Love/Hate Otters

Otters are so dang cute. It is hard not to fall in love with them. The picture doesn’t do justice to the constant motion as they wrestle and cavort and untangle and retangle themselves. Who wouldn’t love these little guys? Such a treat to see them in nature.

And then they crawl under the canvas on your boat and leave fish guts everywhere and crap all over everything.

Year end link clean up

* “Poor Halo play prompts stabbing threat”: Doesn’t seem unreasonable. I’ve heard campers threatened with worse.
* “How Secure Is My Password”: No idea how accurate, but fun. 17 thousand years for my typical password.
* “Rich on photobooks”: I just always use the default in Aperture but perhaps I should branch out.
* “AR.Drone”: Why don’t I have one of these yet.
* “Declining energy quality as recession cause”: An interesting way to look at things. Not sure it actually makes sense tho.
* “Now you can swap useless Amex reward points for useless Zynga crap.”:
* “Snoopy themed Windows tablet”: Take that, Apple.
* “Spiders on Drugs”: We are asking for some serious payback from spider nation some day.
* “Umpteenth article on the death of cable TV”:, yawn. Until I can watch HD live sports without stuttering I am captive to cable/dish. Going to be a while.
* “Charles on breaking up MSFT”: Good as always.
* “Habitable planet found?”:
* “Languages you’ve never heard of”: In the future, we will all have our very own programming language.
* “Topologist suggests new form of matter”: For most of our history we’ve used the forms of matter that nature gave us. It is interesting to observe and think about what we can create as we gain mastery over atomic organization.
* “One man’s indictment of iTunes”: The thing is a giant hairball of software.
* “Exercise and aging”: Crap I need to get after it.
* “Show Me What’s Wrong”: Super useful.
* “User experience of F1 telemetry”: Always impressed with the amount of money spent on racing.
* “MacPaint and MacDraw source code”: Nostalgia.

Which fruit is the fruitiest?

You have a basket of wonderful fresh fruit delivered weekly to your house. Melons, apples, peaches, oranges, cherries, kiwi, strawberries, raspberries, pomegranates, etc. Maybe even an olive or a tomato. In all the best varieties and at the peak of ripeness. The honeycrisp apples are crisp and tart and cold. The cantaloupe is cold and juicy and flavorful. The strawberries have the deep red flesh of the best homegrown varieties and an amazing smell. The cherries are flawless and sweet. The peaches are juicy and firm but not too firm. The pomegranates open easily and the seeds just fall out. Really, it is just an orgy of fruitiness. OK, sure, it is fruit, and there are a few pieces here and there that are a little mushy, and a few that are not quite ripe. And week to week, one variety may outshine the others as the season moves one. But overall, it great basket of fruit weekly and you are very happy.

At the end of the fruit season, you are asked to taste all the fruit in the current week’s basket, two at a time. And then answer the question, “Which fruit is the fruitiest?”

But they are all good! And different. And good at different times. How would one answer that question? Why would the question even be posed? What would any answer even mean? Would we quit trying to grow the “losing” fruit? Would we try to breed oranges to make them more cherry-like? (Perhaps you like “Grapples”: If a November pear is better than an August peach, do we just quit eating fruit in August? The entire discussion is just strange.

So many people — fans, commentators, US senators, etc — would have you believe that this is the best kind of system by which to judge a college football season. And that the bowl system is somehow wrong. That the only fair and American way to judge the season is to have some subset of teams play each in a single elimination playoff at year end.

This is wrong on so many levels. The sports of baseball and basketball permit multi-game series to determine the better of two teams, this eliminates any single-game hiccups. This is just not physically possible in football. The notion that a single game determines the absolute better of two teams is odd; a system that weights and values the entire resume of work of a team seems more rational. It is not obvious what a single game win really says other than “Team A was better than Team B tonight at this particular location”. Which fruit is really the fruitiest? I have no idea and a single-elimination playoff series is not really going to answer that.

