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November 25th, 2015

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Welcome to www.theparticle.com. It's the newest pre-IPO dot bomb that's taking the world by storm. Now is a perfect time to buy lots of worthless and overpriced shares!
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Internet is becoming more and more polluted with junk-mail, people selling crap, and businesses which don't know their place on the net. They're all trying to make this wonderful place (i.e.: the net) in to hell (i.e.: real world). Internet should be viewed as a place of imagination, creativity, and most of all: fun. Internet is not some really advanced tool for searching for people to rip-off. It's about searching, and finding, things which are useful, helpful, and promote the sharing of ideas. This is what this site is striving to become.

News, Updates, & Rants...

     November 8th, 2015

Spent the last few days at YHack. Mostly spend the days summarizing what FINRA does (financial regulator, with 99% of all US equity data, about 80% of all options data, and a majority of all fixed income data---about 50-75 billion records per day---processed using Netezza, Greenplum, Hadoop/Hive on large AWS clusters---all there for analysis and regulation)... Nights spent chatting about computer science :-)

FINRA had three open-ended `challenges'... e.g. Do something cool using EDGAR data, Do something cool using NYC Taxi data, Do something cool using short volume data. All public datasets---can't share the actual finra data. Anyway, 8 (or 9) teams ended up taking on the FINRA challenges, and creating something cool. The winners of each challenge category got $1k... the only regret was that we only had $1k for each challenge---I think two (or more) teams should've won the NYC Taxi dataset challenge---but... one team had to be picked, and that was that. Spent a chunk of time on Sunday "judging" other teams---mostly walking around and seeing if folks actually created something trully neat.

The event itself was very well organized. Plenty of food, energy drinks, etc., and plenty of space for everyone. Rest rooms could've been bigger---there was a constant flow of folks into those. There was also the lack of coffee (it was there, but it ran out pretty quickly). Besides these, it was an amazingly well planned event. Facebook bought everyone icecream, and Intuit bought everyone cookies and milk... there was even a rapper who rapped for 15 minutes or so before he was told to wrap it up and let everyone work.

The Yale university is like Hogwarts (from Harry Potter). The caffeteria is almost an exact copy... it was actually amusing to be there.

The major disappointment from the event for me was the lack of actual `hacking' that went on... just about every project I saw was folks putting together modules and making API calls to do stuff... not actually coding the stuff themselves---and as a result not really knowing what's going on. For example, folks used a javascript module that obviously did AJAX calls, but when I asked if they used AJAX they said "no". What do you use on the back-end was very often answered with "Facebook"... I'm not kidding.

I guess I was really expecting folks to code interesting stuff. For example, the winner of one of our challenges, extracted EDGAR data and fed it to a program to analyze topics... that was it. Yes, the result is neat, but... the coding effort was minimal (though I'm sure he'd disagree---extracting EDGAR data is not trivial---but it's not something that takes 36 hours of coding to do). The same for other teams too... if suddenly Google/Facebook/etc stopped working, all of their projects would pretty much stop working too. (yes, there were exceptions, but generally, out of 1500 folks there, I'd say a good 99% would be lost in an environment without some API to call to do basic things).

Other observations include lack of general database knowledge. e.g. you're working with data... why not start by putting it in a database? I actually started to appriciate folks who used MongoDB in their projects (yah yah, but at least they used something for their data... as opposed to files or web-APIs).

And what's up with Python? Kids these days... It's just terrible. Also, Apple products... Urgh. It's almost as bad as Windows... VERY FEW folks used Linux, which was very disappointing :-/

Anyways, the experience was pretty neat, and I think FINRA will end up offering internships to many folks we met there---and if I have an opportunity to go again next year, will definitely jump at it.

- Alex; 20151108
November 8th at wikipedia...

     November 6th, 2015

Going to YHack this weekend as FINRA's rep.

- Alex; 20151106

     November 5th, 2015

Finished reading The World Set Free by H.G. Wells. That's the book that apparently inspired Leo Szilard into thinking about the atomic bomb. The amazing thing about this book is that it was written in 1913! It talks about modern war, world destruction, world government, etc., just amazing! ...written before WW1! It is a bit naive in a lot of parts---folks aren't as rational as the ending of this book goes. Still well worth reading, highly recommend.

