Friday, September 30, 2005

Adam's Curse, by Bryan Sykes

Sykes is a rare bird: an accomplished scientist who can write for the layman. He describes results of recent research into the history and future of the Y chromosome, which is special: unlike the other chromosomes in the body, it does not get to participate in recombination, thereby it is the chromosome that accumulates errors and is now excessively specialized. The book is an exciting read, and a real pleasure --- easily one of the best science books of the year for me. His description is clear even for someone who's not a geneticist.

If the book has a fault, it is that he claims that sexual selection is directly responsible for many of the ills today --- women are attracted to powerful men (or in the case of Genghis Khan, who has 16 million modern men carrying his Y chromosome, were forced into bearing the children of powerful men), and power as well as money are hereditary in most patriarchical society, thereby increasing the amount of greed and avarice and rapacious treatment of the environment. In reality, however, even if women were the only gender in the population, the desire to achieve better environments for one's offspring is just as strong in the X chromosome, which imply to me that the world would be in no better shape if only women existed. I've certainly met enough short-sighted and greedy women to realize that those traits are not entirely driven by testosterone.

If you're going to buy this book, buy the updated paperback version. I read the older hardcover, but it should be the same material.
Neil Gaiman has lunch with members of the blogger team. Posted by Picasa
Shaking hands with the Dream King Posted by Picasa

Neil Gaiman (right) & Piaw (left), after the Google signing
Picture credit: Wei-Hwa Huang(???) Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Advanced
You scored 92% Beginner, 92% Intermediate, 100% Advanced, and 73% Expert!

You have an extremely good understanding of beginner, intermediate, and
advanced level commonly confused English words, getting at least 75% of
each of these three levels' questions correct. This is an exceptional score. Remember, these are commonly confused English words, which means most people don't use them properly. You got an extremely respectable score.


Thank you so much for taking my test. I hope you enjoyed it!



For the complete Answer Key, visit my blog: http://shortredhead78.blogspot.com/.




My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
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You scored higher than 24% on Beginner
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You scored higher than 20% on Intermediate
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You scored higher than 67% on Advanced
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You scored higher than 31% on Expert
Link: The Commonly Confused Words Test written by shortredhead78 on Ok Cupid

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Cheating of America, Charles Lewis

A so-so book about tax evasion. Rather than presenting a coherent case about tax evasion, how it happens, and what legislation went into making it possible, the book is just one series of stories after another about successful tax evasion. Sure, it makes your blood boil, but after the umpteenth story, you feel kinda defeated instead of angry.

Read Perfectly Legal instead, a much better book about the same topic.

Monday, September 26, 2005

A Distant Soil 2: Ascendant, by Colleen Doran

The pace finally picks up and the story coheres. Doran steers away carefully from many adult issues, however, so the book never quite gets to the level of maturity I've seen from more seasoned writers. Again, something you should check out from the library but not buy.
Orbiter, Warren Ellis and Colleen Doran

A comic book that works too hard to inspire. I'm a science geek and I definitely believe that man should find a way to go to the stars. Having said that, glorifying the space shuttle is not the way to go. There are lots of other more innovative approaches (such as the Space Elevator) that deserve consideration that NASA's budget wouldn't allow if it was all spent taking care of the shuttle.
The Search, by John Battelle

I was eager to read this book, since I joined Google just 2 years ago, when a lot of the history had already happened. (Amongst my big questions were: what happened during the experiment with traditional engineering managers?) Unfortunately, Battelle did not get that much access to Google, and hence was unable to write a complete account. Regardless, this book is worth reading, and since it is relatively short, won't take up too much of your time.

It remains for a Google old-timer to write the definitive book about Google's early history.

Eric Schmidt comes across as a man who is comfortable in his own skin. He's been a CEO or top executive for more than two decades, having been CTO at Sun, where he mad his first small fortune, then CEO of Novell, a major IT company, where he made his second. He knows when to smile, when to be gracious, when to keep quiet, and when to answer a difficult question with self-effacing acknowledgment. He brandishes subtle and humorous double entendres like a Japanese swordsman, a trait that almost offsets the superiority complex he shares with nearly every talented engineer in the Valley.

Despite these skills, one gets the impression that Eric Schmidt has yet to get entirely comfortable with his place at Google, his title as CEO notwithstanding...
My 20% project makes the New York Times!

