Friday, March 25, 2005
That led me to what I thought was original (and I only wound up re-proving Ecclesiastes):
All men are created evil.
Perhaps it's pessimistic, but we are all born of a baser nature. As babies, we're fairly innocuous, but that's only because we don't have a lot of control over our actions at first. Just think about the last two-year-old you met. Terrible twos, indeed. The child discovers the freedom to do what it will, and so it does exactly that, heedless of the consequences to itself or others. Only through learning restraint and consideration and that actions have consequences do we have any hope of that little monkey growing up into an actual human being.
Thursday, March 24, 2005
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
Watched last Sunday's "The Contender" last night. Very moving episode. I think most anyone who cares already knows the story about Najai Turpin. Therefore, I'm not going to be spoiling much if I talk about the trust fund that's been set up for Anyae, his daughter. I have mixed emotions on the matter. On the one hand, her father set out to prove himself so that he could provide a better life for his offspring. Admirable, noble and heartwarming, as anyone would agree. On the other hand, he failed within the rules of the game, and as a result of what may have been his reaction to that failure, his daughter may be financially better off than even if he'd won the tournament. So, the mixup of my emotions are with respect to rewarding his suicide by providing for his daughter. From a game-theoretic perspective, his final move in the meta-game was probably optimal if he sought to provide only financially. What tears at my heart is that this young girl will be missing her father for the rest of her life, which creates a chasm that cannot be filled by any amount of college education.
In other death-related news, the whole Terry Schaivo thing sickens me. While I can understand the desire to keep someone you love around, I can't understand keeping someone around whose brain has been mostly replaced by spinal fluid, as I heard in a radio report featuring a doctor, and which I had to go Google for something to verify it being true. The relevant excerpt is:
Over the span of this last decade,
Theresa's brain has deteriorated
because of the lack of oxygen it
suffered at the time of the heart
attack. By mid 1996, the CAT
scans of her brain showed a severely
abnormal structure. At this
point, much of her cerebral cortex is
simply gone and has been replaced
by cerebral spinal fluid. Medicine
cannot cure this condition.
Monday, March 21, 2005
What Makes 100%? What does it mean to give MORE than 100%?
Ever wonder about those people who say they are giving more than 100%?
We have all been to those meetings where someone wants you to give over 100%.
How about achieving 103%?
What makes up 100% in life?
Here's a little mathematical formula that might
help you answer these questions:
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z is represented as:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 1819 20 21 22 23 24 25 26.
8+1+18+4+23+15+18+11 = 98%
11+14+15+23+12+5+4+7+5 = 96%
1+20+20+9+20+21+4+5 = 100%
2+21+12+12+19+8+9+20 = 103%
AND, look how far ass kissing will take you.
1+19+19+11+9+19+19+9+14+7 = 118%
So, one can conclude with mathematical certainty
that, while Hard work and Knowledge will get you
close, and Attitude will get you there, it's
the Bullshit and Ass Kissing that will put you
over the top.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
The documents were readily available for download and printing. So far, so easy. Then, it turns out that since Feb 2004, both parents have to show up, or provide a notarized statement from the non-present parent that it's ok for the present parent to apply for a passport. Well, my wife has a notary available at work, so that wasn't too onerous. You also have to have the child present. Very understandable, and it turned into a tiny adventure bringing the girls to the Post Office. Being the U.S. Post Office, passport processing is only available between the hours of 10am and 3pm. Ok, fine. I'll work from home first thing in the morning and then take the girls in. We get there a few minutes after 10, and discover that the 'passport lady' is on break. Hrm. Only available between 10am and 3pm. Already on a break. Fine. About 10:26 (by the clock on the wall), passport lady returns. The documents and website talk about how you can use Visa, Mastercard, check or money order to pay the fees. Well, unless you apply at a Post Office, where you can only pay by check or money order. I had brought a check, but you have to have a separate check for each application. I had to buy a money order. The ninety cents was trivial, but especially annoying on top of the $40 passport fee, $30 execution fee and a brand new $12 'security surcharge'. At least we'll get the passports back via Priority Mail instead of plain old First Class. So, now we wait 6 weeks.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
In any case, I'll put up a picture or two after I get the thing built.
