Tuesday, October 10, 2017

WC 2018 ? Not this year, I guess.

I can't say this was a total stunner, but still: USA Stunned by Trinidad and Tobago, Eliminated From World Cup Contention

The nightmare scenario has played out for the U.S. men's national team.

A roller coaster of a qualifying campaign ended in shambles, with a stunning 2-1 loss to Trinidad & Tobago, coupled with wins by Panama and Honduras over Costa Rica and Mexico, respectively, has eliminated the USA from the World Cup. The Americans will not be playing in Russia next summer.

Trinidad and Tobago, which hadn't won in its last nine matches (0-8-1), exacted revenge for the 1989 elimination at the hands of the United States, doing so in stunning fashion. An own goal from Omar Gonzalez and a rocket from Alvin Jones provided the offense, while Christian Pulisic's second-half goal wasn't enough to save the Americans.

Oh, my.

And it seems like there's a fair chance I won't be able to root for Leo Messi, either?

Well, what shall I do?

Let's see: there's still Iceland! They're easy to root for!

Perhaps Wales? Perhaps Costa Rica? Perhaps Chile?

I'm ready, I'm an eager Yankee, looking for a team with some charisma, some elan, some heart, some fighting spirit.

Where are you? Are you out there?

It's still a few weeks until the tournament qualifications are known.

I guess I've got time to start looking...

Saturday, October 7, 2017

In the Woods: a very short review

One of my voracious reader friends introduced me to Tana French and her Dublin Murder Squad series, of which In the Woods is the first entry.

Structurally, In the Woods is a classic mystery: something horrible has happened, and the detectives are called; evidence is collected; witnesses are interviewed; leads are developed and followed; more is learned.

Along the way, we explore issues such as gender discrimination in the workplace and the ongoing effects of the great recession of 2008.

What distinguishes In the Woods is not these basic elements, but more the style and depth with which they are elaborated and pursued.

But did I mention style? What really makes In the Woods a delight is the ferocious lyricism that French brings to her writing.

For instance, here are three children, playing follow-the-leader in the woods:

These three children own the summer. They know the wood as surely as they know the microlandscapes of their own grazed knees; put them down blindfolded in any dell or clearing and they could find their way out without putting a foot wrong. This is their territory, and they rule it wild and lordly as young animals; they scramble through its trees and hide-and-seek in its hollows all the endless day long, and all night in their dreams.

They are running into legend, into sleepover stories and nightmares parents never hear. Down the faint lost paths you would never find alone, skidding round the tumbled stone walls, they stream calls and shoelaces behind them like comet-trails.

How marvelous is this, at every level!

Structurally, it's almost poetry, with a natural sing-song cadence and a subtly-reinforced pattern induced by the simple rhythms ("they know...", "they rule...", "they scramble...", "they stream...").

Stylistically, each little turn of phrase is so graceful and just right ("their own grazed knees", "wild and lordly as young animals", "calls and shoelaces").

And then:

They are running into legend, into sleepover stories and nightmares parents never hear.

Wow.

Anyway, that's just page 2. French is just as polished and capable on page 302, and, like any good mystery, once you start, you won't want to stop, even as you know (or think you know) what lies ahead.

From what I hear, French's subsequent books are wonderful as well; I shall certainly read more.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

John Cochrane's After the ACA

All that anyone has been able to talk about recently (or so it seems), is "repeal and replace."

It's a pretty interesting topic to me, partly because, as I get older, I'm thinking more and more about healthcare, and partly just because I think it's an awfully important topic.

But I didn't feel like I learned a lot during all the recent debates.

So I wandered here, and I wandered there, and eventually I found myself looking at a John Cochrane paper: After the ACA: Freeing the market for health care

Now, Cochrane is a pretty serious fellow, with pretty serious credentials, so my expectations were fairly high, perhaps unreasonably high.

And this is a major effort: the paper is nearly 50 pages long, and covers lots of ground

At the very least, I hoped to learn something new, and certainly, the paper sets out well:

I survey the supply, demand, and market for health care, and health insurance, to think about how those markets should work to provide quality care, low cost, and technical innovation. A market-based alternative does exist, and it is realistic.

As a survey, I was surprised how narrowly-focused Cochrane seemed to be. For example, there is almost no discussion in the entire paper about the role of malpractice lawsuits in driving up healthcare cost, modulo a mostly-throwaway line about its role in constraining the outsourcing of certain medical work:

Personal-injury law firms are already lining up to sue based on the “inferior quality” of outsourced readings, with requisite horror stories.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the effect that malpractice lawsuits have had on healthcare costs. Surely he should have more to say than this?

And I was saddened that there was very little reflection about the basic fact that the biggest reason that the United States spends dramatically more on healthcare than we did 75 years ago is because of ADVANCES in healthcare: people are living longer, so over the course of their lives they get more healthcare. Moreover, many ailments which were formerly not treatable now are reliably and safely treatable, so we treat them.

More treatment, over longer life spans, equals a greater amount of resources spent on healthcare.

But this is a GOOD thing! We should be happy that people are living longer, and are having their illnesses treated. And Cochrane seems to understand this, for he notes that

We don’t want 1950s care at 1920s prices

But then he moves rapidly on, without really spending any time to discuss how we might get by with less healthcare, overall, in some sensible fashion.

I did learn a few things:

  • I had not previously been aware of the role of the "Certificate of Need." Here's how Cochrane describes it:
    In Illinois as in 35 other states, every new hospital, or even major purchase, requires a “certificate of need.” This certificate is issued by our “hospital equalization board,” appointed by the governor and, like much of Illinois politics, regularly in the newspapers for various scandals. The board has an explicit mandate to defend the profitability of existing hospitals. It holds hearings at which they can complain that a new entrant would hurt their bottom line.
  • And Cochrane makes a well-worded argument in favor of a new conceptualization of health-care insurance:
    To summarize briefly, health insurance should be individual, portable, life-long, guaranteed-renewable, transferrable, competitive, and lightly regulated, mostly to ensure that companies keep their contractual promises. “Guaranteed renewable” means that your premiums do not increase and you can’t be dropped if you get sick. “Transferable” gives you the right to change insurance companies, increasing competition.

    Insurance should be insurance, not a negotiator and payment plan for routine expenses. It should protect overall wealth from large shocks, leaving as many marginal decisions unaltered as possible.

These are both tremendously good insights, and were certainly worth the time I invested in Cochrane's essay.

But most of the rest of Cochrane's paper baffled me.

More than just baffled me; it flat-out astonished me.

Cochrane's main point seems to be that consuming healthcare should be much more like going to a restaurant, or hiring a gardening service for your house, or buying an airplane ticket, or choosing a new set of tires for your car: you should check Yelp before you make your decision; you should shop around for the best price; you should probably even try to use a coupon or negotiate for a better deal.

Is he serious?

Does he really think that selecting medical care is like these other activities? Apparently, he does:

Health care is not that different from the services provided by lawyers, auto mechanics, home remodelers, tax accountants, financial planners, restaurants, airlines or college professors.

Does he really think that it makes sense to change medical providers on an incident-by-incident basis, just like you go to one restaurant one day, and a different one the next week? He certainly doesn't seem to think that a person's medical information is very sensitive or private, dismissing that notion breezily as:

Confidentiality regulations, apparently more stringent than those for your money in the bank.

Is it possible that Cochrane has never had to have a sensitive discussion with his doctor? Never felt like he needed to have any deeper of a relationship than he has with the barista who makes his coffee in the morning? Is his life really that uncomplicated?

Even more astonishing is this notion he has of "negotiating" for your healthcare. Cochrane is a big proponent of negotiation, and wonders why it is missing in healthcare, when it is so prevalent elsewhere:

You don’t need an “insurance” company to negotiate your cellphone contract, home repair and rehab, mortgage, airline fare, legal bills, or clothes, as we do for health.

Is he serious?

I'll grant that people certainly negotiate the price they pay for their house, and there may be some people who negotiate the price they pay for their legal bills, but do you actually know anyone who negotiates their cellphone contract? Their airline fare? The price of their clothes?

And how many acquaintances do you have (other than medical professionals) who have the requisite base knowledge to negotiate, say, a reasonable price for spinal surgery?

Discussing the well-known (and, admittedly, frustrating) strawman that "a man in the ambulance on his way to the hospital with a heart attack is in no position to negotiate," Cochrane just completely dismisses it:

Our health care system actually does a pretty decent job with heart attacks.

... have they no families? If I’m on the way to the hospital, I call my wife. She’s a heck of a negotiator.

And then continues to invoke The Mighty Yelp:

In a competitive, transparent market, a hospital that routinely overcharged cash customers with heart attacks would be creamed by Yelp reviews

Is he serious?

