Saturday, December 26, 2015

Why vote?

Re: paragraph on why it's not rational to vote, cited in Library of Economics and Liberty article: Economists who lack an imagination by Scott Sumner

This is the paragraph:
4. Economists who say that voting is not rational because there is only a tiny probability that your vote will swing an election.
This is why I vote:
  1. I've seen bizarrely close elections in my life. I know it's important to cast a vote, so you don't feel guilty at the result.
  2. What do you think happened in France a few weeks ago? Right wing won because majority didn't bother to vote. The win shocked more citizens into voting, so the right wing lost the subsequent election. 
  3. My dad used to say it's better to flip a coin than not vote. He had some statistical argument for this, which I can't remember, but it may have been: at least it builds the impression that we're paying attention.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Audiobook Recommendations

Based on my experience with Overdrive and a 50-mile commute to & from work.
To be updated as I listen to more books.

Science/Tech - These two really held my interest:

  • The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
  • The Information - James Gleik

Other Nonfiction

  • David Sedaris books
  • Malcolm Gladwell books
  • Nora Ephron, e.g. I Feel Bad About My Neck  (good for women, esp 40+)

Neil Gaiman

  • Neverwhere (the best, IMHO)
  • Stardust (lighter than above, worked well for putting on timer at bedtime)
  • Anansi Boys - read by Lenny Henry (star of ‘Chef’), also pretty good
  • Fortunately, The Milk - short, amusing, kid-friendly
  • Click Clack the Rattle Bag- to sample Neil Gaiman on Youtube

Other Fiction

  • Embassytown -  China MiĆ©ville - perhaps the best SF I’ve ‘read’ in years
  • Lunatics - Dave Barry & Alan Zweibel - Funny slapstick kind of book. The 2 authors read the first person POV character for the 2 main characters.
  • The School for Good and Evil (book 1 of YA trilogy) - Soman Chaimani (the whole family was caught up listening to this on my phone during a blackout last year)
    • book 2: A World without Princes
    • book 3: The Last Ever After
    • Definitely read this series in order.

Terry Pratchett

Not in a series, so you don’t have to worry about spoilers:

  • Nation - parallel universe story, kind of upsetting near the beginning, but overall good
  • Dodger - also parallel universe London, not as deep as above, but enjoyable

Tiffany Aching - Discworld YA Subset

 These were all eventually available on Overdrive. More fun if you listen in order, because she grows up in the books:

  1. The Wee Free Men
  2. A Hatful of Sky
  3. Wintersmith
  4. I Shall Wear Midnight
  5. The Shepherd’s Crown

Other Discworld

I wish the folks at would offer a subscription lending-library service to all of the Discworld audiobooks so that I could hear them in order. If I ever shell out the money for, my main reason would be to listen to Discworld as I drive. Nothing makes a commute as fun as Terry Pratchett on audio.
All the discworld audiobooks I've borrowed from the library were read by great narrators. In some ways they are better to listen to than read, because my imagination wouldn't supply those voices. Reading is good for picking up the wise words you didn't hear while driving and listening.
Hogfather, in particular, I remember had better voices than I would never have managed in my head.

Even if you listen to the Pratchett discworld out of order, they are still funny. But try to start as early in the list as possible. Pratchett’s writing also improved towards the end. I thought Thud was great, but would not be as good if you’d not heard earlier about the characters.
Other advice:

  • You could probably read Monstrous Regiment without reading the others

  • Definitely read Going Postal before Making Money

Monday, September 14, 2015

I like how Bernie Sanders talks

For all the discussion of where candidates are on different issues, I don't think enough has been said about what is so appealing about Bernie Sanders--it is the way he talks. I was glad to read Charles M Blow describe it, somewhat, in the New York Times, even if it was in an opinion piece on Sanders' difficulty in appealing to everyone:
There is an earnest, if snappy, aura to Sanders that is laudable and refreshing. One doesn’t sense the stench of ambition or the revolting unctuousness of incessant calculation. There is an idealistic crusader in the man, possibly to the point of being quixotic, but at least it doesn’t come off as corrupted by money or power or the God complex that so often attends those in pursuit of the seat behind the Resolute Desk. 
--14 September 2015, "Bernie Sanders and the Black Vote
Hillary may be a good person, but she is tainted. She is the creature of the Democratic machine, someone chosen long ago for name recognition over other qualified candidates--and that going back to her Senate campaign.

