Monthly Archives: August 2011

After 2-3 years of applying for permits, dock replacement begins

The crew showed up yesterday and started tearing apart the dock today. All the new dock and breakwater components are on site. Pilings going in now. Over the next several weeks it will all hopefully be put back into place and we will have a new totally compliant dock, should last another 40 years or so.

The entire process of permitting and approval has been a total cluster… goat rodeo long exercise in patience. Glad we are done.

New Sony Reader, same old busted strategy

“Sony has a new e-reader out”:http://techcrunch.com/2011/08/31/sonys-latest-kindle-killer-is-worlds-lightest-ereader/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29 and it seems to be very nice hardware, I’d love to buy one. Let me check out their reader store and see what their book inventory looks like these days:

Oh. And this kind of sums up Sony’s strategy. Nicely designed premium hardware, but off in their own software and service planet, which is not well executed. I’ve tried to give Sony the benefit of the doubt — I owned the “first Sony Reader back in 2007″:http://theludwigs.com/2007/01/im-a-sony-reader-convert/ — but they have failed to act on the big picture here. A big part of the Kindle’s awesomeness is the great store backend, the seamless download experience with the store, and the availability of Kindle software on every device on the planet so that I can read my purchases on my PC, my Mac, my phone, my Kindle, my iPad, on the web, pretty much anywhere. Sony totally whiffs on this total experience. It is kind of sad because I would love to see a first rate competitor to the Kindle, and Sony has some great assets to bring to bear — retail stores, solid hardware design skills.

In the long run, Amazon wants to sell digital goods, Sony wants to make great devices — I have to wonder why Sony doesn’t abase themselves, drop their own store, let Amazon run the backend for the Sony device, and make the Reader the best Kindle-compatible device in the world. Any other strategy just seems pointless.

Rand is an amazing guy

Rand details “his recent fund raising experience”:http://randfishkin.com/blog/128/misadventures-venture-capital-funding#more-128. The guy is admirably open, much to learn from this.

I’m not sure I have it in me to be that open — partly thru painful experience, partly my bias that information advantages are valuable (which makes me sound like a jerk compared to Rand, which may be true). But Rand’s approach is inspiring and motivating.

Scientific computing and the cloud

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This year I’ve had a chance to experiment with tools for compute intensive applications. In particular, tools that harness the profusion of inexpensive CPU/GPU cycles available — OpenMP for multi-threading on single machines so that multiple cores can be leveraged; MPI to distribute compute load over clusters of machines; OpenCL for handing general purpose computation off to a graphics processor. And then on top of these tools, NumPy and SciPy for scripting and visualization from Python. The amount of excellent computational software which is now available is amazing, these capabilities would have cost immeasurable amounts of money just a decade ago. And the first time I tied together a cluster of machines or yoked up a GPU and did a massive computation, and then displayed the animated results using Python — what a great feeling! The ability to attack really hard, really large problems is better than it is has ever been.

But what a nightmare of housekeeping. Breaking up computation into threads and spreading it across multiple cores with shared memory and file system is tedious and error-prone — hand-offs between threads create opportunities for many errors. The work to break up and manage the computation load across multiple machines is even more mind-numbing and error-prone, and now the lack of shared memory and files are additional complications. Using graphics processors is even more obtuse, with their funky fractured memory spaces and architectures and limited language support. And getting all the software piece parts running in the first place takes a long time to work through all the dependencies, mixing and matching distributions and libraries and tools, and then getting it all right on multiple machines. And then you get to maintain all this as new versions of libs and runtimes are released..

But again the results can be stunning — just look around the web at what people are doing in engineering (“Youtube video”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4z1STnnA3aM), life sciences (“Science Mag article”:http://www.sciencemag.org/content/331/6019/848.full#F3), or any of a dozen other areas. Harnessing multiple cheap processors to perform complicated modeling or visualization can have huge payoff in financial services, bioinformatics, engineering analysis, climate modeling, actuarial analysis, targeting analysis, and so many other areas.