When you have a heart attack, your wife should be negotiating with the hospital while you're in the ambulance? Or she should be browsing Yelp, deciding whether to tell the ambulance to take you to hospital A or hospital B?

Maybe all Cochrane means by "negotiate" is "shop around", and if that's true, then certainly I grant that there's a big place for that.

For example, when my parents were planning to get cataract surgery, they certainly did their homework, tried carefully to select the best surgeon. (Although, I don't think they actually used Yelp? Maybe they did?)

And it definitely seems like it used to be Common Wisdom that for any significant medical issue, you should get a second opinion, so maybe that's what Cochrane is trying to say.

Although, when people used to say "you should get a second opinion," it was typically the QUALITY of the medical advice that was of concern, not the PRICE of the medical advice.

The people that I know are generally much more concerned about the SUCCESS of that triple bypass, not about its cost.

Most of the people that I know don't even really negotiate the price of their house. Rather, they try to pick a decent real estate agent, and let the agent handle the negotiation. I do know a handful of people that are able to do this successfully on their own; a much smaller number of them enjoyed it; a smaller segment still have actually done that multiple times in their life.

Ask around about buying a car: this is really the experience you want when you need arthroscopic surgery on your knee?

What you want is for the pain to go away, and for you to be able to take up hiking again.

So, in the end, I struggle to comprehend what sort of world it is that Cochrane envisions.

It seems like his ideal is a situation in which we are all informed consumers, and have no trouble evaluating whether we are being given a good deal for duodenal atresia surgery or base cell carcinoma immunotherapy, in which we arrange to have strokes, aneurysms, broken arms and heart attacks with enough advance notice that we can consult Yelp before the ambulance arrives, and in which we respond to being told that the yearly mammogram will cost $375 by saying: "how about $225 instead?"

I guess I'm still looking for that informed, readable, clear-headed, approachable paper which explains what we, as a society, can truly and effectively do about healthcare costs.

Thank you Mr. Cochrane for trying.

But I'm afraid that, for me at least, you were not successful.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

In which people discuss things I do not understand

We all thought: "Hey! New CEO search is over! Things will be boring and normal now!"

  • God Is a Bot, and Anthony Levandowski Is His Messenger
    In 2002, Levandowski’s attention turned, fatefully, toward transportation. His mother called him from Brussels about a contest being organized by the Pentagon’s R&D arm, DARPA. The first Grand Challenge in 2004 would race robotic, computer-controlled vehicles in a desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas—a Wacky Races for the 21st century.

    “I was like, ‘Wow, this is absolutely the future,’” Levandowski told me in 2016. “It struck a chord deep in my DNA. I didn’t know where it was going to be used or how it would work out, but I knew that this was going to change things.”

  • Uber-SoftBank Deal Ensures Limits on Kalanick’s Power
    SoftBank Group Corp. has overcome a major obstacle to its planned multibillion-dollar investment in Uber Technologies Inc. The Japanese firm agreed to block any attempts to elevate Travis Kalanick, Uber’s controversial former leader, back to the company’s top ranks, according to people familiar with the discussions.

    Venture capital firm Benchmark, which led Kalanick’s ouster in June, has sought a guarantee in writing from SoftBank that it would reject reappointing Kalanick as chief executive officer and block his appointment as chairman of the board or head of one of its subcommittees, said the people.

  • Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick just appointed 2 new board members, a defiant move the company is calling a 'complete surprise'
    Uber cofounder Travis Kalanick appointed Xerox chairwoman Ursula Burns and former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain to the company's board of directors on Friday, a surprise move that's almost certain to re-ignite the bitter internal fighting that has destabilized the ride-hailing giant for months.

    Uber quickly decried the move as "a complete surprise" to both the company and its board.

    "That is precisely why we are working to put in place world-class governance to ensure that we are building a company every employee and shareholder can be proud of," an Uber spokesman told Business Insider.

  • Here’s the proposal to change Uber’s governance, which is aimed at limiting Travis Kalanick’s power
    Some of the proposal points are expected to be voted on by the board on Tuesday:

    It would institute “one share, one vote,” which would eliminate shares distributed early in the company’s history that hold “high” voting power. Those shares are held by Kalanick and also Benchmark, the venture firm that has sued him, as well as some employees.

    Sources said Kalanick wants to defend the removal of those potentially lucrative shares, without the consent of those who have them, and that it also impacts all shareholders unfairly. Sources close to the board said that a majority of those shareholders are in favor of this change.

  • London's Uber ban shows how driverless cars will cut jobs
    Driving to work in a private car imposes an average daily commuting cost on the owner of €24 per day (about $24), UBS says. In a world of robotaxis, with no need to buy a car, that cost falls to €7.2 per day. "Getting rid of their private car would enable the shared mobility user to travel about 10,000km per year in a robotaxi and save €5,000 per year," UBS calculates:

    "Robotaxis will likely price-compete with mass-transit systems. The shift towards electric autonomous vehicles, combined with more advanced fleet optimization and servicing platforms, next-generation traffic management and more intense competition, should reduce the fee charged to passengers of robotaxis by as much as 80% versus a ride-on-demand trip today. The technology to make robotaxis a reality is already available. In this new paradigm, owning a private car will cost almost twice as much as using robotaxis regularly."

    That is an extraordinary thought: An Uber ride that costs £10 today — already roughly half the price of a back cab — might cost only £2 in a few years' time, UBS says. The cost of providing cars without drivers might be so small that companies could offer rides for free, UBS speculates, and make money on the advertising inside them.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Some Saturday night stuff

This is the most beautiful time of the year in the Bay Area, so it's hard to think of all the sad things that are happening in the world.

Still, life goes on, things happen.

Anyway, here's some Saturday night stuff, the typical mixture, I suppose, of wonderful and awful.

  • A First-Person Account of the Fatal Yosemite Rockfall
    Drew and I drive to the El Capitan meadow to get a better look at the rockfall. There is a helicopter idling nearby, rescue trucks line the shoulder of the road, and Yosemite park personnel are moving about. A couple of rangers keep the traffic moving and the area clear. The SAR team is debriefing beneath a tree. Our friend, Josh Huckaby, a YOSAR veteran, gives Drew a look that means one thing: bad news.
  • Anatomy of a Moral Panic
    The implication is clear: home cooks are being radicalized by the site’s recommendation algorithm to abandon their corned beef in favor of shrapnel-packed homemade bombs. And more ominously, enough people must be buying these bomb parts on Amazon for the algorithm to have noticed the correlations, and begin making its dark suggestions.

    But as a few more minutes of clicking would have shown, the only thing Channel 4 has discovered is a hobbyist community of people who mill their own black powder at home, safely and legally, for use in fireworks, model rockets, antique firearms, or to blow up the occasional stump.

  • Illustrating Group Theory: A Coloring Book
    Math is about more than just numbers. In this "book" the story of math is visual, told in shapes and patterns.
  • NEW REPUBLIC NAMES J.J. GOULD NEW EDITOR
    Prior to The Atlantic, Gould was an editor at the Journal of Democracy, as well as with McKinsey & Company—where he worked with the public- and social-sector practices. A lecturer in history and politics at Yale University, he has written for the Washington Monthly, The American Prospect, The Chronicle Herald, The European Journal of Political Theory, and The Moscow Times.
  • Michael Cohen (1992-2017)
    Within those five minutes, it had become obvious that this was a freshman who I could—must—talk to like an advanced grad student or professor. Sadly for quantum computing, Michael ultimately decided to go into classical parts of theoretical computer science, such as low-rank approximation and fast algorithms for geometry and linear-algebra problems. But that didn’t stop him from later taking my graduate course on quantum complexity theory, where he sat in the front and loudly interrupted me every minute, stream-of-consciousness style, so that my “lectures” often turned into dialogues with him. Totally unforgivable—all the more so because his musings were always on point, constantly catching me in errors or unjustified claims (one of which I blogged about previously).

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Thinking about freezing on a hot day

Has anyone done this?

Are there pros and cons besides what's listed here?

  • The Equifax Breach: What You Should Know
    Q: So should I take advantage of the credit monitoring offer?

    A: It can’t hurt, but I wouldn’t count on it protecting you from identity theft.

    Q: Wait, what? I thought that was the whole point of a credit monitoring service?

    A: The credit bureaus sure want you to believe that, but it’s not true in practice. These services do not prevent thieves from using your identity to open new lines of credit, and from damaging your good name for years to come in the process. The most you can hope for is that credit monitoring services will alert you soon after an ID thief does steal your identity.

