Friday, March 27, 2009

Hang 'Em High

For such a crisp thinker as Willem Buiter, these words, with which I agree, are extremely harsh:

Too many bank insiders have exploited their monopoly of information and the control it bestows on them, to enrich themselves by robbing their shareholders blind. There has been a spectacular failure of corporate governance. Boards have foresaken their fiduciary duties. Surely, even the liability insurance taken out by board members ought not to shelter those who are guilty of, at best, such willfull negligence and dereliction of duty? Where are the class actions suits by disgruntled shareholders? Where are the board members in handcuffs?

Now that there is no meat left on the shareholder drumstick, the rogue managers and employees are going after a piece of the really juicy bird - the ever-patient tax payer. I hope they choke on it.

Governance lies as the heart of the mess. It was broken before the house of cards collapsed, and it's broken now, too, because the people responsible for the status quo are either still in power, or not on trial, or both.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I'm Looking Forward to This

Be Honest But Mysterious

Your boss wants to know where the reports that you were supposed to have on his desk are? Be honest with him: "I don't have them." But, instead of full disclosure, leave a little to the imagination: "And I'm not sure why." If he presses, be nice but firm: "I don't feel comfortable giving them to you yet, but I'm flattered that you're looking for them." "Who is this wild creature who doesn't have the reports?" he'll be wondering. Sure, it will feel uncomfortable for you at first, but, trust us, it'll drive him crazy. He'll probably have to contact you every hour. You won't be able to get rid of him!

Monday, March 23, 2009

First Impressions of Structural Computing

A lot of research is computer science is sort of boilerplate. Like when a graduate student incrementally improves a known solution to a given problem in an established area of research. Even when it's hard, that's the easy stuff, it seems. The hard stuff involves creating a new area of research altogether. That's what Peter J. NĂ¼rnberg is up to with his idea of "structural computing." So far, a couple of pages into a couple of his papers, and really not being familiar with the hypermedia corpus, the first thing that comes to mind is a data structure in which every element is connected to every other element by way of common data structures -- e.g. array, list, hash table -- so as to enable on-the-fly views of the data to be created. And this suggests the need to transform one view into another view arbitrarily, which in turn reminds me of category theory, data provenance, and the stuff that Benjamin Pierce has been working on, but not necessarily in that order and not to imply a relationship among those things that doesn't exist.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What was Universal thinking?

I love The Big Lebowski as much as the next guy, but the marketing department at Universal Studios really went too far with the their 10th Anniversary Limited Edition DVD. Come on. A bowling ball as a DVD case? Why not just give us the two disks with the bonus materials, etc, etc, and be done with it? What value does the bowling ball add exactly? What's worse, there's not even a symbol on the bottom of the plastic ball indicating how to recycle it.




Saturday, March 21, 2009

And on the occasion of my 39th birthday, a colleague sent me this:

Once a cuckoo told me it was my birthday and flew away.
I asked myself Have you no regard for yourself to celebrate your birthday?
Then the cuckoo came back and told my brain Birthdays are for fathers and mothers.

Yesterday I turned 39. No surprises or revelations, just a sense of what it's like to keep growing older, an understanding that the tired phrase life goes on is tired because it's true. Of course, one's sense of time fluctuates, expanding and contracting, depending on the intensity of experience at that moment, depending on how much the world is defying or agreeing with you, but in all cases, things keep happening. Somewhat like no matter where you go, there you are. Both phrases are trivially true in an all-too-universal way. Perhaps the thing that distinguishes the old from the young is the knowledge that the truth of these phrases isn't trivial, because having a sense of how they are true only comes with experience, and experience only comes with age, and age implies death.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Back when Todd Mytkowitz and I were looking into the feasibility of using Amazon Web Services to run a not-for-profit scientific compute service, Todd explained the idea of the service to some scientists at a conference at the Santa Fe Institute. The most surprising part of their response was that a pay-as-you-go model doesn't always fit well with the way researchers spend money, since grant money comes with an expiration date; the money must be spent within some window of time. Since it's easy to justify the purchase of computing equipment, research money sometimes goes into a new, albeit small, compute cluster. Utility compute services like AWS are metered; using them doesn't require a large initial capital outlay. So it's not possible -- or at least hasn't been possible -- to park your money there. I think a similar dynamic is at work with corporate managers and directors, who are the marketing target of Amazon's push into the enterprise: the pay-as-you-go model just doesn't fit well with the budgeting practices of large institutions. Hence, ladies and gentelmen, Amazon's new pricing model.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The scary thing is I almost actually understood this.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Better Gmail is Not Better

CPU consumption by Firefox 3.0.7 with:

No pages loaded 1-3%
Old version of Gmail 1-3%
New version of Gmail 4-5%
New version of Gmail (with Better Gmail 2) 73-85%