Big HP/Palm announcement day: recap
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2011-02-09 17:46:00
Tags: palm essay palmpre
Words: 338

So...quite a mixed bag!

They announced two new phones: one is the Veer, which is a tiny phone (the size of a credit card), and the Pre 3, which is like the Pre but bigger. I want the Pre 3, but it's not coming out until summer. Which would normally be a bad thing, except that odds are it won't be on Sprint, and my contract isn't up until August anyway. But, we'll see!

They also announced a tablet called the TouchPad, which looks pretty sweet but again isn't coming out until August.

So my plan is to probably get a Pre 3 and a Touchpad, but they didn't announce any pricing, carriers, or release dates (other than "summer"). This is a little frustrating, and I'm willing to bet that if they're not saying now we're not going to be happily surprised later. Or maybe it's just because the release is so far off there's still time for the price to bounce around. (or maybe they're waiting on the price of the iPad 2?)

Other not-as-terrible-as-the-internet-says-but-kind-of-annoying news: there will be no over the air update to webOS 2.0 for current phones other than the Pre 2. Hopefully there will be doctors available for all phone/carrier combinations so you can manually upgrade the OS, but this means a lot of people probably won't do it since it's much less convenient. And then it makes targeting particular versions of the OS hard for developers.

So, overall the stuff still looks good, but the wait is gonna kill me!

A few external links:
- Engadget compares the TouchPad to the iPad and other tablets and it holds up well...for now.
- Here's a good hands-on video of the TouchPad.
- John Gruber seems to like the looks of the TouchPad.
- Kindle app for the Touchpad - yay! (but it's unclear whether it's coming to the phones or not)
- Pre 3 hands-on with video
- There's this neato Touch to Share feature that lets you touch the TouchPad and Pre3 together to pass a URL (demo video).


The Green Hornet
Mood: cheerful
Posted on 2011-01-29 13:25:00
Tags: movies reviews
Words: 162

So. We saw The Green Hornet last night.

I have someone managed to make it this far in life without seeing a Seth Rogen movie. The Green Hornet was written by and stars Seth Rogen, and...well, it shows.

I think my main problem with the movie was that Seth Rogen was not very likeable. There's a tried and true rule for getting away with your protagonist saying sexist/generally mean things: he can say it, but then he must get punched or somehow suffer. (see Futurama's "Amazon women in the mood" for this principle in action) In this movie, Seth Rogen is repeatedly a jerk to people around him, and he rarely gets his comeuppance. This makes me feel like the movie itself is endorsing being sexist and remarkably full of yourself.

It wasn't entirely without value, and did have a few funny parts, but if you like Seth Rogen movies, you'll probably like this one, and the inverse is true as well.

1 comment

link me baby one more time
Mood: peaceful
Posted on 2011-01-28 10:36:00
Tags: gay links
Words: 178

A recent poll shows again that the nation is split in thirds on gay marriage (with one third supporting civil unions but not marriage). 46% of Republicans support either marriage or civil unions! And there's the usual age related pattern as well. HRC has some more encouraging polling. (.pdf) But there have been a bunch of anti-marriage and civil unions legislation introduced in the states - if you see your state on that list, write your representative!

Netflix published the averaging bandwidth of their customers with different ISPs. Unfortunately the chart is a little hard to read, but I think that's Time Warner near the top? (Time Warner and AT&T are, annoyingly, very very close in color...)

An article on Slate about Kickstarter. Kickstarter is a really cool idea (get people to fund your project, nobody pays if you don't reach your funding goal), and I chipped in for the Hip-Hip Word Count because I love me some data :-)

Health care reform: not exactly popular but support for repeal is not particularly strong.

A cute live-action level of LittleBigPlanet.


stock market returns project
Mood: okay
Posted on 2011-01-26 10:33:00
Tags: projects
Words: 171

Riffing off of this New York Times chart I mentioned a few weeks ago, I present: a chart of stock market returns! A few notes:

- Unfortunately, I didn't have any S&P 500 data before 1950, so that's when the chart begins. I'm not sure how the original chart went back to 1920, and I didn't feel comfortable just copying their raw data.

- The calculations for dollar-cost averaging are...a little confusing. Basically I considered it as if you had a lump sum but instead of investing it all at once, you invest it a little bit per month. Except then correcting for inflation gets very tricky. Anyway, there may be some problems but I think the message is the same - especially in the short run it reduces risk and return, but the more strongly the market trends off the better off you would have been investing it all at once.

- It was fun to throw this together but it also adds less information over the original than I had hoped. Oh well!


things that inspire emotions in me
Mood: okay
Posted on 2011-01-17 13:16:00
Tags: palm work links
Words: 264

(yes I am terrible at subjects)

First up, anger: Vaccines do not cause autism, and the original study (based on 12(!) children) done by Andrew Wakefield in 1998 appears to be fraudulent. No one's been able to reproduce the study, and Wakefield was paid by a law firm that intended to sue vaccine manufacturers. Meanwhile vaccination rates are down, and more kids are getting measles, seemingly because people like Jenny McCarthy keeps pushing the connection even though there is none. I hope Wakefield is prosecuted - he's already lost his medical license...

Surprised: The Austin MetroRail now runs during the day, starting tomorrow! I'm surprised because it sounded like this would be impossible because of contracts with freight rail companies that use the same track, but apparently they worked something out. It's still only on weekdays (and only every 45 mins-1 hour), but this seems like a big step forward.

Excited: HP/Palm is having a "special event" February 9 to announce presumably new hardware, and they invited developers for a small event after the official announcement. Sounds like a good time, but vacation/plane tickets/hotels are expensive. I will be eagerly following from here, though, and desperately hoping for a new Sprint device!

Intrigued: More details on Stuxnet, the virus that set back Iran's nuclear efforts by years have emerged. It's looking increasingly likely that either the US or Israel or both were involved.