Further, the bowl system today allows roughly half the teams in the FBS to enjoy an additional month of practice to better themselves. And then 1/2 of those teams get to end the season on a high note and go home with a trophy. That is a lot of practice time and goodwill spread around across a lot of teams. Replacing this with a system that has only 1 winner and a bunch of losers does not seem like a net improvement for the athletes involved. Yes one team feels a lot better, and perhaps a few more feel good about having had their shot, but the rest feel no better and possibly worse.

And the adults in the system should be running the system for the benefit of the students, who are relatively powerless, not for the benefits of frustrated fans or others. Does a move to a playoff system help the students in some fashion? It is a net reduction in goodwill for most of the athletes, is it worth it to celebrate one single team which may or may not really be the best team of the season? And is the extra playing time demanded of the students balanced by any sort of compensation for the time spent and the health risk incurred?

There are economic arguments for a playoff, but the economics of NCAA football are so screwy it is hard to give these arguments any weight. Any proposal which brings a lot more money into the sport without distributing that money to the athletes involved is morally suspect.

So a playoff has no obvious benefits for the athletes and is of dubious value in establishing which team is “best”. And in the process of distilling the sport down to a simple ill-conceived yes/no question, we would lose some of the in-season and off-season chatter that is so unique to the sport. The gnashing of teeth about the injustices of being ranked in a certain way or being excluded from certain events. The back-and-forth about the weaknesses of other conferences, about the inadequacies of other team’s schedules, all the “would-of could-of should-of” talk. All this turns into deep-seated resentment and hatred which is the pulse that drives college football.

College basketball and March Madness are fun, but ultimately are somewhat passionless. The regular season of basketball has become a drag. Individual games just don’t matter that much. A loss doesn’t sit with you and gnaw at you for years. It would be terrible if college football became just like this. There is no reason for it. Let’s embrace the difference and the wackiness that is college football and let it thrive.

Should some things change in the game? Sure. We need to pay more attention to head injuries. The economics of the sport are ridiculous. The early season games against hugely mismatched opponents all for the purposes of money do a great disservice to the sport. Let’s fix these things. But leave the end of the season craziness alone.

Recent fiction – Williams, Reich, Shevdon, Troy, Stark, Shriver

* “Sixty-one Nails”:amazon by Mike Shevdon. Entertaining fantasy set in modern London, a whole variety of magic bubbling under the surface. Potteresque but more adult. Would i read more in the series? OK, i wouldn’t run to get one, but it was moderately entertaining. Amazon says 4 stars, Goodreads 3.82, I’d say a solid 3.
* “Denial of Sunlight”:amazon by Robert Troy. 4.5 stars on Amazon, 3.5 on Goodreads. Supposed to be an awesome thriller, I think someone must be gaming Amazon because this is scattered crap. Gave up fast. Unreadable. 0 stars.
* “Rules of Deception”:amazon by Christopher Reich. Starts out nicely with personal loss and deception, but devolves into standard spy chase thriller with megalomaniac trying to bring about armageddon. Had great promise but lost its way. Amazon says 3.5, Goodreads 3.35, I’d say 2.5.
* “This is Not a Game”:amazon by Walter Jon WIlliams. Reality, alternate reality gaming, online gaming all collide in a thriller. Good tale but a little predictable toward the end. The beginning started much more sharply. Still quite engaging. 3.5 stars on Amazon, 3.7 on Goodreads, 4 for me.
* “The Hunter”:amazon by Richard Stark. Great hard-bitten noir adventure. Parker is an awesome character. 4 stars on Amazon, 4.2 on Goodreads, 4 for me
* “The Post-Birthday World”:amazon by Lionel Shriver. OK I read fiction to either a) entertain, usually via escapist fare (witness all the preceding books) or interesting story structure, or b) gain greater insight into human behaviour, including my own behaviour. This book certainly does not entertain via escapism, you are thrust into the midst of broken relationships and poor decisions. It promises an interesting story structure but takes way too long to get there. It might give me greater insight into human behaviour, but it seems to just be another treatment of depressing mistakes in people’s lives. So I gave up. Amazon says 4 stars and this thing got some good reviews at release time, but Goodreads is at 3.4 and I am at like 1 star.