- Alex; 20151105

     October 31st, 2015

Happy Halloween!

Finally got Nexus5X to work. SIM card didn't arrive; ended up going to a GoSmart store to just buy a sim card and get the phone to work. The whole process took literally 1 minute (really!). They just opened account, click click click, pop the sim card into phone, and bam, it just worked.

Now for a bit of a phone review: Nexus5X... urgh. It's big. Too big. Uncomfortably big. I thought it would be OK, but... it's kinda is a small tablet size. It doesn't fit comfortably in one hand. It's not easy to navigate with a thumb, etc. In the other hand, if you want a big phone, it's pretty nice---the camera is very good quality, screen is nice, apps are snappy, etc., except the oversized frame, I really can't complain about anything. I really hope next year Google releases a Nexus4 or something---I think a perfect size of a phone is iPhone4 (the old small version)---a Nexus device of that size would rock!

- Alex; 20151031

     October 28th, 2015

Finished reading The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. This is an amazing book. I had a chance to read it over a decade ago, but somehow didn't get around to it... and now I'm glad I finally did. It discusses the science and politics, backgrounds and motivations of many folks involved, etc., it's one of those books that is hard to put down. Highly recommend.

In other news, made it a point to try out Halloween Frappuccino... pretty good.

- Alex; 20151028

     October 27th, 2015

Got Nexus5X... it's quite a bit bigger than Nexus5...but uses a SIM card that's quite a bit smaller. So... being eager to get the thing working, followed numerous online guides on taking a regular SIM card and cutting it to nano-SIM size (with scissors :-).

Anyway, about 10 minutes of careful measurements and cutting later, the SIM card was pretty much dead. So... that was that. Now have to wait a few days for the replacement SIM card to arrive :-/

- Alex; 20151027

     October 25th, 2015

Really nice day... ended up going to the beach (of all places to go to in October!). Day well spent.

- Alex; 20151025

     October 21st, 2015

October 21, 2015... Back to the Future day... to celebrate, watched the whole trilogy last night---wow, that 2nd movie was terrible! :-)

- Alex; 20151021

     October 18th, 2015

Went for a Harriman State Park hike. Got the red-circle trail confused with red-triangle, and instead of doing a nice day-long loop, ended up on the other side of the park---and had to hurry back to car before it got totally dark. Bushwacked on the side of I87 for a few miles :-)

- Alex; 20151018

     October 12th, 2015

Happy Columbus Day, a day when everyone's off except the financial industry :-)

- Alex; 20151011

     October 11th, 2015

Been sick since getting back from grand canyon `vacation'. Urgh.

- Alex; 20151011

     October 8th, 2015

With my luck, my cellphone (Nexus5) finally stopped working. I've been trying to actively break it for the last full year, and it looks like it finally gave out. I must say it was the sturdiest phone I've ever had---it survived an unbelievable amount of abuse. The screen is cracked, the camera doesn't work, the microphone doesn't work... and now, it refuses to connect to the mobile network. The sim card works just fine in other phones though... and other sim cards no work in this phone. So that's that.

Unfortunately the Nexus5X I preordered isn't shipping until end of month, so now I have to somehow live without texting for almost a month :-/

- Alex; 20151008

     October 5th, 2015

Yey... back in NYC :-)

With a pretty severe caugh :-/

In other news, Happy B-Day to yours truly :-)

- Alex; 20151005

     October 4th, 2015

The other thing on the trip-list was to visit Wupatki National Monument. Was a bit of a disappointment. The ruins I expected to see where not these. This site is very nice, but just not what I expected. Attempted to go to several other national monuments, but the ones near Phoenix aren't accessible by car.

To finish up whatever daylight was still left, went to Lost Dutchman State Park to see the sunset... then off to Popeyes (chicken place) for dinner, and airport.

- Alex; 20151004

     October 3rd, 2015

Got to Phoenix, the cheapo rental got upgraded to a 2015 Ford Mustang (and I didn't even ask for it---they probably ran out of box-on-wheels cars). Drove to Grand Canyon, etc.

By South Kaibab trailhead, there were a buncha researchers apparently studying nutrition (specifically something to do with salt intake during hike) of rim-to-rim hikers... so decided to participate. They meaure weight, pulse, blood oxygen level, and they ask folks to collect all the wrappers of stuff they eat during the hike. The wrist band identifies folks at Phantom ranch and north rim to do the same measurements there too.

