Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Joining the party

Now both my Windows 10 machines are running the Anniversary Update and Windows Subsystem for Linux and Ubuntu for Windows.

The Storm-puter had to be encouraged a little bit, as it was stubbornly refusing to automatically download the Anniversary Update.

So I clicked on Learn More, as recommended by Microsoft here, and that got me the Windows Upgrade Assistant, which cheerfully pulled the update down for me.

From then on, it was smooth sailing, and now my giant 'tar xzf' command is happily running away, verifying a massive backup that's been waiting a month or so to be expanded onto the new machine.

Next step (though not tonight), is to follow these instructions to see if Java 8 is happier with the latest patches.

Ubuntu for Windows. It's cool. Check it out!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

No. We're definitely not. In a bubble. No.

If we were, things would be really crazy, after all. You'd have trouble distinguishing between episodes of HBO's Silicon Valley, and real life.

  • I Got Scammed By A Silicon Valley Startup
    My first day of work was July 5th. I walked into the office to find 17 employees. Between June and July, the startup hired an additional 9 members, including a young social media manager who had been running marketing efforts free range prior to my arrival. I had notated in my interview keynote that this person was a team member that I would fill as Marketing Director, so it was interesting they decided to hire the person without communicating with me. Even more interesting was the fact that she labeled herself as the “Chief Marketing Officer” of the startup on her social media channels before she even met me. Already there were signs pointing to challenges ahead.


    Everything seemed normal for a startup my first two weeks on the job until payday.

    My first paycheck was late. Jessica, Tom (our new project manager who started in June), and I were the only ones that received cashier’s checks on July 20th. My sign on bonus was not included. I asked about it and was told it was coming in the next check. The other employees received nothing and I’m not sure why. I can’t recall a time in my life where I was paid my wages in a cashier’s check so I requested a pay stub. Charlie told me that they wouldn’t be able to help with payroll until we moved over to Gusto, a new accounting system. He and Michael would get back to me on this. I didn’t like this answer. Considering this was my first payroll experience, I abruptly halted my apartment search and paid for a temporary Airbnb covering the first half of August. The boxes of what was left of my life remained in the back seat of my car. Something was up and I started feeling uncomfortable.

  • This is Charlie.
    I did not find out till the beginning of August that the money for the last payroll came from one of the employees. I thought there was $500k available starting July. It became apparent it was not available shortly thereafter.

    In July, Penny joined. We went through more stress at the company with the CEO stating every other week money was coming from a variety of sources – a line of credit from Mackie Research due to his personal connections, his money making it over, and different investors. None of it came to pass.

  • Lesson Learned
    Overall, the company seemed more interested in using my name than in actually following my advice.

    So why did I remain as an advisor? As a matter of fact, I’d asked to terminate the advisory relationship back in May — I was becoming increasingly busy with other commitments, and they were at the bottom of my priority queue. But they talked me out of it, mostly by convincing me that they wouldn’t take up much of my time.


Friday, August 26, 2016

Backpacking 2016: Connell's Cow Camp, Upper Fish Valley, Carson-Iceberg Wilderness

It is vital, from time to time, to step away from the computer screen, and to enter the real world. So we rounded up the usual suspects, packed up the necessary gear, and off we went.

The eastern Sierra are a lesser-known wonder.

If you simply drive along route 395, you'll see magnificent vistas, and wide open spaces, and there are lots of things to see, but you won't really have seen the eastern Sierra.

To do so, you have to get out of your car and walk.

So we drove up across Sonora Pass, and out to the remote town of Walker, California, and early the next morning we drove up Mill Canyon Road, then Golden Gate Road.

Just north of Walker, we took the turn for Mill Canyon Road, then almost immediately the turn for Golden Gate Road.

Golden Gate Road is a wide and well-graded dirt road for about 2 miles, at which point it turns abruptly up a narrow mountain canyon and becomes quite steep and exciting, ascending 2,500 feet of elevation in barely 4 miles. About half a mile up there is an interesting bit of gold rush history which we stopped to observe: Golden Gate Mine.

Up, up, up we went, until, at the top of the road, we found ourselves in a broad plateau, enlivened both by creeks and by mountains, varying in elevation roughly from 7,500 feet to 10,000 feet, which contains the headwaters of the East Fork of the Carson River.

Here, at the Corral Valley Trailhead, we readied our gear and set out on our adventure.

In a rather unusual occurrence for my group, this trip was to be a "circle route", in which we would be able to enter and exit at the same trailhead, but would (almost) not have to hike any section of the overall trail more than once.

Leaving the Corral Valley Trailhead, our entrance route on our first day took us consecutively through three small valleys:

  1. We ascended a short ridge, then dropped into the Corral Valley.
  2. Then we ascended a much steeper ridge out of Corral Valley and dropped into Coyote Valley.
  3. Then we ascended a third ridge and finally dropped into the Silver King Creek Valley, which actually in that area is better known as the Upper Fish Valley.

If you're a FitBit-kind of person, this was your basic 18,000 step, 125 stair hike, and at the end of it we were plenty tired and ready to make camp.

Happily, Upper Fish Valley is one of the truly beautiful locations in the world, and we found a superb campsite just slightly upstream from Llewellyn Falls.

Somewhat unusually for the Sierra, this region is mostly comprised of gentle streams and peaceful meadows, but very few of the classic glacially-carved bowls that you find elsewhere in the Sierra.

So, the next morning, we set out to explore the upper, which is to say the southern, reaches of Silver King Creek.

It turned out that this was rather a challenge.

For one thing, if you look at the official Forest Service map of the Carson Iceberg Wilderness, you will see a clearly-marked trail heading south out of Upper Fish Valley up the Silver King Creek drainage.

Well, that trail does not exist.

Moreover, as described by that trail map, the trail (if it were to exist), would need to make a crossing of Silver King Creek itself.

Crossing Silver King Creek is an ADVENTURE.

Even in late August, this creek flows fast and cold and at least 12 inches high, so this is not a creek crossing that you just casually take.

The trail markings throughout our hike were rather a challenge, but, all things considered, I'd rather have complete solitude, and poorly-marked trails, than the opposite.

By the way, my buddy Rich had an alternate map. I thought it was a Tom Harrison map, but it may have been this Trails Illustrated map instead. Either way, it showed a different collection of incorrect trail markings. I think that is the bargain you make when you go to a place where Nobody Else Goes, Ever.

So. Well. Back to the story.

After lots of wandering around Upper Fish Valley, we eventually found a relatively safe place to cross Silver King Creek, and we rewarded ourselves with a tasty lunch.

We found a fairly interesting place to have lunch, seated atop a rock outcropping in the middle of Upper Fish Valley, with a grand view. Interestingly, there were some pools of bubbling (cold) springs in this area. We at first thought we were seeing some sort of geo-thermal feature, like you might find at Bumpass Hell in Lassen National Park, but in fact these were some different sort of springs:

  1. For one thing, they were cold, not hot
  2. For another thing, there were little worm-y creatures living in the water
Given that, according to the unreliable trail maps, there was a place marked as "Soda Springs" down the canyon a ways, I guess that this was some sort of mineral springs, but not volcanic, and DEFINITELY it was not a hot springs.