However, it is just too darn hard to wield all these tools. The space is crying out for a cloud solution. I want someone else to figure out all the dependencies and library requirements and spin up the correctly configured virtual machines with all the necessary componentry. And keep that up to date as new libraries and components are developed. I want someone else to figure out the clustering and let me elastically spin up 1, 10, 100 machines as I need to, and manage all the housekeeping between these machines. I want someone else to buy all the machines and run them, and let me share them with other users, because my use is very episodic, and I don’t want to pay for 100 or 1000 or 10000 machines all the time, when I only need the machines for a week here and there. Maybe I want to run all my code in the cloud, or maybe I want to have all the VMs and clustering info delivered to my data center, but I want someone else to solve the housekeeping and configuration issues, and let me get to work on my problems.

Amazon is doing some great work in AWS with their HPC support (“AWS HPC support”:http://aws.amazon.com/hpc-applications/#HPCEC2).
Microsoft has made a commitment to provide scientific computing resources in the cloud (“NYT article”:http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/05/science/05cloud.html). There is a lot of great academic work happening (“ScienceCloud2011″:http://datasys.cs.iit.edu/events/ScienceCloud2011/). But the opportunity is out there to do a lot more.

Like many others, Steve Jobs has had a profound effect on my life

By the time I was a junior at Ohio State, I knew that a) i was fascinated with personal computers, and that b) despite my electrical engineering education, I did not actually want to be an engineer. So I was wondering what to do post-college, and a very good friend of the family who was CEO of a tech company in Los Gatos hosted me for a week visit. He set up interviews for me with Bob Noyce, Gene Amdahl, Steve Jobs, and several other notables. The trip was an eye-opener for a kid from Ohio — the west coast was an awakening, and these guys were heroes to me. I remember Steve challenging me very directly on my plans — I was a bit conservative and a conformist, I probably seemed pretty dull to him, but I certainly got a lot out of the visit, I was motivated to raise my sights higher.

About the same time I remember reading the “Byte Smalltalk issue”:http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?SmalltalkIssueOfByte and was entranced, my view of computing dramatically expanded.

A few years later I scrimped to buy the first Mac on the first day it was available to students, and was enthralled.

My career took zigs and zags and I never met Steve again or worked at Apple, but my meeting with him and my engagement with his products certainly set my direction.

Wishing him the best.

Books — Stocking up on Cynicism

So here at the end of summer, sure it is a beautiful day today, but you know that is only masking the deep corruption all around us. Winter is coming, time to buckle up.

* “Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church”:amazon by Jason Berry. I’m not a Catholic but love the idea of peeking inside this institution. Corruption, internal schisms, pedophiles, coverups, and more seem to abound within the church — the lack of transparency and the lack of justice within church procedures is notable. But I gave up on the book. A) the author clearly has an axe to grind and there is no balance, I am sure there are great people within the church who do a lot of good, and who fight the corruption, but you wouldn’t know it by this book. B) the narrative wanders and stumbles and ultimately bores, the author loses track of the point he is trying to make. Amazon says 4.5 stars, “Goodreads says 3″:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10000761-render-unto-rome, I am 2 stars at most. Maybe if I was Catholic I would find this more fascinating.

* “White Coat, Black Hat”:amazon by Carl Elliott. A very well written anecdotal examination of the money swirling through the healthcare system, largely coming from big pharma. MDs, researchers, research institutions, oversight boards, test subjects, media companies, PR/advertising firms, even bioethicists — they all have all four feet and their snout in the trough of big pharma, no one is unbiased. Depressing. Trust no one. Amazon says 4.5 stars, “Goodreads says 3.6″:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8355649-white-coat-black-hat, this is a very good book, 4.5 stars from me. Nothing prescriptive in the book, just a book to get you pissed off.
* Not pissed off enough? Try “Griftopia”:amazon by Mat Taibbi. A vicious look at the mortgage/financial meltdown of the last several years, and just how the major financial firms manipulated society and government to screw all of us. Not a balanced work at all, the author is in full attack mode. This sometimes detracts from the tale — calling Greenspan names, page after page, is wearing and a little sophomoric — but there is enough meat here to get you really pissed off. I’m putting all our money in chests and burying it, that is the only way to keep it away from the greedy crooks out there. “Goodreads says 4.25 stars”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7897556-griftopia, Amazon says 4.5, this is super entertaining, I’d give it a 4.5.
* “How Judges Think”:amazon by Richard A. Posner. Only part way through and may give up. I foolishly thought that this book would tell me how judges think. And thus would be a lot of interview-driven, anecdotal stories. However it is a very theoretical discussion of models of how judges behave, and a discussion of what might cause these motivations, written by a judge. All I really get out of this is how one federal judge, the author, thinks. And he seems to be good at splitting fine hairs (not surprising), and that judges are a bit self-important. So I leave modestly frustrated, not really enlightened, and only modestly more cynical about judges. Amazon gives 4.5 stars, “Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2836459-how-judges-think 3.64, I’d have to say a 3.

