, though, huge volumes of empty space framed by walls and ceilings are something of the ultimate testing ground for robot intelligence: "Once upon a time, a warehouse was where you stored things for weeks or months, such as toys and canned food that retailers would grab to restock their shelves. Sorting, organizing and moving the inventory was a constant challenge."

    However, now, in this age of empty architectural airspace, "Tracking goods in the modern age of bar codes, scanners and computers is a comparative breeze. The location of every widget can be identified with pinpoint accuracy and fetched by robots that can lift and carry 3,000-pound loads with ease."

  • Text of SXSW2013 closing remarks by Bruce Sterling
    And yes — the moral here is that you’re a lot like that. Only they managed to pull that off for one hundred and fifty years, while you’re only twenty-six years old. If I was going to compare you to the Sinagua people of the Southwest, we’d have to imagine this as South By South West 150.
  • What are Ethernet, IP and TCP Headers in Wireshark Captures and How Headers Encapsulate in the OSI stack
    Each device along the path from source to destination (user to Youtube in this case) strips the header it is concerned with and imposes the new information in another header wrapping the packet back up for its next hop. The payload remains the same along the way outside of fragmentation but these days Path MTU Discovery (PMTUD) has alleviated the need to fragment packets thus reducing overhead on devices in the path.
  • The Well Deserved Fortune of Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin creator, Visionary and Genius
    The graphs were made by a new block chain analysis technique I tested that consist on tracking the ExtraNonce fields in the coinbase field of the coinbase transaction, which is the one that creates bitcoins.
  • A Practical Intro to Data Science
    There are plenty of articles and discussions on the web about what data science is, what qualities define a data scientist, how to nurture them, and how you should position yourself to be a competitive applicant. There are far fewer resources out there about the steps to take in order to obtain the skills necessary to practice this elusive discipline.
  • Lastly, my former colleague Dave Kellogg is blogging again (Hurray!)
    • Startup CEOs and the Three Doors
      I think most people fail to grasp the commitment that hired (non-founder) CEOs make when joining a startup. First, the new CEO is are typically leaving a perfectly reasonable job to join the startup, so there can be a significant opportunity cost. Second, and more importantly, the new CEO is voluntarily signing up for a situation from which there are only three exit doors — because from the board’s perspective (and the venture capitalists on it) there are really only three possible outcomes
    • The Self-Fulfilling 3x Pipeline Coverage Prophecy
      What management should do is to beat on salesreps to show the real pipeline, as they believe it exists, using well-defined staging and valuation rules. They should never mention the 3x, nor institutionalize any coverage ratio because, once you do so, you can be certain of only on thing: you will have that coverage ratio in your pipeline.

Enjoy your weekend!

Bringing back memories

I lived in west Cambridge when I was 4.

More recently, I lived in Brighton in my mid-twenties.

My daughter went to kindergarden in Brighton; my son was born at St Elizabeth's Hospital.

I worked on the east edge of the MIT campus and rode my bike to work along Western Avenue and through campus everyday.

My wife took the Green Line to the Back Bay to attend classes at Boston University.

I took the Red Line down to Dorchester to attend classes at UMass-Boston.

We used to go grocery shopping at the mall in Watertown.

Boston has had a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week.

But Boston is a Very Wonderful Place, and I know it will recover.

Best wishes, and may the healing begin.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

It is done


  • Polymath and Level 39 Adventurer,
  • Truesworn of the Warsworn,
  • Chariot of the Travelers,
  • Holder of the Orison,
  • Iconoclast of the House of Ballads,
  • Proclaimed Unwritten by High King Titarion,
  • Unraveller of Octienne,
  • Last Member of the House of Sorrows,
  • Siegebreaker of Mel Senshir,
  • Slayer of Balor,
  • Liberator of the House of Pride,
has at long last defeated Tirnoch, cast out the evil wizard Gadflow, ended the Crystal War, and brought peace to Amalur.

There were certainly flaws in Kingdoms of Amalur, but overall I loved this game and very much enjoyed completing it.

And, heck, it only took me four months!

Now, what's next...