Inquisitive: NI is hiring software engineers, so if you're interested in a job in Austin, drop me a line! (working here is generally awesome) Vaguely related: Advice to a college sophomore programmer.


motley links
Mood: cheerful
Posted on 2011-01-14 16:46:00
Tags: pictures worldofwarcraft links
Words: 358

IBM's been working on a system that can play Jeopardy! called Watson. It had its first practice match against champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, and it won the brief game they played! Here's a liveblog with Q&A afterwards. You can clearly see in the video that Ken Jennings was trying to buzz in for questions that Watson got - I wonder how much the precision timing for hitting the button helps it? But still, being able to answer questions that quickly is dramatically impressive to me, even if it takes 10 racks of servers, 15 TB of RAM, and 2800 processors operating at a combined 70 teraflops. You can learn more about Watson at IBM's site.

One advantage to having to stay up late because of medicine: getting things done! Here are pictures from December, as well as socks:

I thought Obama's speech at the memorial in Tucson was very touching.

Comprehensive post about which states may take up same-sex marriage legislation this year - some good, some bad. Happy to see that my old state Maryland may at least get civil unions!

An interesting response from Senator Akaka (D-HI) about making election day a federal holiday - apparently it doesn't increase turnout in states that do it now, which I found surprising.

Neato Google Translate for Android into which you can speak English and it will say the corresponding Spanish (and vice versa). Universal Translator, here we come!

I found this post about working in an ICBM missile silo pretty fascinating. Also, the title is "Death Wears a Snuggie", which is a play on an actual patch they had, both of which are awesome.

Now that we're playing WoW again (and I hit level 85 last night!), I read this article about quitting WoW with interest. I don't think it's entirely fair, though - certainly people can get addicted to WoW and spent far too much time there, but if you use it as a source of entertainment I don't think it's any worse than watching TV or whatever. Not every waking moment has to be spent improving your life in some way...

The Dow Piano - data presentation through music!


video links
Mood: okay
Posted on 2011-01-11 13:32:00
Tags: links
Words: 99

I'm pretty sure I linked this before, but the opening sketch from the Emmys was pretty awesome. (and the reason I've been humming "Born to Run" incessantly, people who I've spent any time with!)

The theme music for Law & Order: UK makes me want to put on a wig and boogie!

Why are birds dying? Obviously because Don't Ask Don't Tell was repealed.

A fan-made commercial for NASA. (that borrows heavily from Carl Sagan)

Various videos of Cee-Lo's "Fuck You" translated to sign language.

Bonus non-video link: A Brief Visual History of US Taxes, because graphs + taxes = Greg bait.


late links
Mood: awake
Posted on 2011-01-09 01:02:00
Tags: politics links
Words: 170

More on the shooting of a congresswoman - she was awake after surgery and recognized her husband, which is pretty amazing given that she was shot in the head at close range. James Fallows looks at this and other political shootings and points out that, while the shooter is usually deranged and not really related to the normal opposition to the figure, "the political tone of an era can have some bearing on violent events".

An interesting graph of stock market returns based on when you enter and exit the market. Note that the light red actually means a 0-3% return over inflation, which confused me for a bit. The 20-year median is 4.1% over inflation, which is not bad but not the 7% that I've seen mentioned elsewhere. David made a good point that it would be interesting to see how this looks with dollar-cost averaging - possible project sometime?

Thanks to Obamacare, more small businesses are offering health care to employees because of a tax credit for doing so. Hooray!


Congresswoman shot in head at public event
Mood: angry
Posted on 2011-01-08 14:45:00
Tags: politics
Words: 156

I'm just going to quote from John Gruber:

Sarah Palin’s political action committee placed ads which put a gunshot target over Giffords.

Her opponent in last year’s election held a campaign event at a gun range, to “get on target” to “remove Gabrielle Giffords from office”.

To be clear, I don't think Sarah Palin or her opponent really wanted someone to kill her, but when you repeatedly use this kind of rhetoric you are partially responsible for people who read what they want into it.

Edit: I should add that I don't want to jump to conclusions too much here, and nothing's been released about the identity of the shooter (who was captured). But the fact that she was shot at a public event makes me feel that it's pretty likely the shooter was politically motivated.

Edit 2: Andrew Sullivan's been liveblogging - the shooter appears to be mentally disturbed but definitely influenced by the far right.


Three Cups of Tea
Mood: content
Posted on 2011-01-03 11:45:00
Tags: reviews books
Words: 262

David got me a Kindle for Christmas (yay!) so that + traveling = lots of reading time. Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time is one of the first books I read. It's one of those books that I was vaguely aware of despite knowing nothing about it, so I downloaded a sample, which actually made me less excited about the book. (it made it look like a bit of a hagiography) But I bought it anyway.

The book is pretty good, mostly because the story it tells is pretty amazing. Greg Mortenson kinda stumbled into these projects of building schools (especially for girls) in very remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. I have a feeling that the book may be a bit sensationalistic and exaggerated, but even so it's a very inspiring read and shows what you can do if you're ridiculously dedicated to something to the exclusion of everything else in your life. After finishing I donated some money to his organization, the Central Asia Institute.

On pricing: apparently Amazon is trying to keep prices for Kindle books below $10, and this was $13 (so it has a snarky "This price was set by the publisher" note on the page). I don't mind paying $13 for an ebook, but it is a little grating to see that the paperback version is currently available for $7.

This is one of the relatively few Kindle books I have that can be loaned out (one time only for 14 days), so let me know if you're interested!


2010: the year that was
Mood: nostalgic
Posted on 2010-12-29 13:46:00
Tags: essay
Words: 465

Ah, 2010! Since I didn't graduate from college, move to Maryland, move back to Texas, buy a house, or get married this year, it seemed a little less momentous than usual. But most years from now on are going to be like that - no giant life-changing things will dominate, so I suppose I should get used to it.