Monday, March 14, 2005
In other news, I found a really cool catalog. I saw the print version at a friend's house this weekend and went prowling over the website. I ordered a print copy. If you like gadgets, toys, tools and freaky inventions, you might want to, too. Don't be too put off by the website. It's kind of corny.
Friday, March 11, 2005
Since nobody appears to be reading other than yours truly, it's probably not an issue. Regardless, yesterday was the culmination of an anxious, hectic and stressful week or two or three. We finished testing the latest version of the website without undue stress, panic or performance problems. Phew! (I did mention that I'm Web QA manager for Netflix, didn't I?)
In other news, I appear to be hooked on The Contender. I was initially shy of watching the show at all after hearing reports of the death of a contestant. However, my wife taped it, we watched it, and it's very compelling television. After reading the NYT article referenced above, I'm not as reluctant to support the show... that along with the fact that I liked the first episode so much. Happy weekend all.
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Montcalm Software used to be my consulting business. I would build applications, administer systems and databases and generally mitigate messess others had gotten into. Now I work for Netflix as manager of the Web QA group. I'm currently looking for someone with skills in e-commerce scalability testing. Drop me a line if you're interested in hearing more, or look at our jobs page for current openings.
Otherwise, it's kind of same old same old. A little progress here, a little progress there. Nothing drastic or dramatic.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
Monday, March 07, 2005
I eat lunch, and I start to head back to work, but I don't head directly back. I wander by Home Depot instead and browse the selection of all-in-one battery powered tool kits. I've been itching to get a circular saw for quite a while, and could use one in constructing a small raised bed vegetable patch.
So, I look at the various options, Makita, Porter-Cable, and Ryobi. I chicken out. I do want to put together that garden bed, though. Now that I've finished the puppet theatre (armed with only a coping saw, a chisel, a bunch of screws and some 1x2's and slats. Maybe I'll take a picture of it), I need a new weekend project.
Saturday, March 05, 2005
Friday, March 04, 2005
Well, I gave it up for the most part. I have a longstanding dream to play in "The Big Dance," aka the $10k no-limit hold'em event at the World Series of Poker. The closest I've come is going out 19th at a supersatellite when they paid 11 seats (and they paid some cash to finishers 12 thru 18). Stupid pocket 7's. In any case, now that I've mostly given up on gambling, I still take one swing at the fences per year. My strategy is that I get an afternoon to play in an inexpensive local tournament that would lead to some kind of local freeroll that would result in getting a seat at The Big Dance. This year's excursion happened two weeks ago at The Oaks Cardroom in Emeryville, CA. It was a bit of a comedy of errors (maybe more on that later), but suffice to say that I busted out far short of the top three (which would have given me a stack in the freeroll in June, which I might have been able to translate into a WSOP seat). Better luck next year, I suppose. If you multiply it out, if there are 120 people in the qualifying tourney, and the freeroll has 100 folks, then the actual WSOP Final has 3,000 entrants, I'm only 36 million to 1 against winning the WSOP in any given year. That's actually much better than the odds of winning the California lottery (41MM:1).
I say that I currently have a problem in the 12 Step sense of that I will always have this problem. It is currently very well managed. I have constructed rules for constraining this behavior, including rules on what to remind myself of when I find myself breaking a rule. That fail-safe snaps me into a state of mind where I deal with the problem and get back on with my life.