The Beggar King: a very short review

The Beggar King is the third in Oliver Potzsch's books in the "Hangman's Daughter" series.

Once again we follow the adventures and mysteries of 17th century Germany through the tales of Jakob Kuisl, the hangman of Schongau, and his daughter Magdalena.

This time, the action shifts to nearby Regensburg, which allows Potzsch to introduce new locations, new events, and many new thrills and spills.

Potzsch is quite entertaining, and the hangman of Schongau certainly has an eventful life!

I certainly can't criticize any of Potzsch's technique, and the shift to Regensburg allowed him to introduce several fascinating new characters. Although there was a fair amount of "sameness" to this third book in the series, there was enough novelty in the new surroundings and new companions to keep me zipping through to the end once again.

High literature this ain't, but if you're looking for a lively summer vacation read, Oliver Potzsch should be on your short list.

A very easy ribs recipe

I'm not much of a cook, so this is the sort of recipe that appeals to me:

  • Turn your oven to 300 degrees.
  • Take one slab of ribs. Wash them and remove the membrane (search the net for "remove rib membrane" if you don't know what this means).
  • Take some nice dry rub. This weekend, we used Tuto's Organic No Salt Seasoning, from Aloha Spice Company of Hanapepe Hawaii, which my daughters brought back from their recent trip to Hawaii, but almost any dry rub will do. Try to take it easy on the salt; some dry rubs are loaded with salt. Pat it generously and firmly onto both sides of the ribs
  • Place the ribs on a cookie sheet, on a baking rack if you can. we have a nice large roasting pan with a roast rack that works wonderfully.
  • Cook the ribs at 300 degrees for at least 2 hours. Flip them over every half hour if you remember. The longer you cook them, the better; 2.5 or 3 hours is even better.
  • Enjoy!

Friday, April 12, 2013

It's weekend reading time!

In our neck of the woods, the Rhododendron are nearly blooming, and the wildflowers in the hills are at their peak.

Of course, that means a fair bit of sneezing. But in between the sneezes, I've been reading...

  • The Creator
    Minecraft’s maker is a kingmaker in the video-game realm. “There are so many sides to that,” he says. “I try to tweet about the games I love and feel passionate about. But it got to the stage where I could ‘make’ a small studio, and so it began to feel like a duty. I started promoting games that I wasn’t so enthusiastic about.”
  • Microsoft chooses key time to remind Olympia of its clout
    "It absolutely remains the case that Washington state is Microsoft's home," he said, adding that "it's more a question of whether the jobs that Microsoft is able to add in the future will be added in Washington state, another state or outside the United States."
  • Better 155 years late than never: John Snow
    Wakley may have been the most outspoken of Snow's critics but his views were shared by most medical men at the time: miasma, or the stench from decaying vegetable and animal matter, was widely held responsible for epidemic disease. Snow's On the Mode of Communication of Cholera, first published in 1849, set out the then radical idea that cholera was a disorder of the digestive system not the blood; and that it was contagious and spread through the oral-faecal route, largely through contaminated drinking water.
  • Running a software team at Google
    This is a huge relief from the constant pressure to work, work, work that is endemic of professors. I also feel that I get much more done now, in less time, due to fewer distractions and being able to maintain a clear focus. The way I see it is this: If I'm being asked to do more than I can get done in a sane work week, we need to hire more people.
  • The Bw-Tree: A B-tree for New Hardware
    Our new form of B tree, called the Bw-tree achieves its very high performance via a latch-free approach that effectively exploits the processor caches of modern multi-core chips. Our storage manager uses a unique form of log structuring that blurs the distinction between a page and a record store and works well with flash storage.
  • Meet the Bitcoin Millionaires
    After he recognized Bitcoin’s potential, he quit school and founded a company called Avalon, which sells hardware built solely for the purpose of mining Bitcoins. He isn’t interested in a quick score, he says: “Our goal is to protect the Bitcoin network so profits are available in the long term.”
  • I Tried Hacking Bitcoin And I Failed
    BitCoin made a technical choice during its initial design that allowed some people to do far more work than others, simply by having a graphical accelerator or even by designing custom hardware. This is the precise capability that large financial actors and nation states have above and beyond the private sector’s capacity to produce, and it’s not obvious that even the BitCoin developers have the political ability to override a technical choice that would also harm the technology’s largest (public) players.
  • Eventual Consistency Today: Limitations, Extensions, and Beyond
    This article begins to answer this question by describing several notable developments in the theory and practice of eventual consistency, with a focus on immediately applicable takeaways for practitioners running distributed systems in the wild. As production deployments have increasingly adopted weak consistency models such as eventual consistency, we have learned several lessons about how to reason about, program, and strengthen these weak models.
  • In a nutshell: How OpenStack works
    Its mission is to provide a flexible solution for both public and private clouds of any size, and for this matter two basic requirements are considered: clouds must be simple to implement and massively scalable.
  • Harmonic Averaging of Monitored Rate Data
    So, I wasn't completely sure about what I was saying. Good thing too, because the usual form of the harmonic mean doesn't work for time series! That, it turns out, is a very subtle subject and why I decided to use the slide format above to reveal my progressive technical understanding about what does work.
  • Practical Techniques to Achieve Quality in Large Software Projects
    Code review helps promote a quality-oriented culture in the office. Engineers will trend towards producing better code and more tests to increase the number of positive comments they receive. Furthermore, having such a system in place helps new engineers learn the ropes faster.
  • Gearing up for the Next Chapter
    Gary Kovacs, having accomplished the goals and objectives he and the team set out to achieve, will be stepping down as CEO later this year but will continue to provide vision and leadership as a member of our Board of Directors. An executive search will begin immediately for his replacement.
  • Git Koans
    Master Git turned and threw himself off the railing, falling to his death on the rocks below. Upon seeing this, the novice was enlightened.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Version Control is the foundation