But, stuff did happen! Such as:

- Two couples who are friends of ours got married (technically one was last December 31) - here are pictures:

- I released some paid apps for Palm smartphones. Two of these apps (LJ for WebOS, FlightPredictor) were featured in various Palm-y places, and FlightPredictor was a winner of the Hot Apps contest. In total, I made a few thousand dollars in prize money and sales, which isn't enough to make me quit my job, but still nothing to sneeze at. I spent a lot of time working on a bridge app, and there's still plenty of work to go on it. Relatedly, I attended the first Palm Developer Day in Sunnyvale. (day 1, day 2, day 3)

- I gained a bit of weight - the graph for this year:

All told, that's a gain of 4-5 pounds. Which is not terrible, but you know, not really the direction I was hoping for. (but at least I didn't give up all the gains of 2009...) I didn't try particularly hard, though, so I'm guessing my "set point" for weight is somewhere around 191 lbs. The goal of 180 remains distant, but I'm going to try harder in 2011.

- It snowed, briefly.

- Various house things: we planted a tree in the backyard which is still alive, got solar screens on our bedroom windows and replaced our A/C with a new efficient model, which has saved on energy costs.

- We took the new Austin MetroRail for the first time!

- I wrote incessantly about Don't Ask Don't Tell being repealed so hooray!

- I did a lot of traveling: we went to San Francisco and for work I went to Minnesota and Tennessee and Germany, which was exhausting but fun. (also: to New Hampshire for Christmas, but I haven't put pictures up yet...)

- This summer I took a lot of long lunches to watch World Cup games. Totally worth it! Landon Donovan's goal in extra time to send USA to the second round was ESPN's top play of 2010, and was fairly awesome to watch in real-time. Here's my final summary, complete with adorable tiny flags for countries. Fun World Cup stories: 1 2 3 4

- I reviewed a reasonable number of books.

- We did the tax center thing and the summer musical. I sang in a choir for the first time in a long time, which was fun.

- I wrote a few "essays".

Here's to a good 2011!


Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal passes!
Mood: astounded
Posted on 2010-12-19 18:25:00
Tags: gay politics
Words: 46

The vote to end the filibuster passed 63-33 and the bill itself passed 65-31. Nate Silver points out that its public popularity probably encouraged some Republicans to vote for it.

I can't believe it actually passed. What windmill to tilt at next? (oh, right, same-sex marriage...)


Quick DADT update
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2010-12-17 23:25:00
Tags: gay politics
Words: 64

After last time, things have changed. Harry Reid (bless his soul!) scheduled a vote on DADT tomorrow. The four Republicans who supported it then said they wanted a resolution to fund the government to be passed first. And then the Senate did pass something to fund the government for 3 days. So...looking good maybe? Hard to believe, but we'll see tomorrow. Cross your fingers!


Don't Ask Don't Tell update, and some fun links to make up for wall-to-wall DADT coverage
Mood: hopeful
Music: Zero 7 - "Destiny"
Posted on 2010-12-16 15:11:00
Tags: activism gay politics links
Words: 761

So, yeah, sorry about all the Don't Ask Don't Tell stuff. But hey, some neat links after that!

The big news: The Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal bill passed the house 250-175 which is better than the previous bill did. Apparently it now has at least 61 votes in the Senate, which is one more than is necessary. Now the question is whether a vote can be held in time before the recess. Here's hoping!

Senator Cornyn emailed me back about DADT; here's his response:

Dear Mr. Stoll:

Thank you for contacting me about current Department of Defense (DoD) policy regarding sexual orientation and military service. I appreciate having the benefit of your comments on this matter.

As you know, in 1993, Congress passed legislation to codify the existing military “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy, which governs homosexuals serving in the Armed Forces. This policy has served our nation well, and I oppose any effort to repeal it. The readiness of our Armed Forces must always be the foremost consideration in any decision regarding military personnel policies, especially as our troops are serving in harm’s way in two active theaters of conflict. Now is not the time to increase the level of stress on our force through such a dramatic policy change.

Moreover, as you may know, three of the four military service chiefs recently testified before Congress as to their clear reservations with repealing the policy at the present time. I believe that it would be a profound mistake to disregard the informed opinion of these military leaders, and I am deeply concerned by the blatant disregard that some members of Congress have shown to their concerns by including provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 (H.R. 5136; S. 3454) that would repeal this law. For these reasons, I opposed the motion to proceed to consideration of S. 3454, and I will continue to oppose the attempt to repeal the DADT policy.

The United States Government has no higher purpose than keeping the American people safe from harm. Our national security depends on the ability of our Armed Forces’ to maintain military readiness at all times. The linchpin of military readiness lies in maintaining cohesive units consisting of competent, fully trained personnel who share a sense of common purpose and confidence in their unit’s ability to accomplish its mission. Our Armed Forces recruit the finest individuals possible and help them develop into world-class Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines.

My father served in the military for thirty-one years, and I was privileged to grow up around men and women dedicated to protecting our country. As such, I remain committed to ensuring that our military is the best-trained, best-equipped force in the world and able to maintain a strong national defense. I appreciate your thoughts regarding current military policies, and you may be certain that I will keep your views in mind as these matters are discussed. Thank you for taking the time to contact me.

United States Senator

Comparing with Senator Hutchinson's response, it's interesting that he doesn't even mention the study the military conducted to see how repealing DADT would affect them! Instead he talks about "reservations" that three of the four military chiefs had...


- The ten best visualization projects of 2010. One thing that's missing is the Facebook friendship map, which is my new background at work. Here's a view of what's missing from the Facebook friendship map and why. (mostly other social networks that are popular)

- A long piece on income inequality and whether it matters. He makes a good point that the "inequality of personal well-being" is down compared to one hundred years ago. The second half of the essay is an investigation into the finance industry (where a lot of the very very rich come from these days) and ways to make them stop taking huge risks knowing that the government will bail them out. The depressing conclusion: we don't really know how. A response points out that although some things (big TVs, etc.) have gotten cheaper and more accessible, health care has not.

