Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Conference Realignment

College football has now aligned itself to five major conferences of 64 teams:

SEC 14
PAC-12 12
Big-10 14
Big-12 10
ACC 14
---------
64

On the football field, the SEC is the clear champion, in terms of on-field performance and attendance. The ACC is the laggard of the Big-5. (Though it is pretty good at basketball.) Looking at football attendance as a barometer for school programs, there is a clear separation of the "big-5" conferences and the "little-5".
The top 50 major teams are all independents or in major conferences. The bottom 35 teams are all in "minor" conferences. The Big-East was always a borderline AQ conference in the BCS. With all the poaching that has been going on, it is now very clearly in the "lower tier".

Are there many big-5 conference teams that shouldn't be there? There are not many teams that are in big conferences, yet are not in the top 64 in attendance. Duke, Northwestern and Vanderbilt are all the "academic" powers in their conferences and are located in major media markets. Duke also has a pretty impressive basketball record TCU's attendance numbers are an aberration due to stadium construction. The most recent attendance would put them closer to the 50s. (They are also sitting in the #5 media market.)

This leaves Washington State, Wake Forest, Baylor and Syracuse as the outliers. Baylor and Syracuse are "right on the border" of being top 64. Baylor also has Texas politics to thank for its position in the Big-12. They both have pretty good basketball programs. This gets us down to just Wake Forest and Washington State as "questionable". Both have had a pretty ugly recent history in football. However, they both have been long term members of their conferences and have well established rivalries.

What changes would you make? Notre Dame and BYU are the two big outliers in the "have nots". Notre Dame already has a non-football membership with the ACC and an in to the "big bowls". (They also have a current "BCS automatic inclusion" clause, but they didn't need to use it due to being first in the standings.) Notre Dame's attendance also exceeds that of all ACC schools. BYU is trickier. The Pac-12 would be a logical place, geographically and attendance-wise, but there are some politics involved. A Big-12 partnership may also make sense.

Beyond the independents, there are no "slam-dunk" options. South Florida is #52. However, it tends to draw a local Tampa audience. Florida State (ACC) and Florida (SEC) both draw from the entire state. Low-caliber academics would exclude the Big-10 or Pac-12. It could be an option if the Big-12 decided to make a run for Florida. However, the quality of the overall sports program lags behind other schools.

East Carolina is in a somewhat similar situation. Geographically, they would fit in the ACC. However, the conference is already loaded with North Carolina schools. East Carolina would lag behind many in academics and non-football sports. SEC lacks schools in North Carolina. However, East Carolina could probably not compete well with the SEC schools. Another Big-12 option?

Connecticut seems like an ideal expansion target. They are in an untapped market (and they could probably claim part of the New York City market also.) Basketball is excellent and football has spurts of quality. Academics are also decent (but lack of AAU membership would turn off the Big-10) AAC would be a logical place to go. However, you get the impression that the AAC is waiting for somebody to get poached before grabbing UConn.

At #61, Central Florida has the same problems as South Florida. At least Orlando doesn't have a pro football team. Hawaii at #63 is in Hawaii. Its a nice vacation, but it is a long way out there. Academics would also be an issue. After that you get Air Force, Fresno State, Navy, UTEP and Boise. Perhaps the national audience of the service academies would appeal to a conference. (The ACC could look at Navy to replace the Maryland market.) Fresno is an academic lightweight in California's central valley. The Pac-12 wouldn't dare go near, but maybe the Big-12 trying to break in to California? (Though of late, #76 San Diego State is out-drawing.) UTEP is in El Paso, which is pretty much the middle of nowhere. Boise has had a lot of football success and is in a growing city.


"Non-Big" Outliers
Notre Dame - 15th in Attendance
BYU - 27th in Attendance
South Florida - 52
East Carolina - 55
UConn - 60
Central Florida - 61
Hawaii - 63
Air Force - 65
Fresno State - 67
Navy - 70
UTEP - 71
Boise - 72
Cinncinnati - 74
Army - 75
San Diego State - 76
Southern Miss - 78
Memphis - 80
Houston - 89
Marshall - 82
New Mexico - 83

"Big Conference" Outliers
Duke - 84
Washington State - 79
Northwestern - 77
Wake Forest - 73
TCU - 69
Vanderbilt - 68
Baylor - 66
Syracuse - 64
Indiana - 62


source: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0ArFVbThT6eb5dHNFUmEyc19DTDJEc25BcVRwOWQzWWc#gid=0 or https://twitter.com/ArtDirectorBYU/status/197162017482743809

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress


The moon is an oppressed penal colony. With the aid of a supercomputer, some residents plan a rebellion. A lot of time is spent discussing the details. Through some chance events, the revolution gets started. Then they attempt to be recognized by earth. Their "recognition" comes in the form of an attack. They defeat the invaders, and launch an attack on earth. After this attack, earth countries recognize the moon's independence as legitimate.

While the plot can be easily explained in a paragraph, the real purpose of this book is for Heinlein to describe his libertarian philosophy. The moon society operates largely without formal laws. The experience as a colony with limited control has lead the residents to act in their best, societal interests. Family structure involves complex, multi-generational families. While there are no formal marriage laws, the structure dictates what can be done. Similarly, other "crimes" are often punished by elimination rather than formal rules.

Heinlein sees government as an entity that usually mandates what had previously been permitted. Instead, he would like for government to create a constitution dictating what the government could not do, rather than what it could do. Its those "do-gooders" that keep trying to inflict their will on others that cause all the problems.

It makes anarchy seem nice and dandy. However, the revolution could only be carried out with the help of a quasi-sentient computer. The computer rigged the elections, "made speeches", launched the missiles, and pretty much did everything else that needed to be done. It seems that what Heinlein is really after is a "computeraucracy". Luckily, Heinlein's computer seems to disapear as soon as the revolution is "won". Philip K. Dick has written similar stories about computers that "control" the life of humans long after the battle is over. Alas, that would have ruined Heinlein's libertarian utopia.