Heh heh.

Anyway, we wandered around the canyon for a while, taking pictures of this and that, but there was a pretty threatening weather front at this point, so we made our way back to camp, where we sheltered from the rain, and talked, and eventually I fixed dinner, and that was that.

The cold front passed through, and the next day dawned Clear and Cold, and somehow we all awoke with lots of energy.

This time, we set off to the north, downstream, where we searched, again in vain, for the "clearly" marked trail to Tamarack Lake.

Well, we aren't the only ones who found this trail hard to find:

look up to the right and you'll see massive jagged granite rocks jutting out of the top of the mountain. This, unfortunately, is the only landmark available that will give you direction to the end goal of your journey, being Lake Tamarack. There is no trail. There are no signs. You just have to pick your lines and try and make your way up the steep, grueling mountain side using your best intuition.

Uhm, yeah.

This trail was roundly cursed, as, although we found it in the end, it climbs an unbelievable 1,500 feet in just 1 mile.

Still, once you get to Tamarack Lake, it is a beautiful place, and we were glad to have made it.

And pictures were taken.

Sadly, it was time to return to work, so the following morning we packed up camp, shouldered our (only slightly) lighter packs, and set out north along Silver King Creek.

There are many wonderful and remarkable things to do in this life.

But one of them must surely be to follow a gently-descending trail along a meandering creek bed as it flows from meadow to meadow down beautiful mountain canyons in the peaceful wilderness.

If there is a nicer trail than the Silver King Creek trail from Upper Fish Valley down to Lower Fish Valley and on through Long Valley, I don't know what it might be. In 40 years of backpacking in California, that was the most beautiful 3 miles of trail that I ever remember hiking. A pair of hawks wheeled and soared and called to each other above us; the creek burbled and flowed to our side, the leaves of the Aspen whispered in the mild breeze; a pair of deer tracks along the trail reminded us that this place does not belong to man, but to some deeper nature.

And then, after a bit of a slog back up a canyon hillside, we were back to the trail head, and it was time to head home.

A few other things worth noting:

  • This is the heartland of the Western Juniper. not everyone loves these trees, but boy, are they beautiful trees.
  • One of the reasons that we found ourselves so isolated is that we were in a very protected, safe place, as the government is trying to save the Paiute Cutthroat Trout: Paiute Cutthroat Trout: Restoration Project
    Paiute cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii seleniris) is one of the rarest forms of trout with a native range of a single stream, Silver King Creek. Paiute cutthroat trout are closely related to the Lahontan cutthroat trout, (Oncorhynchus clarkii henshawi), and are distinguished by their almost complete lack of body spotting and an iridescent purplish hue body coloration. It is the only western trout that consistently has no obvious spots on the body. Paiute cutthroat trout are protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and are among the first animals listed under the ESA.

    According to the government document referenced below, the first attempts to save the Paiute Cutthroat date back to the 1860s, when fish barriers were errected in Corral Valley!

    For what it's worth, I looked and looked and looked, but I never saw a trout. Then again, I almost never see fish in the creeks I visit.

  • This part of the Sierra has seen a variety of land use. Perhaps the simplest way to describe this is to note that the transition from multi-use land to California Wilderness Area, although it happened more than 30 years ago, was not trivial. The history of this transition can be read through various public documents:
    • Toiyabe National Forest (N.F.), Alpine Unit Land Management Plan (1977)
      The Fish Valley allotment is managed under a deferred grazing system. The portion north of Llewellyn Falls is grazed from 7/1 until 7/25 and rested from grazing the remainder of the season. The portion south of Llewellyn Falls is deferred until around 7/25, and grazed until 9/10, each year. The capacity of the forage is adequate for both livestock and deer. However, a significant portion of the capacity is in the meadows of Upper Fish, Lower Fish, and Long Valleys where the public recreation use occurs, and where cattle naturally congregate. Successful livestock management depends on the permittee's ability to keep cattle distributed over the allotment, limiting use of the valley bottom.
    • Toiyabe National Forest (N.F.), Land and Resource(s) Management Plan, Final Environmental Impact Statement, Volume 2 (1986)
      COMMENT: The respondent wants to limit stock numbers so wilderness values and ecological conditions are not degraded in Silver King Creek from Long Valley to Upper Fish Vally and to Coyote Valley and Corral Valley.
    • Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest (N.F.), Silver King Creek, Paiute Cutthroat Trout Restoration Project: Environmental Impact Statement (2010)
      Designation of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness Area in 1984 resulted in the prohibition of logging and other activities requiring vehicle access or motorized equipment. The grazing allotment has been at rest since 1994 and vegetation and habitat conditions have been improving. Stream width to depth ratios have continually decreased (channel narrowing) and mean stream depths have increased as a result of the lack of grazing.
  • Besides the logging, mining, cattle, and fishing uses, this area also saw significant sheep herding. One remnant of that activity is a fascinating Shepherd's Cairn just off the main trail. Here's a nice description of this "arrimutilak" and its purpose:
    Whispers from an ancient past show themselves again in the “stoneboys,” or “arrimutilak,” erected by Basque sheepherders. As if carrying on in the tradition of their ancestors, the Neolithic herders who left stone monuments in the Pyranees; the American-Basque sheepherder created rock piles for differing practical reasons. Often they served as direction makers to help the sheepherder navigate his way through his isolated environment. Erecting stoneboys also helped pass the time and allowed the creator to leave a humble, human monument to mark his own achievements and pay homage to the natural forces that first forged the rocks in this vast, pristine landscape.

Well, there you go. I'm back on my computer again, and the scent of the trail is quickly fading.

But may the memories last forever.

Stuff I'm reading, coming back from backpacking edition

... Yes, yes, I know, I haven't finished my trip report yet.

But there's too much to read!

  • PACELC theorem
    PACELC stands for: if there is a partition (P), how does the system trade off availability and consistency (A and C); else (E), when the system is running normally in the absence of partitions, how does the system trade off latency (L) and consistency (C)?
  • Engineering Trade-Offs and The Netflix API Re-Architecture
    we are keenly aware that a decision to create two APIs, owned by two separate teams, can have profound implications. Our goals would, and should, be minimal divergence between the two APIs. Developer experience, as noted above, is one of the reasons. More broadly, we want to maximize the reuse of any components that are relevant to both APIs. This also includes any orchestration mechanisms, and any tools, mechanisms, and libraries related to scalability, reliability, and resiliency. The risk is that the two APIs could drift apart over time. What would that mean? For one, it could have organizational consequences (e.g., need for more staff). We could end up in a situation where we have valued ownership of components to a degree that we have abandoned component reuse. This is not a desirable outcome for us, and we would have to be very thoughtful about any divergence between the two APIs.