Get Your Purdue Hate On!

OK it is hard to get excited this week for Purdue but courtesy of the lead Iowa blogger, here is your “guide to hating Purdue”: Good stuff.

Linksys WVC80N for remote monitoring

Installed a Linksys WVC80N for remote monitoring of a site. Mentioned this to a few folks and they seemed excited about, apparently this is a common need.

The camera hardware itself was easy to set up and the hardware is solid. I did the setup on a Mac and had no problems getting the camera set up and working on the wireless network.

At that point, tho, you have to go offroad. Assuming you want to have remote access to the video, you have a couple paths to try out:

* You can set up motion detection-driven email/ftp alerting. You have to use all the camera admin pages but it seems pretty straightforward. But I didn’t do this. So no idea how well the motion detection work.
* Or you can set up a dynamic dns connection through TZO.COM. The camera web pages claim there is a free trial, but the TZO website did not work for the free trial. Kind of a screw job Cisco, you should do better. The cost for a year of service for TZO was not crazy tho so I just signed up for a year of service. You get a domain which you can connect to from anywhere. And it does work, I am looking at my camera now. But it took a LOT of futzing with firewall rules and port mapping on my dsl modem/router to punch thru. All these devices claim they have some magic UPNP technology to help you do all this but that seems to be baloney. So be prepared to futz or have someone futz for you.
* Once it is set up, it took the TZO.COM dynamic DNS service 24 hours or so to be reliable. Probably takes that long for DNS entry to percolate around.

Recent fiction — Glass Room, Kellerman, and some throwaways

* “Black Blade Blues”:amazon by J. A. Pitts. Yawn. A young woman in Seattle stumbles onto the fantastic world around her. Not new ideas and thin characters. Amazon says 4 stars, Goodreads says 3.3, I give it a 1, couldn’t finish.
* “Chronicles of the Black Company”:amazon by Glen Cook. Mercenary company in a fantasy world. Somewhat interesting atmosphere but choppy writing, weak plotting. Gave up quickly. Amazon says 4 stars, Goodreads 4.23, I didn’t get it. 1 star.
* “The Genius”:amazon by Jesse Kellerman. Good but not great. A young art dealer comes across a trove of drawings of mysterious origin. Unravelling the mystery of their origin uncovers his own family’s secrets and deep disfunction. Thankfully didn’t devolve into a pedestrian thriller or DaVinciCode-esque puzzler. Focused more on the family disfunction, and there was probably even more ground to cover in this direction. Amazon says 4 stars, Goodreads 3.5. I’d say 3.
* “The Glass Room”:amazon by Simon Mawer. Translated from the German, this is apparently a very popular recent novel in Germany. Tells the story of a pre-WW2 Czech family and the house they build, and then the trials and tribulations of the family and the house thru the rest of the century. Starts a little slowly but becomes very compelling as the events of the century sweep thru. Yes the coincidences that drive the plot are unlikely, but still makes for a good tale. Amazon says 4 stars, Goodreads says 3.9, I give it 3.5 stars.

Permanence of ebooks

So I am starting to read a new book on my Kindle and just after the Library of Congress info I see that:

“The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences–Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1992.”

Good to know.

My fall quarter academic work — vibrations, DEP modeling

Fall quarter kicking off, hurray! Formal coursework will be ME 588 — Dynamics and Vibrations. Basic theoretical framework, single DOF systems, multiple DOF systems, and continuously driven systems. Not my first choice of material but need to take remotely and the options were few.

Informally, I’ll be working on modeling of dielectrophoresis effects at the nanoscale, applied primarily to biological sensors. Some finite element, some matlab, some fluids, etc. Interesting study of forces and motion at the nanoscale. I’ve ordered a bunch of texts on electrodynamic modeling and and cranking thru. The mechanics are new to me, the electrodynamics are familiar but rusty, the coding work is relatively straightforward. Initial model focus is on 2D systems tho I’d like to step up to 3d, tho this is of course substantially more complicated.

