Bingo in Bridge

Bad news: Flight from Syracuse to Chicago got canceled (snow). Jet Blue can get me to NYC and then I can fly home tomorrow morning. However, the Jet Blue flight itself is delayed by 3 hours.

Good news: The Syracuse airport has free Wi-Fi. I am whiling away the time by playing on Bridge Base. Even won my first Bingo in bridge. This was my Bingo board:
As you can see, I did it the hard way, making two small slams. This was the second. I got a heart lead, so the play was a cinch. (pull all 4 trumps and discard 3 spades on two diamonds and the good heart).

The lab's network connection is featured in an ad at Chicago O'Hare

Who knew NOAA was prestigious enough that a tech company would brag that NOAA was running their technology?  This ad that I saw in Chicago O'Hare is about nWave, the high-bandwidth connection that connects Boulder and Norman:
One of my projects needs high-resolution, frequently updated real-time model data that is created in Boulder, so we are one of the first users of the network.  My initial impressions are not good -- we're yet to get the data flowing reliably, but I'm sure that once the kinks get worked out, we wouldn't know what we did before we had that bandwidth and had to settle for using hourly, 13km data. The HRRR data is at 3km resolution and is produced every 15 minutes.

Less of a firebrand in person

Paul Krugman was speaking in Norman tonight, and I went to hear him speak.  He's been consistently right on  so many things, and called bullshit earlier than anyone else, that I'm a big fan.  His columns often cause me to change my mind about stuff that I thought I had settled views on.

Having read his columns and books, one thing I thought I knew about him was that he was a rabid, partisan Democrat. In person, though, he came across as very reasonable and much more middle-of-the-road.

For example, a person in the audience lobbed him a soft ball question.  I'm paraphrasing, but the question was something like "Considering the amount of inequality in this country, do you think that raising taxes on the rich is a good way to reduce the deficit?"

Think about it for a moment. What would a hardcore left-wing Democrat have to say to that question?

Here's what Krugman had to say (again, I'm paraphrasing): "There is no way that just just raising taxes on the wealthiest two brackets alone is going to raise enough revenue for all the things that we have to do. When I was a graduate student, we used to say that that it was not enough to tax the rich because there are so few of them. Now, there are more wealthy people because we are a more unequal society, but they still do not make enough money that we can pay for all the investments that we have to make by taxing the rich alone. We have to raise taxes on the middle class too."

Another question from the audience was on whether because of global warming, we need to cut down on international trade, reduce outsourcing and increase local production.  His answer (paraphrasing): "No. To address global warming, we need to price greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide. Whether that causes local production to increase, or some other solution to come about, is something that the market should figure out."

So, I walked away from this evening's talk even more impressed with Krugman. And also wondering why, in the national platform that the NY Times column affords him, he is reliably more liberal than his answers today would seem to let on.

When outsourcing does not make sense

As engineer who had worked at McDonnell-Douglas, Dr. Hart-Smith saw that extensive outsourcing enabled the company's suppliers to keep all the profits. When he went to work for Boeing, he warned them that when you outsource parts of your product, you also outsource your profits.  [You should read his complete memo, especially his suggestions at the very end. These should be required reading for any executive at any technology company].

There's a parable that illustrates what Boeing was doing: the idea of a man making his living picking pennies in front of a steam roller. Day after day, he collects a tidy amount of change, and thinks that it's the easiest money ever. But strategically, it's stupid, because that steam-roller is going to crush him one of those days. In other words, you need to price in risk, especially long-tailed risk. Boeing could only see the small cost savings they were achieving by outsourcing their parts, but failed to see the risks of technology leaking out, the loss of maintenance income (the highly profitable business of spare parts went to Boeing's suppliers, not Boeing, for example) and of the fact that Boeing couldn't survive without those suppliers: whenever any of the suppliers went bankrupt, Boeing had to bail them out anyway.

Now, Boeing admits that it made a mistake:
"We gave work to people that had never really done this kind of technology before, and then we didn't provide the oversight that was necessary," Jim Albaugh, the company's commercial aviation chief, told business students at Seattle University last month. "In hindsight, we spent a lot more money in trying to recover than we ever would have spent if we tried to keep many of the key technologies closer to Boeing. The pendulum swung too far."
Outsource payroll, maybe. But if you are a technology company, you don't outsource engineering. Hopefully, Boeing has learned its lesson, but probably at the expense of making it possible for a competitor to rise out of those suppliers. But will other companies avoid making that same kind of mistake -- already, you see many Android phones coming out of former outsourcees.

And yet, the parable of the fellow picking pennies in front of a steam roller carries a warning for the way we have organized our economy. If you pay executives according to short-term profitability, they will fall for such strategic blunders all the time -- chances are that by the time the steamroller hits, they'll have collected their millions and retired. Perhaps, the age of the public company is over.  Facebook may have the right idea, remaining in private hands.