    Even in a world where we have a significant amount of code use, we recognize that the operational overhead will be higher. As noted above, the API is critical to the Netflix service functioning properly for customers. Up until now, only one of the teams has been tasked with making the system highly scalable and highly resilient, and carrying the operational burden. The team has spent years building up expertise and experience in system scale and resiliency. By creating two APIs, we would be distributing these tasks and responsibilities to both teams.

  • With Windows 10, Microsoft Blatantly Disregards User Choice and Privacy: A Deep Dive
    Windows 10 sends an unprecedented amount of usage data back to Microsoft, particularly if users opt in to “personalize” the software using the OS assistant called Cortana. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of data sent back: location data, text input, voice input, touch input, webpages you visit, and telemetry data regarding your general usage of your computer, including which programs you run and for how long.
  • Notes on Startup Engineering Management for Young Bloods
    The amount of overhead that goes into managing coordination of people cannot be overstated. It's so great that the industry invented microservices because we'd rather invest engineering headcount and dollars into software orchestration than force disparate engineering teams to work together. And even that is an illusion when it comes to true cross-functional efforts. It turns out, there is a reason big companies end up with project managers who spend all day making sure people are talking to one another.
  • Loomio Co-op Handbook
    Then we evolved again, and became a fully agile team. We had always drawn on elements of agile organising in our software development practices, but it was when we started incorporating all work across the co-op into agile sprints that it really clicked together.

    Every 3 months we stop and reassess the team makeup, the coordinators, and the budget to check: are we still making the absolute best use of this money that’s been entrusted to us? This made us super adaptive and efficient, but of course it was really disruptive too.

    In late 2015 we raised money from impact investors, which finally brought us to a level of financial security where we could think more than 3 months ahead. This has enabled us to thinking long-term, resource a solid core team, and settle into a set of functional processes that address different perspectives and time-scales of our work.

  • NetApp’s surprising Q1
    Flat product sales don’t sound too bad, given the wrenching turnaround CEO George Kurian is trying to execute. But gross margins have dropped to the mid-40s, down over 300 basis points YOY, evidence that NetApp is buying business to keep product revenues up.
  • How to rescue Obamacare as insurers drop out
    To understand the problem bedeviling Aetna and other insurers — and the solution — one has to understand five key features of individual insurance markets.
  • On and off the grid – with digitally literate teenagers
    In a weird way my wife and I came to appreciate watching the Olympics each evening around the television. We did it as a family, and without the aid of digital technologies, which made it more social. Here is what I mean: Digital technologies have removed a social dimension of family life. Today my kids comfortably navigate Snapchat and Wikipedia and all of social media, except Facebook, which they and their friends largely left after my generation joined. My kids used to tease me about not texting as much as they do, but the playfulness passed long ago. At this point my children do not enjoy introducing me to a new apps for the smart phone. The regard me as antiquated.

    Going off the grid prevented my children from burying their faces in their parochial online worlds, so we all watched the same televised sporting events. This became a shared family experience. Each evening, after a day in the park, we sat down to the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, and we talked about it. From a parental point of view, this was a very satisfying family experience.


    I came to appreciate that Pokemon Go became a filter through which my son experienced the park. The app worked in every location where LTE worked. It motivated my son to understand the park’s layout. His siblings found it amusing and they engaged with him about the experience. When we hiked up Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls, for example, he pulled up a virtual map of the trails. He tried it in every popular location – Mono Lake, Mirror Lake, Tenaya Lake, Tuolumne Meadows – any place where cell service supported it. He bagged his first Pickachu (ever) at the Mono Lake Visitor Center. A few times he showed me and his siblings where the creatures lurked.

    It was rather astonishing how engaged he became. By the end of the stay my son had a mental map of every trail we hiked in Yosemite, and the cell phone service overlay that supported the app on the trails. This filter made him appreciate details about the landscape. We spoke about the ways the glaciers cut the granite, and he understood the geometry as well as he understood any virtual landscape. By the end of our stay I half-expected him to go back to the cabin and recreate the landscape on MineCraft.

  • Corporate sponsors at Yosemite? The case against privatizing national parks
    The empirical record regarding state parks is illustrative. Most states have either cut their funding for state park systems substantially in recent years or required them to be more self-sustaining. This trend has increased pressure on state park managers to generate revenue.

    State parks thus have added hotels, lodges, golf courses, ski resorts and various forms of commercial sponsorship. Now the National Park Service reportedly is considering selling corporate sponsorships to raise money for unfunded maintenance projects.

  • This Man Will Change the Way You Play Board Games
    In an industry that cranks out products by the thousand, Daviau has done the seemingly impossible: created a genuinely new way of playing board games. His “legacy games” unfold over months, changing as you play them. They have a beginning, middle, and—most shockingly—an end, completely overturning the fundamental idea that a board game must be eternal and endlessly replayable, an object you can inherit from your grandfather and play with your grandchildren. Daviau is the co-designer of Pandemic Legacy, which was released last year and almost immediately became the highest ranked game of all time on the influential site Board Game Geek. The Guardian said it “may be the best board game ever created.”
  • Track of the Day: 'Hackensack' by Thelonious Monk
    Few of the men and women who arrange microphones, sit in the booths of recording studios, twist knobs, and commit music to tape (or digital files) are known to the public. But Rudy Van Gelder’s skill and talent were such that his name rightly rose to the top echelons of jazz. Van Gelder died at 91 on Thursday, Nate Chinen reported.

    Van Gelder, a trained optometrist, began recording jazz sessions at his parents’ house in Hackensack, New Jersey, as early as the 1940s. Like many of the greatest studio geniuses, RVG (as he was often known) was basically a self-taught amateur, who gradually figured out how to make what were probably the best recordings in the world. By the 1950s he was recording top-flight professionals. Sessions recorded at the house included Miles Davis’ Walkin’, Relaxin’, Workin’, and Steamin’, as well as Bags’ Groove; the Modern Jazz Quartet’s Django; Sonny Rollins’s Tenor Madness and Saxophone Colossus; and Cannonball Adderley’s Somethin’ Else.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Farewell, Geralt of Rivia

Almost 18 months ago, I sat down to see the world (well, some world, that is) through the eyes of Geralt of Rivia.

Untold hours, weeks, and now even years later, our time together has drawn to a close. Geralt of Rivia has aided Ciri in her journey, dispatched the Lord of the Wild Hunt, played a major role in the war in Temeria, re-united with Dandelion and with Yennefer, formed a life-long relationship with Triss, explored all of Novigrad, Skellige, Velen, and more, investigated Olgierd von Everec, and solved the mysterious murders of the nobility in Toussaint.

In a way, my heart aches to do it all over, each bit, every moment.

Yet, in a way, it is so satisfying just resting there in my memory, bits of lore, scraps of conversation, glimpses of countryside, all part of some life I feel like I've lived, somehow.

