Recent Books I Liked — Principles, Secondhand Time, Second Life of Nick Mason, Lab Girl, In the Garden of Beasts

  • Principles by Ray Dalio.  Overly long, and probably only relevant to those who have already had a lot of good fortune in life, but still a interesting read and worthy input for anything thinking about how to manage their career.
  • Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich.  Fascinating insight into modern Russia.  The sense of loss due to the collapse of the Soviet Union is worth reading about and understanding.
  • The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton.  Fun thriller about an ex-con trying to get free of his past.
  • Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.  Compelling autobiography of a scientist and mother, a deeply human story.
  • In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson.  Life in Nazi Berlin pre the full outbreak of WWII.  The temperature in the pot slowly rises…

No you should not install 3rd party AV software

Between this news and the Kapersky revelations last week, I think the strategy most people should follow for their personal pcs is clear.

  • Don’t visit sketchy sites that are offering you free software, free movies, etc.  And never download software offering the same.  “If you aren’t the customer, you are the product.”
  • Don’t install 3rd party AV/Security software, this software digs into the heart of your system and just creates another source of vulnerabilities.
  • Do accept all patches from your OS vendor — Microsoft or Apple. You should probably allow them to auto patch your system without your intervention.  You have already thrown your lot in with them, why hold back.
  • Do run the latest OS from your OS vendor.  That is where their best and brightest people are working.

Microsoft and Apple have a gajillion people working on security, it is in their interest to protect their products from attacks, you should align yourself with them.

Recent Books — Crowley, Goldbarth, Bob Hope, Phenomena, Raj, Harry August, Tom Rob Smith, etc

Some winners and losers.

  • Little, Big by John Crowley. Well-regarded and I enjoyed some of the characters, but it lost me when it quickly flipped into faerie. Gave up on.
  • The Adventures of Form and Content by Albert Goldbarth. Goldbarth can be challenging but these are excellent essays. I aspire to be as well-read and thoughtful as he is.
  • Hope by Richard Zoglin. I never thought I’d be interested in a biography of Bob Hope, but a fascinating life story. He was an absolutely dominant entertainer in almost all forms of popular media, and could be incredibly generous, and yet had massive massive flaws. An interesting human being.
  • Phenomena by Annie Jacobsen. Got great reviews but the nonsense discussed drove me away. Gave up on.
  • The Chaos of Empire by Jon Wilson. Another I abandoned quickly. From past readings I’ve know the British were none too pleasant as they built their empire, and I wanted to learn more, but the early parts of this book just droned on and on with no insight.
  • The Farm by Tom Rob Smith. His earlier books are excellent, but he just never found his voice in this one. A satisfying ending but not a great read.
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North. Fun. Not memorable but fun.
  • Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman. My Kindle says I read this, and the Amazon blurb sounds familiar, but for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you anything about. Read whatever you want to into this.
  • Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason. An attempt at a Fargo-like tale but eh. Not funny enough.

Docker and VSCode on OS X — not ready for primetime

My workflow for years on my MBP has centered on VMWare running Debian/Ubuntu, and all my tools in the VM.

For developing code targeting AWS services, I thought I’d try using Docker for Mac and running Debian images with Docker.

Well that didn’t work. This bug involving time drift in a container has been around for a year now, with no attention paid to it. It basically makes it impossible to access any AWS services. I have to conclude that no one is actually using Docker for Mac.

I’ve also for years used a variety of editors and IDEs on both the Mac and Linux side. I heard such good things about VSCode that I decided to try it. But after any amount of time running it, it starts to miss keystrokes — I first noticed it wasn’t responding to copy/paste from the keyboard, then it also started to fail on simple text entry. I have no time for this, as cool as VSCode may be, it fails on the fundamentals.