Valentines Day Dinner

Blokes who cook once a year have it easy! Since I cook most weeknights, I needed to make something a little memorable. But it is still a weeknight, so nothing too elaborate ... The solution was to make Chow Mein, but to use ingredients (sausages, shrimp and bok choy) that gets everyone in our household salivating.

The six-year-old was photographing me as I went about my business. The first photograph shows the ingredients, set out on the counter, ready to slice and throw into the wok: shallots, ginger, garlic, bell pepper, green chilis, bok choy, Chinese sausage (Lap Cheong), shrimp, bean sprouts, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil and noodles.

It's a stir fry, so the amounts are not too critical. But make sure to slice the vegetables thinly so that they cook quickly.
Bring water to a boil, and add the noodles. About 3 minutes later, drain the noodles and keep it aside.

In a sauce pan, saute the shallots, ginger and garlic. After a couple of minutes, add bell peppers and the bottom of the sliced bok choy. When the bok choy is nearly cooked, add the rest of the ingredients (except the sauces). Cook until the shrimp turns pink.

Add 3 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp oyster sauce, 1/2 tsp black pepper, bring to a boil and switch off the heat. Add 1 tbsp sesame oil and toss with the noodles.

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Famous enough to be Google Spammed

Is it now a measure of fame that our content is getting Google spammed?

Google spam is one of the ways sleazy operators game Google -- they copy text from well-regarded websites and then extensively cross-link to each other. This apparently defeats Google's algorithms. Because the spam sites are linked to each other, there are enough incoming links ("page rank") and because the text is actually relevant, Google ranks the site high. Of course, it's a bait-and-switch. That copied text is only for the Google spider: when you and I click on the link, we'll get a page touting the kinds of things spammers tout.

Anyway, I was searching for a forum post from a while back, and since Google's search is better than the forum's search, I did what I usually do: typed the search into Google with "wdssii" preprended to it.

The first six results were all relevant: they all pointed to websites at Unidata or at NSSL talking about sparse grids, which is what I was searching for.  But starting at result #7, the Google spam took over.

The seventh site is Google spam. The quoted text is relevant:  it is copied text from somebody who built some sort of utility to process our data feed, but unfortunately, the link leads to a spammer.

The next result is good -- it's a citation of our work in a conference paper.

The ninth link is again Google spam. This time, the copied text is again of someone else who built some other utility. What does it say about Google's page rank algorithm that the original website of these people who did reasonable work based on WDSS-II is not listed, but the spammers who copied their text are shown as relevant?

The tenth link is again Google spam. In this case, the text is from a paper where I'm coauthor. Our paper is not listed, but the spammer manages to become relevant by copying our text!

A rant against Apple

I decided to never again buy an Apple product after my Windows laptop died. I guess I ought to explain.

I have an iPod Touch and the only thing it works with is iTunes. Unlike every other MP3 player on the planet, Apple products work only with their own music management software.  You can't just take a mp3 file and copy it to the device.  In turn, iTunes works with no other MP3 player, only with Apple products. This made it painful when I wanted to copy playlists to my Nook, for example, but I found a Java program that would parse the file structures and pull out the necessary files.

So, anyway, my Windows laptop died and I lost my music library. But no problem ... the library was on my iPod. How hard could it be to simply copy the files back?  Aaah ... not so easy.  Apple insisted on wiping my iPod clean before it could be tied to a new (really just the rebuilt) PC.  Now, the only music I have left are the playlists I happened to have on my Nook.

The reason I bring this up is that Apple is now apparently trying to restrict what e-books you can read on their devices. If you bought an iPad thinking that you could use it read e-books, this is bad news. Pretty soon, Apple is going to force you to go through their app store, thus paying them a 30% tax (guess who pays that 30% increase in the cost of e-books?)

Meanwhile, like Linux, Android sort of grows on you.  It's not the cleanest, most user-friendly thing out there. But it's open, it's flexible and the culture around Android devices is one I'm more comfortable with.  If you're trying to decide between an iPad and an Android tablet, get the Android one.  It may not be as slick, but it will be more flexible in the long run.

p.s. This sort of thing is why I believe that companies like Amazon who make iPhone apps are making strategically stupid decisions. It would have been far better for Amazon to make a web browser application with the desired functionality.  Of course, pre-HTML 5, such web applications would have to use Flash and Apple won't let you run Flash (now you know why Apple won't let you run Flash).

What we did on our snow day

Nice idea, but she lasted all of 16 seconds.
Lunch: artichoke and sausage pizza
Snack: roasted peppers
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