Farewell, Geralt of Rivia. Thank you for letting me be part of you, or maybe for being part of me.

Monday, August 15, 2016

It's not just a game, ...

... it's reflecting on a decade-long project that brought more than 500 contributors together: Seeing Red: The rise of CD Projekt and The Witcher

Making a title that as many gamers as possible will enjoy is the biggest challenge in and of itself, but nothing is impossible as long as you work hard enough. So that’s what we do. We listen to players and work very hard to create a title that all of them will enjoy.

There are gamers who want to experience every detail of a story, and those who don’t need to focus on all of its nooks and crannies. So during dialogues, we distinguish between the options that progress the story and those that provide additional details.

What gamers want has always been key to our philosophy as a studio but, at the same time, each and every one of the games we made was something that we ourselves wanted to make.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Premier Cru story is winding down

What's that? You haven't been following the bizarre tale of John Fox and his ultra-high-end Berkeley wine store, Premier Cru?

Well, let me give you the whirlwind tour.

  • Premier Cru was for many years a fairly small operation, first in the upscale Piedmont Avenue district of Oakland, then later in a newer facility in Emeryville. In 2010, they moved to a big splashy new location in Berkeley: Wine seller Premier Cru signs deal for Berkeley complex
    Premier Cru is a long-time wine seller in the East Bay.

    The company was founded in 1980 with two locations on Oakland's Piedmont Avenue, Fox said. In 1998, Premier Cru moved to Emeryville.

    "We're going back to our roots," Fox said. "When we first opened, we were there for the local customers and built our reputation from the kind of wine selection we had then. We will do that again on a larger scale and a bigger audience."

  • But at some point during the recovery from the Great Recession of 2008, things had changed, and the wine industry was changing, too: How to invest in wine
    In fact, since 2001, when Liv-ex began its 100 Index, wine has significantly outperformed the leading equity indices in western markets with an average annual return of 16%. By comparing other pieces of research it is also possible to look at fine wine returns since 1950. Again the results are extremely positive and remarkably consistent. Since, 1950, the average gross return is 15% and is 17% if you start in 1960.

    Wine remains less volatile than stocks and shares, making it a less risky investment. However, with the increasing number of wine funds and more and more private investors coming into the market, it appears that the wine market is becoming more closely correlated with the stock market than was the case two years ago. In the past, the fact that it was not highly correlated with equities, made it extremely attractive to investors looking to diversify a portfolio.

    Generally, wine is also regarded as a wasting asset so doesn’t attract Capital Gains Tax.

  • The money started flooding in, and places like Premier Cru turned out to be major players in this new world of wine "investing": the company had $42 million in customer deposits on hand in December 2014. As part of this craze, there developed the notion of wine futures, or "pre-arrivals"
    Premier Cru carries some of the world’s best – and most expensive – wines. For example, it is currently offering a three-liter bottle of a 2010 Mouton Rothschild for $3,615.

    The wine is among vintages advertised as “pre-arrival.” Many wine collectors buy French Bordeaux while it is still aging in the barrel. It costs less then than when it is bottled. But to snare futures, collectors must pay up-front and wait a few years before delivery.

  • Unfortunately, either the business was too complex for Fox to handle, or the temptation became too large, and things went south: Berkeley store sued over $3M of undelivered wine
    Seven disgruntled customers have filed lawsuits against Premier Cru, a high-end wine store on University Avenue in Berkeley, contending that the store purchased thousands of bottles of expensive French wine on their behalf, worth around $3 million, but never delivered it.

    All of the plaintiffs in the lawsuits – many of whom live in Asia – say they paid Premier Cru to buy them “futures” of French Bordeaux (wine that is still aging in barrels and not bottled), but they have yet to see the wine. Some of the customers said they have been waiting years for their wine. Whenever they call the store to complain, they hear a litany of excuses, they said.

  • That was just the tip of the iceberg, though, and a few months later Embattled wine dealer files for bankruptcy
    Premier Cru, a wine retailer and importer based in Berkeley, California, filed for Chapter 7 liquidation Friday, citing $70 million in liabilities and only $7 million in assets. The case is believed to be the biggest wine-seller bankruptcy in recent history, and could rattle confidence in the fine wine world.

    "This is by far the biggest that I've seen," said Marc Lazar, president of Domaine, a leading wine advisor and wine-storage company. "I think people are going to feel burned after this and feel less willing to open up their pocketbooks for wine."

    The case is likely to include some of the richest wine collectors in the world. While the court documents are abbreviated for now, there are more than 9,000 collectors and companies listed as creditors — including billionaire collectors William Koch and Jeff Greene.

  • As the investigation dragged on, the story just became bigger and more spectacular: Premier Cru owner had penchant for expensive cars
    John Fox leased a $199,264 2014 Ferrari, as well as a $90,000 2016 two-door Corvette ZO6 with a 650-horsepower engine, according to court documents. Fox stopped making his $2,206 monthly payments on the Ferrari in November, and the company that owns the car, Ferrari Financial Services, is trying to get it back. Wells Fargo Bank is also asking to repossess the Corvette.
  • It soon became clear that Bankrupt Premier Cru not run in ‘reliable fashion’
    the company had $42 million in customer deposits on hand in December 2014 — most of which was no longer there when the company filed for bankruptcy in January 2016, according to court documents.

    Those two startling numbers, along with some statements from a former employee and an accountant hired to examine the records, reveal chaotic business practices at the Berkeley wine company owned by John Fox and Hector Ortega. Those dealings have prompted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate whether Fox ran a Ponzi scheme.

  • And, last week, the final shoe dropped: Wine, women and scam: High-end seller guilty in Ponzi scheme
    Fox said little during the hearing. But in his plea agreement, also filed Thursday, he admitted selling about $20 million worth of “phantom wines,” which he said he knew he could not deliver, from 2010 to 2015.

    Fox said he used some customers’ money to buy wine for previous customers — the “Ponzi scheme” practice — and had also embezzled funds from his company. He said he used some of those funds to pay the mortgage on his home in Alamo, to pay credit card bills for himself and his wife, and to buy or lease fancy cars.

    “I also spent more than $900,000 on women that I met online,” Fox said, without offering specifics on who the women were or what he paid them for. He said he made the payments through PayPal. The fraud charge to which Fox pleaded guilty covers a period from about 2009 to 2015. But Fox said in his plea agreement that he first started creating fraudulent purchase orders in about 1993 or 1994.

1993?! And it took 25 years for it all to come crashing down?

Sadly, it seems that it was sort of an open secret that all was not well at Premier Cru, for a long, long time:

From 2002 to 2004, the wine company purchased $296,235 in wine from Mark Anderson, a Sausalito businessman who was charged in 2004 with embezzling $1 million worth of wine from clients at his wine storage facility. He was later charged and convicted of setting a fire in a Vallejo warehouse that destroyed 4.5 million bottles of wine worth $250 million. Anderson is now serving a 27-year prison sentence.