It's hard to listen to many politicians. It can give me unpleasant shivers, from frustration accumulated since Al Gore--whom I really wanted to win, but so wished he could talk like a man, not a product of the training and coaching of professional consultants.

It felt good to listen to Bernie Sanders. If Joe Biden had announced long ago, if Lincoln Chafee had made a better splash, I might not have turned to Sanders--too left wing--not a chance. But it feels good to listen to him. He sounds like a wise old man, caring, moral, good. He has enough years in government for me to trust him to be practical.

I can hope, for a while. I can hope.

Even knowing I may eventually have to vote for...her.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Packington's Pound

Me:  That's Packington's Pound. I could play that on the lute when I practiced. I haven't practiced in months.

E: The operative word there is 'lute'. It makes you a nerd.

Me: [open-mouthed pause.]
I can quote Star Trek.
I go to science fiction conventions.
I'm a computer programmer,
but playing the lute makes me a nerd?

E: [serene nod.] That's the gold standard for nerds.

Me: Well. At least it's a gold standard.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

I washed the car...

I washed the car because I bought it in February and it's still the new car,

And it's white.

No, actually moonglow, which is white with little sparkly green things in it, which are hard to see, especially if you don't wash it.

And I have a new Bernie Sanders bumper sticker I wanted to put on the car, but I wanted to wash it first, because you don't want to trap dirt under the sticker.

And I washed it, and it was fun, mostly-- being outside on a beautiful summer day getting drenched by the hose, and feeling grateful to live in a place with our own well, no water bill, no drought.

Except I noticed my back was starting to hurt more. I hurt my back in early July, and I suppose I really shouldn't be doing Anything.

But I did something. I washed the car.

And now I'm in bed with a bottle of ice and have swallowed 2 naproxens

And it hurts.

The car is clean and shiny. The little moonglow particles are green and shiny. I see them sparkle in my mind's eye.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Overheard in ladies' lavatory

Lady talking on cellphone, presumably to teenage son:
"You'll notice that you're not at camp, you don't have a babysitter and I didn't chuck all your stupid guitars into the trash heap."
I thought that could be a good line of dialog in a future troubled musician's biopic.
And also wondered: Why do people conduct personal conversations in public places?
How do you retain your dignity arguing on a toilet, with others flushing and, uh..other noises, around you? It's not strategic.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Katherine Johnson - 97 year-old inspiration for girls in STEM

In this month's ACM magazine, there is an interview with US Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith. You have to have ACM membership to access the article, but here's the quote from Megan Smith that caught my interest:
Katherine Johnson was a former computer who joined NASA. She was there when Sputnik went up, and she got pulled into the teams that calculated trajectories. She's an African American woman, and she's 97 years old now. She calculated the trajectories for Alan Shepard. John Glenn wouldn't even fly until Katherine double-checked the math! She stayed up like 12 hours recalculating, and if she got the right number, he would say "Okay, Katherine agrees, I'm going." She was one of the trajectory calculators of the Apollo mission, but she's not in the Apollo 13 movie.
It would have been a great bit in a movie. 

Links from Googling:

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Opinion Survey - Using Adverbs

I've heard a lot of advice against using adverbs, to the point of where it is giving me a mischievous thrill to use them. That's fine for blogging and Twitter, but to what extent should I avoid them in more serious creative writing? Is this prejudice a fad that will pass?
For now, I have decided not to delete all my adverbs universally, but to examine and consider them each on a case-by-case basis.

What is your opinion on using adverbs?
  1. Go ahead, whenever
  2. Sparingly
  3. Never.
  4. I was unaware that there was advice against their use.
  5. Other (Please Specify)

Spam from Vietnam

Here's another spam, more creative, ostensibly from Vietnam:

From: Ha Bao Linh []
Sent: Tuesday, May 05, 2015 4:26 PM
Subject: [SPAM]Hello!