    Q: Well then what the heck are these services good for?

    A: Credit monitoring services are principally useful in helping consumers recover from identity theft. Doing so often requires dozens of hours writing and mailing letters, and spending time on the phone contacting creditors and credit bureaus to straighten out the mess. In cases where identity theft leads to prosecution for crimes committed in your name by an ID thief, you may incur legal costs as well. Most of these services offer to reimburse you up to a certain amount for out-of-pocket expenses related to those efforts. But a better solution is to prevent thieves from stealing your identity in the first place.

  • Consumers Union’s Guide To Security Freeze Protection
    When a security freeze is in place at all three major credit bureaus, an identity thief cannot open a new account because the potential creditor or seller of services will not be able to check the credit file. When the consumer is applying for credit, he or she can lift the freeze temporarily using a PIN so legitimate applications for credit or services can be processed.
  • How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Security Freeze
    Freezing your credit involves notifying each of the major credit bureaus that you wish to place a freeze on your credit file. This can usually be done online, but in a few cases you may need to contact one or more credit bureaus by phone or in writing. Once you complete the application process, each bureau will provide a unique personal identification number (PIN) that you can use to unfreeze or “thaw” your credit file in the event that you need to apply for new lines of credit sometime in the future. Depending on your state of residence and your circumstances, you may also have to pay a small fee to place a freeze at each bureau. There are four consumer credit bureaus, including Equifax, Experian, Innovis and Trans Union.
  • Frequently asked questions about security freeze
    Security freezes do not apply to any person or entity with whom the consumer has an existing account, nor to a limited number of other parties who may access the files for purposes not related to new accounts, such as law enforcement agencies and certain governmental agencies that need them for investigations and other statutory responsibilities.
  • Things to Consider When Deciding Whether to Place a Security Freeze
    Before opening a new account, most reputable creditors evaluate the creditworthiness of the applicant by checking the consumer credit report or credit score. A security freeze stops potential creditors from seeing the consumer's credit report and credit score unless the consumer decides to unlock the credit reporting file with a PIN. The freeze stops the new account in the name of a thief because the creditor who is considering the thief’s application can’t check the real consumer’s credit report or credit score.

    A security freeze does not stop misuse by a thief of your existing bank account or credit accounts, which is called existing account fraud. You still have to check the monthly statements on your existing accounts for any erroneous charges or debits.

  • Identity Theft, Credit Reports, and You
    Do not use the following advice to correct a problem with an account which is factually yours. If someone has stolen your credit card number and used it to buy things, you should not send letters. Just call your bank; they’ll take care of it. For reasons beyond the scope of this post, that is a really well-understood scenario that banks are very customer-friendly about. The only thing we’re talking about here is accounts / debts which were never yours.

    Was an account opened in your name without your consent? Great, you’re in the right place. The rest of this article assumes that you’ve either checked a credit report or been told by a bank that an account exists in your name which you didn’t open.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Up, up, and away!

It's about to get a whole lot busier in my little neighborhood of the city: Facebook arrives in San Francisco with city's largest office lease in three years

Facebook Inc. signed San Francisco's largest office lease in three years, taking the entire office portion of 181 Fremont in another blockbuster deal in the city.

The lease of 436,000 square feet was confirmed by Matt Lituchy, chief investment officer of landlord Jay Paul Co.

...

The space at 181 Fremont can hold between 2,000 and 3,000 employees.

...

"While Instagram's HQ will remain in Menlo Park on Facebook's campus, a small team from Instagram will be moving to San Francisco in early 2018. With this lease, we've obtained the space we need at 181 Fremont to support our growth," said Jamil Walker, a Facebook spokesman.

Facebook's deal surpasses Airbnb's 287,000-square-foot deal earlier this year and is the largest since 2014, when Salesforce took 714,000 square feet in 181 Fremont's neighbor, Salesforce Tower. (Salesforce has since taken more space in the tower.)

Over on my side of the the Transbay Transit Center, the latest news involves the public art installation that will occupy the top nine stories of the Salesforce Tower: Jim Campbell: Far Away Up Close

Campbell’s pieces are unique among artists using technology — not only because he designs and builds the computer systems that make them function. More significantly, his choice of media is conceptually linked to his message: he uses technologies developed for information transfer and storage to explore human communication and memory. His is not technology used merely to wow, but to consider the relationship of our minds to the technologies we’ve created.

To be completed within the next few months and visible for decades to come, Campbell’s artwork on the top nine stories of the exterior of San Francisco’s new Salesforce Tower — the tallest building on the West Coast — will fundamentally alter the Bay Area skyline as well as the nature and purpose of public art. Unlike any permanent public artwork to date, Campbell’s piece will change daily, as a direct reflection of the life of the city in which it exists.

Jim Campbell was born in Chicago in 1956 and moved to San Francisco after earning degrees in mathematics and engineering from MIT. He transitioned from filmmaking to interactive video installations in the mid 1980s, and began using LEDs as his primary medium in 2000. His custom electronic artworks and installations have made him one of the leading figures in the use of computer technology as an art form.

And then, right smack in between the Salesforce Tower and 181 Fremont, there is still "that building," and all the action there, nowadays, is happening in court: Lawyers Fear SF's Millennium Tower Could Tilt 10 More Inches by 2019

At its current rate, San Francisco's troubled Millennium Tower could tilt another 10 inches toward the Salesforce Tower in the next two years, lawyers for the homeowners warned in a legal filing urging a speedy trial over the sinking building.

Owners of condos in the listing tower hoped to impress upon Judge Curtis Karnow the need to push for a trial by mid-2018 and to fund a fix.

But at a hearing on Monday, Karnow put off key decisions in the complicated case until October to give the many parties – the developer, builder, engineering consultants as well as homeowners and the city – time to plot out how best to proceed.

The homeowners association wants the court to endorse its plan to drive about 150 concrete and steel piles through the tower’s 10-foot-thick foundation all the way to bedrock.

...

in its response, the legal team for the Millennium emphasized the recent findings by its consultant that the building “remains structurally and seismically safe." Homeowners would be better off going after tall buildings nearby such as Salesforce, they contend, as there is “ample evidence” that their construction and removal of water around the tower is “a significant cause of the tilt” of the building.

Millennium called the homeowners’ plan a “self-selected remedy,” that has yet to be approved or even been “meaningfully evaluated.”

Judge Karnow sounds like a pretty interesting fellow: here's a profile and short biography of him.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Java 9 !

OK, I guess I should admit: I was one of those who thought It Would Never Happen.

But here it is!

  • JDK 9: General Availability
    I'm pleased -- nay, thrilled! -- to announce that JDK 9 is now Generally Available. We've identified no P1 bugs since we promoted build 181 seven weeks ago so that is the official GA release, ready for production use.

    GPL'd binaries from Oracle are available here

  • Java 9 and IntelliJ IDEA
    Java 9 is released today, so let’s do a quick recap of the Java 9 support in IntelliJ IDEA, and have a peek at some of the upcoming features in IntelliJ IDEA 2017.3 for Java 9.
  • Java Platform, Standard Edition What’s New in Oracle JDK 9
    Java Platform, Standard Edition 9 is a major feature release. The following summarizes features and enhancements in Java SE 9 and in JDK 9, Oracle's implementation of Java SE 9.
  • Java SE 9 and Java EE 8 arrive, 364 days later than first planned
    Java EE 8 includes 13 new or updated Java Specification Requests. Oracle says the most notable changes include HTTP/2 support in Servlet 4.0, a new JSON binding API and various enhancements in JSON-P 1.1 and a new security API for cloud and PaaS based applications.

Wow.

There once was a day when a new release of Java would have been accompanied with THOUSANDS of blog posts digging into the new code, and what it enabled.

Times have changed.

Friday, September 22, 2017

In which people discuss things I don't understand

  • Top Uber Investor Resists SoftBank Deal
    The opposition by Benchmark Capital is complicating a proposal by SoftBank and its $93 billion tech-focused Vision Fund, along with partners, to buy 17% to 22% of Uber--mostly through purchasing shares from existing shareholders.

    Benchmark has told fellow investors it is unlikely to sell any of its 13% holding to the SoftBank consortium, according to people familiar with the matter. And Benchmark's representative on Uber's board, Matt Cohler, was the only one of Uber's eight directors to vote against a term sheet granting SoftBank exclusive rights to an investment deal, the people said.

  • Alphabet’s Waymo wants Uber to pay $2.6 billion in damages for a single allegedly stolen trade secret
    Uber calls Alphabet’s damages claims “inflated” and “based entirely on speculative future profits and cost savings in a nascent market.”