Weekend experiment — Amazon Codestar

Created a site using Codestar. It was pretty easy (the ssh setup instructions are the trickiest thing, they are not perfectly clear). And I like that the resultant site embraces AWS cloud services. But in its drive to easy dev, codestar masks what is going on under the covers, and I am left with a site that I don’t really know how to modify and extend because I don’t understand what has happened beneath me. I doubt I will use it much.

UPDATE: If you think of codestar as just a way to seed a project, it is kind of useful. it would have taken me a while to correctly configure IAM, CodeCommit, CodePipeline, CodeBuild, CloudFormation, and Lambda. A tool to seed a project with all this correctly set up is useful. I wish that the tool would emit a script to let me idempotently recreate the project from scratch including all IAM settings.

Recent Books — March of Folly, Hawley, Haigh, Lee, Birds

  • The March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman. Not a new book but pretty timeless lessons. Our country is certainly making missteps yet again in the Middle East.
  • Before the Fall by Noah Hawley. Excellent mystery about the crash of a private plane, in which every passenger and crew member has secrets that may have been in play.
  • Heat and Light by Jennifer Haigh. A failing small town and the people in it, struggling with the arrival of fracking. I didn’t love it but seems timely.
  • High Dive by Jonathan Lee. A fictionalization of the events around a 1984 bombing in Brighton England. Engaging but not amazing.
  • The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman. Great studies of birds and their behaviors. Go look up images of the bowers created by bowerbirds, truly confounding.

We don’t get to just move on from the healthcare discussion

The AHCA has failed and people are frustrated and tired. The Republicans want to move on. Trump wants to move on. Some Dems want to gloat. But there is no moving on from this discussion, healthcare is too central an issue in people’s lives.

The AHCA was a political construct. It was “designed” to meet the political objectives of Trump (meet his campaign promise of doing something fast, without regard to what that was) and the political objectives of the republican leadership (destroy Obamacare without regard to how). As a piece of policy, it was harmful to most Americans, and the design of the bill and the effort to pass it were slapdash and amateurish.

It was brought down by the conservative and moderate wings of the party — the conservatives wanted more free market structuring, the moderates didn’t want to hurt their constituents.

So, now what. We have a turned a corner in this country. The Frum article ( and Naam’s observations about the Overton window ( are useful to read. The electorate has come to expect universal coverage at a reasonable cost (which is what Trump ran on though he was just being politically expedient). Plans that rip away coverage from the poor, from children, from young mothers — those will never get through.

And inaction on costs is not acceptable. People are paying too much for healthcare today. They are mad about it. The US has the highest costs of any developed nation ( Failure to address the ruinous costs borne by the middle class and working class will result in midterm loss of Republican house seats, and turnover in Democrat seats as well.

The Republican leadership (or new Republican leadership) needs to accept reality. They can’t just throw up their hands, say “darn it”, and move on to their next dream of tax reform. There is plenty of room to work on costs and improve the functioning of the ACA — see Naam’s list ( There is plenty of room in a system with universal basic coverage to insert market dynamics. The Republicans need to turn their attention to these opportunities. The Democrats need to lead with reasonable proposals and support reasonable efforts.

No one can walk away from the healthcare discussion.

Atlassian, you exhaust me.

Jira dashboards, boards, projects, issues, sprints, backlogs, queries, filters, versions, epics. Confluence spaces, categories, pages, people. Bamboo plans, projects, deployment projects. Hipchat teams, rooms. Trello boards, lists, cards.

Atlassian products have more ways to group and scope content, each of which has a million attributes and quirks. It is exhausting and I find myself pushed away from their products. All of this bucketing and grouping does not help me understand what the hell is going on at all.