Premier Cru didn’t seem to do due diligence on where Anderson got his wine to sell, according to a former Premier Cru employee who asked not to be named. Anderson would pull up regularly to the Premier Cru warehouse in Emeryville in an old burgundy Cadillac with loose wine bottles rattling around in plastic milk cartons in the back. The employees unloaded them, no questions asked. “I doubt John Fox ever asked Mark for documentation regarding the provenance of the wine he sold,” said the former employee. “It seemed like Mark would bring the wine by, then they would agree on pricing, John would cut a check, and that was it.” After Anderson was indicted and articles about him appeared in newspapers, Fox did sever relations. But within two weeks, Anderson turned around and sold $34,800 in French wine to Premier Cru under a different name.

It was all about "image", and about trading on that image to do business online:

Business appeared to be flourishing. Fox and Ortega held a grand opening bash in December 2011 with valet parking, gold and black balloons, and platters of food. Fox often hosted after-hours work parties on Fridays, according to people who attended. Fox would open numerous bottles of fine wine for his friends, and serve bread and cheese as accompaniments.

The bulk of Premier Cru’s business, however, was online. The company became known for its aggressive email marketing campaigns, which went out twice a week with great offers on premium wines.

Well, now it is over, and I suspect all that money is, well, "down the hatch."

For some reason, I find it fascinating that various art forms, whether they are wine, painting, sculpture, etc., all seem to eventually contain some aspect in which the worlds of art and finance intersect.

At which point the discussion becomes less about aesthetics, and more about interest rates, and tax considerations.

And, at that point, once the rich are wishing to hide their money, there always seems to emerge those unscrupulous folk who collude with them, and, all too often, bad things happen.

I suppose this is just what people always do to people.

Anyway, now you know about Premier Cru.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The five albums my daughter gave me in June ...

Ranked by how often I've been playing them in the last three months.

  1. TV On The Radio, Seeds
  2. Shakey Graves, And The War Came
  3. Weekend, Jinx
  4. Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color
  5. The Weeknd, Beauty Behind The Madness

I like them all.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Congratulations Alexi!

Congratulations to Alexi Pappas, who finished 17th in today's Women's 10,000 Meters at the Rio Olympics, and now holds the Greek National Record for the event!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Software market commoditization

The software industry has a terrible habit of borrowing words from other fields and assigning them new meanings.

For example, software business leaders will talk about an "ecosystem", by which they mean: "a market in which there are a collection of different products built by different companies, each of which is distinct and can be considered independently, but all of which interact with and relate to each other."

An example of such a software "ecosystem" might be the personal fitness market, which is full of products that you can buy and use to improve your personal exercise regimen, as well as products that you can buy and use which augment or extend or enhance the behavior of the other products that you buy and use to improve your personal exercise regimen.

Of course, "ecosystem" is a real word in the biological sciences, and it means nothing like this at all.

But business people in the software industry find this word useful, for it allows them to have discussions about product strategy and such.

Another similar word is "commodity," borrowed from economics.

In economics, commodities are items for sale, such as eggs or crude oil or bars of gold or pork bellies or lumber pulp.

The idea of the economic term "commodity" is that these items are essentially indistinguishable and generic, and so by conducting markets in these commodities (such as the Chicago Board of Trade), people can efficiently arrange to negotiate the price of these items world-wide, even though in practice there are thousands or millions of individuals buying and selling individual cartons of eggs or truckloads of lumber pulp.

The price is set once, on a global market, for a generic good, and that same price is then used repeatedly and independently, in local transactions, for specific actual goods.

But when software business people talk about "commoditization," they don't really mean this. There aren't any actual software goods that behave like commodities in this way, and there aren't any global price-setting bodies like the Chicago Board of Trade that function in the software industry.

No two software products are truly inter-changeable; you can't switch your DBMS like you switch your provider of bacon.

Instead, when software business people talk about "commoditization," for example when they say "the relational database market has become commoditized," or "the enterprise application development market has become commoditized,", or "the source code management market has become commoditized," what they mean is: "purchasers in this market are no longer attracted by unique proprietary distinguishing features. Instead, they fear vendor lock-in, and are choosing to purchase simpler and less unique products, because they are protecting themselves in case they decide subsequently to switch to a different vendor."

Or, more succinctly: "we don't see how to make any money in this market; vendor X's product is good enough, and everybody is simply buying that product rather than shopping around."

So the next time you hear an MBA in a software company talk to you about "commoditization," that's what they mean.

It's not just a game, ...

... it, like any great cultural work, builds on the creative work of the generations that have come before.

Late in the Blood and Wine expansion, deep in a dark forest, in a clearing along a deserted road, The Witcher comes across a looted chest. In the chest is a note, written in despair by the chest's owner, whose collection of "precious" silverware has been stolen.

The owner has signed his note: his name is Smigole Serkis.

(If the allusion passes you by, go read about the work of the pioneering performance-capture artist Andy Serkis.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Alexey Shipilev's work on the Java Memory Model is AMAZING!

There are certain documents that you ought to make it a habit to read, and re-read, every so often.

At least, if you aspire to be, or to remain, an expert Java programmer.

Alexey Shipilev's epic and exhaustive explanations of the Java Memory Model are surely on that list.

  • Java Memory Model Pragmatics (transcript)
    This post is a transcript of the "Java Memory Model Pragmatics" talk I gave during this year at different conferences, mostly in Russian. There seems to be a limited supply of conferences in the world which can accommodate such a long talk, and being in need for exposing some background reading for my JMM Workshop at JVMLS this year, I decided to transcribe it.
  • Close Encounters of The Java Memory Model Kind
    In this post, we will try to follow up on particular misunderstandings about Java Memory Model, hopefully on the practical examples. The examples use the APIs from the jcstress suite, which are concise enough for a reader, and are runnable.

At one time I thought I knew this stuff, and perhaps I did, but I find that if I re-read it about once every six months or so, each time I do so I get smarter.

I suppose that this is sort-of the software engineering equivalent of "continuing education". They don't really teach you this sort of thing in school (though I learned about computers before there was such a thing as Computer Science in schools), and you won't (easily) pick this sort of thing up during your day-to-day work.

You just have to find a few, quiet hours every so often, pour yourself a strong cup of coffee, and dig in.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Day of the Dead: a very short review

The National's Day of the Dead falls into several categories:

  • It's a tribute album, and as such it falls into a LONG list of such tributes, going at least back to 1991's Deadicated

  • It's a fund-raising effort for an organization called Red Hot:
    Red Hot is a not-for-profit dedicated to fighting AIDS through pop culture.

Any project with a mixed mission like that is going to have to bravely take some swings, knowing that there will be some hits, and some misses.

And Day of the Dead indeed has a few of both.

But, overall, it is a fabulous result, in a number of respects.