Anyways, headed down the South Kaibab around 6am. This is my favorite part of the whole trip---the landscape scenery is amazing. Met up researchers by Phantom ranch, and started a light jogging pace past that. Stopped by Ribbon Falls---saw a rainbow :-) Got to north rim around 1:30pm... walked to the lodge place, got a gin and tonic, and just sat there by the hotel admiring the grand canyon view (they got the most amazing balcony). After four or so hours, headed down the North Kaibab trail...shortly after that, it started getting dark and overcast.

The light jogging really did a number on my knees---could barely walk the rest of the trip. Everything took like 3 times as long. Got to Phantom ranch by 11pm... shoud've been there by 8-9pm. Got to south rim summit by 6am, should've been there by 4, etc.

The skies cleared up. Spent some time staring at the stars. At one of the rest points on the trail, just lied down on the ground and admired the skies. Rocks are too cold (apparently it gets to 28F degrees at night there), and the "sand" which appeared to be not-as-cold turned out to be just as cold. After 30 minutes or so of looking at the skies, was frozen... probably explains the flu-like-symptoms.

All in all, an amazing trip. Will likely do it again next year, first weekend of October. Will take a slower pace next time though (and probably bring an insulating blanked for the sand)

- Alex; 20151003

     October 2nd, 2015

Flying out to Arizona... doing Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim again :-)

- Alex; 20151002

     October 1st, 2015

Finally fixed my computer!

For the last few months, the fans on my old video card (GeForce GTX 560 Ti) stopped working---all gunked up. Every time I tried to start any video game, the whole machine rebooted. Well, a few days ago, it just stopped rebooting altogether. So ordered a new video card (GeForce GTX 960), and it finally arrived... works great! It has like 1000 cuda cores running at 1Ghz each---that's a stupendous amount of processing power... all for $200!

- Alex; Thu Oct 1 01:36:14 EDT 2015

     September 23rd, 2015

Not sure if I posted this before: javascript darts applet... rewrite of older java applet.

- Alex; 20150923

     September 12th, 2015

With friends showing around, went to the Ambience mall; Chattarpur Mandir temple, and Jawahar Lal University.

In all these places, the security is amazing, if not pointless. For example, to enter the mall, you have to go through the metal detector. Everything is also labor intensive beyond belief, e.g. when you drive into a parking lot, there's a clerk who gives you a piece of paper with time written down. When you exit the parking lot, the clerk takes that paper, does some mental calculations, tells you how much you owe, you pay, and you exit. The same stuff exists in automated form in the US everywhere... but noobdy would think to put a human being in charge of this. Such pointless human labor is all over the place... especially at the mall.

During the drive through town, got to see cows on `highways' (they just walk where they want), cows at garbage dumps eating garbage, humans living in.. well.. a refrigerator box would be considered luxurious, and 4-year olds begging for food from passing cars on the side of the road (I doubt they're really hungry, but they do put on a good show).

Should probably mention the weather... it's hot. Very hot. It's not *that* bad (e.g. it's like the hot day in NYC, but apparently that happens every day there). The air-conditioning isn't set to 72 degrees in public places (e.g. the mall), but to something much higher. Just below the temperature where I'd start sweating from heat... so just barely comfortable.

Also traffic: the self driving cars projects should field test their cars in Delhi. It's the worst driving I've ever seen. Before seeing it for myself, I had declusions I could just rent a car there and do a road trip---I did manage to drive in England on the left-side-of-the-road, how different could this be? Well, it's VERY different. There are virtually no cars without dents there... normal traffic places other cars within a few inches of you... the traffic is... bad. other drivers use intimidation and bad tactics to get a bit ahead (nobody seems 'nice' when driving).

Ended up back at airport towards the end of the day... and... they don't let you into the airport unless you have a ticket... but you can't print that out unless you're at the airport... good thing I had a confirmation email on my phone! The security is just weirdly strange. You enter the airport, and you cannot exit. Upon immigration exit, the immigration dude thought it critical to ask and write down the hotel address... as if that has any significance on me existing the country (e.g. what if I slept on the street, they wouldn't let me leave?).