Sure, it's a short piece, and most of it quotes Hal Varian, who's much more of an expert on prediction markets than I ever will be, but WOOHOO! One would think that after 14 years in the industry, I would have gotten over something like this (after all, Mpath, HearMe, and Quake all got in the news quite a bit), but it's different when it's your personal 20% project, as opposed to something that's part of a corporate charter. (Though the Mpath will always be dear to my heart)

Sunday, September 25, 2005

OK, now that I've hiked half-dome, I don't have to do it again. It was crowded. The hike was long and towards the end more than a little painful. I'm still sore 24 hours later (though I'll admit I'm not in great hiking shape). It might be more fun when it's less crowded, but this hike reminded me why I always do my trips from Tuoloumne Meadows and almost never visit Yosemite Valley any more.
First view of half-dome along the trail. Posted by Picasa
Piaw after 8.2 miles of hiking. Good grief, that last stretch looks steep! Posted by Picasa
View from the top of Half Dome: El Capitan and Yosemite Valley Posted by Picasa
Come to Yosemite National Park. Get away from cities, crowds, traffic jams, and pollution. OK, maybe not. Posted by Picasa

Friday, September 23, 2005

Patri provides more details on my 20% project

I'm so glad this 20% project was more than just me. I certainly don't have the ability to do the kind of analysis that he did, and I'm definitely happy to have someone show that the results are useful. Reminds of my TinyMUCK work, where I did a bunch of stuff for fun, but really didn't see the significance of it until much later.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Christine Davis' blog

Yes, Scarlet, I predict you'll be a big fan of her blog.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Now I can talk about it

Every so often I'll talk to someone who knows I work at Google. Invariably, the question will come up if they're technically savvy, "Is it true that that everyone gets 1 day a week to work on whatever they like?" I answer, "Yes." "What did you do with your time?" Unfortunately, I don't usually say much. But now I can point to this, and say, "I wrote the trading engine." (Actually, I rewrote it a couple of times before getting it right)

Monday, September 19, 2005

Handling the boat in the evening near Angel Island. Posted by Picasa
Lea enjoying herself as she maneuvers the Talisman away from San Francisco under high winds. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Year's Best Science Fiction, 22nd Annual Collection

Ever since I let my subscription to Asimov's Science Fiction lapse, I've found the Year's Best Collections worth reading, if not buying. (I still check it out from the local library) This collection's best stories are:
  • "Shiva in Shadow", Nancy Kress
  • "Mayflower II", Stephen Baxter
Also of note:
  • "Inappropriate Behavior", Pat Murtphy
  • "Start the Clock", Benjamin Rosenblaum
  • "Skin Deep", Mary Rosenblum
  • "Men Are Trouble", James Patrick Kelly
  • "Investments", Walter Jon Williams
The Rhythm Section

A quick read in the "La Femme Nikita" vein, but not great enough to continue reading further books in the series. It is very readable, but then again, so are many other reads. One interesting note is that the author does mention terrorism and Osama Bin Laden in 1999, 2 years before the world trade center attacks.
Here's the original version of the picture below. (downscaled to 1900x1200) Posted by Picasa

This is why I'm taking so long to switch to digital. I took this picture in 2002, with Fuji Velvia on my 4 year old SLR. It was a picture with vertical orientation. I wanted a wallpaper for my 1900x1200 new monitor at work, so I cropped away 75% of the picture, rescaled the result by 50% (reducing the size of the result), and what's left looks pretty darn good.

The original image, as scanned by a CanoScan FS4000US was 4000x6000 pixels, or 24 megapixel. To provide a point of reference, Canon's top of the line digital SLR, the EOS-1Ds (full frame), provides 16 megapixel resolution, and costs well over $8000. Granted, scanning a slide loses you some clarify and resolution, so the numbers aren't directly comparable, but in many ways we still have a few more cycles of Moore's law before digital becomes the choice when highest quality is desired.

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Wright Exit Strategy

This is a great antidote to The Millionaire Next Door. If you recall, Millionaire Next Door is about how wealthy people got that way by clipping coupons and not spending money. The study was flawed with all sorts of the kind of errors described in Fooled by Randomness. However, even more distasteful to me was all these people with millions of dollars who spent their lives staying home, clipping coupons, and not actually doing anything with their money like travelling, enjoying hobbies, or doing anything for the greater society. In fact, most of them answered the question, "What is your favorite charity?" with the answer, "Myself."