The musical choices cover the entire multi-decade history of the band, going back to songs from the mid-1960's such as Cream Puff War, Clementine Jam and New Speedway Boogie, making extensive selections from the period of (roughly) 1970-1985, which was surely the Dead's most productive and brilliant time, and including a nice handful of late-period songs, such as Shakedown Street, Touch of Grey, Althea, and even The Jerry Garcia Band's rarely-played Reuben and Cherise

And the contributors, too, are a wide and varied lot, including a number of well-known acts (Mumford and Sons, Vijay Iyer, Bruce Hornsby, Wilco, Courtney Barnett) as well as a lot of folks I bet you've never heard of.

Finally, the production values are high. The recordings are clear and nicely mastered, the packaging and artwork are elegant and well-mannered (no cheap plastic), and the CDs each are nicely marked and contained in nicely-labelled sleeves.

But all these are details. In the end, does it all hold together?

I think: yes. Yes, it does.

There are a few clunkers, places where the result is much more swing-and-miss than base-hit, but overall this is a fine collection of music, MUCH more listenable than your typical tribute album.

Songs in a tribute album fall, I think, into several basic classes:

  • Labors of love and homages, in which the musicians bring energy and enthusiasm to well-known classics, but are reluctant to stray too far from tradition
  • Fresh looks, in which the musicians keep the overall piece within recognizable boundaries, but try to take it in a new direction.
  • Experiments, in which there is a fundamental alteration of the core elements of the piece, in search of something altogether new

Sometimes, experiments bring dramatic breakthroughs; in the Grateful Dead context, the best known such breakthrough is probably the so-called "slow version" of Friend Of The Devil. For a wonderful re-telling of the history of this particular experimental breakthrough, and how it involved Kenny Loggins, Betty Cantor, and the New Riders of The Purple Sage, see Corry Arnold's June 30, 1972: Memorial Auditorium, Kansas City, KS: NRPS/Kenny Loggins (Friend Of The Devil-slow)

Anyway, the point is that experiments are important, and brave, but they also fail much more than they succeed. There are several experiments on Day of the Dead, and I must admit that, were I the compiler, I don't think I would have included them on the final release.

However, I was NOT the compiler, and I must at least salute the intellectual curiosity and musical inventiveness of the choices that did get made.

So, to wrap it all up, let me offer my list of the Thirteen Best Songs on Day of the Dead, together with my list of the Four Worst Songs on Day of the Dead

First, the clunkers:

  1. Lucius, Uncle John's Band. Screaming banshees wail and turn the Dead's friendliest, most approachable song into a howling assault. The funny thing is, I've seen Lucius live and loved them, so I had very high hopes. I think this is the perfect example of an experiment that just didn't work for me.

  2. Tal National, Eyes of the World. Where the original was an effusion of wonder and joy, this attempt to evoke some sort of tribal chant instead becomes a monotony of noise.

  3. Courtney Barnett, New Speedway Boogie. Barnett has a wealth of talent, but I feel like she just wasn't inspired this time. A song which calls for her to find her inner Janis Joplin instead finds her with a whiny screech. What tried to be a fresh look falls quite short, I'm afraid.

  4. Marijuana Death Squads, Truckin'. One of the Dead's signature songs, Truckin's tale of the stresses of touring life requires an approach that delivers energy and excitement, but this version instead becomes rushed, frenzied, and cluttered. They aimed high, but they fell short.

OK, enough of being a drag. What are my absolute favorites (so far at least)?

  1. Orchestra Baobab, Franklin's Tower. These Senegalese (I think) musicians bring an Afro-Jazz approach to one of the Dead's jazziest numbers. It is delightful! It is magnificent!

  2. Ira Kaplan & Friends, Wharf Rat. The best-known version of the original Wharf Rat is the epic nine minute version on 1971's Grateful Dead; it starts slow, filled with pain and horror, then builds through renewal and redemption to a thunderous climax. Kaplan, who is the front man for the wonderful, if not well-known, band Yo La Tengo, choses to focus solely on the quiet resolve and fierce determination of the narrator, and the effect is gorgeous.

  3. Vijay Iyer, King Solomon's Marbles. The spectacularly talented Iyer could play "Chopsticks" and it would probably be a Special Event. But King Solomon's Marbles is certainly not "Chopsticks", and there is no way that you've ever heard the Grateful Dead like this before. It somehow simultaneously brings to mind the best of the Dead, and the best of Keith Jarrett, all at once.

  4. Bryce Dressner, Garcia Counterpoint. This is really unusual. It is, I think, the only original composition in the entire collection. The album notes say:
    'Garcia Counterpoint' was composed using fragments of Jerry Garcia's live guitar solo on "Althea" recorded at Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland on March 15, 1990. Live solo originally transcribed by Stephen Feigenbaum.
    All I know is, when you listen to it, it's like Jerry is back, and he's sitting across the room from you on a comfortable chair, just playing his guitar.

  5. Bela Fleck, Help On The Way. Yes, I know: Bela Fleck is a banjo player, and there wasn't a banjo to be found anywhere close to that most jazziest of Grateful Dead records, Blues for Allah. And I know that this selection is going to be controversial, for I'm sure there are those who hear Bela Fleck's croaking voice and cringe. But Jerry was a banjo player too, and, well, I'm not going to try to explain this to you. Banjo and tabla: it is somehow a more perfect Help On The Way than the original could ever have hoped to have been.

  6. The National, Morning Dew. This song is supposed to be an anthem, but when the Dead played it themselves, it all too often was a soggy slog. The National wake it up and give it the backbone it deserves.

  7. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy & Friends, Rubin & Cherise. This is really a Jerry Garcia Band song, and not all that well-known, but Bonnie Billy dresses it up with a delicious guitar hook and a lively presentation that should make this wall flower the new belle of the ball.

  8. Jim James & Friends, Candyman. James, leader of the well-known My Morning Jacket, clearly knew just what song he wanted. Candyman, from the Dead's most approachable album, American Beauty, is an odd-ball of a song about a pusher and a pimp who worms his way into your heart with promises and gifts, only to deliver you into sorrow. One of the first Dead recordings to feature that fascinating combination of pedal steel and organ that would become one of their signature sounds, Candyman is surely not a song for an amateur to perform, but James channels his inner Jerry and delivers a beautiful rendition.

  9. Orchestra Baobab, Clementine Jam. OK, this is an EXTREME rarity. You have to be a very, very faithful Dead Head to know Clementine
    According to studio dates, the Dead worked on Clementine several times in the Aoxomoxoa sessions in fall '68. Sadly, none of these outtakes have surfaced, but the Matrix shows make clear that they must have been working on the song around that time, and it appears in the two earlier studio rehearsals we have. Unfortunately, there are no Clementines in the Dead shows that survive from late '68, and they decided not to put it on Aoxomoxoa. Perhaps they felt it was too derivative a song, or Garcia wasn't comfortable with the lyrics, or the arrangement never satisfied them? It seems the song was left unfinished, never finalized...
    Well, Les musiciens de L'Orchestra Baobab can't be said to have finished the unfinished, nor finalized the never finalized, but they certainly bring back thoughts of what it was like, all those 50 years ago, before they were even known as The Grateful Dead.