15 hour flight later... The entry into the US (jfk) was mostly hassle-less, but they got those machines you stick the passport into, that print out some reciept, that seems kinda pointless since the clerk later looks at the reciept AND the passport.

...and that was the day trip to India...

- Alex; 20150912

     September 11th, 2015

Arrived in New Delhi around 3pm, exhausted. Got to the "fancy" hotel reserved through Orbitz.com, and it turned out to be a total dump in a pretty ugly part of town. But it was an experience... the door handle on the bathroom wasn't attached, so it's actually possible to lock onself in the rest room. There are dozens of hotels on that 'road' (two way traffic road with just enough space for 1 car), and they all appear to be in similar shape... Note to self: "average hotel" is NOT a good idea for India trip.

- Alex; 20150911

     September 10th, 2015

Skipping out of wr0k for the next few days. Flying out to India.

- Alex; 20150910

     September 7th, 2015

This trip called for a Pacific Coast Highway drive. It's been a few years since I've done that, so... drove from Death Valley to Los Angeles, and started up the coast towards San Francisco. I didn't realize how broken up the PCH is around LA... until it hits that stretch of 70 miles or so near SF, it's all Highway 101 mixed in with Highway 1.

A long long time ago, I had breakfast at the gas station/bakery near Big Sur, so made it a point to stop by there again. The coffee was great, the baked stuff... eh, just so so.

The road trip was to hit the Mystery Spot, but about an hour from the place, hit very severe traffic---it just stopped and didn't move for 30 minutes. Some trucks started crossing the highway divider... then some minivans... and then I tried the same thing. Didn't get stuck... but now had to find another way back. Gave up on Mystery Spot, getting to the airport on time turned out to be challenge enough.

Cut across SF archapelago via farm roads... got on the 101, and... hit traffic again. Maybe Labor Day weekend isn't the best time to go to this place. After some nailbiting (well, not literally, but going at 10 mph, with only 60 miles to go is VERY frustrating) managed to get to the aiport barely on time.

Passed out as soon as sat down... next thing remember waking up for landing.

[Pacific Coast Highway drive pix].

- Alex; 20150907

     September 6th, 2015

Initial plan was to drive to Death Valley, but that turned out to be too far for one day's drive. So augmented plan was to drive to Yosemite, and do the Yosemite Upper Falls hike... but that turned out to be too far too (well, by the time I would've got to Yosemite, half the day would've been gone). So Plan C... Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Got to Lassen pretty early, and first thing headed up the Lassen Peak. I remember this mountain being VERY hard, but... maybe I was tired before, since this time, it was quite easy. Finished the whole thing in 2 hours.

[Lassen Peak hike pix]

After Lassen Peak, headed for the Bumpass Hell trail, which also took about an hour or so... Lacking a Plan D, decided to stick to the original plan and drive to Death Valley.

[Bumpass Hell trail pix]

...about 8 hours later... Got to Death Valley. In the dark. Which was a bit disappointing. I really wanted to do a few short hikes there.

Ended up just walking up the Zabriskie Point (no traffic, etc.), lying down on the warm pavement there, propping up my head with a water bottle, and just staring at the star-filled sky. Spent a few hours there---the milky way is amazing... and once eyes adjust, can actually see all around by starlight alone (the moon didn't come up until later in the night).

This weird experience of sleeping on the pavement in death valley was worth this trip... it was amazing. Next time I'm there, I'm staying overnight again.

- Alex; 20150906

     September 5th, 2015

Got into SF around midnight, stood almost an hour at Budget to rent a crappy car (Nissal Altima, doesn't even have a USB port!), and set off to... Crater Lake National Park.

Got to Crater Lake first thing in the morning, and...it's snowy! Did the Watchman trail---about a 20 minute thing. Very scenic. Then went to the down-to-the-water trail (forgot its name). They got boats there, and after asking about boat tour tickets (to wizard island, specifically, or around the lake generally), it turned out they were all sold out.

[Watchman tower hike pix]

After a bit more asking around, apparently I can get on a waiting list... there were 4 open seats, and I was the first one who asked. So was first on the waiting list. Hung around the boat launch site for about half an hour, and by the time boat was ready to go, there were only 2 seats left, and I was still first... of 7 other folks! So go to go to Wizard Island.