My name is Ha Bao Linh,the daughter of Mr Ha Van Tham from Vietnam,I want to know if you can invest for my family in your father who was former chairman of Ocean Bank Vietnam was suspended and arrested by the authority of Vietnam for violating banking regulations as they said but the truth was that my father declare intention to contest for post in State Bank of Vietnam and his political enemies ganged up agains him.

The authorities are frozing my father assets and bank accounts and my father instructed that i urgently find somebody from abroad to help us invest the money he kept in another country because the authorites have arrested him and my family can not travel out of Vietnam as our passport was taken by authority.

I know its not easy to ask you to keep my family asset for us but i believe we can build good understanding and trust,please give me your Skype address or phone number so we can communicate to discuss very good.I am making this discussion with you secret because we want to safely remove the fund without the Vietnam authorities know about my father fund in abroad and i want you to keep it secret too please.

I wait to hear back from you.

I do not want these to become the theme of the blog, but they're so charmingly creative.

BTW, I've heard terrible things about adverbs. What are your opinions about using them? I suppose that needs its own blog post.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Greetings from Mr.Ho

Earlier this month I received a piece of spam that was just so classic--I found it too humorous to delete. I saw it again today while sorting through email, and figured out that I could post it here.

From: Eang Seng Ho []
Sent: Wednesday, May 06, 2015 3:14 AM
Subject: [SPAM]Greetings From Mr.Ho,


I am Mr. Eang Seng Ho. I have no other way to reach you than these ways, please accept my apology. I am an account manager to one of our foreign late customer. It is my interest to contact you in respect of this our client who opened a draft account in my bank.

This deceased client of mine shares almost the same name as yours; He died as a result of heart-related condition on 14 of November 2011.His heart condition was due to the death of all the members of his family in the fukushima earthquake and tsunami disaster on the March 11, 2011 in northeastern Japan where they all lost their lives.

After his death, I sent a routine notification to his forwarding address, but got no reply. He died without making any will. The amount in His draft account opened in my bank before his unfortunate death is Twenty Eight Million Five Hundred and Twenty Six Thousand Two Hundred Dollars Only.
I want to present you as the beneficiary of the deceased. I will use my position and influence in our bank to make sure they release this money to you for our mutual sharing. If I wait for days and did not hear from you, I shall look for another person.

Kindly get back to me for more details.

I particularly like that my name is "almost the same" as that of his deceased client--but he doesn't address me by name. And I like the inclusion of details such as the exact date of the fukushima earthquake. If that fact is correct then, surely, the entire letter must be.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Leaned In

I finished Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In the weekend before last. I'd heard vague negative things about it. Having finished the book, I conclude it's another case of press exaggeration of complaints of those who found within some items at which to take offense.

I found it rather readable, unlike too many business books. It was sprinkled with humorous anecdotes to keep me entertained.

A day or so later, I noted down this list of Takeaways:
  • Even women need to be vigilant against inherent bias against women.
  • Women tend to be more shy than men, but if you take some simple steps to encourage them, you'll bring them out of the woodwork & make them more useful to your organization.
  • Men should be respected for doing housework.
  • When insufficient number of women choose to make their career a priority, the next generation of children is raised with the same bias against women in careers.
Otherwise, I didn't think the book applied to me very much. I wasn't top-of-the-class at Harvard or anything close. I do software, not business. Compared to the people in her book, I've been incredibly lazy.

Most of my jobs have been in high tech, yet it was always quite normal for people to go home around 5:30. Sandberg had to be apologetic and assertive about the need to leave at such a time, even if she showed up at the crack of dawn. She stressed the importance of going home to be with her family every evening, and hastened to add that she logs back into work after her kids have gone to sleep.

After my kids have gone to sleep, I'm asleep too. Maybe in bed reading.

The book did have one good effect that I had not imagined. Here's an anecdote of my own:

I was picking my kids up from Hebrew school 2 Sundays ago. The lady who runs the school mentioned being laid off from her regular job. Her whole group was laid off. I had a vague idea that what she did was something like what was required for an open position at my company. She gave me her card. I gave it to someone at work. He emailed me the job description. I forwarded it on to her.