  10. Hiss Golden Messenger, Brown-Eyed Women. M.C. Taylor, who performs as Hiss Golden Messenger, brings a tight, controlled, perfect-to-the-last-note rendition of one of the best songs that Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia ever composed. The only complaint you could have about this version is that it's just over too soon, too soon.

  11. Kurt Vile and Violators, Box of Rain. The sweetest and warmest Dead song of all has long been a fan favorite, but it can tremble on the edge of sugar and treacle. Vile, a talented young musician (yay for the new generation!) wakes it up and puts just enough pepper and spice in. A fine treatment, and a great example of a labor of love.

  12. The National, Peggy-O. The general consensus is that the Dead took an ancient Scottish folk song named The Bonnie Lass o' Fyvie and re-cast it into their own unique style. Well, The National take it one step further, and it is a strong and well-directed step forward, indeed.

  13. Mumford and Sons, Friend of the Devil. This is the "slow version" (see above), but where the original brought a sort-of devil-may-care lightness to the story, and the True Slow Version turned it into more of a love song, Mumford and Sons find an elegant space in between.

There are nearly 60 songs in this box set, and I've barely touched on most of them.

I'm going to be listening to these songs for years, making my own play-lists of them, revisiting them in different ways and in different moods, just as one does with the original Grateful Dead recordings.

Since it's a fund-raiser, for a worthy cause, I hope many many people find this music, so that the fund-raiser may be as successful as possible.

And since it's a lot of very interesting re-examinations of one of the most fascinating and challenging bands of my time, I hope many people find this music, for the music's sake, too.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

A little of this, a little of that

It's August. Things are slow in these lazy days of summer, but there's stuff to read in those brief breaks when I'm not playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt; Blood and Wine

  • Notes on concurrency bugs
    Let’s see what the academic literature has to say on non-deterministic bugs. There’s a lot of literature out there, so let’s narrow things down by looking at one relatively well studied area: concurrency bugs. We’ll start with the literature on single-machine concurrency bugs and then look at distributed concurrency bugs.
  • noms init
    It seemed like a database that combined the decentralization, versioning, and synchronization of Git with strong typing and the feel of functional programming would make it much easier to store, move, and track all kinds of changing data.

    One day after work, I shared what I was up to with my long-time friend and co-conspirator, Rafael Weinstein. Rafael had a lot of experience with synchronization from a previous life, and like me was deeply inspired by Git’s solution to this historically thorny corner of software design.


    Git took over the software world virtually overnight because its decentralized nature enabled source code to move fluidly between computers, organizations, and people; and because this in turn directly enabled much richer collaboration.

  • Synchronizing Containers
    the problem is that if we run our tests using
    docker-compose -f docker-compose.ui-tests.yml up
    that the Robot container immediately starts to execute tests although the application and the databases are not yet ready. This will lead to failing tests. We have to avoid that.

    But how can we make sure that everything is ready before the first test is executed? Docker cannot help us here since Docker doesn’t really know what’s happening inside a container. The fact that a container is ready from the perspective of Docker doesn’t mean that the application running inside the container is also ready. Specifically databases need some time to initialize. On slower machines that can take several seconds or more. On our CI agent Mongo DB for example takes about 30 seconds to start up and MySQL is no better.

  • Slow Down On Lawful Hacking Frameworks and Fixes
    Applying laws and policy to new technical contexts requires making some broad categorizations. In order to construct a regime that is workable for non-technologists, generalizations become necessary: This is an exploit, this other thing is a vulnerability or a trojan or “network investigatory technique.” The problem is that these are terribly inaccurate metaphors. They seem to be useful in individual cases to understand the basic issues without needed to think about how technical experts would grapple with the implications and subtleties of the code and situations at hand. But the trap is that it allows lawyers and judges and policymakers to say “Great! A vulnerability is this thing, a NIT is that thing; let’s go make some rules!”

    The inevitable result is that helpful, imprecise analogies are converted into pretend scientific terms, with fixed meanings. And the proposed general frameworks end up being based on fictions—further confusing the already complex debate.

  • When Tenure Never Comes
    I asked if she could substantiate rumors that the position would eventually translate into tenure-track position. This answer was more troubling. “Universities aren’t really looking to make thirty-year commitments anymore,” says the beneficiary of such a sinecure. In the space of five minutes this Dean had summarized my plight: because I’ve never held a tenure-track position, my decade of productivity put me in no greater standing for a job than someone fresh out of grad school; and those tenure-track positions—the only means to vindicate that work—aren’t in the interests of higher-education administrators.
  • Why It Sucks to Play 'Pokemon Go' If You're Poor
    McClatchy’s Christopher Huffaker outlined the problems with the distribution of resources in the game back in July, noting how the network effects of early adopters (white players) and people with more spare time (affluent players) led to concentrated portals in affluent white neighborhoods. My colleague Laura Bliss saw the same pattern in the new Google Maps “areas of interest” markers—areas of interest to whom?

    Some players refer to the disparity as “Pokémon redlining,” which, whoa there. We’re still talking about Jigglypuffs, right? “Pokémon privilege” might be the better term of art—at least it refers directly to an aspect of placemaking underlying the location-based aspect of gameplay.

  • Oakland police scandal: New revelations in death of officer and wife
    Oakland police briefly investigated Huerta Lopez's death as suspicious. Despite her family's doubts, the Alameda County District Attorney's Office last month confirmed the police department's ruling of suicide in an investigation requested by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. The newly released documents reveal more details of what happened on June 16, 2014.
  • In Drinking, as in Life, End With Bad Wordplay
    There couldn’t be a more suitable location to have a seminar on Auchentoshan and bitters. Bitters were originally developed medicinally as a digestive aid, and to this day are a common (especially among bartenders) treatment for an assortment of maladies. Today’s workshop is run by Robin Nance, national Auchentoshan brand ambassador, and Tobin Ludwig of Hella Bitters. We start with a sparkling, slightly bitter single-malt cocktail. Tobin presents the history and methods surrounding the development of bitters, explaining how some bitters are created using a mixture of dry spices and aromatics steeped in a strong spirit, as one would make tea, but others are made using tinctures (a single ingredient extracted into an alcohol base) that are then blended into a final product.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Living on the bleeding edge

Well, I am nothing if not impatient.

So yesterday I wondered off to Windows Update, and gave it a little nudge ("Check for Updates"), and there was

Feature update to Windows 10, version 1607

Doesn't look like much, does it? But that's the Windows Update description of what's known more commonly as the Windows 10 Anniversary Update (It's not the tenth anniversary, silly! It's the first anniversary of Windows 10. Well, anyway...)

So that is a pretty big update, and takes a while to download and install, but all of that went fine.