OK, enough about the Millionaire Next Door. The Wright Exit Strategy reverses the question by asking you what your goals in life are. If you could have any calendar you want, and could fill it only with stuff you enjoyed doing, how would you fill it? From there, Wright gets into the details of how to hire the correct estate planning agent, how uncomplicated financial strategy actually is, and how to get over the barriers to being able to do what you truly want to do, whether it's the fear of selling your family business, or selling your highly appreciated company stock, or actually starting to give money away.

Note the the book does not at all describe how you should get that wealthy. Presumably, you do that with a combination of luck and business saavy. Naturally, most of the concerns he has (like dodging capital gains taxes or estate planning) really only apply to the ultra-rich (well above the $3 million you actually need to get a $100,000 a year income), but in any case, if you're the kind of person who's described by The Millionaire Next Door, you need to read this book so you can get a life and do what you really want to do.

There's a poignant story in this book about a successful condominium developer who had already made $20 million and was now having an aggravating time getting new real estate developed because everyone was getting on his case (environmentalists, etc, etc). After talking to him, Wright pointed out that this guy was really into it for the thrill of the hunt, but had never considered that he could get his thrills any other way, despite the ulcers and other bodily pain he was suffering from his job. Unfortunately, the guy died of a heart attack before Wright's advice could do any good. Read this book, Mr. Millionaire, and take notes!

(Though I'm fond of saying: Wealth is wasted on the wealthy!)
Castle Waiting

The best of the recent graphic novels I've read. It's a whimsical fairy tale, filled with references to your nursery rhyme stories, including the 3 little pigs, the goose that lay the golden egg, amongst others. Entertaining. Vol. 1 hasn't provided much by way of plot yet, but this volume has as much promise as the early issues of Bone.
A Distant Soil

Colleen Doran started this comic when she was 13, and it shows. Now, Daniel Keys Moran started his novel series when he was 13 as well, but his characters are compelling, and his plots exciting. But Doran applied no form of filtering whatsoever to her work. The characters don't develop well, and the plot is barely comprehensible. Despite that, she won numerous awards for her work. Why? Because she was one of the leading wave of independent publishers, and probably the only woman in the field who has had any form of success.

Oh, and she draws really well. Her layouts are very pretty, and I enjoy looking at her pictures. Definitely worth my time to borrow the next two volumes from the library.
Batman: Child of Dreams

Kia Asamiya draws a Batman manga. It's not very good. Of course, he couldn't resist putting in a cute Japanese girl, but more importantly, the guy just can't draw a good Bruce Wayne. I don't normally look at guys, but isn't Bruce Wayne supposed to be a good looking guy?

Not recommended.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Which D&D Character Are You?

I Am A: Lawful Good Halfling Bard


Alignment:
Lawful Good characters are the epitome of all that is just and good. They believe in order and governments that work for the benefit of all, and generally do not mind doing direct work to further their beliefs.


Race:
Halflings are short and fat, like minuature people. (Think 'Hobbits') They enjoy the easy life, but aren't averse to the idea of an adventure from time to time. They get along with all races, and are known for their senses of humor. Halflings also tend to be light of foot, and can move quietly when necessary.


Primary Class:
Bards are the entertainers. They sing, dance, and play instruments to make other people happy, and, frequently, make money. They also tend to dabble in magic a bit.


Secondary Class:
Monks are strange and generally not understood by the world at large. They live apart from people, and follow strict codes that restrain their behavior and lifestyle. They have an exceptionally calm outlook on life, and generally do not resort to violence unless absolutely necessary. Even when they do, their code of conduct forbids the use of all weapons - except their hands. As such, monks are extremely skilled at hand-to-hand combat, and no other style.


Deity:
Avoreen is the Lawful Good halfling god of war, defense, and vigilance. He is also known as the Defender and the Vigilant Guardian. Followers of Avoreen are devoted to the defense of the halfling race, and spend their days drilling and preparing other halflings for the defense of their homes, if necessary. Their preferred weapon is the short sword. Avoreen's symbol is a pair of crossed short swords.


Find out What D&D Character Are You?, courtesy ofNeppyMan (e-mail)

Monday, September 12, 2005

Constantine

OK, I guess I might as well do mini movie reviews too. The best thing about the advance of Computer Graphics is that comic-book movies are now visually stunning. The worst thing is that they can't make actors better. Keenau Reeves isn't a great actor to portray John Constantine (since Constantine in the comics looks exactly like Sting), on the other hand, I didn't feel like he ruined the entire movie.