Business Models and Evil

Some interesting commentary on “Google’s business model by Gruber”:http://daringfireball.net/linked/2011/08/23/swartz-google-evil — a total Apple fan, doesn’t view ads as inherently evil, but says you need to be very respectful of your users. And referring to “an original article by Aaron Swartz”:http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/googevil who says you can’t make things worse for users just to make money.

I don’t know what evil is when applied to technology business models. I do know that I feel very comfortable with my Apple transactions — they ask me for a lot of money, in return they give me a product that is mine to own completely. They give me the option of signing up for services for more money, services where they keep data about me, but it is up to me. It feels like a transparent and respectful model. Similarly, I feel good about my Microsoft transactions — they ask me for money, in return I get a software or hardware product that is mine to do what I want with (excluding Bing which I rarely use, and excluding some of their new online service offerings).

I feel somewhat less good about my Google relationship. I do like and use their products. But the fact that they are “free” is bothering, I know that Google is making money off me somehow, but there is very little transparency around it. Who is looking at my data, what are they paying for it, are there certain things I do that are very high value, are there people using info about me that I would rather not, ?

I don’t know any of this and it makes me kind of queasy. Enough to abandon products that are actually useful? Well not yet — and for search,it is not like there are alternatives that are more respectful of me. But I can’t imagine ever having the kind of respect for and attachment to Google products that I have to products from companies with more straightforward business models.

NFLand NCAA step in it on Pryor decision

I am glad that the NFL has allowed Terrelle to pursue his career and wish him the best of luck. But man did the NFL and NCAA step in it big time as “CBS blogger Mike Freeman notes”:http://mike-freeman.blogs.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/entry/6264363/31396933. By enforcing these arbitrary NCAA rules, the NFL has made it clear that it is fully cooperating with the NCAA to establish and control the labor market for football players. These two organizations have always claimed in the past that they are separate, it is hard to maintain that fiction. There is clear collaboration to limit the opportunities for 18-21 year olds, and no representation of these players in the system at all.

Impressions from 3 Days in Denver

So our first trip ever to Denver for 3 days of shopping and household set up. A whirlwind trip.

I’m struggling to synthesize Denver. It is different than I expected, feels much more like the midwest or Texas than the West Coast — I guess not surprising when you look at a map. What is the soul of Denver, the essence of Denver? Searching for either of these on Google is unrewarding. What is Denver if you strip away all the chain stores, the national brands, the generic architecture? Not that Denver has any more of these than any other city, I just want to understand what is unique about Denver. Everyone I’ve ever met from Denver loves it, what is it they love?

I’m left with two impressions. One, the extensive brick architecture against the unending blue sky. You don’t get either one of these in Seattle, you don’t get the brickwork really anywhere on the west coast. Obviously Denver is not quake country. And Seattle’s skies are famously gray, and so often obstructed by trees, by hills, by architecture. Denver’s sky is big and blue and overpowering at times.

Two, the great little neighborhood taverns in every neighborhood. We ate at great places in Edgewater and other near western neighborhoods, we saw dozens of other great places. It felt like there were more of these, and more small neighborhood commercial centers, than we have in Seattle. Maybe they are just more reachable — the flat open layout of Denver makes it easy to zip around, in contrast to the water/bridge constrained layout of Seattle.

Nice time. I’d like to see more and I am sure I will over the next couple years.