Daily amusements — tilt shift, 6502, glass speakers, carlashes

* “Tilt-shift Van Gogh”: via “Scalzi”: Because tilt-shift makes everything better.
* “6502 simulated in javascript”: via “adafruit”: Freaking awesome, my first significant personal coding was on a 6502 (Apple ][), I wish I still had the code so I could test it out.
* “Glass speakers”: Outrageously expensive but oh my gosh cool.
* “Carlashes”: To be surreptitiously applied to your sibling’s car.

Odd/interesting college football numbers

* Michigan is a “25 point favorite”: over Bowling Green this weekend. Really? Did anyone watch Michigan give up 37 to UMass? Not a betting man but tempted to start.
* Ohio State ranked “11th by Sagarin for purposes of BCS”: With a string of weak opponents still on the slate, this is a little concerning, tho if OSU wins out, its position in the human polls is pretty unassailable. My gosh, USC who has looked awful is ranked well ahead of OSU.
* Yay Duke is “#1 in kickoff return yards!”: That happens when you are always returning kickoffs because you’ve been giving up scores left and right.
* Yay “OSU is #1 in field goals”: Ignoring the implications for red zone ineffectiveness, this might lead you to believe that OSU special teams are doing great. Which they are not.

Apparently Ohio State doesn’t want my money

A rough day to try to follow the Buckeyes from Seattle. Comcast sorry, Xfinity is only carrying one BigTenNetwork feed, the Michigan/UMass game. And while I am enjoying the schadenfreude of that game as Denard comes back to earth (and wow does Michigan’s D suck), I would rather watch OSU.

Yes if I had Dish or DirecTV I could watch, but I don’t want to go thru the brain damage of switching video providers just to watch one game that was over on the first possession. Fail one, why isn’t there a PPV option on Comcast?

Next try is to watch online via one of the many purported video streams. None of which work. The pure web ones all are hosted on various sketchy domains, most of which want me to bet on something, and none of them seem to show any video. Fail two, why oh why won’t the Big Ten Network let me buy a stream?

3rd try is to at least listen to the game via a stream from the official radio station, WBNS. They will let me pay for a single game or season of audio, $4.95 for a game, good for them! But of course their embedded player doesn’t work on a Mac.

Now I am reduced to listening to “Scarlet and Gray Sports Radio”: on ustream which is a fairly amateurish play by play but at least it works. Oh and it appears to be on a delay, since the “ESPN gamecast”: is ahead.

The best live option is Twitter.

Pretty terrible experience overall. I would happily pay a reasonable per-game fee to get something of quality on a Mac or an iPad.

Preventing Football Head Injuries

It’s increasingly obvious that powers-that-be in football at all levels have to make some changes to protect players from head trauma.

MEMS-based accelerometers are obviously super cheap now; why aren’t these in every football helmet made, along with necessary processing and memory to cache results both instantaneous and cumulative. And with results available to a trainer on the sidelines via wireless or some other means.

And if a player’s helmet records a certain level of instantaneous or cumulative impact, then that player is out of the game or practice until evaluated by a doctor.

Additionally this data is tracked over a player’s lifetime and if certain cumulative levels are reached, then the player is pulled for medical evaluation.

This is not some crazy new idea. VT trialed a system in 2007 based on Simbex technology. Riddell had a helmet design in 2007 with some of this. At that time the cost was quoted as $1k per helmet but with Wii controllers retailing at $20-40 MSRP, there is no reason why a lower cost system can’t be devised. Perhaps it won’t have the same level of accuracy and responsiveness as the $1K system but there must be a reasonable low cost version 1.0 compromise.

The game has to change. Measurement is a start. Rule and equipment changes must follow.