That Island is surprisingly big. It looks tiny, but it takes a good 30 minutes or so to walk from the water to the summit. The scenery is amazing---the lake is amazingly blue.

After the summit hike, did the only other trail on the island... another 20 minutes or so (the island is big, but not *that* big).

The boat tour concluded by doing a loop around the lake---with the park ranger explaining stuff about the lake and surroundings. Quite interesting, and highly recommend if in the area.

[Wizard Island hike pix]

The hike from water back to the rim took around 25 minutes, it was quite steep and just relentless up slope.

Since there was still daylight left, decided to hike to the highest point in tne park, Mt.Scott. It's about a 2 mile hike, with...well... another relentless up slope. The sunset from there was amazing.

[Mt. Scott hike pix]

- Alex; 20150905

     September 4th, 2015

Flying out to San Francisco. Wanna do a run-around road trip.

- Alex; 20150904

     September 1st, 2015

Finished reading Seveneves: A Novel by Neal Stephenson. It's been a while since I read any novel, and this was a treat. Well, I thought it was. Like every one of Stephenson's novels, this one reads well, the characters are cool, the situations are real and on the edge. It's a great book. They can easily make a movie out of this. BUT... like his other books, this one just sorta ends. The book could've just as well ended half way with similar results---and perhaps it *should* have ended halfway (just when the earth was destroyed, etc., no point in going far into the future to see how civilizations got rebuilt). The second half of the book seemed to just drag on for no good reason... There was a Purpose to it all (eh!), but it just seemed pointless.

- Alex; 20150901

     August 31st, 2015

Yey, first day of school... well, at least for me :-)

- Alex; 20150831

     August 30th, 2015

Wow! Alaska's Mount McKinley to be renamed Denali. So the Denali national park is now home to Mnt.Denali :-)

- Alex; 20150830

     August 27th, 2015

Certainly was a volatile week for stocks... Stock Halts Added to Monday's Market Chaos.

- Alex; 20150827

     August 23rd, 2015

Next on the list is Hallett Peak. The trailhead is by Bear Lake, (gps: 40.31196, -105.64581). The stupid TomTom got confused, and ended up sending me in a loop around local streets at the YMCA center. Y.M.C.A.! It's very frustrating---those tiny streets have no signs (at least I couldn't see any at 2am), and the GPS just sends me into dead ends, and then when I think I'm out of there, the GPS just sends me to another dead end. It thought parking lots were intersections, and driving through the forest would lead to a highway. It was just weird. Perhaps I was still hallucinating from Longs Peak? Luckily, the Google Maps (phone GPS) didn't suffer from that stupidity, and just worked.

Got to the trailhead... mostly nobody there... waited for sun to come up, and headed up the trail. Wasn't expecting much of this trail, so... took it easy. It was pretty cold in the morning (ended up using all my `warm' clothing again).

Right at the beginning of the trail, by Bear Lake, took some amazing pictures of Longs Peak, reflecting in Bear Lake. Some pictures amazing enough to frame and admire...

[Bear Lake pix]

The trail is to Flattop Mountain, from there, it's a very short walk to Hallett Peak---it doesn't seem short (that mountain *looks* damn tall), but it's only a few hundred feet elevation gain, and it only takes like 15 minutes. There's nothing on top of Hallett Peak---the view is nice, etc., but nothing super amazing that hasn't already been seen from the trail itself. A few minutes after getting there, turned back, and headed down.

[Hallett Peak trail pix]

From the parking lot, decided to spend the rest of the day road-trippin... by driving up Pike's Peak. I think I'll do that every time I'm there from now on... I used to hang out by Garden of the Gods until my flight, but now I'll just drive up Pike's Peak. It's very nice... relaxing. The gift shop is full of neat things, the view is amazing, and air...is lacking. At 14115 feet, the air is pretty thin... There was a hale storm on Pike's Peak! Imagine, ice from the sky in August!

A ranger helped me locate the USGA markers. Apparently at least two were stolen, and the ramaining ones don't list altitude... and there's one oddball one that serves no purpose.

[Pike's Peak pix].

After Pike's Peak, drove to Garden of the Gods, and spent the rest of the daylight there. Drove back to the airport at night.