Thursday, November 22, 2012

Zero history

A plot set in modern times. Twittering and iPods. Vulgar language. Something about copying clothing and military fashions.
And really nothing to make it worth reading.
Nueromancer has been on my 'list of books that I want to read' for some time now. However, after reading Zero History, I think I'll remove it.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Star Trek (2009)

Hmm. This seems to be a simple formula. Take some popular old movie with a built in audience. Fill it with a young cast and make sure it has plenty of action.
Thus we get Star Trek, stripped of most of its Geekdom, and made in to another teen movie.
Like many "reboots", this one is an "origins" movie. It follows Capitan Kirk and Spock as they are young kids who find there way to the USS enterprise. We also see many of the other Enterprise Crew (such as Scottie) as youth. Does this origen fall in line with what is in place with the other movies and TV show? It doesn't matter. Conveniently, the opening of the movie is a time traveling Romulan ship that appears and ends up leading to the death of Kirk's father, right before Kirk was born. History has been altered, so the the movie is free to do whatever it wants.
This Romulan mining ship saw the destruction of its world. The captain is mad at Spock because he wasn't able to save the world. So, he drills to the core of Vulcan and drops something to destroy Spock's world, while forcing Spock to watch. Then he will try to destroy earth. And that and the time travel paradox is about all the science you have. Not much here in area of nerd fest. However, we do have lots of fist fights. Kirk gets beat up, choked, and falls multiple times in the movie. If he were a football player, he'd be forced to sit out the rest of the season. So much for using modern technology.
While a Trekkie would probably tell you this is not "real" Star Trek film, the movie itself is not all bad. It is fairly engaging, though the characters do appear a little flat, with the plot turns seeming to be forced rather than following naturally.

Ghost

Two lovers are walking home one night when the guy is murdered. He ends up as a ghost. He discoers that a cat can see him and that a psychic and hear him. He tries to the girl that he saw the murderer stop by. Eventually he finds out that one of his coworkers was laundering money and that the murder has just an attempt to get the banke codes. So, we get a lot of action, and eventually, the ghost learns how to move items. This comes in handy when chasing the bad guys. We get another dose off action and some strange "love" scenes. It all makes for nice escapism. As for deep meaning? Well, maybe you should say you love somebody before its too late. Or perhaps, don't be a bad guy so you are not taken away by demons? The whole "ghost" thing is fairly confusing. (Good guys can't "really" die until they have the bad guys that killed them die?) Oh well, its just supposed to be escapism.

Zues and Roxanne

A dog and some dolphins. Do you even need a a plot to have a popular kids movie? The plot has someting to do with some scientists, some kids and some adults getting together. There is some hokey ending where a woman gets trapped in a little submarine and a man goes to rescue her. (Why didn't he use one of the scuba tanks? And why did she try to open the lid?) Oh well, it makes for some drama. The real point of the movie is all the dolphin and dog shots.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

How Markets Fail


This is another analysis of the general factors that caused the economic collapse of the late 90s. It provides a general history and critique of "Utopian" economics and shows other case studies where markets failed to provide the correct outcomes. Sometimes, an entrenched player has network effects that prevent a market from working properly. Markets are also controlled by an indirection, where a herd mentality prevails. If you bet contrarion and lose, you are fired. If you go with the herd and lose, then nothing happens. Similarly market gains can be had by predicting what people will do, not necessarily what the underlying businesses will perform.
The book provides critiques for numerous other aspects of the efficient markets hypothesis.

Alan Greenspan gets a lot of criticism for his policies. The monetary policies during the housing boom were set excessively low for the current financial conditions. This, along with government policies to encourage homeownership (especially among minorities) helped to further fuel the bubble. On top of this came the moral hazard of those giving the loans not being responsible for their long term health and you have a huge bubble. (I recall a friend who went in to mortgage brokerage work during the bubble. He didn't like dealing with people with "real money". He got much better commissions for exotic loans to people that should not be able to afford what they were getting.) Instead of letting the market work things out, the FED was creating some of the moral hazard itself. The book presents thoughtful analysis, even acknowleging that it is much easier to see the problems in hindsight.

Hulk

The Hulk is a very different movie than some of the modern comic book movies like Dark Knight or Spiderman. Instead, it seeks inspiration from the likes of the old Batman TV show. Instead of a Dark, brooding scores of other movies, we get a light, yet ominous score. Rather than hide from its comic book origin, the Hulk embraces it. From the opening credits, to the scattershots, this one feels like a comic book.

However, is this a good thing?

The "lightness" of the movie makes it more difficult to be engaged. Sure there are some big action scenes, but you feel that these are mere bullies fighting. You don't feel a strong attachment to the outcome.

The relationship between Bruce Banner and the "token love interest" brings back memories of King Kong and the girl. The big green monster cares for the puny girl. But its hard to feel much fear or involvement in their actions.

I did like the style of the movie. However, it didn't quite fit the content. Hulk is a dark, scary figure. The style Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon would have been better suited for this movie. Perhaps that's what the producers were expecting when they picked the director.

Nanjing Metro

The Railway Technology site has some information about the Nanjing Metro. Though, I'm not sure how much of it you can trust. They obviously didn't fact check the Nanjing city information. (Second largest city in China? Hmmm, does that mean that only one of Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Hong Kong is bigger than it? I don't think so. And it also says that it is 1 kilometre away from Beijing... Hmmm. Maybe a kilo-kilometre. But this is major digression.)

Yesterday, on going up towards the Yangtze River, we saw plenty of construction on this new 3rd line. It goes through an area that is fairly run down. We saw some places where walls had been knocked down, and nothing put up. However, there are some new construction towers replacing some single-story dwellings, so things may be prepping for the new line. (Nearby, there is also one neighborhood that looks like a "Chinatown". Imagine that, a chinatown in China.