Recent Books — Other Minds, Last Days of Night, eVolo, Kevin Kelly

  • Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith. A dive into the nature of consciousness and how it might vary across entities, with a deep look at cephalopods, who have a very different nervous system than humans. Most fascinating to me was the description of their skin, with its color change capability, embedded photoreceptors, and highly distributed nervous system. I would have liked more cephalopod info.
  • Last Days of Night by Graham Moore. Fictionalization of the early days of the electrification of the country. Very interesting parallels to the tech booms of the last 30 years.
  • Evolo Skyscrapers 3. Wow, this coffee table book of imaginative future skyscraper designs could keep me occupied forever. Drones, fantastic trains, innovative green technology, disaster-resistance, extreme climates, etc. Super fun.
  • The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly. I avoided reading this for a while and I don’t know why. A little bloated but an excellent look at the forces of change that are driving through our economy. Highly recommended.

Recent Books – Ove, Orphan Master’s Son, Bryson, American Nations, Hillbilly Elegy, Marauders

  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman. A touching tale of an elderly man dealing with the loss of his wife and the changes in the world around him. Definitely interested in seeing the movie, a great character.
  • The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson.  A life of adaptation and survival in North Korea.  A little fabulous at times but engaging.
  • The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson.  I like Bryson, but his schtick wears a little thin in this one.  I’d read his earlier works.
  • American Nations by Colin Woodard.  Very good and topical read.  I don’t think the boundaries between the nations are quite as crisp as he suggests but his model is very helpful for thinking about how the different parts of the country are thinking about politics these days.
  • Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.  A nice companion to the American Nations book, a deep look by one person at the culture of Appalachia as they experienced it.  Even tho I grew up reasonably close to the author, the culture that I experienced was so different than his.    Bridging these cultures is hard.
  • The Marauders by Tom Cooper.  People making bad choices in the bayou. is now part of Xevo

Been working on this for quite a while, our team is now part of Xevo ( Very excited to join Xevo, the founder of Xevo is Satoshi Nakajima, former colleague at Ignition and at Microsoft, someone who I have long enjoyed working with. And the rest of the team at Xevo is just great, and they have a great existing position in the automotive market. We’ll be focusing our technology on solutions in this space which is exciting — real problems, the ability to deploy to tens of millions of customers, with very demanding technology at the forefront of the industry — machine learning, cloud, iot. Really looking forward to expanding our team, building the business, and making a difference.

I’m a little busy this week with work and personal stuff but ping me if you want to catch up…

AMZN should make their own home automation gear

I purchased a TP-Link Smart Plug, a top seller in home improvement, to control turning on and off our Christmas tree lights from our Amazon Echo. The final working solution is pretty slick, it works reliably, and it is pretty tolerant of slight differences in phrasing.

打印But setup was a long path of horrible. Create a tp-link online account. Download their Kasa iOS app (Really love the profusion of brand names — control our TP-Link™ Smart Plug with the kasa™ iOS app using the Alexa™ integration with our Amazon Echo™). Plug in the TP-Link device and then join it to the kasa app, doing the “private wifi hotspot” dance common to so many iot devices, where you have to leave the app and join a goofy wifi hotspot temporarily. Wait while the pairing happens. Then set a friendly name for the device in the kasa app. Go to the url in the paper instructions to set up Alexa integration. This points you back to a menu in the kasa app. This sends you back to a web page with Alexa integration instructions. Go two menus down in the Amazon Alexa phone app (why isn’t this the Amazon Echo phone app? I bought an Echo. I never bought anything called Alexa) to install a new smart home skill, the TP-Link Kasa skill. Search in the Alexa app for connected devices and pick the tp-link device. Provide the Alexa app with tp-link login credentials. Now I guess it is all set up but I have no idea what phrase to say. Take a guess that the friendly name I gave the tp-link device 8 steps ago is the thing to say, and yay it is.

I bet when I install a 2nd one I get to do much of this again. Kind of dreading that.

How will regular humans do all this? Return rates and support calls must be high. The tp-link should have been pre-provisioned with the necessary wifi connectivity, and the Alexa skill should have been pre-installed, and the phrase should have been pre-configured to a default. And I should have just plugged it in, and it should have worked in seconds.

