Monday, October 31, 2005

Scott Adams starts blogging

And it is a very good blog indeed. Very much worth reading!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

To the best of our knowledge interviews Margaret Atwood

They interview her about her latest book, Oryx and Crake. Scarlet should listen to this because at one point Margaret Atwood denies her existence. She says, "Girls/women don't spend hours and hours in front of the computer playing strategy games." Scarlet is much more capable of doing that than I am, though I'm sure that Evan has cut into her gaming significantly. Yet I suspect that Scarlet will not be the kind of person who would consider video games to be rotting her kids' brains.

Review: Freakonomics

Freakonomics

Yes, I'm late to the party. Levitt & Dubner actually visited Google a few months ago, but by then I already had the book on the queue at the Santa Clara County Library. It's a great read, covering everything from crime to sumo wrestling and the defeat of the Ku Klux Klan by Superman (a true story!). Highly recommended!


Recall for a moment the two boys, one white and one black, who were described in chapter 5. The white boy who grew up outside Chicago had smart, solid encouraging, loving parents who stressed education and family. The black boy from Daytona Beach was abandoned by his mother, was beaten by his father, and had become a full-fledged ganster by his teens. So what became of the two boys?

The second child, now twenty-seven years old, is Roland G. Fryer Jr., the Harvard economist studying black underachievement.

The white child also made it to Harvard. But soon after, things went badly for him. His name is Ted Kaczynski.

Climbing Black Mountain Posted by Picasa

Family pix on the surrey Posted by Picasa

Riding a Surrey at Monterey Posted by Picasa

View from the overlook on the waterfall trail at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Posted by Picasa

Big sur roadside view Posted by Picasa
Hidden Order: The Economics of Everyday Life

An excellent book covering what's essentially "Economics 101" for non-economists or for people who skipped that class in college (or high school). It unfortunately doesn't cover some of the complexities that are in typical economics textbooks (such as network externalities and increasing returns to scale), but given the limited space, that's understandable.

Recommended if you're not already an economics junkie.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Talent Myth

Gladwell came to give a talk at Google, which prompted me to mine his web-site for more good stuff. The Talent Myth is great reading, and has a lot of very good lessons for smart people, who tend to overvalue smartness.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

OK, this takes the cake

iBelieve

The mixing of the Apple ipod and religion seems particularly appropriate.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Republicans are Evil, part III

Well, the U.S. government has to get money from somewhere. As a two-term former Republican senator from Florida, where do you suggest we get money from?

What money?

The money to run this country.

We'll borrow it.

<>I never understand where all this money comes from. When the president says we need another $200 billion for Katrina repairs, does he just go and borrow it from the Saudis?

In a sense, we do. Maybe the Chinese.

Is that fair to our children? If we keep borrowing at this level, won't the Arabs or the Chinese eventually own this country?

I am not worried about that. We are a huge country producing enormous assets day in and day out. We have great strength, and we have always adjusted to difficulties that faced us, and we will continue to do so.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

List of 2005 Book Reviews

I've decided that it's a good idea to put links to all my book reviews in one post, for my own needs. They're not listed in any particular order, though what I've done is for series of books, to place the books in series order (i.e., the order in which they're intended to be read) Having this list will let me select books of the year (at the end of each year), and also provide a handy link off to the right so new readers can have a collection to jump to.

The best books of 2005 get special mention in their own post.

Fiction
Non-Fiction
Graphic Novels (AKA comic books)
The John Varley Reader

John Varley's recent books have been unfortunately lightweight, though still fun to read. This collection of his short stories, however, shows off how versatile he is, and how far ahead of his time he was. Nearly every story is exciting and a good read, and you can see the themes showing up in his "8 worlds" milleu. Highly recommended!
Ran into Neil & Julie Hunt at the top of Black Mountain today. The hike itself took Shyam and I 1:50 minutes to the top (Neil & Julie did it in 1:30, which goes to show that the decade between Pure Software and Netflix has not slowed him down at all). Neil is the Chief Product Officer at Netflix and as the former VP of Engineering built most of the software that runs the site. He happily showed me his new toy --- a weather station at his vacation home that regularly reports the current conditions over the net to his blackberry.
Silicon Valley, shrouded in fog Posted by Picasa
Climbing out of foggy Silicon Valley Posted by Picasa
Shyam on top of Black Mountain Posted by Picasa

Saturday, October 22, 2005

A ride to the coast

Leaving my house around 9:15am, I climbed up Robleda and Taaffe in the fog, pausing to take off my jacket at the junction at Page Mill road, where past the Moody intersection the fog lifted and crepuscular beams showered me with sunlight through the leaves. I took the climb up Page Mill road at an easy pace, enjoying the sound of the crickets and the complete lack of traffic at this early hour (a total of 4 cars passed me on the entire climb). As I climbed, the road granted me views of Silicon Valley covered by a blanket of low clouds.