The existing metro line is pretty well done. They have a lot of the "little" features that make subways nice. The stations has displays of the next few oncoming trains. The inside of the train has little signs showing the current stop and the next one. The stations also have maps of the local area with all the exists shown. I find the numbering of the exists especially useful. At some stations, the numbering goes past 20. It is nice to be able to say. "Go to stop X, exit Y" and be able to find the exact location you want. The platforms have floor-to-ceiling "gates", making it impossible to end up on the platform if there is no train there. The escalators slow down to a crawl if nobody is there, but then speed up when you step on. (this saves energy, but still lets you know what direction it is going.) All in all, it is a well designed subway. It will be nice to see if they complete the entire metro blueprint.


Getting from Shanghai Pudong to Nanjing

Nanjing is a big city in China - just not big enough to get direct flights to the US. (Though there are flights to Frankfort Germany.) A typical option is to connect through another Asian hub. You may be at the whim of the schedules. (Right now, you can theoretically connect on Asiana in Seoul to go from Nanjing to San Francisco - as long as you want to spend a day in the airport.)

Beijing offers frequent connections to Nanjing. However, the Air China and United planes from the US to Beijing do not provide the greatest flight experience. (They are old!) Cancellations seems to be frequent on Beijing-Nanjing route. (However, you can take a 4 hour high speed rail ride from Beijing to Nanjing.) Also, the two terminals in the airport are a long bus ride away. I thought I might have boarded the wrong bus, as we seemed to go through a neighborhood before we got to the other terminal. Air China and United are in one terminal, while China Eastern is in another. China Eastern has lots of flights to Nanjing, while the other two have many flights to the US. (Air china also has some flights to Nanjing, but they tend to be the most cancel-happy.)

I prefer to fly in to Shanghai. United flies more modern planes on the route with better timings. There are also multiple options for getting to Nanjing.

The options:

1) Plane. You can book one-way from China Eastern for as low as 100 RMB. If you book from major travel sites (like Expedia) it will probably be greater than $150 one way. Unless you are traveling on a SkyTeam Airline (like Delta), you will probably be transferring from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1 for this flight.
There is only one flight per day, currently leaving at 9:30pm and arriving Nanjing at 10:30pm. It is a small plane, so larger carry-ons will probably need to be checked. (Though, they do occasionally "buckle" the carry-ons in to empty seats.)
The Nanjing airport is a ways outside of the city. If you take a car into the city, you can probably expect to arrive a little before midnight. There is also a bus, but it may be a close call to catch it from this flight.

The return flight from Nanjing to PVG currently leaves at 8:00AM.

2) Train
There are frequent high speed trains from Shanghai to Nanjing. At times there can be a high speed "G" train leaving every few minutes. However, you have to be careful when looking at schedules. There are two main high speed stations in Shanghai and two main high speed stations in Nanjing. Some of the high speed trains run nonstop, while others make a number of stops (nearly doubling the travel time.)
In Nanjing, Nanjing station is on the old station on north side of town. It is closer to the city center. Nanjing South is big gleaming new station on the south side of town. In Shanghai, the Shanghai station is the crowded old station in the center of town, while Hongqiou is the big new station next to the domestic airport. All stations in Shanghai and Nanjing are on metro lines. While there are trains between all the stations, most trains from Hongqiou go to Nanjing South, while most from Shanghai go to Nanjing. The fastest G trains take just over an hour, while the ones with the most stops are almost 2 hours. There are also slower trains and "overnight" trains that are even cheaper. High speed trains tend to run around 6am~9pm. You do have to watch the internet because there seem to be a lot of "bogus" or outdated schedules out there.

Once you decide on the station, you need to get there. There are numerous discussions explaining how to get there.
Here are a few that I have used or seen:
From PVG, you can go down to the Airport bus level and get a bus to Shanghai Station of Hongqiou airport/train station. 30 RMB ~ 1 hour. The airport has well-labeled signs directing you to the airport buses. Then you can stand in an island next to the bus number. (There is also a chart in the airport explaining where the buses go.)

The cheapest way is to take the metro from the airport. <10 RMB 2 hours to Hongqiou. You just take line two all the way. (Though you have to transfer from a smaller train to a larger one at one stop.) To Shanghai station, it is a little shorter, but requires an extra connection. (It can be confusing to figure out which way to go on the loop line.)
For the true "Shanghai" experience, you can take the Maglev, and transfer to the metro. This shaves some time off the trip, but it does make the 180MPH of the high speed trains seem slow.

You can buy train tickets at the ticket counter. If you don't speak Chinese, you can probably still get them to show you a list of trains just by saying "Nanjing".

In Nanjing, if you arrive before 11:00pm, you can take the metro. It is about 2 RMB to most destinations (it is a little more if you go further)

Drafts cleanup

I've been cleaning out the 'drafts' queue of the blog. Thus, there have been about a gazillion posts coming out. Some of the drafts were nearly complete, and just had not been published. Others had the start of some thoughts. I tried to finish up the ones that I could while, some were left in a somewhat "incomplete" stage. (Its hard to remember your reaction to a book you read a year ago!) I will try to get things published quicker so I don't run in to it again.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises is ostensibly a superhero movie with Batman. However, he only makes a few token appearances. You could got out a few of those scenes, and it is just a dark gangster movie. The big bad guy can be hard to hear at times, but he is bad and strong. He gets people to follow him. They proceed to kill and maim people in the name of "liberating" them from the oppressors. Some people like this because that allows them to start doing the oppression. Batman eventually saves the day.

This is not as good as the previous Dark Knight. Parts of it seem to drag on for too long. (You could probably cut out an hour and still have a good movie.) It does have a good ending, and the supporting characters (such as Anne Hathaway) are well developed and add a lot to the film.

