Aug 07 2016

Olympics Not Broadcast!?

Published by under Books

Amazingly, the Olympics are not on broadcast TV. One way or another you have to pay NBC to see any of it. I remember being enthralled with the olympics on broadcast TV 48 years ago. I believe that year was the beginning of the growth into the current spectacle. Times change.

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May 26 2016

Sad but true…

Published by under Books

The software industry in the U.S. has settled down to the “Big Three” all doing pretty much the same things. Copying each other and competing on ornamental details. Just like the automakers used to do. In a way, sad, but seems inevitable that industries follow similar trajectories from dynamic, innovative, fragmented to same old, same old in different (watch band) colors and with different size ‘fender fins’ (for those old enough to remember the fins).

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Sep 20 2015

Fortune Cookie

Published by under Books

‘Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.’

Daniel Kahneman’s ‘fortune cookie maxim’ (a.k.a the focusing illusion):

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Jan 04 2014

Technology?

Published by under Books

“Technology is only technology to people born before it was invented.”

Alan Kay

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Feb 24 2013

Coffee Consumption is Down

Published by under Food,General

Taking the long view U.S. consumption is down about fifty percent to 23 gallons/person/year. Of course many of the old ‘coffee can’ sources available in 1948 have disappeared and Starbucks et. al. have appeared.

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Jun 09 2012

It is about time!

Published by under General

This has to be the best news out of the U.S. legal system in a long time: Famous judge spikes Apple-Google case, calls patent system “dysfunctional”. Instead of ‘fostering innovation’ the patent system has often become a weapon used by rich companies to keep out new entrants and to reduce competition in the markets they claim to “serve”. Particularly a problem in high tech industries. Hope Posner’s opinion is upheld!

Now if we can just undo the patenting of silly (i.e. obvious) software and interface ideas. And then there is the corporations are people nonsense.

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Nov 09 2011

A Problem and a Solution

Published by under General

Much financial and business oriented reporting is nothing but puffery, mush, or garbage, but every once in a while I read something worth repeating. The following quote from a ‘pundit’ makes sense to me. So I’m repeating it.

I am not against CDS. We need more of them. But they should all be moved to a very transparent exchange. If I buy an S&P derivative (or gold or oil or orange juice), I know that my counterparty risk is the exchange. I don’t have to hedge counterparty risk. The exchange tells whoever is on the other side of the trade that they need to put up more money, as the trade warrants. Or tells me if the trade goes against me.

The banks lobbied to keep CDS “over the counter.” The commissions are huge that way. If they are on an exchange the commissions are small. This was a huge failure of Dodd-Frank. And we all pay for it in ways that no one really sees. …..

Equity markets are supposed to help companies raise capital for business purposes, not be casinos. Investors want to and should be able to buy and sell stocks with a long view to the future. And increasingly there is the feeling that this is not the case. When I talk to institutional investors and managers, it is clear that they are very frustrated.

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Jul 20 2011

The Reason Why?

Published by under General,Speculative

Is this why your skin ceases to fit as you age:

The amount of water in the body declines with aging, from about 80 percent in young adulthood to about 55 to 60 percent for people in their 80s, ..