I loved this story about how LinkedIn is building amazing tools atop their version control system: The Software Revolution Behind LinkedIn’s Gushing Profits

LinkedIn’s newly-adopted software development methodology is known as “continuous deployment.” Under continuous deployment, a developer writes new code in tidy, discrete little chunks and quickly checks each chunk into the main line of software shared amongst all LinkedIn developers, a line known as “trunk” within the software version control systems standard in the tech industry. Newly-added code is subjected to an elaborate series of automated tests designed to weed out any bugs. Once the code passes the tests it is merged into trunk and cataloged in a system that shows managers what features are ready to go live on the site or in new versions of LinkedIn’s apps.

At my day job, we love to see people being successful by building tools and processes atop their version control system.

If you don't have a version control system, consider Perforce!

Version Control is the foundation; way to go LinkedIn!

Google Street View Hyperlapse


Look at it, just look at it (watch the video, for starters): Google Street View Hyperlapse

We aimed at making the process simpler by using Google Street View as an aid, but quickly discovered that it could be used as the source material.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

I can't keep it all straight!

Is my mind going? I keep getting myself confused between

It's somewhat easier for me to distinguish between Slovenia, Silesia, and Slovakia, because my father's side of the family is Slovak, a country that didn't even exist when I was born.

But today I got myself all confused trying to figure out the difference between:

Mordovia, I said? What or where is that? Luckily, Wikipedia knew, since I sure didn't.

Why was I interested in Mordovia? Well, Brian Krebs was interested, and whatever Brian Krebs is interested in, I am interested in, too.

For starters, Flashback was the first OS X malware to be “VMware aware” — or to know when it was being run in a virtual environment (a trick designed to frustrate security researchers). It also was the first to disable XProtect, OS X’s built-in malware protection program. These features, combined with its ability to spread through a then-unpatched vulnerability in Java made Flashback roughly as common for Macs as the Conficker Worm was for Windows PCs.

How Harvard Economists view the world

The quote of the day comes from Harvard economics professor Mankiw:

exceeding $3 million in such accounts is not very difficult for an individual who is financially successful and frugal. Under current law, a self-employed person can put about $50,000 a year in a SEP-IRA. If he does that every year for 40 years, and his savings earn a return of 5 percent per year, he will retire with about $6 million.