Oops, forgot to start the movie

We had gone to see Kung Fu Panda 2 at the dollar theater. (Well, actually $5 theater - this is Silicon Valley). The theater was filled with families and kids. The "you are waiting" adds were playing. Then the start time came. The adds were still playing. And still playing. Finally, somebody went out to tell the movie theater personnel.

Oops! Sure enough, they had forgot to start the movie. It was promptly started. Now if only they would give extra snacks to make up for everything consumed while waiting....

"Make everyone miserable" retail development

The Sacramento area seems to have a thing with making retail developments as inaccessible as possible.


View Larger Map

The Woodland Gateway shopping center has big long roads whose only purpose seems to be to get people to drive more. The only entrance is on the west side. However, the main big-box retailers are situated on the far north and eastern sides, behind a big parking lot. Now if you switched the stores to the east side, you could still have the big parking lots, and car accessibility would be similar. But it would make things much more accessible for pedestrians.

An irony is that they do attempt to be some pedestrians facilities in, but make them very unusable. There are your typical sidewalks to nowhere, and one sided pedestrian crossings. If a resident of an apartment complex across the street from In n Out has a hankering for a burger, he would need to go on a long detour, because they chose not to put an official ped crossing there. (Though they would probably be safer with the illegal median crossing.)

You would think that all this inconvenience for pedestrians is the name of making it convenient for cars. But alas, you would be mistaken. To get to the In-N-Out, they would need to go down to the intersection and make a U-Turn. (Or slog all the way down towards Costco and around.) Getting out is more problematic. Medians block most of the logical ways, forcing you to make a right turn on to the main street. Ok, you think you can just make a u turn? You would be mistaken. The next few streets are signed no U-turn, forcing you to cross over the freeway and go a ways out of the way just to turn around to get back home. The other alternative is to go way out of the way back to costco (but make sure you don't hit a median).

I had thought this was just one aberration in bad shopping center design. But alas, this is not so. We stumbled across Notomas crossing in Sacramento, which has a similar layout. The design principle seems to be:
1) Set retail as far as possible away from people, thereby preventing pedestrians from accessing.
2) Funnel all cars through a single chokepoint, thereby increasing congestion and making it more annoying.
3) Limit options for cars. You don't want them to think. They need to go on a the long route to ensure they don't do anything bad.
4) Put up lots of grassy medians and trees to give it a faux-natural look - and help others to conform to the approved behavior.

If the shopping center is so evil that it needs to be drastically separated from the surroundings, why build it in the first place? And if cars cannot be trusted to make simple turns, why allow them there at all? Why not just provide a bus for everyone? (That would keep all the cars out for you.) But, who would expect rationality in zoning? Instead, we have have blind NIMBY appeasement, with everybody worse off.

The Adjustment Bureau


The Adjustment Bureau is an organization that makes sure that people "conform" to the proper behavior. They do this by encouraging minor events that change chance encounters. (Such as spilled coffee.) If for some reasons, that doesn't work, they intervene themselves. (But they threaten a brain wipe if you dare try to tell anyone about them.) A typical PKD story. The movie seemed pretty good, but I fell aslepp during a chunk of it.

Iron Man



Comic book movies are popular today. Perhaps comic books are akin to the serials of days past.
As the first Iron Movie, this one spends time covering the origin of the super hero. Tony Stark is a playboy genius who owns a large arms manufacturer. He is nearly killed, but saved with s special implant. Some terrorists ask him to help build is super-weapon for them. Instead, he builds his iron man suit to destroy them. He gets away and attempts to make his company peace-loving. However, the bigwig in the company who had organized the original hit is still after him. Eventually there is a big Iron Man fight, and everything is good. Tony is supposed to give an alibi at a press conference, but instead admits that he is Iron Man.

The story is ok. There is some love interest thrown in, but it is really about action and technology. While superheros of the past were often portrayed as getting their powers through some fluke. Today, they tend to have more scientific explanations. IronMan, already being fairly scientific, can be even more so today. The science is just plausible enough to make all the action work. Tony Stark is an "ok" character who grows in the story, yet still seems a little shallow.

Nanjing

Today, we attempted to tallk a walk to visit some old Nanjing walls. From the map, we just needed to head east on Zhongshan road. We would pass a view of the metro stops, and then make it there. So, we headed out on Zhongshan, saw a few metro stops, but then got to train tracks. Huh? Well, it turns out, we were at the intersection of two Zhongshan roads. The one we wanted was "Zhongshan East Rd", but we were on "Zhongshan" road. D'oh! Since we were already far north, we decided to continue and ended up heading towards the Yangtze river.

We walked along a road where they are building a new subway line. At first, we ended up in an industrial port area. No good view there. So we walked through a neighborhood that actually looked Chinese (instead of "Chino-western"). Then we got to the area under the bridge. We saw a lot of people walk towards the river bridge, so we started to walk. We were told that we needed to pay 15 RMB. (Though it looked like only 7 on the sign.) We still saw lots of other people just walk through, so it seemed a little weird. They did tell us we could walk out another way to the river. As we were walking out, a lady told us that we could just walk around and enter at another entrance without paying. The Chinese approach to rules. We walked around there and saw a bunch of people going through that entrance. At the end of the street we found a place where we had a great view the river without going through the park, so all was good.

On the way back, we followed the train tracks. At one time there was a set of stairs to climb up to "something" (a train lookout and guard?) There was a little back path that lead down, that eventually took us back. At the top, we tried to ask a guy for directions. He told us it was a long way, and we should go back by the bridge and take a bus. At least, we think that is what he said. We were in a walking mood, so we just continued walking. (We also were not sure what bus to take or even how to take it.)