    The damages Alphabet is seeking for each of the nine trade secrets vary and have been redacted within the document. So there’s still no indication of which trade secret claim Alphabet is seeking $2.6 billion for, nor what amount the company is asking for the other eight trade secrets.

  • Uber has a lot of reasons to settle its lawsuit with Alphabet
    Alphabet isn’t just taking Uber for a legal ride. It wants to cause some serious damage, which some inside think is part of an effort to slow down Uber’s self-driving efforts.

    But Alphabet’s endless legal and financial resources — and determination from top execs at the company to make an example of Uber — are powerful reasons that Khosrowshahi might seek a settlement.

  • Uber Loses Its License to Operate in London
    The agency took direct aim at Uber’s corporate culture, declaring that the company’s “approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications.”
  • Uber Is Sorry for ‘Wife Appreciation Day’ Promo
    The promo, only valid on September 17, read:

    Dear husbands, a gentle reminder — today is Wife Appreciation Day. Order on uberEATS and leet your wife take a day off from the kitchen.

  • Chinese-backed rival takes on Uber in London
    Once the initial discounts end, Taxify still aims to be 10% cheaper than Uber, CEO Markus Villig told CNNMoney.

    "I think we mainly have a very strong second mover advantage," Villig said. "We don't need to do the hard work of actually establishing this market. We can rather come in, be more efficient, more lean and take a smaller cut for ourselves, and therefore undercut the existing incumbents."

Nope, never played it.

Kotaku take a long, loving look at The Notorious Board Game That Takes 1,500 Hours To Complete

The game itself covers the famous WWII operations in Libya and Egypt between 1940 and 1943. Along with the opaque rulebook, the box includes 1,600 cardboard chits, a few dozen charts tabulating damage, morale, and mechanical failure, and a swaddling 10-foot long map that brings the Sahara to your kitchen table. You’ll need to recruit 10 total players, (five Allied, five Axis,) who will each lord over a specialized division. The Front-line and Air Commanders will issue orders to the troops in battle, the Rear and Logistics Commanders will ferry supplies to the combat areas, and lastly, a Commander-in-Chief will be responsible for all macro strategic decisions over the course of the conflict. If you and your group meets for three hours at a time, twice a month, you’d wrap up the campaign in about 20 years.

There DEFINITELY was a time in my life that this would have Been My Thing.

Who knows? Perhaps that day will come again.

All is Lost: a very short review

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Although, if you haven't already seen All is Lost by now, you're probably never going to see it, or at least you're not going to feel too broken up by my spoilers, I hope?

I think there are probably at least two reasonable "readings" of the marvelous Robert Redford movie, All is Lost.

A straightforward reading is to see it as an adventure story, with the setting for the adventure being "solo sailing on the open ocean":

  1. What would you do if your boat was suddenly and unexpectedly damaged?
  2. How would you keep yourself alive as long as possible?
  3. What actions could you take to increase your likelihood of being discovered/found/rescued?
  4. How would you keep your mental health and motivation high under a time of great stress?

And so forth.

Another reading, perhaps equally valid, and perhaps equally interesting, is to see the movie in a more spiritual way, as a metaphor for your life and existence. You'll think this is a stretch, but consider:

  1. At the beginning of the movie, Redford is sleeping, comfortably secure and at rest in the "womb" of his sailboat.
  2. He is awoken by a fierce and terrifying event (the mid-ocean collision with the submerged shipping container) which pulls him out of his simple and trivial existence and immediately poses immediate and life-threatening problems for him to solve.
  3. As he goes, he solves one problem after another, adapting to his surroundings, using what he has been given at "birth", learning from his experiences, exploring his world.
  4. At the end, when all is, in fact, lost, and Redford is sinking below the waves, looking up, he sees first a halo (the doughnut-shaped life raft, on fire), then a bright light, then, as he reaches out, there is a disembodied hand that reaches down from above, to pull him up to his next life.

I'm sure there are other readings as well, but these are two that occurred to me.

Honestly, we aren't given an awful lot of information about how to choose a reading for this movie, which makes it very similar to another lovely-but-odd-movie-set-aboard-a-boat-with-much-symbolism, Life of Pi.

But, getting back to All is Lost, the most important input into the reading of the movie, I think, is the short speech that is delivered at the start of the movie, in a flash-forward (see, I told you this was nothing but spoilers), which goes as follows:

I'm sorry. I know that means little at this point, but I am. I tried, I think you would all agree that I tried. To be true, to be strong, to be kind, to love, to be right. But I wasn't. And I know you knew this. In each of your ways. And I am sorry. All is lost here, except for soul and body, that is, what's left of them, and a half day's ration. It's inexcusable really, I know that now. How it could have taken this long to admit that I'm not sure, but it did. I fought till the end. I'm not sure what that is worth, but know that I did. I have always hoped for more for you all. I will miss you. I'm sorry.
From the reference to 'soul and body', to the topics of being 'true' and 'right' and 'hoping for more', to the overall framing of this speech as something that might occur on Judgement Day, it's quite hard to see this speech as being included in the movie for any reason other than to promote the "spiritual" reading of the movie.

The "this movie tells the story of the life of a human" reading.

I don't have much more to say about any of this (not even sure this much was worth saying), but there it is.

And, of course, this wasn't a very challenging reading: plenty of others noticed this the first time they saw it

And, of course of course, it wasn't really the best movie to learn about sailing.

But anyway: Robert Redford! Sailing! Movie!

I enjoyed watching it.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

News of the weird, part 4 (of four)

Well, this isn't exactly news, and I guess you'll have to judge for yourself whether it's weird or not.

But I thought both of these were pretty interesting.

  • How Half Of America Lost Its F**king Mind
    There's this universal shorthand that epic adventure movies use to tell the good guys from the bad. The good guys are simple folk from the countryside ...

    ... while the bad guys are decadent assholes who live in the city and wear stupid clothes.

    The theme expresses itself in several ways -- primitive vs. advanced, tough vs. delicate, masculine vs. feminine, poor vs. rich, pure vs. decadent, traditional vs. weird. All of it is code for rural vs. urban. That tense divide between the two doesn't exist because of these movies, obviously. These movies used it as shorthand because the divide already existed.

  • I Spent 5 Years With Some of Trump’s Biggest Fans. Here’s What They Won’t Tell You.
    Pervasive among the people I talked to was a sense of detachment from a distant elite with whom they had ever less contact and less in common.

    ...

    Trump has put on his blue-collar cap, pumped his fist in the air, and left mainstream Republicans helpless. Not only does he speak to the white working class’ grievances; as they see it, he has finally stopped their story from being politically suppressed. We may never know if Trump has done this intentionally or instinctively, but in any case he’s created a movement much like the anti-immigrant but pro-welfare-state right-wing populism on the rise in Europe. For these are all based on variations of the same Deep Story of personal protectionism.

News of the weird, part 3

This one, for a change of pace, does not come out of the pages of Wired.

But it's just as weird.

So let's turn the microphone over to the great chess blogger Dana Mackenzie: Scandal Ruins World Cup’s Best Day

everybody is talking about the stupid dispute that caused the Canadian player, Anton Kovalyov, to forfeit his game and withdraw from the tournament — all over a pair of shorts.

Probably most of my readers are already familiar with the sad details, but for those who haven’t heard yet, these seem to be the facts:

  • Kovalyov showed up for his game against Maxim Rodshtein wearing a pair of shorts. He had worn the same shorts for his previous four games. Yes, apparently he only packed this one pair of shorts for a potentially month-long chess tournament. Cue jokes about chess players’ dressing habits.
  • The chief arbiter spoke to him and told him that the players’ dress code (which is in a legal contract they sign before the tournament) requires more dignified wear. He told him to go back to his room and change.
  • Kovalyov went back to his room but never reappeared. His opponent played one move (1. d4) and won by forfeit.

Even from these facts, it seems to me that the FIDE approach was very heavy-handed. From a legal point of view it seems to me that they have greatly weakened their case by allowing Kovalyov to play four games (!) in the offending garment. The arbiter said that nobody noticed earlier. Come on! If it’s a rule, then enforce it from the beginning. If it’s not enforced, then it’s not really a rule.

Kovalyov is actually Ukrainian, playing as a Canadian citizen, but living in Brownsville, Texas, where he studies computer science and got a chess scholarship!.

Kovalyov later wrote about this on his Facebook page, then tried to delete what he wrote, then tried to close his Facebook account, then re-opened his Facebook account, then wrote about it some more.

More at The Guardian, where we find that the REAL issue may have involved an ethnic slur:

Azmaiparashvili refused to back down, said Kovalyov. “At this point I was really angry but tried not to do anything stupid, and asked him why he was so rude to me, and he said because I’m a gypsy,” he said.