- "Homosexual activity" is illegal in Qatar, the host of the 2022 World Cup. The FIFA head honcho has a solution - gay people don't have sex there! And they got picked over the US...sigh.

- A great interactive map to explore Census data - similar to the city maps of race I posted a while back, but interactive and you can plot income, etc.

- A followup to the Peter Orszag leaving for Citibank story I posted before.

1 comment

Don't Ask Don't Tell, and some non-DADT things
Mood: content
Posted on 2010-12-13 14:34:00
Tags: activism gay politics links
Words: 477

As I guessed last time, it looks like the Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal's chances are not good. It's pretty disappointing especially considering that it's not going to get any easier with the next Congress.

I emailed my Senators about DADT, and Kay Bailey Hutchinson responded:

Dear Friend:
Thank you for contacting me about our nation's "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy. I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Officials from the Department of Defense previously testified before Congress that the current policy has served the military well. However, in recent months, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates publicly stated his support for repealing the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy, pending the results of an internal Pentagon review.

The internal Pentagon review report was released on November 30, 2010, and its findings indicated that the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" would bring about limited disruption to unit cohesion and retention. I respectfully disagree with the report's findings. I will not support a repeal of the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy. After speaking with military personnel and former leaders of our armed services, I remain very concerned about how repealing this policy could negatively impact unit cohesion and overall troop readiness -- especially during a time of war.

Our military has obligations around the world, including intensifying efforts to topple the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. I, along with many others, am concerned that a drastic change in the military’s "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy could hurt morale, recruitment, and retention at a time when our armed forces need to maintain a strong presence at home and abroad.

Please be assured that I will keep your thoughts in mind. I appreciate hearing from you, and I hope that you will not hesitate to keep in touch on any issue that is important to you.

Kay Bailey Hutchison
United States Senator

Her response is disappointing but not surprising. I'm at least glad that's she's reduced to disagreeing with a Pentagon report based on anecdotal evidence...

Other politics things:
- A good chart of taxes by type. Taxes haven't been this low since the 1950s! And they're getting lower, which seems unsustainable.

- Peter Orszag, who until recently ran the Office of Management and Budget for the federal budget, is now taking a job at Citibank. I agree that this shows a problem with structural corruption even though there may be no actual corruption going on here. But it sure looks fishy.

- Today, a federal judge ruled part of the health care overhaul to be unconstitutional, although what this means in practical terms is very unclear, even if it stands on appeal.

Other other things:
- The Atlantic (now officially My Favorite Magazine(TM)) is currently making money. Hurray!

- Due to a giant snowstorm, the roof of the Metrodome collapsed and let in a bunch of snow. Really crazy footage there! (an HD version available here)


Don't Ask Don't Tell repeals fails, but isn't dead yet
Mood: confused
Posted on 2010-12-10 10:12:00
Tags: gay politics
Words: 137

Senate Democrats (+ Susan Collins) failed to break the filibuster of the Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal 57-40. As Andrew Sullivan points out, repealing DADT is supported by the American public, the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the President, and the only reason it hasn't happened is because John McCain (who once upon a time said he would support repeal if the military chiefs did, which they do now) is filibustering it.

But, apparently (I've totally lost the politics at this point) DADT isn't dead yet - they're planning to introduce a standalone bill for repeal, which has to pass the House again, but Nancy Pelosi says it will. Of course this can still be filibustered so I'm not entirely sure why people think this result will different, but it's a tiny bit of hope before Congress adjourns.


tax cuts, Don't Ask Don't Tell
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2010-12-08 14:02:00
Tags: activism gay politics
Words: 239

President Obama cut a deal with the Republicans to extend all of the Bush tax cuts for two years (the Democrats had wanted to just extend the ones on the first $250K of income). In return, he got extending unemployment insurance for 13 months, cutting the payroll tax (a regressive tax) by 2% in 2011, boosts to some various tax credits that generally help low income families (Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, a credit for college tuition). Here are the details.

I understand how some people feel that this is terrible messaging on the part of Obama - the tax cuts above $250K affect the richest 2% of Americans, and they're generally not stimulative. But I think he got a decent deal given the hand that he was given, and the fact that Republicans were going to filibuster extending the tax cuts if they only covered income under $250K. From the Atlantic: 5 Ways to Look at Obama's Grand Bargain (which makes the point that a lot of these cuts will be stimulative) and A Good Deal for Democrats on Tax Cuts (admittedly written by a Republican).


Word on the street is that Don't Ask Don't Tell may come up for a vote tonight in the Senate to try to break the filibuster. Here's a list of swing Senators - please contact yours if he/she is on this list! You can follow along with coverage at AMERICABlog Gay today.


pretty cool link friday
Mood: happy
Posted on 2010-12-03 11:38:00
Tags: links
Words: 149

- Striking RC plane video of NYC, including closeups of the Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty. Best of all, no one was arrested!

- A very detailed post on Pac-Man ghost behavior, including the description of a bug. I found the description of the ghosts' "personality" interesting.

- Beautiful HTML5 ad for a iPhone app - scroll down!

- The Daily Show slams John McCain for supporting Don't Ask Don't Tell. Honestly, I've lost all respect for John McCain. If you're always and forever going to support Don't Ask Don't Tell, just say so, instead of constantly changing your story to hide behind another very thin line of reasoning.

- 23 and me is having a big sale, although apparently now you have to sign up for a subscription service ($5/month sounds pretty reasonable though).

- Bruce Schneier says we should close the Washington Monument as a symbol of how much we've overreacted to terrorism.


Repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell!
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2010-12-01 11:17:00
Tags: activism gay politics
Words: 231

The Pentagon's long-awaited survey on Don't Ask Don't Tell came out this week - you can read a summary here or see the full Pentagon report. Basically, it found that most servicemembers don't care one way or another and there's little risk in repealing DADT.

The House has already passed repeal, and so it's a race to get the Senate to pass it before the end of the year. Here's a list of Senators that are pivotal - especially if you're in one of these states, please drop a quick note to your Senators urging them to vote for repeal. Here's how to get in touch with your Senators. And here's the quick note I wrote to mine:

Now that the Pentagon study has been completed regarding Don't Ask Don't Tell, I would respectfully urge you to vote for repealing the policy. The study shows that for the majority of troops it makes no difference who they're serving with, and requiring gay and lesbian servicemembers to lie to stay in the military opens them up to discrimination and blackmailing. For the sake of fairness, equality, and national security, please vote to repeat Don't Ask Don't Tell!

In related good news, the Illinois House of Representatives passed a civil unions bill, and the governor is in support, so it just has to pass the state Senate. Here's hoping I can turn another state green!


just some links: movies, money, voting
Mood: frustrated
Posted on 2010-11-29 16:21:00
Tags: politics links
Words: 126

Animated Films for Grown-Ups - I really liked Spirited Away, and I think I need to watch more of these.

The best investment advice you'll never get - surprisingly interesting article wrapped around "index funds, not managed funds".

What Voters Really Care About - I'm not sure how trustworthy the results are. (since it's easy to ask this question but very hard to see how it would play out in practice) Still, it surprises me that "cheating on taxes" is worse than "convicted of violent crime"! And "homosexual" only makes it slightly less likely to get votes, except for Republicans. (and "believe in evolution" is pretty negative for voters over 65...)

XKCD strips classified by topic - good excuse to go back and view my favorites again, like this one!


German math problem
Mood: geeky
Posted on 2010-11-20 23:39:00
Tags: math
Words: 992

As I mentioned during the Germany trip recap, visiting Allianz Arena inspired a math problem. Here it is!

Allianz Arena is home to two German soccer teams - Bayern München (hereafter "B") and TSV 1860 München (hereafter "T"). Let's assume there are 2n weeks in the season, and one game per week, and half a team's games are at home and half on the road. Presumably B and T would have to work out who gets to play at home which week, but let's say they didn't and just randomly picked which weeks they play where. What is the expected value of the number of "conflict weeks" - i.e. both B and T are scheduled to play at home?

My first step was to try this out with n=1. Then you get the following possibilities (here I just show just the weeks the team plays at home):

Week 1TBTB
Week 2BTTB
# conflicts1001

So the expected value of the number of conflicts is .5 for n=1.

Now, I took a guess at what the expected value was in general. As a rough guess, each team has to choose n weeks, so you might expected about half of them to overlap. But it seemed to me that once you do have a conflict week, the chances of another one would go down (since you've "used up" one game from both teams), so I thought it might be a bit less than n/2.

So - onwards to discovering the answer! It seemed fairly easy to write this out as a recurrence relation with the following parameters:

c(w,b,t) = expected number of conflict weeks if there are w weeks in the season, b home games for B left, t home games for T left.
Base cases: c(w,b,0) = c(w,0,t) = 0 [no games left for one team means no conflicts]
c(w,w,t) = t and c(w,b,w) = b [if one team has to play all their games in the remaining weeks, however many the other team has left is the number of conflicts]

And we write the induction step by looking at the first week:
c(w,b,t) for 0 < b,t < w is:

(w-b)/w * (w-t)/w * c(w-1,b,t)[chance that b and t don't play a game this week times what happens for the rest of the season]
+ b/w * (w-t)/w * c(w-1,b-1,t)[chance b plays a game this week and t doesn't]
+ (w-b)/w * t/w * c(w-1,b,t-1)[chance t plays a game this week and b doesn't]
+ b/w * t/w * (1 + c(w-1,b-1,t-1))[chance both play a game this week, so the expected value goes up by 1]

This looked correct, but was a little discouraging because it seemed very not obvious what an explicit formula would be. But it was easy enough to code a quick Python script to get a hint to what an answer would be.

The results were highly suggestive: c(2,1,1) = .5 (this is the case we worked out by hand above), c(4,2,2) = 1, c(6,3,3) = 1.5, c(8,4,4) = 2, c(10,5,5) = 2.5, etc. So it sure looked like c(2n,n,n)=n/2.

But I really wanted to prove it, but dealing with this kinda ugly recurrence relation didn't seem like the way to go. Also, this seemed like a combinatorial problem and it seemed like there should be a nice combinatorial way to express c(2n,n,n).

After some thought I came up with a good way of thinking about it. Let's say without loss of generality that B's home games are the first n of the season. Then you're just choosing T's home games and seeing how many overlap with the first n. This leads fairly naturally to the explicit formula:
c(2n,n,n) = (sum_{i=0}^n [(n choose i) * (n choose (n-i)) * i])/(2n choose n)
Here i represents the number of conflicts, and the chance of getting that many conflicts is the same as choosing i games in the first n weeks of the season (which will be conflicts), and the remaining n-i in the second n weeks of the season. In total, you're choosing n weeks out of 2n, which is where we get the denominator from.