The girl who sat next to me on the plane was barely walking---poor thing must've been disabled, etc., but she turned out not to be disabled at all... she ran the Leadville Trail 100 (this year, August 21-22), and was barely walking because of that. Congrats! Don't think I caught her name, since I passed out from exhaustion (and a bit of alkihole) as soon as I sat in the seat.

All in all, a great trip.

- Alex; 20150823

     August 22nd, 2015

Got into Denver, rented an SUV, and off to Longs Peak trailhead (gps: 40.272221, -105.556606). The parking lot is full... and so is the road-side parking by the trailhead. Found a spot a good 10 minute walk from the trailhead. Urgh. 4:30am.

Headed up the trail in total darkness. A ton of other hikers in the area at this time. Temperature around 60-ish degrees (at trailhead). The skies are amazing... it's like you can touch the stars. Above tree line, sun started to come up---apparently there are a lot more hikers than was visible at night... the wind picked up, and it became super duper cold. Good thing I brought warm clothing... or so I thought. And then it got even colder. Wind is a constant 50mph (or so it seems). Really cold. Likely 30f degrees or so, minus the wind-chill. Frozen face, hands. Can barely keep balance on those exposed rocks.

Got to Keyhole around 8am. Cold, exhausted, and pretty much ready to turn back. Almost everyone there was turning back... a few folks ventured towards the summit and turned back because of the wind. Stayed at the cabin there for a long long while (trying to relax, get warm (sitting on cold rocks, eh), aclimate to the altitude). More folks started returning from the summit... some have turned back just barely reaching it---the wind is apparently pretty bad up there.

Around 10-ish, decided to call it a day and just go down. Walked through the Keyhole to take some pics of the `other' side of the mountain. Yep, the wind is pretty bad, and at times it does feel like it would knock you off your feet unless you're holding onto a rock with your hands. But... I just kept on going forward.

If slow and careful, it's very walkable--err--climable. You really are on all 4rs most of this `trail'. The wind is bad, but, if you hug the mountain, and always keep a hand hold onto rocks, it's not *that* bad. I found myself literally crawling on my knees through some sections. The `hike' is just crazy... on one side you got a few feet of `ledge', and on another you got a thousand foot drop---not a straight down wall, just sloped enough that if you fell, you're going all the way down.

Figured out why some folks were carrying helmets. The `trail' is very steep, and if someone above you knocks over a brick-sized rock (plenty of those there), they tend to fall down... was lucky to avoid all those, but... helmet would've been a great idea.

Got to summit, it's almost perfectly flat (well, boulders, but it's like a football field size of boulders). Spent a few minutes there literally on my back trying to catch breath... then, snack, and the same trail back.

The hike back was pretty hard too, since... well, you're now descending ass-first downwards... Also at about that time, altitude sickness really kicked in, and I couldn't move for about an hour or so---just sat on an edge of a cliff. Then got back into that cabin by Keyhole, and lay on my back for perhaps another hour, until some other hikers woke me up (they apparently did an even crazier hike, of ascending the Longs Peak via another route, and descending via Keyhole).

The walk back was weird... the trail just kept on going. I was starting to question reality---the trail should've ended, but it just kept on going on and on and on... perhaps I was stuck in a time loop endlessly walking down in the dark forest? Luckily that was just exhaustion, and eventually I did get to the car :-)

[Longs Peak trail pix]

- Alex; 20150822

     August 21st, 2015

Very insightful article: Solving the Mystery of Hadoop Reliability. This article is spot on with how brittle Hadoop/Hive/AWS is regarding big long running jobs.

In other news, flying out to Colorado---wanna walk up Longs Peak.

- Alex; 20150821

     August 18th, 2015

Cremation day.

Apparently this was an electrical fire, that started due to wiring in a fluorescent light fixture.

- Alex; 20150818

     August 16th, 2015

Cut hiking trip short. A long time friend passed away Thursday (FDNY Investigates Deadly Queens House Fire). Visited NYC Medical Examiner to identify body, and NYPD to see what happened (apparently, nobody knows, and investigators are off for the weekend). The house is boarded up and there's a strong burning smell all around. RIP.

- Alex; 20150816

     August 15th, 2015

Went to hike Mnt.Katahdin. 5k feet alt. 3 hours up, 2 hours down. Moderate hike. Clear weather, etc.

