Monday, August 28, 2006

View of Montebello Road from last Wednesday Morning's Ride

This was taken from the Motorola Razr camera phone I had with me. The picture quality sucked, but I think it captured the mood very well. Posted by Picasa

The wedding took place at the Greens Restaurant

in San Francisco, which is located right next to the Long Now foundation, which is very much worth a visit if you're there. Christine & Tom gave little lego boxes as party favors, and the many geeky guests sneakily put together their toys during the speeches, making it the most fun wedding I've ever been to. Lisa had a great time too, since all the food was Vegan, so for the first time in a while, she ate everything served at the wedding dinner. Thanks, Christine! Posted by Picasa

Congratulations to Christine & Tom for their wedding

 Posted by Picasa

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Video Review: Root of All Evil

This video comes in 2 parts. Part I introduces religious faith, interviews several people, and discusses how faith is the antithesis of reason, and dangerous in civilized society. Part II interviews more people, and provides a compelling view of how Christian fundamentalism is just as dangerous a threat to civilized humanity as Islamic fundamentalism --- they are both sides of the same coin.

I remember when growing up getting to read a lot of Margaret Knight, the moralist, humanist, and advocate of morals without religion. Richard Dawkins comes across much the same way --- I don't think he'll change many minds with this documentary (religion is very much a virus that way --- once you've caught it, it's very difficult for the typical human being to shake of the world view), but it is still very much worth watching --- his interview of a Christian supporter of the man who murdered many abortion doctors is chilling and scary. His interview of religious moderates is also poignant, intelligent, sympathetic, yet ultimately supportive of his answer.

As religious fundamentalism plays a deeper part of American life, I suspect atheists and non-Christians will have to pay more and more careful attention to the signs of a religious revival around them. If fundamentalism becomes too widespread, atheists, evolutionists, and scientists may very well play for American society the role that Jews played in Germany from 1928 to 1945 --- watching out for signs of that and taking action quickly enough may become an important survival trait.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Sylvia Nasar & David Gruber discuss the unravelling of the Poincare Conjecture

This is a great article. For one thing, it tears away at the veil behind Mathematics and the orderly proofs of great conjectures, and gets at the meaty politics of credit-taking and glory-seeking culture of academics in their search for recognition amongst their peers. The irony of Perelman rejecting all the honors that the field of Mathematics tries to bestow upon him constrasts sharply with the glory-seeking national-pride academics who try to claim credit for his ideas and his proofs. If anyone has any illusions that the pursuit of Pure Mathematics is one of idealism without pretension, this article should dispel them. It's delightful, enjoyable, in depth, and enlightening.

Highly recommended!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Review: Accelerando

In this novel [e-book-link], Charles Stross explores the consequences of a Vingian Singularity --- how would one come about, and how could anything resembling human beings survive or thrive in such an environment?

There are a few answers in this book that are worthy of interest, one is the integration of law with computer software and the GPL, an interesting idea (which is not that far-fetched in that many have observed similarities between legal affairs and computer programming). The other is the exploration of a post augmented-intelligence society, and finally a glimpse of what happens when the entire non-fusion components of the solar systems have become themselves intelligent. The result does not seem to bode well for humanity, though Stross does have an excellent explanation for why there aren't signs of intelligent life on the planet.

The novel is written in an extremely jargon oriented fashion, with words like open-source, self-replicating, and neural networks tossed around with any explanation. Geeks and computer science majors will love this book. Others will probably find it a mystery:

The divested Microsoft divisions have automated their legal processes and are spawning subsidiaries, IPOing them, and exchanging title in a bizarre parody of bacterial plasmid exchange, so fast that by the time the windfall tax demands are served, the targets don't exist anymore, even though the same staff are working on the same software in the same Mumbai cubicle farms. Welcome to the twenty-first century.

All in all, a book worth reading for its ideas, if not for its breathless, unrelenting pace.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Exit Clov at Google

I will admit that I dislike most of the bands brought in to Google to perform at the Social TGIF --- they are usually over-amplified and under-talented. So I walked over today to the fabulous kitchen to grab some food and run back to my desk to eat and code. But I got caught up by the sound on the way back and had to simply stop and listen to Talkin Radio, a song that really stopped me in my tracks.

I listened to a few more songs after that, and after I heard Dead by Association, I bought their CD, Starfish. Listening to it now, it sounds a little under-produced, but the songs are still excellent and very enjoyable and listenable.

Recommended, even though my brother thinks they're Teeny-Bopper J-Pop in English (which by itself would make them unique).