This didn't seem like a huge improvement at first, but we can actually simplify this a lot. First of all, (n choose i) = (n choose (n-i)), so we get
c(2n,n,n) = (sum_{i=0}^n [(n choose i)^2 * i])/(2n choose n)
Now, notice that (sum_{i=0}^n [(n choose i)^2]) = (2n choose n)). The right side is the number of ways of counting choosing n objects out of 2n choices, and the left side is the same - first you choose which i are in the first half, and then which (n-i) are in the second half (since (n choose i)=(n choose (n-i)). So this will help out in a minute.
Now let's consider two cases:
Case 1: n is odd, i.e. n=2k+1 for some integer k.
Let's just look at the numerator of c(2n,n,n) and split it up in half to get
sum_{i=0}^k [(n choose i)^2 * i] + sum_{j=k+1}^n [(n choose j)^2 * j]
Here we can pair up i's and j's that sum to n - since 0+n=n and k+(k+1)=2k+1=n, this covers all of them. Since i+j=n, then (n choose i)=(n choose j), so we'll end up with
sum_{i=0}^k [(n choose i)^2 * i + (n choose i)^2 * (n-i)], or
sum_{i=0}^k [(n choose i)^2 * n]
Now we can unsplit this back into the i's and j's, giving n/2 to each side to get
sum_{i=0}^k [(n choose i)^2 * (n/2)] + sum_{j=k+1}^n [(n choose j)^2 * (n/2)]
which simplifies down to
sum_{i=0}^n [(n choose i)^2 * (n/2)]
(n/2) * sum_{i=0}^n [(n choose i)^2]
Since we showed above that this sum is equal to (2n choose n), this means that
c(2n,n,n) = ((n/2) * (2n choose n))/(2n choose n) = n/2, as desired!
Case 2: n is even, i.e. n=2k for some integer k.
This is the same as the previous case, except we have the additional value i=k which doesn't pair up with anything. But, the value that we're summing for i=k is ((n choose k)^2 * k) and k does equal n/2, so it reduces the same way!

In short, I love combinatorics!


back in the US links
Mood: tired
Posted on 2010-11-17 14:12:00
Tags: links
Words: 106

- A Post-Apocalyptic Tour of the Abandoned Six Flags In New Orleans - very creepy. You can read more about Six Flags New Orleans on wikipedia. Which seems a little redundant, as you can read about _anything_ on Wikipedia, but there's a handy link :-)

- Why, despite the fact that it looks amusing, I'm not going to see the movie Megamind.

- Warren Buffett gives the government a thumbs up for saving the economy a few years ago.

- Here's a clip of amazingly bad soccer in the quarterfinal match of the 2010 Asian Games.

- Did you know you can specify floating point numbers in hex in Java? I did not.


Germany trip recap
Mood: tired
Posted on 2010-11-16 23:28:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 2932

Pictures here:

Full recap behind the cut:

Monday 11-8 11:40 AM (local) Frankfurt
I'm officially 2/3 of the way to Hamburg! Flight from Austin to Charlotte was unventful other than it being on a tiny cramped plane. The Charlotte airport was a nice surprise (since I had 4.5 hours to spend there). I walked the whole thing (no small feat), enjoyed a fresh yogurt parfait, read for a long time, then had dinner at a Cuban place where I saw the NY Giants (my weekly football pick) were dominating. Ordered a steak sandwich, which was heavy on the steak and gave me some stomach issues...

The plane to Frankfurt was a little disappointing. The video entertainment options were pretty good, but you needed a $5 headset or your own pair of the two-pronged headphones (where I swear are designed to be incompatible with every other headphones). Since it was getting late anyway, I just read for a while and tried to sleep, mostly unsuccessfully due to the ridiculously small legroom (after I put my backpack there) and the aforementioned stomach issues. By the time we landed I had already gotten through 2.75 books "today" which is pretty good!

I knew I had a tightish connection (1 hr 20 mins on paper), so I rushed through the airport as best I could. In Austin, the checkin agent said my bag was checked all the way to Hamburg, so I skipped it, stopped to get gouged at a currency exchange booth (Google said 1 USD was around .7 EUR and I got .57...) and went through Immigration. The guy asked a total of zero questions (I guess I don't look suspicious!) and I had nothing to declare so that all went pretty fast.

Then I realized I was out in the main airport and would have to go back through security. Also, I didn't yet have a boarding pass. So I walked all the way to my terminal, cursing my hurriedness and uncomfortableness at taking picture in a foreign airport (giant railroad-style display with >100 flights! A checkin booth for Iran Air!), found a kiosk and got a boarding pass. Then I wondered whether I did need to recheck my luggage to Hamburg or what, but I asked a Lufthansa checkin person and she assuaged my fears.

Made it to the gate with time to spare, although not much. Frankfurt is a huge airport!
I feel a little bad for not brushing up on German more than the very basics. Totally wasn't a problem so far (even the inflight magazine is in German & English!) but I do feel a bit the ugly American, so at least I try to act ashamed!
Although, later when the guy with the food cart comes by:
Me: Water Him: <something that sounds a lot like German>
Me: <Gesture helplessly> I don't speak German (in halting German) Him: OK, what language do you speak?
Me: ...English <confused> Him: <acting offended> We are an international airline
Me: <feeling bad, making excuses that it's hard to hear> Water Him: Ice or no ice?
Me: No ice.

And then, with God as my witness he pours me a Coke. I'm not sure what lesson to take away from this...

3:00 PM
Part of what I like about traveling is the unfamiliarity and disorientation of being somewhere new. However, when I've had three flights already and am pretty jet lagged, these become more intimidating than fun. Managed to make it to the hotel, though, so that's something.

soo tired, write tomorrow

Tuesday 9:00 AM
Yesterday I managed to find the NI folks at the hotel. Not having cellphone access is very debilitating! I had hoped to stay up and then go bed early (to beat jet lag), but I found out we had dinner reservations at 8. So I had some time instead to roam around Hamburg while it was still light.

The hotel has WiFi, but you have to sign in and for some reason I couldn't get my phone to work with it. So I decided to go on a mission - find tea, find WiFi so I could check email/let David know I had arrived, and some Rolaids.

