Saturday, April 22, 2017

BVI Trip Index

During Spring break, 2017, we revisited the British Virgin Islands on a 46' sailboat, the Kokomo III. It was the first time we'd done a sailing trip since Bowen learned how to swim, and a welcome return to the lovely scenery, consistent trade winds, and warm waters of the Caribbean.

Pictures

Day by Day Trip Index

Friday, April 21, 2017

BVI 2017: Prologue

Last year, after finally learning how to swim and snorkel, Bowen asked for a sailing trip back to the BVIs.  I was very proud of him, because that previous sailing trip included a trip to Disney World, but Bowen very much preferred the sailing. After much planning, we decided on Spring break this year. Joining us this time was Boen, Xiaoqin's mom, Arturo, Mark Brody, and John Gates.

We flew from San Francisco to San Juan, Puerto Rico, spent 2 nights there, and then onto Saint Thomas and then took the ferry to Road Town, Tortola, where we visited Conch charters for our first night sleep-aboard.


Ominously, Boen started throwing up at the docks, before we even took possession of the Kokomo III, a 9 year old 46 foot sailing Catamaran that was to be our home for the week. Arturo would later diagnose this as a case of the Nolo virus, which would go on to infect every one of us except for Mark during the week.

After Arturo and Mark showed up, Conch charters finally gave us possession of the boat, and we moved in. Bowen immediately went for the V-berth in the forward port cabin, which he loved. He wouldn't even hear of Arturo stealing it from him.

Provisioning was a taxi trip over to town, where we bought a few days worth of supplies. We forgot that the shore power wasn't powerful enough to run all the ships systems, and could only run the salon AC. That got fixed in a hurry, but after that we were OK.

Boen was having a terrible time sleeping at night, but other than that, we looked forward to being able to sail the next day!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Long Term Review: Nikon AW130

In January, we took the AW130 on a trip to Florida that produced decent pictures, but didn't wow us. We've since had the camera on a major diving/snorkeling trip in the BVI, and have many more pictures to check against.

Overall the pictures are excellent, frequently producing images in good light that made me go "wow!" The fact that the camera is shock-proof and waterproof meant that we were willing to clip it onto the BCDs or even to the wrist band of my Vivoactive HR and take it snorkeling and diving in places where it might get knocked up a bit.
You have to set your expectations correctly with this camera. Give it poor or dim lighting, and it's going to provide muddy, brownish pictures that no amount of tweaking in lightroom will improve. To make things worse, it does not shoot RAW files, and so you're going to have a lot of trouble making even simple adjustments. Don't expect to do much more than the JPG that comes right out of the camera.
The videos are surprisingly good, with my video of a Stingray feeding providing great detail and relatively good sound, even when zoomed in.

Is there room for improvement for the Nikon AW130? Yes. The distortion could be corrected better. The camera could shoot RAW files. I'd be more comfortable diving with it if the depth rating was closer to 130 feet than 100 feet. But as it is, for a diving/snorkeling/cycle touring camera, it checks all the boxes. If you didn't plan to dive with it the Olympus TG-3 is probably better, but for now if you dive/snorkel/swim with the camera there's nothing else that comes close to the AW130 for the depth rating. For the price, the other cameras in this category cannot beat it either.

Recommended.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: Fintie Origami Cover for Kindle Paperwhite

Along with the paperwhite, we bought a Fintie Origami Cover for it. The official Amazon origami cover is only available for the Voyage and Oasis, but fortunately the free market has provided it to those who merely own the paperwhite.

The cover is surprisingly heavy, at 118g, which is much heavier than say, the 93g advertised weight of the Omotion cover, which is a non-origami cover.

The cover does fold nicely and becomes a reading stand, which I like a lot. You can orient it both horizontally and vertically, but since the paperwhite does not appear to have an accelerometer that lets it automatically detect when you're holding it in landscape or portrait mode, I do not expect to use it in landscape mode often.

The magnetic clasp is strong, and automatically turns on the the kindle when you open it. This is a convenient feature if you have an ad-free Kindle, but on a Kindle with ads you still have to swipe to unlock, which is an additional step. Given that you have to touch the screen all the time anyway, this additional swipe isn't a particular burden, but if it annoys my wife a lot I'll ask Amazon to turn it off.