He continued: “So imagine this, the round is about to start, I’m being bullied by the organiser of the tournament, being assured that I will be punished by FIDE, yelled at and racially insulted. What would you do in my situation? I think many people would have punched this person in the face or at least insulted him. I decided to leave.”

Assuming that is what actually happened, it's a shame, but clearly he made the right decision.

The internets took to calling this "shortsgate" for a little while.

But it has now passed from public interest.

News of the weird, part 2

There are a lot of strange, disturbing, bizarre aspects to this long book excerpt that ran on the Wired website: Meet the CamperForce, Amazon's Nomadic Retiree Army.

The article is an excerpt from an upcoming book, by the way, it's not intended to be a stand-alone article on Wired.

Still.

The article winds through a long and close examination of what it's like to chase jobs in Amazon distribution centers around the country, camping out in your R.V. at night, getting up at 4:00 A.M. to get to work on time, taking advantage of the "the free generic pain relievers on offer in the warehouse".

You won't be surprised to hear that this is No Fun At All:

Chuck was a picker. His job was to take items down from warehouse shelves as customers ordered them, scanning each product with a handheld barcode reader. The warehouse was so immense that he and his fellow workers used the names of states to navigate its vast interior. The western half was “Nevada,” and the eastern half was “Utah.” Chuck ended up walking about 13 miles a day. He told himself it was good exercise. Besides, he’d met another picker who was 80 years old—if that guy could do it, surely he could.

Barb was a stower. That meant scanning incoming merchandise and shelving it. Stowers didn’t have to walk as far as pickers did, though Barb’s muscles still ached from the lifting, squatting, reaching, and twisting motions that her job required. Much of the strain was mental. With the holiday season nearing, the warehouse’s shelves were crammed, and one day she wandered around the warehouse for 45 minutes—she timed it—looking for a place to stow a single oversized book. Barb murmured, “Breathe, breathe,” to herself to stay calm.

On days off, many of Barb and Chuck’s coworkers were too exhausted to do anything but sleep, eat, and catch up on laundry.

Much of this article won't be a surprise, as this part of America has been documented for decades (see, e.g., More retirees keep one foot in workforce for pay and play and More Help Wanted: Older Workers Please Apply and Older Workers Survey, Working Longer, Younger Employees, Dear Abby).

And, though CNBC rather sunnily quotes an expert on "Aging & Work" as saying that

"We're in a new era of retirement, and we're not going back."

He added that "most people assume that seniors keep working due to financial necessity, and some do, but the majority do it to keep active and stay alert."

the reality, clearly, is much closer the converse of that viewpoint, as bluntly explained by the AARP, or by the Times, which observes that
The recruitment efforts for the elderly are reaching a willing audience, as more older people seek work because they need extra cash and health benefits and sometimes because they miss having a 9-to-5 routine with other workers.

I mean: duh. I DO know some people who are, perhaps, deferring retirement because they really enjoy their current job and don't (yet) have enough saved up to be able to retire as they choose.

But, really?

"They don't want to go fishing; they want to stay sharp," said Jeanne Benoit, principal director of human resources at the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, a military research contractor in Cambridge, Mass., that creates prototypes for aerospace projects.

Wrong.

They want to go fishing.

And they don't appreciate you telling them that they aren't sharp, you young whippersnapper.

Anyway, back to the Wired article.

One of the things that drives me crazy about this whole situation, and which seems vastly under-reported, is how people got into these situations in the first place.

And the Wired article provides some fascinating detail in this area.

For instance:

Chuck still remembers the call from Wells Fargo that brought the 2008 financial crisis crashing down on his head. He had invested his $250,000 nest egg in a fund that supposedly guaranteed him $4,000 a month to live on. “You have no more money,” he recalls his banker saying flatly. “What do you want us to do?”

And,

Bob worked as an accountant for a timber products firm, and Anita was an interior decorator and part-time caregiver. They thought they would retire aboard a sailboat, funding that dream with equity from their three­ bedroom house. But then the housing bubble burst and their home’s value tumbled. Neither could imagine spending the rest of their lives servicing a loan worth more than their house. So they bought the trailer and drove away. “We just walked,” Anita says. “We told ourselves, ‘We’re not playing this game anymore.’”

Bob blamed Wall Street. When he spoke about his decision to abandon the house, he’d rush to add that, before that moment, he’d always paid the bills on time.

I mean yes, finances are complicated!

But it doesn't take much more than elementary school mathematics to be able to look at a $250,000 "nest egg" and realize that, if you withdraw $50,000 a year, it will only last (wait for it...): 5 years.

Nor should it take much more sophistication to understand that, if your entire plan for retirement is to depend on your house doubling in value so that you can sell it and buy a sailboat, well, you're gambling. You were a professional ACCOUNTANT? And you blamed "Wall Street"?

Now, part of this shame does indeed belong to the bankers and real-estate professionals and others who sold everyone a pipe dream back in the early 2000's.

They were con artists, and a lot of pain was caused by all that speculation, lying, pyramid schemes, and "financial engineering."

But, really, part of this shame is simpler to understand; it seems undeniable that, as a country, we are clearly failing our people.

We should be teaching basic "financial sense" in elementary school.

We should be making retirement savings accounts MANDATORY.

We should be providing universal health care to all. Yes, even if you're not working. Medicare for all.

And otherwise legitimate media organizations like CNBC and The New York Times should be flat-out ashamed of themselves to publish rot about "staying alert" or "pay and play" or "staying sharp" or "missing that 9-to-5 routine."

Call it what it is: elder abuse.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

News of the weird, part 1

I read a pair of (unrelated) stories on the Wired website recently that have stuck with me, for probably the wrong reasons.

Warning, ahead of time: these are weird stories. Odd, strange, disturbing, uncomfortable.

But, I think, not incorrect. Nor are they misdirected or misleading. I think this is just an honest assessment of Our Strange Times.

So, forthwith:

A Weird MIT Dorm Dies, and a Crisis Blooms at Colleges

This starts out being a story about how things at MIT are a little odd, which isn't, really, that much of a surprise.

MIT, after all, is the home of the Smoot, a measurement unit for bridge lengths, and is the home of nearly legendary student pranks

But, something about Senior House is not quite right.

This was Senior House, the oldest dormitory on campus, built in 1916 by the architect William Welles Bosworth. For 101 years it welcomed freshman and returning students. Since the ’60s it was a proudly anarchic community of creative misfits and self-described outcasts—the special kind of brilliant oddballs who couldn’t or didn’t want to fit in with the mainstream eggheads at MIT.

If it was just brilliant oddballs, there wouldn't be an issue. Something else happened, and the question that Wired wants to discuss is: is this MIT? Or is this America, changing?

The demise of Senior House is emblematic of a larger shift on campuses across the US. Last year my own alma mater, Wesleyan University, closed down its countercultural house Eclectic, which had existed for a century. A few years ago Caltech kicked students out of its countercultural dorm Ricketts.

And what, exactly, happened at Senior House? It seems it's rather a mystery

the administration refused to disclose what precisely had happened, but Barnhart told the student newspaper The Tech that “we received highly credible reports of unsafe and illegal behavior in Senior House.”

Unsafe and illegal behavior? I am shocked!

Wired suggests that this is all due to risk-adverse administrators:

college tuition has skyrocketed and with it the competition for students who can afford it. Parents footing the bill are paying a lot more attention. The world has become more litigious and more corporate. All of this has led to an atmosphere in which university administrations have little margin for error when it comes to student safety or even bad publicity.
Money. And lawyers. And lawyers, worried about money.

or is it, rather, that you can't legislate weirdness?

groups like Senior House, which define themselves by being different, also run the risk of becoming highly conformist, Packer says. The punk rock movement is a particularly vivid example of this phenomenon. “They self-describe as being different, but from the outside they all look the same,” he says.

I'd hate to think that the weird is gone from college: discard the weird and you discard so much of what is important about school. And Wired seem to feel that way too, forecasting a rather glum future:

When school ends, they’ll head out into the big wide world, where building a nurturing community sometimes feels hard. Maybe the invisible threads of the internet will help bind them. Maybe Senior House alums will meet up in different cities to drink beer and trade stories of Steer Roasts past or find themselves across from each other at tech company boardroom tables, the memory of that shared place a secret tie between them.

One of my correspondents suggested a close parallel between the crackdown on Senior House, and the Ghost Ship backlash.

I think she makes a great point. Yes, these brilliant oddballs make us uncomfortable, and yes, they live on the edge.

But what do we sacrifice when we legislate their conformity?