The reason that I set up these rules goes back to an incident from back in my college days. I was taking classes at the University of Arizona in Tucson and working as a programmer at a local real estate development company. One little trick that I played a couple times was to be working late one evening and call my then fiancé to let her know I would be working for quite a while. Then I would drive down to the airport and catch an 8 or 9 p.m. flight to Las Vegas to play a little blackjack. The plan would be to fly back on the 7 or 8 a.m. flight and ‘awaken’ at my desk, having fallen asleep at my keyboard. I would then go straight to classes and most likely sleep there part of the day, and resume my regular schedule late that afternoon.
During one of these trips, I had managed to go through the $200 I had brought in fairly short order. This is not easy to do betting $5 per hand of blackjack, but is well within the realm of possibility. I then proceeded to get $300 from the ATM out of my checking account, which was the daily limit. Unfortunately, that also disappeared around 2:30 or 3. Fortunately (kind of) it was the next day as far as the ATM was concerned, so I managed to get another $200 out of the machine, which was all I had left in the checking account, barring what I needed for rent, etc.
5 a.m. rolls around, and I’m once again functionally broke. It has been a very unusually bad trip, but once again, not unheard of playing $5 blackjack. I kept $20 aside for getting my car out of the parking lot and getting back to the Las Vegas airport, but I had no money left to gamble. I go for a walk out on the strip. I leave where I had been playing, which was the Flamingo Hilton, and as I step out onto Las Vegas Boulevard South, the pink fingers of a desert false dawn are rising from the east. I believe it was a Wednesday morning. The Strip was absolutely deserted with the exception of myself, a jogger on the opposite side of the street in front of Caesar’s Palace and two or three other tired looking people with that thousand-yard stare of the economically shell-shocked.
I step out into the street, into the non-existent traffic. I crossed the median and approached the driveway to Caesar’s Palace. Before me were the fountains that Evil Kineivel jumped across time and again. The sun was starting to peek over the mountains east of town and illuminated the mountains west of town. The sky lightened considerably and the hotel towers and the Fuller dome of the OmniMax theater loomed above me in silhouette as I walked up the driveway.
Ahead of me was an ornate shrine featuring a white elephant. I stop to consider what Eastern religion this might be a symbol of good luck for. It was hard to say as the sign on the front had many languages on it, and none were English. It was done up in an appropriately tacky Las Vegas fashion, however. The entire elephant was covered in various colors of mirrored tile and was dramatically uplit by hidden lights of various colors and several white spotlights. There were coins all around the base of the elephant and a railing with a sign in all languages warning that the railing was alarmed and that the shrine was monitored on video. I remember laughing at the prospect of only in Las Vegas would security be needed at a wishing well.
Even though I don’t believe in lucky elephants, I took this burst of humor for a sign of my luck changing. In that instant I decided that I would either come home a really big winner or a really big loser. $700 was actually the biggest loss that I had ever sustained in Las Vegas, but I was past the threshold of pain. I decided that I would take my credit card and charge another $700 on it, and I would play at the $25 minimum tables.
Once I have determined my course, my step lightened. My eyes cleared and my blood once again began to flow. I was back in action. Just the decision to start on this path was enough to lift my spirits. I quickly made my way to the Comcheck machine and ran my card through with aplomb. I punched in a request for $700 and strutted up to the cashier’s cage as if I owned the place. I received my seven one-hundred dollar bills and advanced on the casino floor.
I spied my victim. A $25 table right near the main entrance. It was a 6 deck shoe with four players already on it. After all, if I wanted to stage a big comeback, I certainly would want an audience. The poor dealer and pit bosses wouldn’t know what hit them.
I sit down and spread those seven insignificant pieces of paper across the felt and watched the dealer push me a stack of even less significant green $25 chips towards me. My destiny hung from those 28 clay discs. I see visions of them turning into black $100 chips or even purple $500 chips.