All in all, a solid product with interesting features that may or may not get used often. I'm pleased with it, but will probably try the Omotion cover for our next Kindle. Recommended.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

First Impressions: Kindle Paperwhite

Amazon finally offered a too-good-to-pass-up deal for the Kindle Paperwhite in late March, just before our trip to the BVI. For prime members, they discounted the paperwhite by $30, and then threw in a $35 trade in bonus for our old Kindle 3rd generation. That brought the effective price down to about $70, so we jumped on it.

The other Kindles were also on discount, but the main reason for opting for the Paperwhite was the Waterfi Waterproofing process, which can only be applied to the Paperwhite. I'm a sincere believer that everything with a touch screen should be waterproof, if only so that you can wash it with detergent and clean up the oily fingerprints that inevitably accumulate on the screen. The Kindle arrived too late for us to send it into Waterfi in time for the trip, but immediately after the trip I sent the device in for waterproofing and will report on it for a future process.

The device is significantly heavier than the basic Kindle at 203g. (The basic kindle is 166) Against that is that the basic kindle requires a separate cover to provide a lighted reading experience, while the paperwhite has lighting built in. The lighting is much more even than my old Kindle basic lighted cover, but you can definitely see some light banding at the bottom of the screen, which does not impact the reading experience.

During the trip, we got to compare the 1st generation Paperwhite, my old Kindle basic, and a second generation Paperwhite with this 3rd generation device. Of course, compared to the old basic Kindle there's no contest. Surprisingly, there's a significant improvement from the 1st generation paperwhite, with the newer 300dpi display and brighter backlight making for a better experience.

What I dislike about the paperwhite is that the touch screen latency is pretty high: compared to the buttons on my old basic kindle it feels like it takes an extra 30ms before the touch screen gets picked up and then the device turns the page. The table of contents screen also feels very cluttered compared to the simple, text based screens of the older Kindles. I'm not sure that the new entry screen is worth the change.

Other than that, I flipped between the old basic Kindle and the new Paperwhite during the trip. At one point my wife grabbed the Paperwhite to read The Three Body Problem and I went all the way back to the basic Kindle. While it was a downgrade, it wasn't so much of a downgrade that I wouldn't trade in the older device except that the buttons on it are getting to be rather sticky and occasionally turns two pages instead of one, which is very annoying.

Because of the button wearing out issue, I paid the paperwhite the best compliment possible: I opened up a chat window with Amazon and negotiated the purchase of yet another Paperwhite to replace my old basic Kindle at a higher price than we paid for this first one. Between the potential for waterproofing and the improved screen, I found myself willing to give up my beloved page turn buttons.

Recommended.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Review: Grit - The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Grit is about what it takes to succeed in what is considered a grueling situation. Angela Duckworth claims that Grit, for instance, determines who's more likely to survive a West Point college career than your SATs, measures of scholastic achievements, or even physical fitness scores. She measures Grit through subjective surveys, including measures like: "how likely are you to have a never give up attitude?"

There are a few problems with her claims, chiefest of which is that correlation is not causation. In particular, unless the studies and effects are large, her sample sizes would have to be huge to account for "grit" being a major factor. A cursory search of the literature indicates that, for instance in her study of which cadets make it through the Beast Barracks:
what happened is that 95 percent of all cadets make it through Beast Barracks, while 98 percent of the very "grittiest" candidates made it through.
That's just 3%. Further down the NPR article we discover that the correlation of success with Grit is 0.18, while the correlation between SAT scores and performance in college is 0.5! In other words, given the choice between being gritty and being smart, you should definitely choose to be smart!

It would be one thing if Duckworth acknowledge all these flaws in her book, but chapter after chapter of the book is about how important Grit is, while sweeping aside any issues. She even discusses how to train grit into children.

To her credit, she does acknowledge that you can't just have someone tell you "get good at piano and improve your grittiness." One of her points is that no one can impose your goals on you --- you should be the one choosing your instrument, or the task or skill you would like to improve. Any other approach (including the typical tiger mom approach) is likely to fail.

And ultimately, grittiness can backfire. In John T. Reed's book, Succeeding, he discusses his teenage goal of getting into West Point and graduating from it. He succeeds in doing so, only to discover that military life wasn't actually very good for an intelligent, driven person, and that his personality was far less suited for it than he had imagined. In that book, Reed points out that picking your environment to suit your personality and strengths is actually far more important than the other attributes that others allude to.