On the way back, we stopped at some streat vendors. I got some doughy-taroy thing that was priced by the kilo and way to expensive. (I'm sure I was ripped off.) Then there was some spicy fried (on the spot) meat and vegetables that were really cheap and good.


In Taiwan nightmarkets, I've had 西瓜牛奶 (Watermelon milk) which is a sweet smothie concoction with ice, milk, watermelon and some secret "stuff". 木瓜牛奶 was the papaya version, and equally yummy. So, I tried to hunt it down in Nanjing. I finally found it at drink shop in Nanjing. It was suspiciously under "healthy drinks". However, I was still ready for something yummy. Alas, they took it really literally. It was simply papaya and milk, lightly blendy (thus, chunky.) Not the filling drink I was hoping for.

Illustrious Dead



Illustrious dead is a nice history of the Napoleanic Invasion of Russia with an emphasis on the role that disease (especially typhus) played. It also has plenty of background on how typhus works and is caught.

From the intro, I thought it would focus on the disease. Instead, it presents a chronology of Napolean's Russian campaign, spending time to emphasize how typhus was a prime factor in Napolean's defeat. The Russian leaders were portrayed as largely incompetent generals who mostly got lucky. Napolean's army was one of largest assembled. This lead to some logistical problems. However, more critical was the dying off that occurred, mostly due to typhus. Typhus spreads via lice. War provides the ideal situation for them to spread, as it keeps people in close quarters under harsh conditions. Typhus and cellular mitochondria arose from a common ancestor, and have both been around for millions of years. Typhus has been very resilient through years adapting just enough to survive without causing too much damage. Today, it can be treateted with antibiotics or a vaccine. However, it still is prone to third world epidemics.

The book strikes a nice balance between war and medical history. Without the disease Napolean may have taken over all of Europe. Without Malaria, he may have taken over all of America. How would the world be different today if it were not for the diseases?

Friday, November 09, 2012

Memrise

I have been using the Memrise website for foreign language learning. It allows you to "plant" words and grow vocabulary. For chinese it allows you to practice both characters and pronunciation. It is currently in beta, but it works pretty well. (I actually like the beta version better than the "preview" 1.0 version.)

It is best for learning new words. When trying to review words that you learned outside of memrise, you have to go through a slow learning process. (However, this does work well for words that you learned a while ago and have forgotten.)

Red lights bikes sunnyvale

Ugghh. It is annoying when a road has a bike symbol painted on it, yet it doesn't actually trip the light. (Or even more annoying when it trips the opposing red, but then doesn't trip your green.)

How do you resolve?
1) Provide feedback when a light will turn green.
2) Always provide green lights (fixed time cycle). This benefits bikes and pedestrians.
3) Do the Idaho and let bikes run red lights.
4) Have a button to press.

In some cases, there are buttons, but they are usually pedestrian buttons. And the rage is to have only one crosswalk at less-busy intersections (precisely the ones that bikes and peds like to use!)

Making the sensors too sensitive can be a problem.  There are some intersections that trip a turn light, even though cars are in the opposite lane. D'oh!

The old-fashioned timed lights would probably be cheaper, and nicer for everyone, as long as they are timed decently.

Feedback could be a good solution, especially at some of the annoying long lights. (But, why not just make them less long.)

Sunnyvale has, alas, been going backwards. At the intersection of Mary and Fremont there used to be a button to press. Now there is a bike symbol on the pavement. Alas, this is right where right turning cars go. If you go there with a bike, you are likely to either annoy cars, or have cars try to turn right in front of you. If you don't go there, you may not get a green light.  A lose-lose situation.



Selected Short Stories of Philip K Dick



Philip K Dick short stories are popular fodder for movies. He has an innovative mind, and explores bizarre situations that have some relevance to the current life. This collection had a few stories. Alas, it has been a long time since I started to write this, so I can't remember some of my original thoughts, but here we go.


Electric Ant
Novelty Act - jug blowing, furry animal make feel good. When you get by with a crutch, you also get in trouble when it leaves.
The Last of the Masters (aka Protection Agency) - ruled by "company" of robots. They try to do whats best for people, but that isn't what the people want. Oh, and their usefulness expired years ago.
A Little Something for us Tempunauts - time Travel closed loops
Progeny
The Exit Door Leads In
The War with the Fnools - I think these were people-like things that infiltrated earth.
The Preserving Machine - a shoe?

God Wills It!: Understanding the Crusades

Understanding the Crusades gives a history of the crusades. There were a bunch of ragamuffins that needed something to do. There were some relics of an old empire that needed some help. So, a bunch of people went out on a looting expedition, or something like that. While we often read about multiple crusades, it was really more of a continuous effort of people seeking to better themselves through conquest and church indulgences.

Football 2010

And in the name of cleanup, here is the old football post from the 2010 season.  Some of the same teams are around here, but the conferences have changed a lot.

Pac-10

Oregon - They have been decimating opponents. However, they have only faced one good team (Stanford). The remaining games are all against teams with legitimate bowl expectations. If they win out, they should see a nice boost in computer rankings and human rankings. However, winning out could be a challenge. The Ducks should be favored in the remainder of their games. They tend to play well at home; however, road visits to Oregon State and USC could be especially challenging.

Big-12

Oklahoma - The Sooners blew out Florida State and Iowa State. All the other games have been close, whether against good teams like Air Force, or not-so-good teams like Utah State. They have only left Normon twice this season (against so-so Cincinnati and the Red-River rivalry against Texas. Unfortunately, their two biggest games remaining are on the road against Missouri and Oklahoma State. It is hard to know what to make of them. However, if they win out, they should be legitimate.

Missouri - They beat San Diego State thanks to a botched call. Other than that, their showcase victory is an opening victory over Illinois. The next two weeks they will be underdogs against Oklahoma and Nebraska. Win those and they should show up on the BCS radar. However, they would still have to beat Kansas State and the Big 12 south champion to have a shot - and hope some other teams lose.