At the top of Page Mill road I crossed over to Alpine road and began a fast descent, where what should have been Ocean views were obscured also by low clouds at the fog, even though it was sunny where I was. The descent into the redwoods was exhilarating as usual, with the pungent smell of trees in the air. At 84, I made the descent down to San Gregorio, a boring rolling stretch of road that did not provide much to recommend it.

At San Gregorio, I eschewed at stop at the store and turned right along Stage road, which took me up to Highway 1 where a fog shrouded descent towards Half-Moon Bay made me paranoid. I did make the turn onto Tunitas Creek road with no incident, and there was over taken by some Diablo Cyclists touring club members who passed me with vim. As the 3rd person passed me, I caught his wheel and we rode together for a bit and chatted. I learned that it was their twice a year visit to the area.

We rode together for a bit before I started feeling a bit hungry and stopped to eat and shed my jacket. As I got started again, two more Diablo club members caught me and I rode with them some more. These touring club members were incredibly strong and I had a hard time staying with them, and eventually was dropped despite climbing Tunitas Creek road at a pace I hardly ever attempt.

Near the top, the club gathered and we chatted. Tom, one of the club members, recognized me as an internet-bob member (well, OK, I started that mailing list but is no longer on it). I let the club go ahead and then descended Kings Mountain road with not a single vehicle behind me. At the bottom I made a turn onto Tripp road, visited Highway 84 before dropping down into Portola Valley. The sun was out at this point but the recent fog made it still cool, so I made good time to Alpine road and Arastedero road, before riding through Purissma and back to Robleda and home.

It was a good ride with 68 miles of riding and 6400 feet of climbing.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Black Mountain Hike

I hiked up Black Mountain on Sunday morning (yes, Scarlet, this is the same top of Montebello that you've ridden several times). It was a 3.5 hour round trip on foot from the base, and the views were outstanding. I had at least 80 miles of visibility, and could see all the way to San Francisco and Oakland! Well worth the trip.

I love it now that I'm in shape for hiking --- just a year or so ago, every hike would leave me worn out the rest of the day. This 9.5 mile hike left me able to read 2 books and work a bit on a new wheel.
The Future of Success, by Robert Reich

This book starts out badly, pointing out things that should have been obvious to anyone who hasn't been living in a cave for the last few years. Reich points out that the winner take all society seems to have gotten more and more prevelant, and Americans seem to be running harder and harder just to stand still.

Fortunately, he gets better! He analyzes the cause of the increasing disparity between classes (the stakes are higher --- each 5% of success compared to the median draws much more proportionate income and pieces of the good life than it used to, and each 5% of failure contributes to much less money than it used to), and points out that it's simply not true that the culture of students have not gotten more selfish and materialistic. That it's not true that Americans are addicted to work and are workaholics (Americans now work even more hours than the Japanese!) --- but it's a rational reaction to the current state of affairs, where cut-throat competition amongst employees, companies, and fellow students is a result of the increased uncertainty in the marketplace --- your pay is now much more variable than before, while your expenses are still fixed, so you're compelled to work as hard as you possibly can whenever you have an opportunity.

His policy proposals are also quite reasonable: wage insurance, for instance, is an excellent idea --- if your job gets outsourced, you can half the difference between your old job and your new job, which gives you a cushion to get retrained. This is too good an idea and will never get passed while the Republicans are in charge, but I definitely consider it a solution to a major cause of bright students deciding to abandon engineering and science because of the fear that all the technical jobs are going to India and China.