Halloween 2011

OK so I am out of the business of doing a huge Halloween setup. For probably 10 years we did a monster setup with 4-5 fog systems including a yard-wide water-based system, 5-6 sound systems, many many tombstones, pneumatic props, mechanical props, voice modification boxes, 5-6 thunder and lightning set ups, a bunch of skeletons, and on and on. We had as many as 400 visitors on a night, just super amounts of fun. We would tone down the displays early in the evening so that the little ones would approach the house — but we still had a number who just would not come up the driveway. We also gave out a lot of candy because, well, if you made it to our door, you earned it. Great times but we’ve moved on, for now anyway. (Well I do have two storage pods full of gear that I need to resolve. If you’d like to buy one full of Halloween crap sight unseen, let me know).

So no big display this year. But may do something small. If I do just one thing, it might be “Hallowindow”:http://www.hallowindow.com/. The videos are awesome and we have some large windows. I admit I do get sucked into sites like “Monster Guts”:http://monsterguts.com/index.php — a great selection of prop supplies. But I will resist. Oh and I love these awesome light fixtures from “Schoolhouse Electric”:http://design-milk.com/schoolhouse-electric-table-lamps/ — A steampunk, mad scientist vibe.

See this is the problem, I say I am going to do a limited thing, and before I know it I have planned out a whole scene and purchased another storage pod full of stuff. Slippery slope.

Why don’t we realign conferences every year?

With “conference realignment furor in full swing again”:http://www.alongtheolentangy.com/2011/8/11/2358636/texas-a-m-to-sec-roaring-expansion-tidal-wave-imminent, I have to wonder why no one has harnessed the fan and media interest for good effect. If I was running a large conference — I wouldn’t have static divisions, but I’d rebalance every year in the middle of the offseason. Yes it could be a scheduling pain in the ass but we have software to manage that. The key point is to create a positive planned offseason media event that fans could look forward to and that would create some valuable media content — a full week of BTN or other network shows could be built around the realignment announcement and discussion. Realignment across conferences would be even more fun but is politically contentious.

It is dumb to not tap into the fan interest around alignment, the schools are leaving money on the table. And to be a little manipulative — better to have the press focusing on positive topics like realignment during the offseason, rather than digging around for scandals.

Recent Software trials – Soluto, Splunk Python, Calculize, Keymando, timely.js, onswipe

* “Soluto”:http://www.soluto.com. Soluto seems right up my alley — focused on simple common frustrations that we all have, promises to save me time. Install is a breeze and I really like the super sparse interface — such a difference from the overcomplicated software from Norton, etc. The software feels very light and the interface reinforces the promise of simplicity. And it does seem to make tuning up boot time simple, it pretty accurately understood all my boot processes and gave me reasonable suggestions. It’s browser diagnosis was less helpful, it found very little in Chrome to improve, and it didn’t look at my firefox install at all. Not sure why. Anyway, worth a trial and I will be interested to see how they go. A challenge they will have is getting users to pay — solving my boot speed issues is nice, but I only need to do that once and I have no enduring reason to keep on running the software — and thus am not going to pay much for it. They need to figure out a way to deliver me value every day. The only guys in the utility space that have done this are the virus/malware protection guys, who have latched onto consumer fear (and probably stoke that fear).

* “Splunk Python interface”:http://pypi.python.org/pypi/splunk-sdk/0.1.0. Really curious to play with this (disclosure, Ignition is an investor in splunk). I hadn’t installed splunk in a while, installs super simply on Mac and Win. and wow what a firehose of info you get from Splunk about your system. Next up, tie to python and try to write some simple scripts. A lot to play with here.

* “Calculize”:http://calculize.com/. Kind of like Matlab, in the browser. Might be useful. at times.

* “Keymando”:http://keymando.com/. Love the idea of hotkey utilities but I always seem to drift away from them. Because I can never keep them in sync across all my machines. And so I will probably never install this. But noted here in case I try.

* “timely.is”:http://timely.is/#/. Rand likes it which is a good sign. If I cared about readership and impact of my tweets I think I would certainly give this a whirl.

* “Onswipe”:http://onswipe.com/. This seemed really cool, but I thought it was basically a wordpress theme. It isn’t tho, it grabs your wordpress data and puts it behidn a new url. and it seems to be dependent on categories which I don’t use. so I will wait.