Oklahoma State - Like Missouri, the Cowboys have beat up on a lot of mediocre teams. (The marquee non-conference game was a nailbiter against Troy.) The next two weeks get Nebraska and Kansas State. They also have games against a now rejuvenated Texas and the closer against Oklahoma. Like Missouri, they face long odds of making it unscathed through the season - and then they have to hope for some falls above them.

Big East:
Um Yeah. Maybe if every other FBS team has 2 or 3 losses, the one win West Virginia may make it in...

ACC:
Florida State is the only team with an outside sliver of a chance. The chance looks a little better than West Virginia's, but not much.

WAC:
Boise State should be looking good. Their biggest danger would be letting their guard down in a game. The trip to Nevada in late November should be the biggest challenge (and hopefully provide a computer boost.) Fresno and Hawaii should not be disregarded, and the "final" trip to Idaho could unleash some venom. However, the biggest challenge may be overcoming a "WAC bias"

Mountain West:

Schools Tragedy of the Commons

Grant School in Los Altos once had over 800 students. It has since been closed. Many of the students go to West Valley or Montclaire schools.
West Valley also has students from the former San Antonio school and Serra school.
Serra school is still owned by the school district. West Valley is overcrowded and filled with portable classrooms.

The school district had built neighborhood schools when there were young children. When they grew up, the schools were shut down. Now that the next generation is coming, rather than opening schools, the district is packing more people in to each school.
Parents are complacent.  At first kids would walk to school. Then a few parents drove their kids. This was easier for them to do on their way to work. Then more parents started driving. Since parents were driving, it didn't matter where the schools were located. So the old schools shut down, and parents simply drove to a different location. Now it was too far for many kids to walk. Parents had to drive.

Lovely.  just lovely.

Today, schools want kids to get more exercise. They want less traffic at the schools. Yet they have created an environment that fights against both of these.

An unfortunate tragedy of the commons.

Darth plagueis



Darth Plagueis takes place before "Phantom Meance". Plagueis is the Sith mentor of Darth Sideous, who would later become Emperor Palpatine. He works hard to overcome death. But in the end, he is defeated by  his own apprentice, right before he becomes chanecelor. When you live by the duplicity,  you die by it also.

Attack of the clones

Attack of the Clones is the "love story" interlude in the second Star Wars trilogy. In the novelization, there are a number of details that help clear up some early parts of the movie. The movie is not as operatic as the final film, but instead contains a lot of action that sets up the final showdown. The duplicity of the emperor is in full force.

Amerika


Amerika was written by Kafka, yet it comes across as much more traditional style. A young man gets in to trouble in Europe and is sent off to America. He luckily runs in to a relative, and is able to get a good position. Then he alienates the relative and heads west to attempt to make it on his own. America is the land of opportunity.

Freefall


Stiglitz writes an "I told you so" book criticizing the factors the people and policies that lead to the great recession of the late 1990s. He selectively remembers his critiques of the policies, and implies that if people had just listened to him, everything would be better. There are some interesting insights in here, but he does get off topic and spend a little too long trying to "grind his axe".

Stolen Globe and a new bike

On my first day at work, my bike was stolen (sniff sniff). My 2005 Specialized Globe had a few thousand miles on it and was showing its age. The fenders were beat up and in need of replacement, and the drive train and bottom bracket just about had it, but it was my baby. I guess that's what I got for parking it outside with only a cable lock.

Apparently, I had not learned. A few years later, I parked my wife's Breezer bike outside a high school for night class. After class, the bike was gone, but I did see a snipped lock. D'oh!  Now I stick with U locks.

flex code

I am not sure what this was....  But its been sitting in my drafts for 3 years. Its some code in flex to handle some biological experiment data.


<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<mx:Application xmlns:mx="http://www.adobe.com/2006/mxml" viewSourceURL="srcview/index.html"

layout="absolute"
height="100%"
backgroundColor="#cccccc"
backgroundAlpha="0"
horizontalAlign="left"

verticalGap="15"
horizontalGap="15"
initialize="getData( )"
width="100%">

<mx:Script>
<![CDATA[
import mx.rpc.events.ResultEvent;
import mx.rpc.events.FaultEvent;
import mx.collections.ArrayCollection;
import mx.controls.Alert;
import mx.utils.ObjectUtil;
[]

private var experimentData:ArrayCollection=new ArrayCollection();
private var publications:Array=new Array();
private var cites:Array=new Array();
[]

private var buckets:ArrayCollection=new ArrayCollection();
private var zbuckets:Array=new Array();

private function getData():void

{
trace("getData");
var params:Object=new Object();
params.gn='RV2429';
params.raw='2';
trace(ObjectUtil.toString(params));
dataResultService.send(params);
trace("after calling the service");
}

private function onRawResult(event:ResultEvent):void
{

var text:String=event.result.toString();
for each (var row:String in text.split(/\n/))

{
var cells:Array=row.split(/\t/);
if (cells.length > 4)

{
var exptsetid:int=parseInt(cells[6]);
var exptid:int=parseInt(cells[0]);
var fullSite:String;
var pub:String='';
//var pub:String = '<a href="/cgi-bin/data/prd.pl?e='+exptid+'">';

                        if (publications[exptsetid])
{
pub=pub + publications[exptsetid];
fullSite=cites[exptsetid];
}

else
{
pub=pub + "Unpublished experiment set";
fullSite="View experiment set information for unpublished experiement set";
}

//pub = pub + "</a>";
                        var zb:int=parseInt(cells[1]);
experimentData.addItem({exptId: exptid, zbucket: zb, mbucket: parseInt(cells[2]), abucket: parseInt(cells[3]), exptName: cells[4], category: cells[5], cite: pub, fullCitation: fullSite, lograt: parseFloat(cells[7]), intense: parseFloat(cells[8]), z: parseFloat(cells[9])});
if (!zbuckets[zb])