Let me quote one passage that demonstrates that Robert Reich gets it, while many science and engineering educators and other smart people don't:
The stars of Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood are coming to resemble Professional athletes who can count on no more than ten to fifteen years before losing their competitive edge. Twentysomething software engineers are in great demand; when they're over forty, they're over the hill. Surveys show that six years after graduating with a degree in computer science, 60 percent are working as software programmers; after twnety years, only 19 percent are still at it. This largely explains why high entry salaries and generous signing bonuses are still not enough to entice greater numbers of undergraduates into the field. They know how quickly they'll become obsolete
The Drawing of the Dark, by Tim Powers

I first tried to read The Anubis Gates in high school, and didn't get very far. However, 5 years ago, I found a copy of The Stress of Her Regard at the Santa Clara County Library and found it to be an incredibly good read, combining some of my favorite themes into a nice historical fantasy package.

The Drawing of the Dark, sad to say, does not rise to the heights of The Stress of Her Regard. It's light hearted, easy going, and one can guess the identity of the protagonist long before he is unveiled for the reader (or even to himself). It breaks no new ground, and is light entertainment for about 2 or 3 hours. Recommended when you don't want to use your brain too much.

"How old are you, Brian? You ought to nkow by now that something always breaks up love affairs unless both parties are willing to compromise themselves. And that compromising is harder to do the older and less flexible and more independent you are. It just isn't in you, Brian. You could no more get married now than you could become a priest, or a sculptor, or a greengrocer."
I wore out a pair of cycling glove for the first time on Saturday. It's not that I wasn't riding much before, but it's the first time I've worn out a pair of gloves rather than simply losing them before they get worn out. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Iron Sunrise, Charles Stross

Stross is an excellent plotter, but with not much of a voice. For the first 6 chapters or so I thought I was reading something by Stephen Baxter. The characters aren't great, but the concepts are brilliant, and of course, the little nods towards Computer Scientists. He ends the novel with room for a sequel which would not be unwelcomed.

The UNI headquarters campus hadn't changed visibly in Rachel's absence---the same neoclassical glass-and-steel skyscraper, looming over old Geneva's stone arteries and quaint domes, the same big statues of founds Otto Von Bismarck and Tim Berners-Lee sitting out front in the plaza...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Piaw's Home Page Revived

It's quite a bit worse for wear, unfortunately, old pictures are no longer up --- I have to dig through some old Kodak CDs to recover some of that stuff), and of course, it's several years out of date. It did have quite a bit of interesting content, though, so I'll keep it up for a bit, and will eventually use it as a hub for more travel stories and other ideas that the blog format doesn't work well on.
Buffy the Soundtrack

An surprisingly good soundtrack. I do remember that some of Buffy's episodes had live bands that were quite good and thought I'd get a chance to hear some of the songs all the way through. I was right. Impressive tracks include:
  • Lucky - Bif Naked
  • Virgin State Of Mind - K's Choice
  • Already Met You - Superfine
  • Nothing But You - Kim Ferron
  • It Doesn't Matter - Alison Krauss & Union Station
  • Wild Horses - The Sundays
  • Pain (Slayer Mix) - Four Star Mary
  • Charge - Splendid
  • Close Your Eyes (Buffy/Angel Love Theme) - Christophe Beck
Money well spent. I definitely am hunting down some of the artists' other albums and seeing if their other music is just as good.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Now I feel really cool...

My picture with Neil Gaiman shows up on his blog. Now if I can get everyone to link to my blog, I will finally be able to displace the Professional Insuance Agents of Wisconsin on a google search for Piaw.
A Deepness In The Sky

The prequel to A Fire Upon The Deep. This time, the aliens aren't as beautifully imaginative or interesting, but the human characters are much better, as are the (very human) villains. The ending wraps up a little too pat, with everyone paired off, but there are Shakespeare plays that do that too, so I suppose it's in the grand tradition of story-tellers.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Orson Scott Card raves about Serenity

I'm not sure Joss Wheldon would make a good Ender's Game, however. Maybe if Card was willing to have Ender be a girl, Wheldon would do a great job.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Religious Socities are worse off

Many liberal Christians and believers of other faiths hold that religious belief is socially beneficial, believing that it helps to lower rates of violent crime, murder, suicide, sexual promiscuity and abortion. The benefits of religious belief to a society have been described as its “spiritual capital”. But the study claims that the devotion of many in the US may actually contribute to its ills.

The paper, published in the Journal of Religion and Society, a US academic journal, reports: “Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly sceptical world.

“In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.

Which Serenity character are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

Dang it, I thought I would be Simon Tam.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Bill Bushnell's pictures from Saturday's ride

85 miles, 8500' of climb, and pretty good weather.