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Jul 15 2011

The Emperor of All Maladies – A Biography of Cancer

Published by under Books

By Siddhartha Mukherjee
The subtitle of this very popular book from the fall of 2010 is an accurate description of its contents, and if the ‘hold queue’ at the SF public library is a good indication, it is still very popular. It seems that a lot of people are interested in either a better understanding of cancer or just appearing to have read the book.
The author who is an oncologist chronologically traces human understanding of cancer and the corresponding treatments from earliest reports in antiquity to the latest knowledge based on a partial understanding of the key role played by changes to genes. Chapters are organized around important steps in diagnosing, treating, and understanding cancers, and often focus on the key individuals or groups. Most of the book deals with the 20 th. century and its ‘War On Cancer’ period.
Overall, it was a very informative book, but it did get a bit tedious and slow in the middle chapters which dealt with a period of limited knowledge, failed treatments, and the selling of the “War on Cancer”. The earlier historical material and the later genetics based improvement in understanding of the variety of cancers and their causes were more engrossing.
Cancer is a category of diseases with many sometimes subtle and sometimes complex distinctions which can be critical to the success of potential treatments. Currently, some types of cancer or some subtypes of specific cancers can be treated and controlled with a high degree of success. Others varieties and forms remain mostly deadly. All cancers seem to be caused by mutations in normally benign human genetic processes. One or more genetic mutations occur to enable uncontrolled cell division and in some cases migration around the body(metastasis). Many of the key genes involved in enabling cancerous growth have been identified and in some cases their identification has led to effective treatments.
The book’s stories often follow a common form: understand the anatomy of the disease, then the function of parts of that anatomy, and finally use that understanding to develop a treatment. Seems like progress almost has to follow such a path, but serendipity and the doggedness of specific individuals were also needed to make progress. While there must have been many equally fanatical and self assured researchers who failed and possibly hurt patients in the attempt, such stories are not told here.
Overall, the message is that cancer is a malfunctioning of normal live giving processes. Not an external agent (even the types which involve transmission by viruses). Progress has been made but cancer is subtle, robust, varied, and by no means on the way out.

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Jul 12 2011

Joker One

Published by under Books

by Donovan Campbell

This is an attempt to describe what war in Iraq was like for one newly appointed infantry lieutenant and his platoon of Marines during the insurgency in Ramadi in 2004. A very evocative description of what war in that place at that time was like for one group of men who fought it. I can’t say anything about how accurate it is, but feels truthful and makes clear the meaning of the ‘fog of war’, the chaos, and the insanity of it all via a retelling of day to day events. Horrible stuff happens to you or your friends, but the group continues attempting to complete its assigned missions; whether or not they seem to make sense.
The over riding importance of supporting your buddies and accomplishing your assigned mission is repeatedly driven home. That’s what you are there for and that it is all it is about! “Ours is not to reason why. Ours is but to do and die”. Not mine, but ours: the squads and the platoon.
Not pleasant or fun but worth reading.

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Jul 05 2011

Ebocloud, A Novel About The Social Singularity

Published by under Books,Speculative

by Rick Moss

This little ebook was originally published on smashbooks.com in electronic form which is how I read it. Subsequently, it was taken up and published as a paper back. A new publishing model.
The story is about people involved with a “Facebook on a lot of steroids” social network which is called the ebocloud. Affinity groups derived from the ebocloud come to replace the groups that members formerly related to in the ‘real world’. The cyber world (ebocloud) takes over which is the ‘social singularity’ of the subtitle! Before the book ends, the ebocloud’s capabilities are taken much beyond what I perceive as ever possible. Somewhat interesting speculation, but too unrealistic and superficial for my taste.
Overlaid on the description of ebocloud’s world and speculation about social networks is an apparent murder attempt ultimately resolved by identifying a mad genius behind ebocloud who is running amok. That genius is conveniently killed to allow the different good genius to continue his wonderful social network.
I was curious to see what this book was about and now I know; a simple sketchy story with a little interesting speculation. Not much atmosphere or depth.

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Jun 09 2011

Zero Day

Published by under Books

by Mark Russinovich
I’ll call this a techno-detective story as it has a dose of violence and mystery to complement its main cybercrime story. Somewhat similar to Arthur Clarke’s “Breakpoint” but more clearly tied to the here and now risks of a terrorist attack on current Internet based technologies. Russinovich is an expert on the internals of the Windows operating system and is now a senior technical person at Microsoft whereas Clarke is security policy expert. This is more realistic and is the better book of the two.
The plot is pretty straight forward and in the beginning seems like window dressing for some very readable information on internet crime and some techniques used to gain illicit access to computer systems. After a while, the story line does get going and becomes a light entertaining story. While there is a lot of accurate information related to computer malware in the book, it doesn’t get in the way of the story.
Russia and Russian criminals play a significant part in the story and this book paints a picture of Russia which is similar to the decay and corruption portrayed in Snowdrops which I recently read.