Then, today, I decided to take a deep breath and follow the instructions on this Installation Guide:

  1. Turn on Developer Mode
  2. Enable the Windows Subsystem for Linux feature (gui)
  3. Enable the Windows Subsystem for Linux feature (command line)
  4. Reboot
  5. Install bash and Ubuntu on Windows

And, there it is! Bash!

The first thing I tried was to go to my copy of the Derby source code, checked out with Subversion from the Apache website.

I typed 'svn stat', and bash politely told me that I needed to run

sudo apt-get install subversion

So I did that, and it Just Worked, and et voila! I am running Ubuntu.

And Windows.



Betraying my ignorance of public key cryptography

Here's something I don't understand.

Git uses ssh public/private key pairs for its wire-level network security.

Git uses gpg public/private key pairs for its commit-signing and tag-signing operations.

Why does git use two different keys for these two purposes?

Is that considered to be improved security?

Or is there a technical reason that git couldn't have simply used the same public/private key pair for both purposes?

And yes, I understand that in the wire-level network security case, it typically isn't git itself that is authenticating you using the SSH public key; it is actually the operating system that is doing that.

So I guess my question is: OK, but then why can't I use that same SSH key pair to sign my git commits and git tags? Why did git decide that I should use a different key pair for signing my git commits and tags?

Sorry for the naive question, but, as I admitted, I'm still rather ignorant about this cryptography stuff.

And, I see that other people are puzzled by this, too.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Reading my way to Quebec

We're hoping to make a trip to Eastern Canada this summer, if all goes well.

So, as is my wont, I've been hunting around, reading my way to Quebec.

In addition to the usual guidebooks and online sources, I've come across a couple of very enjoyable items:

  • Firstly, in the absolutely amazing History of Cartography, published by the University of Chicago Press, and now happily online for the world to enjoy, there is a very interesting chapter: The Mapping of Samuel de Champlain, 1603–1635 by Conrad E. Heidenreich.
    The importance of Champlain to the early seventeenth century mapping of North America is that his were the first accurate maps of the Atlantic coast north of Cape Cod, the first accurate maps of the St. Lawrence River to the eastern Great Lakes, and the first maps to combine English Arctic exploration with that of the French to the south. His maps also show an appreciation for native geographic information, which was so important to French exploration of the interior of the continent. It is clear, however, that Champlain was not primarily a cartographer. His original tasks were resource evaluation and exploration; after 1616 he became an administrator responsible for the smooth functioning of the fur trade and the settlement and governance of New France. Although today he is known among academics for the quality of his maps and writings, to the general public, in Canada at least, he is best known for having established the French presence in their country as a permanent feature that gives it some of its distinctive character.
    What I found most endearing about the cartographical story of Champlain was how eminently pragmatic and practical he was:
    Champlain’s writings suggest that he had a practical rather than classical education. He recorded what he saw without making classical allusions or indulging in speculation. His treatise on navigation, the Traitté de la marine, also points to a practical background—learning through observation and doing rather than schooling.
    Having learned my own (software development) trade mostly by "observation and doing rather than schooling," I felt an instant kinship. And I loved how truly practical he was:
    Within days after he arrived in New France for the first time, Champlain questioned the natives through an interpreter about the geography of the interior. By the time he got to the Lachine rapids, he requested that they draw maps for him. Champlain’s inland mapping began with a rough outline based on native verbal accounts and maps, initiating a practice followed by every French explorer after him.
  • Secondly, although it's not the most current of works, I am certainly enjoying Taras Grescoe's delightful Sacre Blues: An Unsentimental Journey Through Quebec

    Grescoe's interests are far-ranging, and he happily wanders all over the place, from language to government to "cowboy culture" to the press to native relations to weather, and much, much more.

    And he is a witty fellow, making Sacre Blues a much more entertaining read than your typical dry history:

    Quebecois television admen who make the transition from Montreal to Paris report that they have to leave behind a freight car's worth of cultural baggage if they want to sell to the French. The openness, sincerity, and warmth that are featured values in Quebec's television commercials tend to be held in low esteem in France (an oft-repeated aphorism, usually delivered in rapid-fire Parisian, sums up the attitude: "Trop bon, trop con." In other words, if you're too nice, you're also too stupid.) In France, the emphasis must be put on sensual seduction (full, red lips suck on a Gervais ice cream bar), a nostalgia for lost glory (a Citroen flashes past castles on the Loire), and caustic verbal humour, where a mot juste puts a pretentieux in his place (an employee cunningly embarrasses his boss into giving him his France Telecom cellphone at the office Christmas party). The ideal French consumer is the sure-footed wit blessed with an ostentatious and somewhat cruel intelligence. What appeals in Quebec, by contrast, is the generous, warm-hearted boy-next-door whose common sense prevents him from becoming a dupe.
  • Lastly, at least partly for my wife, I've picked up and spent a fair amount of time with Julian Armstrong's Taste of Quebec

    Several aspects of Armstrong's cookbook are notable:

    • It's nicely illustrated, with simple yet beautiful pictures of the dishes-as-prepared
    • The recipes are simple and easy to read. Moreover, Armstrong often, though not always, includes both the French name of the dish and its ingredients as well as the English names
    • Armstrong collected most of these recipes from various well-known Canadian restaurants and chefs, and usually, though not always, includes some additional capsule information about the recipe's source that brings it to life

    The likelihood that we will actually prepare many of these recipes is quite low; I just can't see us fixing Casserole de Lievre et de Perdrix Parfumee a l'Erable (Maple-flavoured hare and partridge casserole).

    However, just reading through the ingredients and preparation techniques is quite interesting, and every so often as you're reading through the book you come across a section like this one, on Jarrets noirs:

    The moist and muddy banks of the Chaudiere River helped give the Beaucerons the nickname jarrets noirs, which is used to this day. It's not that residents had black legs, oldtimers explain. The term refers to the black feet, or hocks, of the horses that pulled their owners' carts, or charettes, along the river to market in Quebec City, where their owners sold their wares and bought such essentials as salt, spices and molasses.

I'm sure there are other sources I should be reading, but for now, these are quite enjoyable.

Have others to suggest? Let me know!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Rolling Stone copy editors: Boo! Hiss!

25 Worst Original Names of Famous Bands

17. The Pendeltons

Final name: Beach Boys

When Brian Wilson began writing songs about surfing in 1961 he'd hardly ever even touched a surfboard, so to get some credibility he called his new group the Pendeltons after the plaid, wool shirts favored by the surf community. Just three months later, Los Angeles–based independent label Candix Records agreed to release their debut single "Surfin'." But they hated the stuffy-sounding name and changed it to Beach Boys (after almost going with the Surfers) without even telling the band. It's as generic as it comes, but the group had no choice but to go with it. In the early 1970s, tired of being known as a Beach Boy, Wilson suggested they change their name to Beach. The others didn't go for it. They knew they were destined to be Beach Boys for life.

At least they spelled Brian Wilson correctly...

But ...