In short, I don't think Grit's a  worth while book, especially given its flaws and the author's unwillingness to point out the flaws in her research. Not recommended.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Review: The Three-Body Problem

I actually tried to read Cixin Liu's The Wandering Earth and thought it was garbage, so I wasn't going to bother with The Three-Body Problem. But Cynthia told me she thought it was good, so I thought that maybe my issues with the previous book was the translator. I decided to give it a try and check it out of the library.

Here's my problem with The Wandering Earth: it's science fiction as it was written in the 1940s. This might be great if you have zero scientific background, or no understanding of first year Physics or Chemistry, but for modern, scientifically literate audiences it's a major distraction and a major turn-off. Unfortunately, The Three-Body Problem also suffers from the same problems as The Wandering Earth.

The story is purportedly about the mysterious deaths of various high level Physicists. As the plot unravels, we get the real story. I won't spoil the true story, but suffice to say, the N-body problem plays a major part in it. Unfortunately, the science is implausible, and even the depiction of a VR game as depicted in the novel is a shambles. The characters are wooden, emotionally dead, and not developed. So let's see: the plot is dumb, the science is silly and unrealistic, and the characters suck. Wow, that's 3 for 3. I have to ask, "Cynthia, what were you on when you read this and liked it?"

This novel is as complete a waste a time as you can get. I'd like those hours of my life back, and I will not waste my time reading any more books by Cixin Liu. My guess is that the luminaries that have given this novel all the attention it doesn't deserve don't actually read enough good science fiction to know it if one good novel hit them in the head.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Review: Concussion

Concussion is the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu's first dissection of football players' brains and his naming of the disease of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). This seems obvious to us nowadays, but once upon a time, nobody thought of concussions as being a big deal.

What's clear from the story is that Omalu himself did seek out the fame of being the first to discover such a significant disease. (He specifically found his mentor, Cyril Wecht, because he also wanted to be a star coroner)

Since the NFL is a multi-billion dollar business, it wasn't going to let any old medical doctor attack their business. The rest of the story is that of the NFL's attempt to discredit Dr. Omalu and his collaborators, and the eventual vindication of Omalu.

The writing is clear and compelling, and the reading is easy. I enjoyed the story, though I feel no desire to watch the movie. Excellent airplane reading.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Review: The New Confessions of an Economic Hitman

The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, rather than a sequel, is a revision of an earlier, existing work, so if you've read the previous version of this book I doubt if you'll get very much out of this one.

If you're a fan of Dani Rodrik, you're probably well aware of the so-called Washington Consensus and its failure to lift most 3rd world countries out of poverty. In effect, the Washington Consensus invites 3rd world countries to borrow heavily in order to build infrastructure, set up "market reforms", and run a so-called capitalistic economy. John Perkins claims that most of his career was to be one of the optimistic economic forecasters who paints an excessively optimistic view of the growth of such economies in order to persuade leadership to borrow heavily.

Economic forecasters have a poor track record: it's fair to say that they basically get paid to say whatever it might be profitable to say. I'll never forget walking out of a corporate meeting where some over-optimistic PM would bring out power-point charts to convince the head honchos that China would be a meaningful revenue market for a US-based internet company. As a naive engineer I thought the numbers were fishy at best and mendacious at worst, but I figured since senior management bought into it I might be wrong. Now, would I have called that PM an Economic Hit Man? He did benefit his own career (and his promotion opportunities, as well as additional stock) by effectively lying through his teeth, but I'm not sure there was a conspiracy in China to induce Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Uber to dump huge amounts of capital into China. Greed and hubris need not get support from the Chinese government.

As a result, reading this book feels like reading the auto-biography of a self-important economic forecaster taking credit for producing results, and confessing that yes, he was unqualified to make those ridiculous forecasts, and that yes, he was recruited into doing so by some nefarious groups of government agencies and private contractors. The problem with all these claims is that he doesn't provide any evidence, and the Washington Consensus approach certainly didn't need the help of a vast conspiracy to keep pushing its agenda: greed and blind allegiance to capitalism would be sufficient to keep the momentum.

In any case, the book's entertaining, but I didn't learn very much from it (though I did learn more about various South American countries' political leadership). It's quite clear that attempts to lift most third world countries out of poverty via the Washington consensus have failed, while the Asian model has been more successful. But for better analysis you should probably look elsewhere than John Perkin's book.