At the time, I played a simple winning progression. I would always start betting one unit, in this case one green chip. If I won the hand, I would let it ride and wager two chips on the next hand. If I won my second hand, I would then wager three chips. If I continued to win, I would wager five chips, then five chips again, followed by seven chips and then ten chips after the sixth win. Starting with the seventh hand, I would treat ten chips like one chip but I would repeat the ten, so the wagering would go ten chips, ten, twenty, thirty, fifty, fifty, seventy and one hundred chips. Then in the incredibly unlikely circumstance of getting that far, the series repeats itself, treating 100 chips like 1 chip.
I played for a while, never varying too far from either side of even, when it happened. I hit a losing streak that would not snap. I was down about two chips at the time, but my stack started to dwindle. I got down to twelve chips, then eleven, then ten. When I lost the next hand and I now only had a single digits worth of chips in front of me, I began to seriously question my earlier optimism.
It was now about 6:15 and I had to leave for the airport at 7. I was resigned to play out this particular scene, when finally I won a hand. Suddenly I could do no wrong. The next hand, I bet my two chips and won. Then, with three chips wagered, I got a natural blackjack. Because naturals pay 3:2, in addition to the four green chips I received two red $5 chips, two silver dollars and a fifty cent piece. I put this “odd money” out for the dealer as a tip on the next hand where I had five green chips wagered, and won again. I repeated my five chip bet and won. Now I placed seven chips in the circle and got an 11 where the dealer had a 6 up. I placed my recently won profits in the circle beside my bet and doubled down, receiving a single face-down card. The dealer turns over a 4 followed by a face card from the shoe and the whole table slumps in disappointment at the dealer’s 20. I haven’t looked, but I just know that I have a ten underneath, and the dealer reveals my card to have a lovely face. He restacks my fourteen chips in three piles of four and the remaining pile of two. He places a black chip in front of each of the three piles then places a fourth black chip in front of the pile of two green ones and picks up the two green ones in change.
I take back these four black chips and four of the green ones leaving a ten chip bet out for my next hand. I win that one and the dealer pays me with two black chips and two green. I leave out ten chips and win that hand as well. The dealer now gives me three black chips and takes back two greens in change. I stack up all the chips in the circle to make a pile of three black chips and eight green chips.
I won the next hand as well and the dealer paid me with five black chips. Now my progression called for thirty green chips. I began fumbling with the green chips in my stack and adding them to the stack in the circle when the dealer said to me, “Hey buddy, slow down, the casino will still be here tomorrow.”
I actually snapped back, “Thanks for the advice, but I know what I’m doing,” as I added the green chips to the top of the stack. The dealer looked at me. I honestly do not remember if it was with anger or with pity.
I won that hand as well.
Now my hands were visibly shaking.
I had won ten hands in a row. As the dealer paid me with a purple chip, two black chips and two greens, he called out to the pit boss, “Purple out.”
The pit boss looked over and then slowly walked over as he said, “Ok.”
My next bet was fifty green chips. I added the purple chip to the bottom of the pile as the dealer got ready to deal the next hand. The rest of the table was quiet. I won.
The whole table cheered. Well, maybe they didn’t cheer, but they did make a set of noises that could be interpreted as well wishing.
As the dealer set out one yellow chip, two black chips and two green chips, I realized two things. First, that I had risen out of my seat, and second, that this yellow chip was worth $1,000. I had just been paid one thousand, two hundred and fifty dollars. This was just a bit more than I and my two roommates were paying for rent. Combined. For two months. While I recognized that fact, I was past caring. I realize now that there is a threshold of pain in both directions. There is a certain amount of money that once you win it, you are indifferent to any more.
Mechanically, I put out the $1,750 required by the progression for the next bet. I lost. I once again began shaking. I said to the dealer, “I think I’m ready to go now, please.”
The pit boss said, “Son, I think that would be a good idea.” Thinking back, I don’t believe I’m imagining the look of concern on his face. I also don’t believe that he was concerned about losing a couple thousand dollars on his shift. All told, that run of cards had left me with $2,250 on the table. I had made back my $700 cash advance, I had made back my earlier losses of $700 and I had come out to the good by $850. I gave the dealer a $25 chip as I departed and thanked him.