I'm not betting that the invisible threads of the internet will solve this problem.

Friday, September 15, 2017

All the Wild That Remains: a very short review

We're hoping to make a trip to southern Utah sometime later this year.

It's been on my list for a long time; the last time I was in those parts was 1972, and I don't remember much.

(What? I was only 11! And, how much do you remember from 45 years ago?)

Anyway, as a bit of a warm up, I came across David Gessner's All The Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West.

Oh, this is a wonderful book!

Gessner, a literature professor and writer himself, tries, and mostly succeeds, to tie together two of the great writers of the west: Abbey and Stegner.

It turns out, that, in a bit of a coincidence, that we're approaching the 50th anniversary of Abbey's Desert Solitaire, and the 75th anniversary of Stegner's The Big Rock Candy Mountain.

So it's a wonderful occasion to spend some time thinking about Abbey and Stegner.

But Gessner manages to do more than that; his interests are broad and before we are done he has discussed water rights, the Wilderness Act of 1964, fracking, the Dust Bowl, forest fires, whether the Russian Olive or the Green Tamarisk is the less "native" plant, and many other topics.

Oh, and pronghorn.

Gessner loves pronghorn, and rightly so. Here he is, driving through the west with his daughter:

Hadley and I thanked him and pushed off for points north and west, driving out of Colorado and into Wyoming. We spent hours crossing southern Wyoming. In late afternoon we saw a herd of pronghorn antelopes gliding across the prairie. Pronghorns are the fastest land animals in the West, and the truth is it isn't even close. I told Hadley a fact I had learned from a friend: the reason pronghorns run so fast, much faster than any predator of theirs, is that they are outrunning a ghost -- the long-extinct American cheetah, which centuries ago chased them across these grasslands.

To see a pronghorn run is to want to run yourself. A more graceful animal is hard to imagine. Delicate and gorgeously bedecked with rich brown-and-white patterns, with small horns and snow-white fur on their stomachs, they glide across the land. As we drove I was worried about all the barbed-wire fences that blocked their way as they roamed, at least until I saw one pronghorn fawn jump a fence like it was nothing, flowing over it like water.

It's marvelous fun to follow along with Gessner as he revisits the lands of Abbey and Stegner, kayaking and rafting the rivers they rode, hiking the trails they followed, looking out from the summits they climbed.

But that's just the icing. The hard work of Gessner's book involves a serious consideration of whether Abbey and Stegner have staying power, whether they deserve to be read and studied and considered, even now after so much time has passed.

It's rather easier to answer this question for Stegner, whose life and work is so obviously important: winner of Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, original member of the University of Iowa Writer's Program, founder of the Stanford Creative Writing Program, author of the Wilderness Letter, inspiration for the Wilderness Act, savior of Dinosaur National Park, oh the list just goes on and on.

But Abbey? Troublemaker, rebel, outlaw, misogynist, curmudgeon? Should we still be reading and studying Abbey, as well?

Gessner's answer is an unqualified "yes":

So is Abbey passe, as dated as bad '70's hair? Obviously I wouldn't be out here tracking his spoor if I thought so. But it is difficult, at least at first, to see how his spirit might be adapted to fit our times. For instance, isn't monkeywrenching dead, not just in an FBI agent's eyes, but as a legitimate possibility for the environmental movement? I must admit that in my own grown-up life as a professor and father I don't blow a lot of things up. For most of us who care about the environment, Stegner provides a much more sensible model.

But I don't want to be so quick to toss Abbey on the scrap heap. Looked at in a different way, Abbey's ideas about freedom are exactly what is needed today. If the times have changed, the essence of what he offered has in some ways never been more relevant. Many of the things that he foresaw have come to pass: we currently live in an age of unprecedented surveillance, where the government regularly reads our letters (now called e-mails) and monitors our movements. Abbey offers resistance to this. Resistance to the worst of our times, the constant encroaching on freedom and wildness. He says to us: Question them, question their authority. Don't be so quick to give up the things you know are vital, no matter what others say.

Biography is usually not my thing; I often find it dry and dated.

But Gessner's treatment of Abbey and Stegner is warm, spirited, and refreshing.

Even though I came to it with a fondness for both writers, and for the region they both loved so well, I still found All the Wild That Remains a vivid, compelling, and lively treatment of people and topics that are just as crucial today as they were nearly a century ago.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Mikhail Osipov

OMG! Mischa is just unbelievably cute.

(You know who Anatoly Karpov is, right?)

More on Mischa here.

That and that for 9/9

We're entering that beautiful time in Northern California: September and October are the reason we all want to live in the Bay Area.

Meanwhile, on those occasional off moments that you find yourself in front of a computer, here are some things you could read.

  • CS176: Multiprocessor Synchronization and CSCI 1760 - FALL 2012
    The performance part of the course will revisit many of the issues first raised in the foundations section, but in a more realistic model that exposes those aspects of the underlying architecture that most influence performance. The course then goes through a sequence of fundamental data structures, the concurrent analogs of the data structures found in any undergraduate data structures course, and a few coordination structures that are unique to the world of multithreaded computation. These data structures are introduced in an incremental way, each one extending the techniques developed for its predecessors. Each of these data structures is useful in and of itself as a reference. Moreover, by the end, the student will have built up a solid understanding of the fundamentals of concurrent data structure design, and should be well-prepared to design and implement his or her own concurrent data structures.
  • Time Series Database Lectures
    we are bringing back another season of database technical talks at Carnegie Mellon University in Fall 2017. The "Time Series Database Lectures" is a semester-long seminar series featuring speakers from the leading developers of time series and streaming data management systems. Each speaker will present the implementation details of their respective systems and examples of the technical challenges that they faced when working with real-world customers.
  • Moving Java Forward Faster
    The two-year train model was appealing in theory, but proved unworkable in practice. We took an additional eight months for Java 8 in order to address critical security issues and finish Project Lambda, which was preferable to delaying Lambda by two years. We initially planned Java 9 as a two-and-a-half year release in order to include Project Jigsaw, which was preferable to delaying Jigsaw by an additional eighteen months, yet in the end we wound up taking an additional year and so Java 9 will ship this month, three and a half years after Java 8.

    A two-year release cadence is, in retrospect, simply too slow. To achieve a constant cadence we must ship feature releases at a more rapid rate. Deferring a feature from one release to the next should be a tactical decision with minor inconveniences rather than a strategic decision with major consequences.

  • More Than 100 Exceptional Works of Journalism
    This is my annual attempt to bring roughly 100 of those stories that stood the test of time to a wider audience. I could not read or note every worthy article published in the past few years, and I haven't included any paywalled articles or anything published at The Atlantic. But everything that follows is worthy of wider attention and engagement. I hope it provides fodder for reflection and inspiration for future writing.
  • Solaris to Linux Migration 2017
    Switching from Solaris to Linux has become much easier in the last two years, with Linux developments in ZFS, Zones, and DTrace. I've been contributing (out of necessity), including porting my DTraceToolkit tools to Linux, which also work on BSD. What follows are topics that may be of interest to anyone looking to migrate their systems and skillset: scan these to find topics that interest you.
  • Demon-Haunted World
    Wannacry was a precursor to a new kind of cheating: cheating the in­dependent investigator, rather than the government. Imagine that the next Dieselgate doesn’t attempt to trick the almighty pollution regulator (who has the power to visit billions in fines upon the cheater): instead, it tries to trick the reviewers, attempting to determine if it’s landed on a Car and Driver test-lot, and then switching into a high-pollution, high-fuel-efficiency mode. The rest of the time, it switches back to its default state: polluting less, burning more diesel.

    ...

    That’s how alchemists came to believe that the world was haunted, that God, or the Devil, didn’t want them to understand the world. That the world actually rearranged itself when they weren’t looking to hide its workings from them. Angels punished them for trying to fly to the Sun. Devils tricked them when they tried to know the glory of God – indeed, Marcelo Rinesi from The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies called modern computer science ‘‘applied demonology.’’

    In the 21st century, we have come full circle. Non-human life forms – limited liability corpo­rations – are infecting the underpinnings of our ‘‘smart’’ homes and cities with devices that obey a different physics depending on who is using them and what they believe to be true about their surroundings.

  • This Tiny Country Feeds the World
    Almost two decades ago, the Dutch made a national commitment to sustainable agriculture under the rallying cry “Twice as much food using half as many resources.” Since 2000, van den Borne and many of his fellow farmers have reduced dependence on water for key crops by as much as 90 percent. They’ve almost completely eliminated the use of chemical pesticides on plants in greenhouses, and since 2009 Dutch poultry and livestock producers have cut their use of antibiotics by as much as 60 percent.
  • Wind Energy Is One of the Cheapest Sources of Electricity, and It's Getting Cheaper
    Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released the latest iteration of its annual Wind Technologies Market Report, which pulls together a wealth of data to track trends in the cost, performance, and growth of wind energy.