{
zbuckets[zb]=0;
}
zbuckets[zb]+=1;
}

else if (cells.length == 2)
{

var pattern:RegExp=/\).*$/i;
var exptset:int=parseInt(cells[0]);
var ps:String=cells[1];
cites[exptset]=ps;
ps=ps.replace(/\).*$/, ")");
publications[exptset]=ps;
}

}
// calculate the buckets
                for (var i:int=0; i < zbuckets.length; i++)

{
if (zbuckets[i])
{
buckets.addItem({zscore: i, count: zbuckets[i]});
//trace(i,zbuckets[i]);

                    }
}
trace("data loaded");
}

private function faultHandler(event:FaultEvent):void

{
trace("badness" + event.fault.faultCode + " , " + event.fault.faultString);
Alert.show(event.fault.faultCode + " , " + event.fault.faultString);
}

]]>
</mx:Script>
<mx:HTTPService id="dataResultService" url="http://www.stanford.edu/~jhubble/sampledata.txt" resultFormat="text" result="onRawResult(event)" fault="faultHandler(event)"/>

<mx:HBox>
<mx:Panel resize="true"
title="Histogram"
layout="horizontal"

color="0xffffff"
borderAlpha="0.15"
width="600"
height="600"
paddingTop="10"

paddingRight="5"
paddingBottom="10"
paddingLeft="5"
horizontalAlign="center">
<mx:ColumnChart id="bar"

height="100%"
width="100%"
color="0x323232"
columnWidthRatio=".97"
showDataTips="true"

dataProvider="{buckets}">
<mx:horizontalAxis>
<mx:CategoryAxis categoryField="zscore"/>
</mx:horizontalAxis>

<mx:series>
<mx:ColumnSeries yField="count" xField="zscore" displayName="Significance (Z-Score)"/>
</mx:series>

</mx:ColumnChart>
</mx:Panel>
<mx:Panel title="Experiments"
layout="vertical"
color="0xffffff"

borderAlpha="0.15"
minWidth="500"
paddingTop="5"
paddingRight="10"
paddingBottom="10"

paddingLeft="10"
horizontalAlign="center">
<mx:Label width="100%" color="0x323232" text="Experiment List."/>

<mx:DataGrid allowMultipleSelection="true"
allowDragSelection="true"
id="dg"
color="0x323232"

width="100%"
rowCount="20"
dataProvider="{experimentData}">
<mx:columns>

<mx:DataGridColumn width="15">
<mx:itemRenderer>
<mx:Component>
<mx:CheckBox label=""/>

</mx:Component>
</mx:itemRenderer>
</mx:DataGridColumn>
<mx:DataGridColumn dataField="exptName" headerText="Experiment Name"/>

<mx:DataGridColumn dataField="category" headerText="Category"/>
<mx:DataGridColumn dataField="lograt" headerText="log ratio"/>

<mx:DataGridColumn dataField="intense" headerText="intensity"/>
<mx:DataGridColumn dataField="z" headerText="significance"/>

<mx:DataGridColumn dataField="cite"
textDecoration="underline"
dataTipField="fullCitation"
headerText="Publication"

width="180"
showDataTips="true">
</mx:DataGridColumn>
</mx:columns>
</mx:DataGrid>

</mx:Panel>
</mx:HBox>
</mx:Application>

Some JavaScript Tools

Angular.js - looks like a promising framework for javascript application development and templating. However, is still going through some early development hurdles. Today, however, I am leaning towards backbone.js, whcih seems to have some of the functionality without the overhead of a complete framework.

Raphael - a vector graphics utility. Uses SVG or VML for IE compatibility.

On top of it, you can find the ICO library of g.raphael.js

Green Metropolis

Green Metropolis touts New York as a great environmental success story. In spite of many large structures, New Yorkers use far less energy per capita than residents of any other American city. In environmental discussions, much time and effort is spend on small programs, like LEED building standards and improving gas mileage. However, a far larger bang for the buck can be achieved simply by increasing density. The irony is that many people would love to live in these more dense cities, yet policies actively counteract these desires. Zoning regulations and car requirements make walk-ability difficult to achieve. Even attempts at "new urbanism" still keep car availability as primary focus.

This is a must read for any environmentalist. While "going back to nature" may make a person feel good, they are not doing much to help out the overall environment. Going back to the city is the true way to sustainability. Then those suburban tracts could be used for good viable farmland.

El camino brt zoning and car dealers

Santa Clara county was pursuing a Bus Rapid Transit lane from Santa Clara to Palo Alto. Sunnyvale opted out because it wanted to maintain parking for car dealers on El Camino. You have to wonder, why do car dealers even need street parking? Don't they have huge parking lots as is? But it just goes to show where the priorities are. Cars=king. Everything else is just subservient.

This is similar to other quests to get bike lanes at the expense of parking. It does not matter if off street parking is only used at 50% of capacity. Those extra on-street parking spaces must be maintained. Even then, the city still mandates a minimum of 4 off-street parking spaces for single family houses. There is no way to win.

I wonder how things would be different if people had to pay for the externalities? If meters were places on the street, would the spaces still be in such high demand? What if meters were placed there and any shortfall had to be made up by the residents? And pollution and traffic congestion? Buses are slow and expensive. Cars are cheap and have no "immediate" costs. Well, duh! Cajoling wont make people change. Lets actually make things better so that there are real options. Of course that is not what the car guys wants, and they seem to have a hold on things.

War And Peace

War and Peace is a long book. I tried listening to the BBC dramatization that "only" lasts about 10 hours. It was tough to keep all the characters and events straight. I guess that is why it is such a long book. It takes place in Russia along the times of the Napoleonic invasion. Society is greatly altered both on the individual scale as well as the public scale. And the rest is just details...