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Review: Tomorrow Happens

This is a rare book that was available at the Mountain View Library, and was very much worth reading. David Brin is one of the most thoughtful and interesting science fiction writers today, and he explores topics ranging from pollution, politics, and privacy in both fiction and non-fiction. If you're a careful reader of his blog or his web-site you won't find much here to surprise you, but having it together on paper with a linear thematic presentation did serve to glue all the thoughts together.

Highly recommended, if you can find a copy at a local library (it isn't worth the $127 that Amazon.com wants).

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Review: Neverwhere DVD

Before Neverwhere was a book, it was a TV series. I enjoyed the book enough to become curious about the TV series, so when I saw it in the Mountain View Library catalog, I checked it out. The TV series, unfortunately, is a disappointment. The acting isn't very good, the editing is crude, and the sets quite crude, and the scenarios quite contrived. At only half an hour an episode, there's not a lot of exposition that can happen, nor is there significant character development --- the hero, Richard Mayhew seems perpetually confused, no matter what happens. The ending leaves an opening for an ongoing TV series, but clearly the public had had enough of the TV series. If you enjoyed the book, avert your eyes from the TV series.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Review: Wonder Woman: Second Genesis

John Byrne was responsible for the most recent reboot of Superman in the comics. The reboot was quite well done by comic book standards, making Lex Luthor not just a mad scientist, but a shrewd businessman as well, making him truly an adversary worthy of Superman. George Perez rebooted Wonder Woman, but those who know his work mostly know him as a great artist, not necessarily a good writer.

Unfortunately, Byrne doesn't live up to his reputation in taking over the reins at Wonder Woman. The plots are simplistic, with big building destroying fights every issue, but no true revelation of what makes Wonder Woman tick. Indeed, other than a vague mission to bring peace to the world of men, there's nothing to distinguish Wonder Woman from any other hero. Perhaps some day, we'll get someone as talented as Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman to work on the Wonder Woman mythos.

Wait a minute... With Joss Whedon signed up to do Wonder Woman, we're very likely to get something good! If anyone can do female superheroes right, it would be Joss Whedon.

Correction: Tom Galloway notes that it was Marv Wolfman who came up with the idea to make Luthor a businessman, not Byrne.

Book Review: Anansi Boys

I've always enjoyed many of Gaiman's short stories, such as the ones collected in Smoke and Mirrors. His longer works, however, such as American Gods, left me cold. So it was a very pleasant surprise when Gaiman visited Google and read from the Anansi Boys that I found myself enjoying the reading. I wasn't in a hurry to read the book, though, since I had plenty of other books on my reading list, so I didn't get to it for a year or so.

The novel is about Fat Charlie Nancy, who was always embarrassed by his father growing up, since his father's idea of a prank on his kid was to tell the kid lies that made him do embarrassing things. When Fat Charlie's father dies, Charlie finds out from his neighbors that his father was a God of Spiders, and that he had a brother. One night, Charlie talks to a garden spider and asks him to pass a message to his brother.

Charlie's brother, Spider, who has inherited all of his father's godly powers, obligingly shows up and quickly proceeds to destroy Charlie's life in the way that only a Trickster's God can. What follows is a comedy that leads Charlie from one ridiculous situation to another, as he loses his job, his fiance, and eventually regains what should have been his birthright to begin with.

This is a light-hearted, entertaining read that was very much worth my time. Recommended.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Noam Schreiber on The Pro Growth Progressive

I reviewed the Pro Growth Progressive last year, and it looks like Noam Schreiber shares many of the same frustrations I have --- the Democratic party's job right now isn't to device more policies that allow Republicans to claim that there's no difference between the parties (and I'm beginning to think that any policy more subtle than "tax cuts for the rich" is too subtle), but to find ways to win the next election. Anything that requires compromising with Republicans is giving them too much credit --- as far as I can tell, the Republicans aren't into government to serve the people, but to rob as much as possible from the middle class (and social security) to give to the rich. (The only reason they're not robbing the poor is that there isn't any money there left to rob)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

WSJ.com - Web Start-Ups Lure Executives At eBay, Yahoo

WSJ.com - Web Start-Ups Lure Executives At eBay, Yahoo: A midlevel software engineer who manages engineers and reports to the vice president of engineering makes a median base salary of $145,100 at a private company, compared with $153,200 at a public company, according to Radford.

This new wave of startups is definitely going to burn through cash much faster than the older wave of startups back in the mid-90s. Part of it is inflation --- it's much more expensive to live in Silicon Valley now than it used to be. The other half is that Silicon Valley engineers have become much less enamored of stock options than they were in the late 1990s, so you can't just give someone stock and ask them to take a 30% paycut anymore.