I'll spare you the gory details, but this mission was a miserable failure. WiFi was everywhere but it was all protected, and I didn't see any coffee shops that said "Internet" on them. At one point I could see nine different protected networks! After a long time I gave up and did at least get some hot tea and sat inside to warm up - it's in the 40s after the sun goes down.

Stumbled back to the hotel after getting a little lost, and lugged my laptop downstairs (no WiFi in the room :-( ). Thankfully I was able to chat with David and check email. When I went back to the room I noticed that the voltage converter I bought only has two prongs so I can't plug my laptop into it. Not quite sure what to do about this since I have very little free time until Friday. Hopefully the next hotel's WiFi will work on my phone.

Dinner was nice - everyone was very friendly and we chatted a lot. Also, everyone's English is very good, which reinforces the "ugly American" feeling. Oh well. For Tuesday-Thursday the plan is to check out of the hotel, give the presentation (which is roughly 9-4 - my part is 11-11:20), then pack up and go to the airport - hence the lack of free time. Hamburg does seem like a nice city - wish I had more time!

Afterwards we walked back and went up to the hotel bar, which was very nice but I was dead tired by this point. Collapsed in my room at midnight for 7 hours of sleep, which is still a big upgrade!

This morning I dragged myself out of bed, checked out and went up to the presentation room, which is very nice:
I do get three nice LabVIEW shirts out of this. The theme of LabVIEW 2010 is "It's about time", so right now they're having an audience quiz and rewarding correct answers with LabVIEW-branded alarm clocks! Unfortunately it's all in German, so not only do I not understand but it makes me feel more awkward about my English presentation. Hopefuly it goes well!
I just got introduced (with everyone else). I hope he said nice things!
My presentation went pretty well. That was the most relaxed I've ever been giving it in front of people. I got a lot of good questions which is usually a good sign. Apparently I need to talk slower, though.
Knocking on table=applause!
Whoa, this plane has a row 13! I'm surprised we didn't crash.

Wednesday 9:00 AM

We arrived in Düsseldorf (the most German of the cities I'll be in because it has an umlaut! München doesn't count because it's Munich in English) and got a minivan taxi to the hotel which managed to fit all 8 of us with luggage. Arrived at the hotel at 7:30 and started setting up, which unfortunately took until 9 or so, not that I was able to help much. By that point I was hungry, and we went to dinner at the hotel. I had been doing well sleepwise up to that point, but I started to crash hard during dinner, and even got a bit of dizziness which I hope is just a jet lag thing (it happened Monday night as well). I bugged out around 10:30 and went up to the room, was able to connect to the internet and chat with David and check email. I then wanted to charge my phone (used it to work some crossword puzzles yesterday!) but had misplaced part of my voltage converter which took me twenty minutes to find since I was so tired. Went to bed watching the same UEFA Champion's League highlights (soccer) I had watched Monday night.

I did not sleep well - the room was too hot (the thermostat was...confusing) and the pillows too soft and the bed too hard. I guess I'm kind of a picky sleeper. But I felt decent when I woke up, made myself a cup of tea and headed downstairs.

The breakfast buffet was amazing - I took pictures!

Meats, cheeses, yogurts, mueslis, pastries, and (most importantly) tea! I held myself to two bowls of yogurt with various mueslis and fruit on top. Sooo good.

- I had a dream last night that someone walked into my room, smoked a cigarette, and left. About half of the NI folks here smoke, and at least one used to but quit.
- Voltage converter has been working great, except the American side of the plug has no ground, and my laptop has a grounded plug. Today I'm going to borrow a plug to charge it, but it would be nice to have a more permanent solution.
- My allergies have been quite bad - tea in the morning helps (I quickly learned the German for "tea" is << tee >>), but today I have a headache. Also, I'm tired again...
- Getting through security 10 minutes before boarding = "just enough time for a beer!" Excellent.
- Speaking of which, Lufthansa has free beer and wine!

Thursday 9:00 AM

Another late night - after setting up and dinner we walked to a local Berlin biergarten and had three pitchers of a local beer (Berliner Kindl = very good!)
It was nice to at least see a little of the city, as opposed to Düsseldorf of which I only saw the airport and hotel.

Looking forward to arriving in Munich tonight - already have at least one meeting set up on Friday to talk about work stuff.

Hopefully the jet lag is done - yesterday I crashed in the early afternoon. Probably getting more sleep would have helped, but when am I going to be in Berline again?

Apparently 21 years after the Berlin wall fell, you can still tell the difference between East and West Berlin.

Yesterday's presentation went well - I tried to speak slower and pause more, which took concentration, but hopefully people understand better. People seem to feel comfortable asking questions/talking to me during breaks, which is good.
It's kind of intimidating when everyone else's introduction is a name and position, and then they get to me and I get a minute of quickly spoken German, during which the audience smiles knowingly at me. Still don't really know what was being said...

Friday 7:30 AM

Boy, I finally get to sleep in and I'm unable to sleep past 6. My jet lag seems to bounce around randomly...not sure if this will make it easier or harder to adjust back.

Session went well yesterday - people seemed to understand my part better and I got a lot of good questions. Funny story: someone set one of the alarm clocks we gave away to go off at 11:11, which apparently is the official start of Carnival, it being Nov. 11 (which lasts until Ash Wednesday...weird). They had discussed doing this to all the alarm clocks when we were at the biergarten, so I was surprised it actually happened!

At the Berlin airport I had a currywurst for dinner, which is a sausage covered in curry powder served in a tomato-y sauce. It was delicious! And now I've had beer and sausage here, so I feel like I've "done" Germany :-)

After breakfast I'm going to head into the office - I was going to walk there but it's a bit far so they recommended I take a taxi. But it looks like it's close to an S-Bahn station, and so is the hotel, so I think I'll try that.

I'm in Munich now, which I guess I didn't mention. Very glad to be done traveling for a day or two.

Saturday 10:00 AM

Yay I slept in today! Feeling much better with the timezone, just in time to leave.