Every hour the NCAA spends chasing after athlete eligibility issues instead of chasing after helmet safety issues is an hour misspent, almost criminally so. Yes eligibility issues are important and the NCAA has to address the economics of college football, but the health of the players involved is much more important.

Why didn’t I buy VMWare stock when Paul Maritz stepped into leadership role?

Kicking myself totally on this one, “VMWare”: has been on a tear. Paul is a great guy, he has been hiring great guys (who wouldn’t want to work with Paul?), they’ve been acquiring lots of interesting assets.

And fundamentally they are on the right side of history. Paul has always been insightful and articulate on strategy and he says it well in this “techcrunch piece”: : “The innovation in how hardware is coordinated today and the innovation in how services are provided to applications is no longer happening inside the operating system.”

This is dead on. You can debate whether VMWare will be the primary beneficiary of this trend versus other cloud providers, but the shift is undeniable.

Servicing my college football addiction

Finally, the first week of college football. And the first week of servicing my addiction. Here is the plan for this year:

* In person attendance at games: We’ll make the November Penn State and Michigan games at Ohio Stadium. 4 tickets to each game at $70/pop comes to $560, we are able to easily sell the unused portion of our season ticket books. Oh of course to get the rights to buy 4 tickets and a parking pass, we had to join the “Buckeye Club”: at the appropriate level, and make ongoing scholarship donations which qualify us to join the “President’s Club”: But we will pretend those aren’t related — in fact we would donate the scholarship money anyway, to help Marion County students with demonstrated need make it through Ohio State. Oh and we will ignore the travel expense to Ohio as well, since we are going to be there primarily to visit family. Oh and I may sneak to a USC or UW game in addition but we will see. And depending on how the Buckeyes do, we may go the bowl game, count on another $2500 for tickets/travel/accommodations in Glendale (hey, go big or go home!).

* Watching all other weekends on TV: Sports, and particularly college football, are at least 50% of the driver for our cable/dish subscriptions. We subscribe to enough of a tier on cable to get ESPN, Fox Sports, and the Big-10 network in HD. And since we are splitting time between Seattle and Ohio this fall, we have to maintain subscriptions in both locations since cable and dish subscriptions are not portable. We’ve tried a variety of ways to get around this, but there are no quality solutions — ESPN3 is low quality, the various pirated feeds are even worse, slingbox doesn’t really work for HD content. So say half a cable bill monthly in two locations is attributable to football, that is $50/month * 2 locations * 6 months == $600.

* Tracking on the PC/iPad. When I’m at home watching game A, I want to track other games on a medium sized screen. ESPN, ESPN3, and SI are the best of a bad lot — all crammed with ads, tend to have load issues on Saturdays, tend to lag the real action, etc etc. I used to use Sportsline but investment in that site seems to be trending down. I’m not going to allocate any of our internet costs to sports, we would have the same connection if sports didn’t exist.

* Tracking on the iPhone. A real weak spot. The ESPN app is the best score tracker — customizable for just my teams, reasonable UI. But massive load issues on Saturdays, something has clearly been engineered poorly in the transaction model for this app, since it is way more load-sensitive than the web site which makes no sense at all. Backup are the websites for SI and ESPN. Twitter also critical since every major sportswriter/sportsblogger is active on twitter. Of course everyone of these data services fails totally when at a live game, as 100K people all try to hit the same cell tower at once. Google SMS is the fallback of last resort, it can sometimes work when the 3G/Edge networks are failing. You can certainly allocate half my cell phone data plan to sports for the 6 months of college football, so let’s say another $300. Yes I would look harder at a different data plan if I didn’t track sports. Overall the lack of a great app to track sports teams on the iPhone is a little surprising.

OK so $3100 in costs to attend games and bowl, $900 in telecom costs, so $4K in direct costs a year to watch college football. Plus the opportunity cost of time — at least 16 weekends, 8 hours of time, 128 hours. And I am probably not being honest with myself about that time commitment. But eternally hopeful that the Buckeyes will win the national championship, thereby justifying all of it!