    The report found that U.S. wind energy will continue to be one of the lowest cost electricity generation technologies available, with the long-term wind electricity price available through a power purchase agreement coming in at about half the expected cost of just running a natural gas power plant.

  • Is the open office layout dead?
    Perhaps the most powerful and popular trend in the move away from open offices is an increased number of small private spaces. These include soundproof glass rooms, which provide quiet refuges, while keeping the airy feel of an open office layout, as well as so-called “phone booths,” closet-sized spaces for focused solo work and confidential meetings between two people.
  • Six Charts To Help Americans Understand The Upcoming German Election
    You may have heard rumblings about a populist party poised to gain power in Germany’s election on Sept. 24 — or maybe you just heard that there’s an election coming up. To better prepare you for the news coming out of Deutschland over the next few weeks, we’re offering some answers to a few basic questions about the election.
  • We found the photographer who took these dramatic pictures of golfers in front of a hill on fire in Oregon
    "Around the corner was this golf course ," she said, "and you could see the fire."

    So she started snapping pictures.

    "It's a real photo," she confirmed, of the picture of people golfing as the fire roars. She did lighten it a little bit, but other than that, the photo captures the moment.

    The owners of Beacon Rock Golf Course, as well as one of the golfers pictured, confirmed Wednesday that the pictures were real and from Beacon Rock Golf Course

  • Delta Goes Big, Then Goes Home
    In the face of a category 5 hurricane, Delta Air Lines meteorologists, dispatchers, pilots, cabin crew, and ground crew accomplished an incredible feat on Wednesday. As Hurricane Irma bore down San Juan, Puerto Rico, Delta sent one last flight to help evacuate a few hundred people from San Juan just before the airport closed.
  • San Franciscans are obsessed with this colorful Instagram paradise — we went inside
    If you live in San Francisco, your Instagram has undoubtedly lit up in Technicolor in recent days. The city is going wild for a new pop-up museum, The Color Factory.

    The candy-coated exhibit includes 15 interactive "experiences" — each centered on a different color — spread across two stories and 12,000 square feet. It runs through September, but good luck getting tickets. The Color Factory has sold out for the month of August, and scalpers on Craigslist are selling tickets, originally priced at $32, for as much as $175 a pop.

  • 1886 Tall Ship Balclutha To Be Overhauled In Alameda
    “The Balclutha is truly a gem of American history. It is a rare day that you are able to see one of these grand old ladies high and dry in dock,” said Richard Maguire, Business Development Manager, Bay Ship & Yacht. “Upon her undocking, the ship will remain at the yard pier side, where we will remove her foremast, mainmast and mizzenmast yard arms for needed repairs and paint preservation. Her presence there is reminiscent of the days of old when many fine sailing ships like the Balclutha lined the estuary representing cargo companies such as the Alaskan Packers and Red Star.

    “Bay Ship and Yacht has a deep understanding of these great historic sailing ships, and the yard still works with and maintains many of the original tools required to perform proper maintenance on these older vessels,” Maguire continued. “We will use these tools to repair and replace the poop decking with caulking, irons, oakum and pitch.”

And, since it's on my mind, like it's on everyone else's mind:

Category 4 winds:

Catastrophic damage will occur: Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Graydon Carter steps down at Vanity Fair

In a very nice essay, David Kamp bids Carter farewell.

The rumors, of course, are that this isn't an isolated thing, but part of something much bigger.

Bummer.

I'm young enough that I can't even remember a time when Carter wasn't at Vanity Fair.

I certainly don't remember him being at Spy, though I never followed Spy.

It's a shame, and quite a loss for Vanity Fair, but good on Carter, who certainly deserves a break by now.

Meanwhile, Silvia Killingsworth is ready with quite a strong list of worthy replacements.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

More on Barry Lynn

This story has legs: New America Chair Says Google Didn't Prompt Critic's Ouster

The Open Markets team successfully seeded a sympathetic article in the New York Times. They followed that within 24 hours with multiple affiliated Op-Eds and sophisticated fundraising efforts, including a purpose-built website and email blasts. It is likely that there were other elements of this campaign of which I am not aware.

I do not believe that the intent of this campaign was to harm New America. Instead, the continuing campaign appears to be motivated by two goals: to promote a larger argument about Google’s abuse of - and potential to abuse - its corporate power, as well as to raise funds for their new organization. New America appears to be collateral damage in service of those goals.

Versus: A furious think-tank boss, Google, and an academic 'fired' for criticizing ads giant: Strange tale takes a new turn as CEO fights back

That Lynn felt the need to push his statement out without going through Slaughter, and the fact that she had such a strong reaction when he didn't, combined with the virtual certainty that Schmidt called soon after to express his annoyance, is as clear an example of soft money influence as you will ever find.

I suspect there are still more shoes to drop...

Monday, September 4, 2017

Time for P ?=? NP attempt 118

Professor Norbert Blum has updated his publication webpage; it now says:

Comments: The proof is wrong. I shall elaborate precisely what the mistake is. For doing this, I need some time. I shall put the explanation on my homepage

I assume the professor means this homepage, although there is nothing there about the paper as yet.

It's not just a game ...

... it's ... oh, my goodness! Has it actually been ten years already?

(Well, they were actually pretty busy all that time.)

Sunday, September 3, 2017

There are lies, damned lies, and statistics

Still, this is probably none of the above; this is actual science: Heat, Smoke, and Fire Assault Western States: All-Time Record Heat in California

California’s Bay Area has been the focal point of the weekend’s most extraordinary heat. Temperatures soared to 106°F in downtown San Francisco on Friday and 102°F on Saturday. Friday’s reading was the hottest ever measured in downtown SF, where temperatures have been observed since 1874. Friday’s 106°F handily topped the previous record of 103°F from June 14, 2000, and Saturday was only the second high of 102°F in downtown history, matching Oct. 5, 1987. “To put this in perspective, the average high temperature for the city these two days is just 71°F,” said Chris Burt, who lives in the East Bay region. “Friday night’s temperatures failed to fall below 85°F at several hill locations near me (I dropped to 81°).”

...

On the Marin County coast, the Point Reyes lighthouse station hit 91°F on Saturday, breaking its all-time record of 90°F from Oct. 3, 1917, almost exactly a century ago. Remarkably, the temperature at Point Reyes at midnight Friday night was a sweltering-for-the-location 86°F—just 4°F below the previous all-time high.

...

One of the most naturally air-conditioned cities in the contiguous U.S. is Eureka, on California’s far northern coast. On Saturday, Eureka matched its all-time record high of just 87°F , first set on Oct. 26, 1993. This is the lowest all-time high for any reporting station in the nation, according to Chris Burt. Eureka’s weather records extend all the way back to 1886.

1874, 1886: those are not the longest-duration measurements you would hope for.

But they are quite significant; this is not a rounding error.

We're talking nearly 150 years of observed facts.

Things are definitely changing.

Barry Lynn links

A lot of people wrote a lot of words about this; it was a very visible event.

  • When The Truth is Messy and Hard
    I have racked my brain for the last two months, and certainly over the last two days, as to what I, in consultation with my leadership team, could or should have done differently about the departure of Barry Lynn and Open Markets from New America. At its core, this was a personnel issue that I knew others would see as a program issue. The way I saw it, I had three choices: I could keep an employee who had repeatedly violated the standards of honesty and good faith with his colleagues, including misleading me directly. I could fire him outright and try to find a leader for his program, which would force both his funders and his program staff, many of whom were young rising stars who both Barry and I have mentored, to choose between us and him. Or I could try to work with Barry to negotiate a cooperative spinning out of the Open Markets program, as we have done with a number of other programs.

    I chose the third option

  • I don't understand this
    If it is a personnel issue and not a program issue, you fire the person.

    If it is a program issue and not a personnel issue, you spin out the group, wish them best wishes in their future endeavors, and direct funders their way.

    But this seems to me to fit neither case. Sending young rising stars "many of whom... [you] have mentored" out into the wilderness with a boss who you believe "repeatedly violated the standards of honesty and good faith" is not doing them a favor

  • A Serf on Google's Farm
    Let’s discuss the various ways we’re in business with Google.

    It all starts with “DFP”, a flavor of Doubleclick called DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP).

    ...

    Then there’s AdExchange.

    ...

    Then there’s Google Analytics.

    ...

    Next there’s search.

    ...

    One additional Google implant is Gmail

    ...