UPDATE: nice simple tip from the Keymando guys — use Git or Dropbox to keep Keymando settings in sync across multiple machines. This is a simple obvious brilliant thing I should do in general for my work and home Macs.

Link cleanup

A bag of stuff I’ve read recently that was compelling:

* “Coffee as economic health indicator”:http://paul.kedrosky.com/archives/2010/05/coffee_as_city.html. Yay Seattle! Contrast with…
* “World Class Orchestras”:http://reason.com/archives/2010/05/24/how-to-save-cleveland
* “McKean’s Inversion”:http://whatever.scalzi.com/2011/08/11/mckeans-inversion/. Whatever you publicly espouse to be — you probably aren’t.
* “Wicked Problems”:http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2011/07/wicked-1.html.
* “A one page explanation of the Higgs boson”:http://www.adafruit.com/blog/2011/07/26/the-higgs-boson-a-one-page-explanation/
* On the lighter side, “Bacon Ipsum”:http://design-milk.com/bacon-ipsum/.

College football amateurism — time to go

Kirk Cousins, the returning MSU QB, got all kinds of kudos over the last week for his nice speech about what a privilege it is to play college football, but I am underwhelmed. As others point out — “Kirk Cousins and Privilege”:http://www.elevenwarriors.com/2011/08/kirk-cousins-privledge — Kirk is letting himself be used by the monied powers in the system to protect their interests. The schools, the NCAA, the media companies are making billions of dollars off of college sports, and throwing peanuts to the players. And the players don’t even have a voice in the system — maybe the players would vote to spend all the proceeds from their sports on non-revenue sports, on university facilities, on salaries for university staffers, etc — but shouldn’t they at least have a say? Kirk, being part of a football team at a good college is a great experience, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are being used.

Frank Deford says it well — “Frank Deford on amateurism”:http://www.npr.org/2011/08/03/138919312/ncaa-still-stalled-by-amateur-hour-thinking. The time has come to abandon the amateurism requirement for college athletes in the revenue sports. A family friend made this same argument to me today in an email, I am all for it.

Other college football reading today — “Bodog season win total odds”:http://sports.bodog.eu/sports-betting/college-football-team-props.jsp (hattip @darrenrovell). OSU and Wisconsin both at 9. I’d take the over on both.

Books — Robopocalypse, Wild Cards, Leviathan Wakes, NPR list

* “Robopocalypse”:amazon by Daniel Wilson. Zombie robots rise up and attack humanity. Ok but many better zombie apocalypse books out there.
* “Wild Cards I”:amazon, Ed. George R. R. Martin. Noir-ish x-men, with the significant inclusion of all the unfortunate people with less-than-useful mutations — uncontrollable sliming, terrible disfigurements, lethal mutations. Obbviously a lot like it, since a jillion more books have followed. Just ok.
* “Leviathan Wakes”:amazon by James S. A. Corey. Solar-system-spanning conspiracies and war, fun stuff. No terribly new frontiers but quality space opera.

Oh and here is “NPR’s list”:http://www.npr.org/2011/08/09/139248590/top-100-science-fiction-fantasy-books of the top 100 SF/Fantasy books or series. Can’t agree with it all but a not unreasonable reading list.

After the offseason of infinite pain, football tickets arrive!

Thank goodness that tickets arrived in the mail today! We can get back to playing football and enjoying the games, and quit focusing on all the activity off the field.

Despite all the offseason turmoil, or maybe because of it, I am actually looking forward to this season quite a bit. There is an uncertainty about OSU this season that has been lacking in recent years. Key positions are major question marks. A new coaching philosophy will be in play. That School Up North has a new staff and some new life. The entry of Nebraska into the league is great news, I would love to get to the OSU/Nebraska game this year. The divisional lineup of the Big10 is a new element. It all adds up to an exciting season.

OSU’s home schedule is interesting, tho not great. Nebraska and Michigan are away which is too bad. But Michigan State, Wisconsin, Penn State at home are great games.

No idea which games we are going to get to. Our schedule is very complex this late summer and fall. But hope to see some of you there…