Do you know any 25-year-olds who are self-employed and putting $50K/year into their IRA's?

Okay, that was too hard: do you know any 25-year-olds who are earning $50K a year? There are some, not many.

Heck, it's hard to even find any 25-year-olds who are employed.

Other than the ones that graduated from Harvard, that is.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Reading list for an April weekend

The rainy season came late this year, it seems like it's been raining for the entire month of April.

If you're stuck indoors, and looking for something to read, try some of these:

  • As long as Google continue to take actions like this, they still merit the "Do No Evil" brand in my book: Google Takes on Rare Fight Against National Security Letters
    NSLs, which have been in use for to decades but were greatly expanded under the Patriot Act, are written demands from the FBI that compel internet service providers, credit companies, financial institutions and others to hand over confidential records about their customers, such as subscriber information, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, websites visited and more.

    NSLs are a powerful tool because they do not require court approval. Until now, most came with a built-in gag order, preventing recipients from disclosing to anyone that they had received an NSL. An FBI agent looking into a possible anti-terrorism case could self-issue an NSL to a credit bureau, ISP or phone company with only the sign-off of the Special Agent in Charge of their office. The FBI had to merely assert that the information was “relevant” to an investigation into international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.

  • I love this New York City art project: Jay Shells Drops “Rap Quotes,” His Most Site-Specific Street Art Project Yet
    For this ongoing project, Shells created official-looking street signs quoting famous rap lyrics that shout out specific street corners and locations. He then installed them at those specific street corners and locations.
  • A beautiful article at the Smithsonian website about the evolution of the design of chess pieces: How the Chess Set Got Its Look and Feel
    According to the most widely told origin story, the Staunton set was designed by architect Nathan Cook, who looked at a variety of popular chess sets and distilled their common traits while also, more importantly, looking at the city around him. Victorian London’s Neoclassical architecture had been influenced by a renewed interest in the ruins of ancient Greece and Rome, which captured the popular imagination after the rediscovery of Pompeii in the 18th century.
    The DesignWeek article about Daniel Weil's new set design is also quite nice: Daniel Weil redesigns the chess set
    Weil says, ‘The purity of the pieces’ shape is reflected in the way they are held.’ He developed the idea of a ‘north hold’, where the piece is held between the index finger and thumb, and a ‘south hold’, where it is cupped in the hand – Weil says this hold has more ‘theatrical disdain’.
  • It's springtime, so it's time to get this year's update on Colony Collapse Disorder (it's still a mystery): Mystery Malady Kills More Bees, Heightening Worry on Farms
    In the valley, where 1.6 million hives of bees just finished pollinating an endless expanse of almond groves, commercial beekeepers who only recently were losing a third of their bees to the disorder say the past year has brought far greater losses.
  • Wow; this year's XKCD April Fool's Prank just totally went over my head. If you were in the same boat, the community over at StackOverflow try to explain it, or you can read this nice article from PiCloud: XKCD Hash Breaking
    How many f2 cores running in parallel would it take, on expectation, to generate a better hash within the next 6 hours? It turns out that it would take over 66,200 f2 cores running in parallel over 6 hours before we can expect to find a better hash. Unfortunately, we can’t get you 60 thousand f2 cores and the cost would be nearly $87,500 on PiCloud.
  • A little flurry of patent articles:
    • Google Number One: Taking a Stand on Open Source and Patents
      We hope the OPN Pledge will serve as a model for the industry, and we’re encouraging other patent holders to adopt the pledge or a similar initiative.
    • Google Number Two: It’s time to take action against patent trolls and patent privateering
      Privateering lets a company split its patent portfolio into smaller sub-portfolios “stacked” on each other, increasing the number of entities a firm must negotiate with and multiplying licensing costs. This behavior unfairly raises competitors’ costs, ultimately driving up prices for consumers.
    • My co-worker Don Marti writes about prior art: The America Invents Act: Fighting Patent Trolls With "Prior Art"
      The AIA has a lot of changes, starting with the expansion of what counts as prior art. Prior art is any public information that shows the patented invention was not original. Patent examiners were always supposed to take prior into account when granting a patent in the first place. However, especially in the software field, the understaffed and overworked patent office misses a lot of details.
    • And a lively short article from Joel Spolsky: The Patent Protection Racket
      It is organized crime, plain and simple. It is an abuse of the legal system, an abuse of the patent system, and a moral affront.