    So let’s go down the list: 1) The system for running ads, 2) the top purchaser of ads, 3) the most pervasive audience data service, 4) all search, 5) our email.

    But wait, there’s more! Google also owns Chrome, the most used browser for visiting TPM.

  • A leading Google critic’s firing from a Google-funded think tank, explained
    Reading between the lines slightly, Slaughter’s story about “collegiality” and Lynn’s story that his work threatened his colleagues’ fundraising do not appear to genuinely differ in terms of the picture they paint. Ultimately, they’re both about Lynn imperiling New America’s access to Google’s financial support.
  • The Hard Consequence of Google's Soft Power
    The rift dates back to June 27, when Barry Lynn, the director of Open Markets, wrote a 150-word press release celebrating a major antitrust loss for Google in Europe. As part of the ruling, the EU fined Google €2.5 billion for abusing its dominance and ordered Google to stop boosting its own products in search. Lynn, a leading scholar on antitrust reform, encouraged American regulators to follow suit. “Google’s market power is one of the most critical challenges for competition policymakers in the world today,” Lynn wrote. In Lynn's account of events, shared with the Times, Schmidt “communicated his displeasure,” to New America’s CEO and president Anne-Marie Slaughter hours after the statement was published. Around that time, the post went offline—then reappeared after a few hours, the paper says. A couple days later, Slaughter told Lynn that Open Markets and New America would be parting ways.
  • Google-funded think tank fires prominent Google critic
    In a Wednesday statement, Slaughter disputed one of Lynn's key claims.

    "Today’s New York Times story alleges that Google lobbied New America to expel the Open Markets program because of this press release," Slaughter wrote. "This claim is absolutely false."

    But Slaughter's statement didn't challenge the accuracy of the emails Lynn supplied to the Times. And Slaughter didn't offer a clear explanation for why she fired Lynn, writing only that Lynn's "refusal to adhere to New America’s standards of openness and institutional collegiality" led to his ouster.

  • Google is coming after critics in academia, journalism; it's time to stop them
    This year, Google is on track to spend more money than any company in America on lobbying. In 2015, it was the third biggest corporate spender, paying more than Exxon Mobil, Lockheed Martin or the Koch brothers on lobbying. Much of what it is spending its money on has nothing to do with technical details regarding its search engine and everything to do with using its power in its search engine to shut out some competitors and build power over others.

    It is time to call out Google for what it is: a monopolist in search, video, maps and browser, and a thin-skinned tyrant when it comes to ideas.

  • Forget Wall Street – Silicon Valley is the new political power in Washington
    After years of legal wrangling, Microsoft was forced to make it easier for competitors to integrate their software with windows. The lengthy lawsuit left Microsoft with deep battle scars, and a more cautious, less aggressive approach to business. Under these conditions, rivals like Apple and Google were able to thrive.

    The landmark action taught Silicon Valley’s tech titans a painful lesson: play the political game or Washington will make your life difficult.

    That made a particularly profound impact on Eric Schmidt, who as CEO of Novell and former CEO of Sun Microsystems had a front-row seat to Microsoft’s public neutering. He clung on to the cautionary tale when he was hired as CEO of Google in 2001. Under his leadership, Google vastly increased its investment in lobbying to make friends and influence policymakers in Capitol Hill.

  • Tech Giant Google Finds Itself In Another Free-Speech Controversy
    what's new is big tech - right? - making money by organizing the world's information through secret algorithms that we don't really understand. And then generating so much money from the ad revenue, they can pay to shape the thoughts and the content the rest of us are creating.

    So it's like, you know, Google as well as others - you could say Facebook, too. It's like they're managing the pipes. And they're increasingly deciding what goes into the pipes. And the rest of us are just eating and drinking it up.

  • The Risks of Demonizing Silicon Valley
    scrutiny of the Valley and its issues is long overdue. People should push against the arrogance that “our way is the right way and the only way” and the intolerance of ideas that don’t accord with the Valley’s groupthink. People should be alarmed that incredible wealth is concentrated in a few hands. They should question the industry’s sexism. They should pay attention to the industry’s ideas on social issues ranging from privacy to regulation and the government’s role.

    The challenge is how to balance legitimate criticisms without descending into demonization. This is not a challenge unique to Silicon Valley. The same argument could be made about government and the financial world. Washington may be corrupt and dysfunctional, but relentlessly tearing it down makes it that much harder for us to allow government to do what most of us expect and need it to; Wall Street may have been infected with greed, but we need a stable and innovative financial system to facilitate a vibrant economic system.

Between this, and "the memo", I feel like Google has a ways to go in terms of becoming more open and transparent. It's not easy for a media company to be, and to remain, open with its audience.

But it's vital.

De-construction proceeds

Yesterday, according to plan, piers E7 and E8 were imploded.

Some great video is available on the local CBS website: Caltrans Implodes 2 of 13 Remaining Foundations of Old Bay Bridge

Let's hear it for the bubble curtain!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Caliban's War: a very short review

Caliban's War, the second book in The Expanse Series, is better than the first.

And the first was quite good.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

In which people discuss things I don't understand

  • Meet Uber's newly chosen CEO
    Born in Iran in 1969, Khosrowshahi and his family fled to New York in 1978 following the revolution. In high school, he was class president and played lacrosse. He went on to earn a degree in electrical engineering from Brown University but took on a career on Wall Street after falling in love with a woman in New York.
  • Uber's New CEO
    The deeper takeaway, though, is that Khosrowshahi has demonstrated the patience and resolve to fix problems at their root. In the case of Uber, the business may be in better shape than Expedia’s was (pending the fixing of finance, of course), but as this year has made clear the culture needs a fundamental reworking, not simply a fresh coat of paint. Khosrowshahi seems like an ideal candidate to take on the problem at a fundamental level, and has already shown at Expedia that he is willing to walk the walk on issues of sexism in particular.
  • Uber’s Pick for Its New CEO Might Be the Anti–Travis Kalanick
    If Khosrowshahi accepts the job, he’ll take the helm of a company that seems to be in self-destruct mode. But looking at his history of building one of the most powerful online transportation empires in the world, he is clearly a compelling choice to take over the troubled Uber.
  • New Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi Knows Many Tricks—He'll Need Them All
    The 48-year-old Khosrowshahi has proved himself an adept dealmaker across a nearly three-decade career in finance and consumer-internet businesses. He spent eight years at technology-and-media focused investment bank Allen & Co., then joined IAC Interactive after helping company founder Barry Diller acquire travel website Expedia in 2001. He became CEO of Expedia as it went public in 2005, and led the company through a decade of acquisitions, growth, and stock appreciation.
  • ‘I have to tell you I am scared’: Dara Khosrowshahi says in a memo to Expedia’s staff that he has finally been hired at Uber
    he noted: “I have to tell you I am scared. I’ve been here at Expedia for so long that I’ve forgotten what life is like outside this place. But the times of greatest learning for me have been when I’ve been through big changes, or taken on new roles — you have to move out of your comfort zone and develop muscles that you didn’t know you had.”
  • Uber’s New CEO
    The Board and the Executive Leadership Team are confident that Dara is the best person to lead Uber into the future building world-class products, transforming cities, and adding value to the lives of drivers and riders around the world while continuously improving our culture and making Uber the best place to work.
  • HPE boss Meg Whitman re-entered the race to become Uber's CEO at the eleventh hour — but lost out anyway
    Whitman, who gave media interviews on Monday, said Uber's board approached her again over the weekend as a possible candidate.

    "They asked what it would take for me to change my mind,” she told The Financial Times. "I was not a contender for this job until the weekend

  • Travis Kalanick's Great Defender Writes a Hell of a Motivational Letter
    a Pishevar spokesperson released a letter Pishevar wrote to his lawyers last week, as they prepared to file that motion. And boy, is it something. The spokesperson, Marcy Simon, says it was meant to "fire up" the legal team, and that it's "from the brain." And in that brain, apparently, is a voluminous, somewhat outdated thesaurus.
  • Here are annotations to decode everything in Shervin Pishevar's epic Uber diatribe
    It's a heavy piece of writing, extrapolating on eight months of drama at the embattled ride-hailing company. Even readers intimately familiar with the saga may struggle to understand all of the letter.

    That's why Business Insider created an annotated version of the letter, decoding some of the thorniest sections and providing all the necessary context and references.

  • A judge just sent Benchmark’s dramatic lawsuit against Travis Kalanick to arbitration
    The decision is the latest dramatic turn in a rift between Kalanick and Benchmark Capital, once one of his closest allies, and moves the ugly fight between them out of the spotlight as Uber’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, tries to assert control.