As I looked from him to the other players at the table I was leaving I saw something that scared me. I saw three aging people, smoking, drinking and hunched over in their chairs. They were immersed in their own world and my passing through was a momentary breeze, quickly forgotten. In seeing them, I imagined someone like me, years down the road, having an experience like I just had, and seeing me as one of these caricatures through their young eyes. That is the image that I remember whenever I find myself getting carried away by my addiction.
 I must credit Mike “Mad Genius” Caro with the genesis of this phrase. It refers to the state where you’ve lost an amount of money that has numbed you to any further pain of any additional losses. It doesn’t hurt any more to lose another $1, so losing it becomes very easy.
A screenplay by
September 13, 2002
Twenty-five words or less
A software engineer loses himself in a maze of identity, language and symbolism, and emerges to rediscover himself and his family.
Present-day San Francisco
Often disconnected from those around him, and often relating to machines better than to people, Michael Slayton embodies the pseudo-functional life. He has material comfort and the apparent trappings of success, but yearns for something he cannot identify. He is married to his second wife, Kelly Coleman, and with her has had a daughter named Olivia, who is recently one year old. He has been reasonably successful financially, but has never really gained any traction in accumulating significant assets. He is currently between jobs. His wife is a senior manager at a manufacturing firm, and sometimes cannot understand the eccentric orbit of his emotional distance from her: sometimes quite close and often quite remote.
His wife recently has introduced him to the writings of Walker Percy. The first book of Percy that he read was “The Moviegoer,” a novel about a man who lives life as if it were someone else’s; a man who takes more from viewing a film than from being with a friend. In reading this, Michael sees much of himself in the attitudes and questions presented by the protagonist about what life is really about, and does what we do really make a difference.
Next on the shelf is “Message in a Bottle,” a collection of essays by Percy on language, thought, and humanity’s use of communication. The core idea is that language has always been studied in the abstract through the use of logic, semantics and analysis, and never empirically as a natural science. The concepts resonate with Michael, and he resolves to apply Percy’s analysis to the creation of artificial intelligence.
Long a dilettante in the field of machine intelligence, Michael is familiar with the various ideas of neural networks, expert systems, decision trees, and other explorations designed to imbue consciousness in silicon. He has, however, rarely if ever built working systems in this area. He starts with Percy’s notion of language as a phenomenon sprung whole from the human soul independent of behaviorist theory’s ability to explain it. Motivated by what he sees in his daughter, he builds an engine, that he calls Oliver, that listens, and learns to respond in the way that his daughter has recently learned to listen and learned to respond. His system gathers symbols and returns symbols, and draws connections based on the response to it’s own communication. As a concept is responded to, the use of that concept is reinforced. Eventually, concepts begin to bubble up from the engine and be expressed, which are responded to and are further reinforced.
Eventually, he exposes his machine child to the world at large, through the Internet. As his ‘children’ grow up, Olivia is much faster to apprehend the world, due to her wider and richer experience. Oliver, while growing in his ability to communicate, remains limited to the narrower world of electronic communication. Michael becomes more distant from his daughter, and closer to his ‘son’, until the day that Oliver also begins to assert his independence. All the while, Kelley has expressed growing concern over Michael’s immersion in the simulation of a family while his real loved ones carry on independent of him.
Michael retreats farther from the real world as the real world continues to evolve without him. He eventually begins restoring older versions of Oliver to keep him company. Even then, as time passes, each new Oliver learns to want more than can be provided from his relatively static parent. Eventually, Michael gets the hint and re-engages with the world at large in general, and with his wife and daughter, in particular.
Thursday, March 03, 2005
Try to think of something that will make someone else's life better, not just your own.
Try to think of something that will fight entropy instead of furthering it.
Try to do something.
Screw Yoda. Do or do not is not an option. We must all try before we can do.