      In the face of organized crime, civilized people don’t pay up. When you pay up, you’re funding the criminals, which makes you complicit in their next attacks.

  • Felix Salmon pokes his head closer to my part of the world: The Bitcoin Bubble and the Future of Currency
    Still, for the time being, bitcoin is in many ways the best and cleanest payments mechanism the world has ever seen. So if we’re ever going to create something better, we’re going to have to learn from what bitcoin does right – as well as what it does wrong.
  • Geeking out, part one: Join-Idle-Queue: A Novel Load Balancing Algorithm for Dynamically Scalable Web Services
    Unlike algorithms such as Power-of-Two, the JIQ algorithm incurs no communication overhead between the dispatchers and processors at job arrivals. We analyze the JIQ algorithm in the large system limit and find that it effectively results in a reduced system load, which produces 30-fold reduction in queueing overhead compared to Power-of-Two at medium to high load.
  • Geeking out, part two: Cap'n Proto
    The encoding is defined byte-for-byte independent of any platform. However, it is designed to be efficiently manipulated on common modern CPUs. Data is arranged like a compiler would arrange a struct – with fixed widths, fixed offsets, and proper alignment. Variable-sized elements are embedded as pointers. Pointers are offset-based rather than absolute so that messages are position-independent. Integers use little-endian byte order because most CPUs are little-endian, and even big-endian CPUs usually have instructions for reading little-endian data.
  • Geeking out, part 3: Routing and Web Performance on Heroku: a FAQ
    The Heroku router favors availability, stateless horizontal scaling, and low latency through individual routing nodes. Per-app global request queues require a sacrifice on one or more of these fronts. See Kyle Kingsbury’s post on the CAP theorem implications for global request queueing.

    After extensive research and experimentation, we have yet to find either a theoretical model or a practical implementation that beats the simplicity and robustness of random routing to web backends that can support multiple concurrent connections.

    (The Register sniffs in disgust)

  • Fast Company explains some of the implications of culture on the way you approach a business model: What American Startups Can Learn From The Cutthroat Chinese Software Industry
    “In China, it’s like this from day one,” he says. “Companies don’t wait until later to figure out who their competitors are, since they have a business model from the start.” The benefit is never having to burn a bridge with a partner which has somehow morphed into a competitor, short-changing your users in the process.
  • And lastly, whatever you might think about everything else on this list, here is proof that a boring machine is not a boring machine: World's largest tunnel boring machine lands in Seattle
    Known affectionately as Bertha, this tunnel boring machine has the widest diameter of any boring machine ever built; 57.5 feet. It's being used to dig a highway tunnel under downtown Seattle and it just arrived there today after being shipped from Japan.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Summer concert series approaches!

We're going to see Mumford & Sons at the Greek Theatre on the UC Berkeley campus on May 30th. Should be great!

The Greek Theatre is a wonderful place to see a show; we've probably been to 20 shows there over the years, and we always have fun.

The Greek Theatre has been around a long time (at least in California terms); see if you can spot it on this cool map from 1909!

Perforce 2013.1 is out!

This is already old news, but if you look over on the Perforce website, you'll see that we're now distributing release 2013.1 of the Perforce server.

This is the fifth major release I've contributed to at Perforce, and even though it's a relatively small release from a server point of view, I was pleased to be able to be part of several of the new features, and I'm excited that the company continues to deliver compelling new releases with important functionality.

Are you a Perforce user? If so, try the 2013.1 release and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What is the truth about true cost?

More than two decades ago, I first heard the adage:

Marketing is the art of telling the truth in the most positive possible light.

I was thinking about that concept as I was reading through the newly-published True Cost of Ownership document from Tesla Motors.

Have you read this document? If not, I encourage you to stop right now, and go visit their site, and have a read.

To their credit, the document is short and plainly-written.