It's a good watch, especially for someone getting over an sore throat and a bad cold. All that coughing Reeves does reminds you that you're likely to get well.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Hanging out with the Dream King: Interviews with Neil Gaiman and his collaborators

Halfway through this book I realized that I didn't really like Neil Gaiman that much as a writer. His Sandman series was excellent, and probably the most brilliant of his work, followed by a few good short novellas such as Stardust.

I found his stint on Miracleman after Alan Moore took over to be less than stellar, and he hasn't done any other comic books since.

But his novels? Good Omens left me cold, as did American Gods. Neverwhere was OK, but not ground breaking.

My conclusion is that Gaiman had a brilliant creative spurt in his career and Sandman, which spawned the Goth movement amongst other things, is definitely an outstanding achievement (though I still consider Gaiman's work a pale shadow of what Alan Moore is capable of --- and Moore is still creatively involved in comic books and shows no sign of his talent slacking off), but his novels sell only because he's made a name for himself in comics. Sure, he's better than a lot of the other dreck out there, but that doesn't say much, since Sturgeon's law applies in novels as easily as it does in Comics. The difference is that Gaiman is probably in the top 5% in comics while he's at most in the top 20% in novels.

The nature of the business, though is that novels are a lot more lucrative (and require less collaboration) than comics, so we're unlikely to see Gaiman work on any more comics, which is a pity.
Astonishing X-Men: Gifted

Joss Wheldon writes the X-men. It's a decent start, but not a mind blowing entry the way Alan Moore was. Joss brings out the "high school" part of the X-men quite well, but makes a few elementary comic book mistakes (like having dialog spread over a page turn, a definite no-no) that I wouldn't expect from someone as smart as he is.

Will wait for the next installment to show up at the library before reading.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Republicans are Evil Part II

Howard Dean, chairman of the DNC, sends an email:

Hurricane Katrina: How to Help: […] Many stayed behind and suffered devastating loss and injuries — nearly a hundred have died that we know of, and hundreds of thousands need our help. America is at its best when we realize that we are one community — that we’re all in this together. That means that each one of us has the responsibility to do what we can to help the relief effort. The Red Cross is a great place to start

We are still learning the full story of the devastation, but there is no time to wait. Please do something now.


Ken Mehlman, chairman of the RNC, sends an email:

When they return from their August recess, Senators will consider a key issue: elimination of the death tax.

Will you help bring tax relief to more hard-working Americans? Call Senator Voinovich today and ask them to eliminate the death tax.


Clearly George Bush and Paris Hilton are both hard-working Americans.
Time up Old La Honda Road: 24:55

According to the Western Wheelers Ride Rating System, that's barely enough to qualify me as an "E" rider, but when I ride with the "Ds", I'm barely keeping up with the front group, which tells you the kind of grade deflation that's been happening in the Western Wheelers.

For your reference, Lisa & I did this 2 years ago and came in at 31 minutes on the tandem, a solid "C" pace, but on hilly rides, the same thing happens --- we barely keep up with the group.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

What a great trip

When the New York Times travel section does a story about biking, it's usually by folks who charter a tour, and have someone else carry their lugguage somewhere through Europe. Clearly, this is an exception and an amazing one. They carried their own lugguage, and were on a tandem. Their experience parallels the experience Lisa & I had in South Africa in 2001, though we did ours over less rugged terrain.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Chain replacement

My chain is worn out already on my commute bike. It took one and a half hours to remove the cranks, clean the chainrings, take a part the rear deraileurs and clean the pulleys (extremely yucky --- does anyone know why hair gets into the pulleys?), the front deraileur (the least icky part of the job), and the cogs. And then I went and put my new wheel on it just so I could make sure that I'd built it right (I did). I'll put a couple of commutes on it and then go back to my old wheel.

Mavic MA-3 rims suck. After just 2 rainy seasons of riding the eyelets are already rusted causing the click-click-click sound. (I know it's the wheel because the new wheel does not make the sound) I'm tempted to replace the rim.
The difference between Liberals and Conservative

And I'll add my own bit: Liberals believe that a society as a whole should be judged by how it treats the worst-off (unluckiest, etc) in it. Conservatives believe that a societ as a whole should be judged by the best-off (luckiest, etc) in it. Liberals believe that estate taxes are a fair and equitable way of funding government, while conservatives believe that George Bush and Paris Hilton are deserving of their wealth because they clearly did a better job of choosing their parents than most people.