If AMZN wants this to be a mainstream use, they need to preconfigure the devices, like they preconfigure Kindles or other AMZN hardware. Which probably entails AMZN building their own devices, or running a very strong branding/qualification program. Otherwise this is going to be a very niche experience. Or someone else (GOOG or APPL) will figure this out and displace the Echo.

Let’s stay positive and focus on Seattle and the West Coast

I find myself a little befuddled these days about our country. Some days I find myself feeling a lot of anger. The decision by a significant minority of our electorate to hand the reins of government to an unfit man, for the sake of unspecified change, is difficult to understand. But I can’t control what happens in distant places, I can’t control how people feel.

15032247_10103910583670978_4320759830836294903_nWhat I can control is my own effort and time. And the real opportunity in front of me is to commit myself to making our local community and state an even better place to live. To be more tolerant, more welcoming, give more people a hand up, help create more economic activity, help more people who need help, etc. Seattle is a vibrant place, the state of Washington is an amazing place to live, the West Coast is a great region, but we are not perfect and we have more to do.

As a first tiny positive step, we’ll be attending the rally at Green Lake this weekend to stand up against fear and hate, and to show our support for the most vulnerable parts of the community. And we also want to demonstrate to local politicians that the community is committed to tolerance and civil rights, and that we will stand with local leaders to fight racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc.

I am confident that we can continue to make Seattle and the West a vibrant and attractive place to live, with great broad-based economies and great tolerance. We have much to do, but we have a great set of people here to do it with.

Recent Books — Queenpin, Emerald Lie

  • Queenpin by Megan Abbott. 52408-_uy475_ss475_Wow this was a fun noir tale of a young woman working her way up the seamy underside of the city. Really enjoyed it.
  • The Emerald Lie by Ken Bruen. A detective tale of a sort, tho the detective basically is a drunk who stomps around like a bull in a china shop, not really solving crimes but creating havoc. Nice atmosphere.
  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. This was a bit of a chore, and at the end was very painful to read due to the intense subject matter, but a very good read about the complexity and senselessness of war. Certainly can understand why this novel got so many accolades, the writer has a very distinctive voice.
  • The Big Sheep by Robert Kroese. I guess this is was an attempt to do a Sherlock Holmes style story in a near future America, but eh, just read a Sherlock Holmes story.

Recent Book — Hitler’s Thirty Days to Power

Hitler’s Thirty Days to Power by Henry 30daysAshby Turner Jr. I read this years ago, and was reminded of it recently. A very very good book and perhaps relevant read, the detailed story of Hitler’s precipitous rise to power, and how he was enabled by inaction or self-serving actions of the politicians around him. The idea that he would be held in check by more conventional politicians around him was a historically tragic error.

Worth reading. One of my all-time favorite history books. Worth reflecting on.

Weekend Software Project — Audio classification

This weekend I experimented with some audio classification tools. It was an up and down experience.

I’m interested in a couple features — hotword detection ala “Hey Siri”, “Alexa”; sound event detection (i.e. identify a glass break or gunshot); and acoustic scene classification. I didn’t dig into general speech reco, I’ve dabbled with that in the past.

I experimented with two projects this weekend — the Kitt.AI Snowboy hotword detection tool and the DCASE 2016 baseline system. I spun up a single docker container that hosted both projects. This was a bit of a PITA, mostly due to getting sound devices to show up in a container. I should post something separate just on that adventure.

Ultimately I got them both working. The Snowboy detector works reasonably well with their universal model; the personal models you can create work also, tho they are not speaker independent. The DCASE code also spins up and training can be done on a standalone machine in a modest amount of time. Unfortunately, both these projects have very restrictive licenses, which makes them kind of useless for anything besides a weekend project.

At the root of almost all these systems is a common feature extraction algorithm, MFCC extraction. MFCCs are explained reasonably well here and the author provides a python reference implementation with an MIT license. I’m inclined to dig more into this path going forward.