But what does it say about America, about our morals and values and behaviors?

As I understand it, from reading their document, it is actually surprisingly affordable to buy a $75,000 Tesla S, assuming that:

  1. You make a $7,500 down payment
  2. You qualify for a $67,500 car loan, at an interest rate (2.9%) that's a full 1% lower than what you can get a mortgage for
  3. You live in a state where you don't have to pay sales tax, nor registration fees
  4. You live in a state where, furthermore, you qualify for a $10,000 tax incentive for buying an electric vehicle
  5. You own your own business, and use this car for your business, and deduct the interest, depreciation, and operational costs you're paying on this car and its 70K loan from your taxes.
  6. You currently drive a 19 MPG clunker, for which you pay $5/gallon in gas, and you go through 15 gallons of gas a week, and you have a way to charge your Tesla without having to pay for the electricity (say, you have your charging station at your office), or at least can arrange to deduct your electric bill from your taxes.
And even then, the numbers don't work, unless you figure in some additional fudge factors such as:
  1. Assuming that not having to go to the gas station 4 times a month is worth $100/month to you
  2. Assuming that you'll now get to drive in the carpool lane, and that that's worth another $150/month to you

Now, tell me, and be honest: is there anyone you know for whom all these things are true? (Bonus points if that person is honestly using this car for their business, is replacing a 19 MPG vehicle with this car, and drives at least 20 miles in a carpool lane everyday for their business.)

I guess what's so depressing about this is how brazen Tesla is about just up-front admitting that everyone who buys one of these vehicles is just flat-out cheating on their taxes.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Magnus loses ...

... but yet, Magnus wins!

What a crazy last round!

Aronian solidly beat Radjabov, and Gelfand and Grischuk drew after 27 moves.

Then, in a spectacularly wild position, Carlsen came through the time control with Svidler down a pawn, and with his pieces badly scattered. Scarcely 8 moves later, Carlsen was lost, and resigned.

But then, most unexpectedly, Ivanchuk played his best game of the tournament, defeating Kramnik, and so the tournament ended with both Carlsen and Kramnik level on points, at 8.5 points each.

It turns out that the rules of the tournament then proceeded to consider various tie-breakers, and although the pair were level on the first tie breaker, Carlsen prevailed on the second tie-breaker, which was the number of victories.

So Carlsen it is, and a Carlsen-Anand match will be played!


Go Magnus Go!

We're down to the final round of the Candidates Tournament, and it's as close as could be: Carlsen and Kramnik are tied for first, with Svidler and Aronian tied for third.

In the last round, Carlsen has the White pieces versus Peter Svidler, while Kramnik has the Black pieces vs Vassily Ivanchuk. Having White for the last round gives Carlsen a slight advantage, but Svidler has been playing a marvelous tournament and will be a very tough opponent.

Meanwhile, Ivanchuk has been playing rather poorly, losing a number of games on time, apparently unused to the time controls used in this tournament, which provide no per-move increments.

(A slight aside on modern chess time controls, for those not familiar with how they have developed over the years:

In more serious tournaments, games may be broken up into multiple time controls that help dictate the pace of play, while also giving players plenty of time with which to think. This ensures that while a game might last six hours or longer, players are forced to reach a certain point of the game after just a few hours.

One multiple time control format seen frequently in major tournaments is 40/120, G/60. This time control requires players to make at least 40 moves in their first two hours of playing time, then gives each player another hour with which to finish the remainder of the game.


With an increment, players have time added to their clock after every move that’s completed. In the long international tournaments mentioned earlier, players often receive a 30 second increment – either throughout the entire game, or (more commonly) only in the final time control, thus ensuring that they’ll always have at least 30 seconds to make a move.


In this particular tournament, the time control is 2 hours for 40 moves, then an extra hour added for the next 20 moves, then 15 minutes more with a 30 second increment to finish. Recent top-flight tournaments have generally featured an increment throughout, I believe, so Ivanchuk's loss of several games on time has been credited by many observers to a failure to adapt to the slightly different control rules of this tournament.

At any rate, the games are underway, what will happen?