She emailed back, saying, it looks very interesting, but it seems to require one set of skills that I don't have.

Had I not just read Sandberg's book, I'd have emailed back, Oh well.

Instead, I remembered and quoted back a section where it said that men will apply for a job if they have 60% of the requirements, but women will only apply if they have closer to 100%. If you send in your resume, it could be you'll get a quick 'no thanks.' If you don't send it in, the answer is definitely no.

She sent in her resume. She got an interview--over the phone, and then in person.

The man who would have been her direct supervisor was impressed by her credentials and presentation. He wanted to redefine the job and hire her. Unfortunately, his boss didn't agree.

Still, it goes to show that it was worth a try.

Too many business books are structured like this

  1. This book contains my idea
  2. My idea has helped me, and other folks too.
  3. Lots of people like my idea. 
  4. I call my idea X. It is a great idea. It is better than many previous ideas, even previous ideas that might be similar to this idea.
  5. Here is how some previous ideas failed.
  6. Here is a list of the ways in which other previous ideas were inadequate.
  7. Note how the ideas that had partial success contain these aspects X1, X2, X3, X4, X5, X6 which are more effective when combined into my idea X.
  8. Here are 50 pages of testimonials about how great my idea is, and how useful it has been to different people.
  9. ...?
  10. After I've given up reading, maybe there comes the part where the author explains his idea.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Paul McCartney: Early Days & Scared - Lyrics from NEW

Really good music. I wish the radio would play it.
Here are the lyrics I typed in, without looking at the website:

Early Days

They can't take it from me, if they try--
I lived through those early days.
So many times I had to change the pain to laughter,
just to keep from getting crazed.

Dressed in black from head to toe,
two guitars across our backs,
we would walk the city road.
Seeking for someone who would listen to the music
that we were writing down at home.

But they can't take it from me, if they try
I lived through those early days.
So many times I had to change the pain to laughter
just to keep from getting crazy.

Hair slicked back with Vaseline like the pictures on the wall
of the local record shop.
Hearing noises we were destined to remember

We willed the thrill to never stop.

May sweet memories of friends from the past
always come to you, when you look for them.
And your inspiration, long may it last
May it come to you,
time and time again.

Now everybody seems to have their own opinion
on who did this and who did that.
But, as for me, I don't see how they can remember--
when they weren't where it was at.

And they can't take it from me, if they try
'cause I lived through those early days.
So many times I had to change the pain to laughter,
just to keep from getting crazed.

I lived through those early days--yes.
I lived through those early days.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015


I should be able to buy a cannister of those cheap stretch gloves to keep in the car or by the door or wherever. A cannister of all the same color so they match.

They shouldn't sell those cheap gloves bound together in different colored pairs like they do: It's pretending we weren't going to lose them. If we weren't going to lose them, we wouldn't need to buy cheap gloves. We'd buy good ones.

Monday, January 12, 2015

ComeInHere4 app for smartwatch

Before you go into the kitchen [upstairs/the basement/wherever] etc, you announce:
"I'm going into the kitchen [wherever] to get salt [whatever]."
Then, once you are in the kitchen [upstairs/basement/wherever], you can say:
"What did I come in here for?"
And your smartwatch will reply:
You went into the kitchen[wherever] for salt[whatever].
This will save us all many steps. Its particular target market will, of course, be us aging Baby Boomers.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Parental egoboo

One of the fun things about being a parent is it enables you to make a mildly funny remark and watch your child respond with peals of laughter.
As a parent, you're already hardwired to think your child's laugh one of the most pleasant sounds in the universe, so it's quite gratifying.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

New Year's Diet Resolution (Limited)

OK, as of 1/1/2015 no hard* cheese until Passover, except for free meals & when there's nothing to eat other than pizza.

*hard, as in not: ricotta, cottage cheese, neufchatel or cream cheese. Those I'll still eat.

I'm not sure about feta.  What do you think? (Does anyone read my blog?)
The good thing about feta is that it's usually in salads.

Of course, it's also in those lovely greek butter-filled pastries.

Feta only in salad?

Greek butter-filled pastries with feta and spinach. Spinach is healthy..