Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Excitement at the Finlay Pad

So we got a snowmobile yesterday. I'll post some pictures this weekend.

We're not snowmobilers - in fact, I find it mildly embarassing to own a snowmobile. We got it to pull our three boys (on skis) up the prodigious hill on our property. When we get a proper snowfall (today's was ruined by rain at the end) we'll post some videos of the boys skiing down and getting pulled back up.

But here's the point: regardless of whether we're snowmobilers or not, it's damn fun. Show me a man who does not have a smile on his face while driving a snowmobile, and I'll show you a man who is either dead or not a man.

Update: Here it is, ladies 'n germs:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Apple's Growing Antipathy for the Consumer

Those of you who know me understand that I am a strong warrior in the fight for open standards, and thus the fight against Apple. I just hate Apple's use of proprietary file formats, hardware, software, etc.

I am usually content to vent my frustrations with Apple verbally when I come upon some unsuspecting Apple-lover like an academic or artist (or, more recently, an iphone devotee).

But now my frustration has bubbled over, and I cannot contain myself on these pages. It seems that Apple has applied for, and the patent office has granted Apple a patent on snappy new ways to navigate touch screens such as flipping and pinching. See here for details.

Well, I've been flipping and pinching things for about 41 years now, so I fail to understand how that technology can be owned by Apple. The audacity of this project is simply stunning. Who do they think we are? I'd like to take Tim Cook and wring his neck. Steve Jobs would qualify for like treatment if he were not so ill.

This will continue to be in the news over the next several years as Apple tries to protect its "IP" through the courts, and thus to guarantee itself billions of dollars of profits (and, conversely, billions in excess cost to the consumer). If people only understood how much actions like this actually cost them, there would be more warriors on my side of this battle, and those ads on TV would not be considered quite so cute.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Laws of Physics - They Still Work!

You’ll all be pleased to know that the Laws of Physics are still in full force and effect. The particular law which I was able to confirm tonight is Newton’s lesser known but still dreadfully important Fourth Law of Motion: “The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall.” The venue for the experiment which confirmed the continuing existence of this law was our backyard while sledding with my three boys in a snowstorm.

Christian – only seven but still the daredevil of the group – had been standing on his sled like it was a snowboard. At times, he could stay on the sled all the way to the bottom of the hill. Neither of the other two tried it at all, given the scant snowcover and forbiddingly frozen ground.

Father, though, would not be outdone, especially infused with a dollop of liquid courage from the recent cocktail hour. I stepped on my sled, carefully schussed over the edge, and made my way down the hill.

I found myself going much faster than anticipated and, perhaps not surprisingly, the sled shot out from under me at the bottom. I fell hard on my left side, and my knee dug into the gravel driveway. Pain shot through me, and I shouted and curled up in the fetal position.

From the top of the hill, Walker – oldest and steadiest of the bunch - yelled “I told you, Dad.”

I couldn’t even answer him the pain was so severe. I did manage to stand up and hobble about for a minute, rescuing a small slice of dignity in front of my three kids. I cursed under my breath. I finally danced around for a while and managed to work out the kinks. It allowed me to continue sledding, but I know that I did some damage.

I’m sitting here now in front of the computer, occasionally rubbing my bruised and swollen knee. I’m reminding myself that Newton was a pretty smart guy, and that I should think twice the next time before trying to test another one of his laws.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Book Review: The Black Swan

I just finished reading the Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

The book is about the disproportionate effect on our world of highly improbable events, and the difficulty of predicting those events. The name comes from David Hume's observation that many generations of Britons' only seeing white swans was not proof that there is no such thing as a black swan (which do, in fact, exist).

I found the book very disappointing. It started out with so much promise; I looked forward to reading all sorts of anecdotal stories of these so-called black swans, and about the disproportionate effect on our world.

Instead, what I got was a 300 page diatribe by one statistician against all the others in the world who disagree with him, punctuated by an occasional gratuitous insult of the French.

After enduring several hundred pages of personal stories about the author's quest to make his statistical theories known (which are not quite as controversial as he would make you believe, by the way), finally in Chapter 15 it seems that he will get to the meat of the matter. Unfortunately, even though the next three chapters were laden with graphs and figures, I encountered no such explanations. Or, if there were any, they were muddled at best.

Even the anecdotes were disappointing. I was excited to start reading about a great vindication of his - the collapse of LTCM in 1998 (which was run by several of his statistical nemeses) - expecting to find a wonderful explanation of what went wrong, and all the financial turmoil which resulted. Instead, he simply stated "it went bust." Duh.

I have no idea why this book has been so highly touted. Perhaps it is because it came on the heels of 9/11, and just before the credit turmoil which started in 2007. But it's not worth your time.