Dodsworth

As a youth Dodsworth sees a future in automobiles. He rises to become a wealthy car company CEO. His kids get married and he sells the company to a larger auto company, he leaving he and his wife free to reinvent themselves in Europe On the trip over, they make a European friend. They meet other friends who think that Mrs. Dodsworth is much longer than her age. First, she is absolutely distraught that one man would dare attempt a relationship with her. However, she later enters in to a relationship with a European and asks for a separation. Meanwhile, he is longing for some of his old companionship and business interests. However, in meeting with other expats in Europe, he observes that they are all neither European nor American but just "expats" with their own culture. The quest for difference has not turned out well for the couple, and they find themselves fabricating stories to maintain the illusion of contentedness.
So much for the attempts to "buy" happiness.

Empire of Gold

The Empire of Gold is a set of lectures on the history of the Byzantine Empire. While at the time, it was considered to be the Roman Empire, the Eastern empire adopted its own culture. It is somewhat ironic that the roots of the destruction of this empire lay in the Crusades. The very Christians that were sent to help the Roman empire actually helped lead to its destruction and the eventual conquest by the Muslim Turks.

The Dream of Perpetual Motion

The Dream of Perpetual motion is an erudite, weird, modern fantasy, science fiction book. It can be difficult to determine what is exactly happening. There is a rich guy. He has a daughter. He also pretty much owns the world. He has a birthday party for his daughter. He later gives the participants the "thing they most want." One day he decides he will destroy the world. Or maybe just scare the people. He is entombed in a zeppelin, to be woken up a long time later when the world is a better place. The zeppelin is powered by a perpetual motion device that may involve his daughter. But it is losing its ability. Eventually his plug is pulled. But that's not important. It many be fore the best. The anticipation of something is almost always better than the actual event. The feeling right before the first kiss is the best. Thus, by having his plug pulled, he can now have as his final memory the anticipation of his future.

Anticipation can be better than the actual end result. The modern materialist society makes obtaining anything so easy that we have lost some of the jot of this anticipation. In this novel, Palmer takes it to an extreme. While the novel can be a little long and disjointed, it does take "anticipation" to the extreme.

Destiny Disrupted

Destiny Disrupted is an easy to read history of the Muslim world. It starts with the pre-Muslim Arabia, goes through the life of Muhammad, the spread of Islam after his death and the conflicts within the religion. While Islam of today is often seen as ultra-conservative and stifling of free thought, many people in the early times converted because of the freedoms that it offered. Islamic rulers tended to grant greater religious freedom than other rulers. They were also more advanced in technology and science than Europe of the day.

How did this great society eventually fall so far behind the Europeans? Did government lose its traditional values? Or did the religious leaders become too attached to "tradition" thus impeding the innovation that was needed to succeed?

Elmer Gantry

Elmer Gantry was the "popular jerk" at his school. He was good at athletics. He had leadership position because he told people they had to vote for him. He didn't have friends. In spite of going to a Baptist school and being raised by a very religious mother, he had little need for religion in his life.

However, the people of the school worked on him, and he discovered that he really liked preaching better than studying law. So, he was "converted" and entered the seminary to begin preaching. Things seemed to be going alright. However, he would occasionally slip in to his old ways with women and drink. He was able to get out of one quandary with an astute plan. However, on a train trip to a preaching gig, he fell in to drinking, and missed the gig entirely, resulting in his expulsion. He did some sales for a while, but eventually found his way back to preaching, got married, and then worked his way up to a high position. Then, his dalliances with a girl nearly led to his downfall. Luckily, he was able to dig up some dirt on her, clear his name, and lead the American moral crusade.

Elmer struggles with his carnal urges throughout his life. In spite of his many character flaws, he can be a power of moral persuasion in the lives of many people. He seemed to grow over the course of the novel. At first he was just doing something that was fun. Later, he found that he had a real strength in preaching. He even set personal goals of cleaning up some of his bad behaviors. That he failed to live up to his own expectations is a sign of his humanity. His upward trajectory showed that he could keep improving.

This book was extremely controversial on its release. The rap was that Lewis was portraying preachers in a negative, hypocritical light. While that may have been his intention, the result is a book that shows that success can happen even in spite of character flaws. Religious leaders may be justly held up to a high standard of morality. However, they remain people with their inherent flaws. Athletes may get back in shape after they gain a few pounds in the off-season. Similarly, preachers can still be great if they succumb to moral temptations. The message of "repentance" applies to themselves as well as others. It is almost a pity that these have to be hidden away rather tan made public as an example for everyone else.

In Elmer Gantry, Sinclair Lewis has created another one of his timeless characters.

Gates of Fire

Gates of Fire attempts to make history "come alive" by novelizing the Greek battle of Thermopylae. Unfortunately, it does so by attempting to inject 20th century vulgarity in to the life B.C.-era Sparta. It just doesn't jive together. Instead of making the Spartans seem like real, modern people, it just makes them feel like modern frat boys acting out. Perhaps it just needs an editor to clean up the book, and shorten the tedious parts. Then, it may just be the root of an appealing story.

Will in the World

Will in the World attempts to be an "accessible" biography of William Shakespeare. It does a fairly good job at it. However, it becomes more tedious as the book progresses.

Shakespeare is portrayed as a fairly ordinary guy who grey up in Elizabethan England. His family would probably be considered "upper middle class", but they may have encountered some hard times. Out of this, Shakespeare managed to learn to read, married young, and then went off to be an actor and a playwright. He had some success in his life, and was able to retire in his home town.

There are some details about his life here. However, there is not quite enough to make "Will" come alive. He seems to be a recluse that valued his privacy. Even this attempt at making him a real person, still feels like an academic biography.