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Jun 04 2011

Sum – Forty Tales from the After Life

Published by under Books,Speculative

by David Eagleman
This is a very short book of about 40 pages but since I read an electronic version it consisted of 107 screens. The subtitle is a exactly what you get: forty short imaginings of what comes after death. Mostly imaginative and clever ideas sketched out quickly. The author is a neuroscientist and that shows through in a few of the scenarios. The book can easily be read in an hour or two, but probably better to read it one scenario at a time (which I didn’t do).
This was the first digital book that I ‘checked out’ of our library, and reading it was hindered by “Digital Rights Management” controls (AKA DRM). DRM required using a particular application from Adobe to read the book and that application was ‘stale’ and old looking with clunky page transitions and without the ability to scroll even scroll through a whole scenario (about a page if on paper). The DRM paranoia prevents copying any text anywhere

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May 28 2011

Disney, bah

Published by under General

From a recent WSJ article:

Walt Disney Co. said Wednesday that it would pull an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in which the entertainment giant sought the exclusive right to use the term “SEAL Team 6” on items ranging from toys and games to snow globes and Christmas stockings.

Disney seems willing to rip off anything for a buck; as if a Seal Team snow glove is just what a kid needs. Guess Disney is not satisfied with their success in paying congresspeople to provide a nearly endless copyright on a borrowed mouse called Mickey.

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May 20 2011

Spirit and Flesh – Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church

Published by under Books

by James M Ault Jr.

A fascinating, readable, and worth reading study of the community that coalesced around a Fundamentalist Christian Church in Worcester Ma. during the mid 1980’s. This book is even handed and goes a long way toward making such fundamentalist Christian groups understandable to outsiders by describing the ways it is beneficial to its members. The field work behind this book is now pretty old and may be out of date but I’d guess the insights are still relevant.
The author gets involved with the church as part of a post-doctoral sociology study. At the time, He was a non-religious former Christian who begins to attend and eventually participates, to an extent, in the church’s activities. From the beginning, he makes it clear to the pastor and church members that he studying the group and despite their fears of being misrepresented he achieved an exceptional degree of trust with them to the extent that he is allowed to make a reality based documentary that was shown as a ‘special’ (“Born Again”) on PBS.
In many ways, this congregation resembles a clan or very extended family group in earlier or less modern and cosmopolitan societies. A group with close, family like emotional ties that tries to provide mutual help, guidance and internal discipline. While it contains several significant family groupings, this group is self constituted and treats the King James version of the bible as the sole basis for its structure and rules. That bible is the source of “all” advice and guidance. However, it is essentially an oral society without written rules, regulations or agreements. Written documents, other than the bible, are generally not important. The King James version of the bible is considered to be the true ‘word of God’ despite the fact that it was put together from various authors over centuries since “The holy spirit guided the writing process so the result is true”.
Being an oral society, history is forgotten quickly. Current beliefs and interpretations of the bible are absolutely true, but those beliefs do evolve and change based on implicit consensus. While the King James bible is the only source of evidence and guidance, that book contains enough sometimes contradictory passages that the selection of passages to focus on provides for flexibility and the evolution (if that word is allowed!) of opinions and behavior. You pick your bible verses to make your point. Differing references are somehow sorted out and contradicting texts ignored as the group reaches a consensus.
Officially, both the church and families are organized hierarchically with males as the designated leaders. However, it both the church and in families the power of the leader is far from absolute. The pastor can be fired or members can demonstrate dissatisfaction by withholding contributions or by splitting the group to form another church if consensus building doesn’t get their desired result. Despite the official male dominance, women were often the real power brokers in the church and others in the group recognized their unofficial roles.
This book describes a snapshot of what the fundamental groups are all about. It goes a long way toward explicating the attraction of independent fundamentalist churches in the US; community and mutual support in an individualistic society. It does not address or explain the glitzy and often fraudulent TV empire variety of Christian churches. Compared to the group described, the “TV ministries” seem to be a cancerous aberration.
Worth reading.

PS. Many longer reviews and essays related to this book can be found on the web.

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