Yesterday I did take the S-Bahn in to the NI office, which is very nice. Spent most of the day working and being surprisingly productive. At lunchtime I gave my presentation again for a group of ~15 AEs, which seemed to go well. I also threw in some stuff about how we test LabVIEW at Andreas's request - apparently some of them grumble we don't test at all, which is so not true. Not sure how this part went over exactly...

Came back to the hotel and hung around all evening - was feeling pretty tired and blah. Had Thai food at the restaurant next door to the hotel which turned out to be connected to the hotel, but it was still pretty good.

Today I'm going to hit the Deutches Museum which is very large and and takes two days to go through, so I'll just pick the neat stuff. Then maybe the city center or something.

7:00 PM

Kind of a weird day.

I took the S-Bahn to the Deutches Museum and when I got out there were a lot of police just standing around. Nothing was going on as far as I could tell, and I first thought maybe this was normal, but I could see at least 50 officers stationed on corners, etc. Anyway, I couldn't figure it out (and was unsure about taking a picture), so I walked to the museum.

As soon as I got in (after I had bought a ticket) I realized that I had been here before when my family visited Europe right after college. Dang it! So I walked around to the stuff I wanted to see, but fairly quickly, especially since only 25% of the displays were translated into English. Oh well...

So I left the museum much earlier than planned, and when I walked back towards the S-Bahn suddenly there were a lot of police cars blocking the road, and even more police.
There was a group of people between the cars, and police in front of them. But the street was empty, except for more police down the street. At first I thought they were blocking off the street, but someone asked if he could cross and they let him. So I hung around and eventually some people walked down the street heavily flanked by police, and the crowd around me started whistling and chanting "Nazis out!" (or maybe "Nazis auf!") So I think it was a Neo-Nazi rally or something - crazy! I left pretty quickly since it seemed things might get ugly.

Then I decided to visit the Allianz Arena which is where Bayern Munich and TSV 1860 München play soccer. They have some shops that are open even when there are no games, although it turns out there weren't that many, but I got some nice Bayern Munich memorabilia. :-) It also led me to think about an interesting math problem...details to follow. (update: here's the problem with solution)

After that I decided to randomly explore the city - I've had mixed success with this in the past, but being well-rested and having some idea of where stuff is seems like a recipe for success, which today was. I went to the main train station, sat down for a bit and had a snack and read (the Kindle was awesome for this - very light in the backpack and easy to hold food in one hand (far away!) and "turn pages" with the other). After walking around the stores there some more I decided to head back to the hotel for a break before supper.

For supper I headed to the central bus stations, which had some shops but nothing particularly appealing, so I found a local place, which is where I am now. The all-day pass on the S-Bahn really paid off!

Sunday "midday"

Well, I'm finally on my way home. Between the jet lag and lack of sleep and constant plane flights, it feels a little surreal to be headed home. Just finished Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die which was good but creepy and not helping with the surreal feeling.

Pretty impressed with this plane - this time there's only one headphone jack so I can actually use the entertainment system. Watched a Simpsons episode during lunch, and they also have a music section so I'm listening to some Glee and some Gaga which are good reading music. Plus you can see where the plane is/how long until arrival which is very convenient since I don't have a watch.

Right now is supposed to be a "rest period" which confuses me since we left at 11:55 AM Munich time and are arriving at 3:25 PM Philadelphia time. Think I'm going to stay up when I can and sleep if I get tired. Switching time zones confuses me.

The woman sitting next to me said I was in her husband's seat - apparently his passport was stolen and the embassy doesn't have an appointment until Thursday. One of the flight attendants has been sneaking her free headphones, etc. I feel a little justified in being paranoid about my passport all week - I carried it around with me because I wasn't sure if I needed it if stopped by the police, but I've had bad luck with losing things from my pockets (see: San Francisco trip)
The plane to Charlotte also has a row #13 - what happened to the proper respect for dangerous numbers?? The flight attendant announced the flight time as "1 hour, 19 minutes and 32 seconds", and no one else giggled. Pretty sure that's 3 significant digits too many.

Wow, that was more words than I thought.


two new neat web things
Mood: cheerful
Posted on 2010-11-05 16:27:00
Tags: reviews
Words: 116

NewsBlur is a very cool new RSS reader. It imports from Google Reader (which makes it very easy to try out), lets you read either the original site or the RSS feed, offers a classification trainer for which stories you like/dislike, and lots of other goodies. I've officially switched over to it from Google Reader and I'm liking NewsBlur a lot. It's also open-source and the developer is very responsive on Twitter. A premium account is $12/year, which is really ridiculously cheap. Give it a shot!

Workflowy is...a little hard to describe. It's a good way to make lists and keep track of a lot of things but not be overwhelmed. But it feels like fun!


pre-German links
Posted on 2010-11-04 11:51:00
Tags: links
Words: 209

I'm going to Germany next week! Looks like I'll be busy with work stuff, but hopefully I'll have some time to see some sights.

- An off-duty police officer in NYC foiled a robbery by shooting the gunman's revolver out of his hands, which is something you're probably told not to do but is really effective if you can make it work.

- Speaking of people being good at their job, check out this goalie's mad dash back to defend his own goal. If he's really that fast, why isn't he playing a position that requires more running? (or maybe he's just better rested - it is the end of a 90 minute game...)

- Speaking of sports and other hobbies, the Austin Comic Con is coming up next week, with Billy Dee Williams, Adam West, Burt Ward, and Lee Majors. I didn't know we had a Comic Con!

- Speaking of things that make me happy, the rumor mill is suggesting there might be an even better Palm phone coming out next year on Sprint. Please please please!

- Speaking of things that interest me to the point of obsession, a psychologist suggests some tips on being happy: buying experiences instead of things, buying many small pleasures instead of big ones, and so on.


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