[Mount Katahdin tail pix]

- Alex; 20150815

     August 13th, 2015

Update 20150816: FDNY Investigates Deadly Queens House Fire: ``Fire officials said the two-alarm fire started around 6:30 a.m. at 79-04 265th Street in Glen Oaks and took almost two hours to get the blaze under control. Investigators found a 58-year-old man in the basement of the building. He was pronounced dead at the scene.''

RIP Sanjay. You'll be missed.

- Alex; 20150813

     August 11th, 2015

Google has apparently re-branded itself as Umbrella Corporation... err... ``Alphabet''. Google shares will become shares of Alphabet trading under the current symbol, etc., so no immediate changes. They probably hope it turns out like Berkshire or Procter & Gamble, except with a techy data driven machine learning spin on things.

This is very sneaky. They've essentially just privatized Google. Will Google (the search engine company) do an IPO again?

Urgh. What a terrible article: 'The Universe is slowly dying,' study shows with unprecedented precision. Quoting: "While most of the energy sloshing around in the universe arose in the aftermath of the Big Bang, additional energy is constantly being generated by stars as they fuse elements like hydrogen and helium together," Driver said.

- Alex; 20150811

     August 9th, 2015

Next on the tour list: New York State.

Hiked Mount Marcy (highest in New York State). 5.2k feet alt. 3 hours up, and 6 hours down. Started at 6am. Did a loop hike---decending mountain on the other side, and going through Avalanche Lake. Clear weather, around 50f in the morning, and too-hot in the afternoon. I always run out of water on this hike, so either bring water filter or lots of (too-much) water. This time went with 5 liters of water, and drank it all. Great hike, and apparently nobody on the summit at 9am.

[Mount Marcy pix].

- Alex; 20150809

     August 8th, 2015

Decided to do a tour of highest peaks in the north east---so starting with Vermont.

Hiked Mount Mansfield (highest in Vermont). 4.2k feet alt. 1.5 hours up, and 1.5 hours down. Short hike. Clear weather, great hike and amazing area. Lots of folks on summit.

[Mount Mansfield pix].

- Alex; 20150808

     July 22nd, 2015

Finished reading Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug. Very entertaining and insightful! Highly recommend to anyone building GUIs.

- Alex; 20150722

     July 17th, 2015

How Apple could make a $53 billion profit this year. One of the key things from Security Analysis is that company's statements and how much they pay in taxes should line up... for example, a company pays ~$1000 in taxes implies their earnings were on the order of ~$2850 (assuming ~35% rate). Anything else and they're just playing the numbers game---they can say anything they feel like (as long as it's not an outright lie) on their statements... but the IRS would go after them if they lie on their taxes.

In other words, Apple plays games with the tax codes to show very different earnings to the IRS---and *another* set of earnings to US investors! This in itself isn't bad (everyone knows multinationals do business all over the place), but those ``earnings'' aren't available to US investors until they're brought into the US---the only way Apple can pay a dividend from those earnings is by bringing some of it into the country---or running a perpetual deficit of taking out loans to pay dividends (that just has to come to an end one day---bond holders aren't stupid, at least not indefinitely). This is not made clear in their statements.

For example, there could be a mountain of gold on Mars, and you can lay all sorts of claims on that mountain of gold. You can even trade those claims, and see them rise in value over the years!, (maybe even take out loans using those claims as collateral, etc.), but unless someone actually goes and brings some of that Mars gold back, those claims are all worthless---and nobody even knows if there's a mountain of gold on Mars anyway. That's Apple. Yes, they're profitable (I can see folks using their products), but their numbers are suspect, and nobody knows how to properly valuate them (and judging them by their own reported numbers is just silly).

- Alex; 20150717

     July 16th, 2015

Finished drudging through Cloud Computing Design Patterns by Thomas Erl, Robert Cope, Amin Naserpour. This book is... well...not sure who'd find it useful. It's filled with ``patterns'' that pretty much say: Problem: your thing does not scale. Solution: a mechanism to make the thing scale. That's it. And it just goes on and on with such patterns, without details, nor actual useful solutions.

For example, problem, your network bandwidth does not scale. Solution, have virtual switches that scale your network bandwidth when needed. This is all nice and neat, but how in the world would you scale the network (virtually or not) if your *physical* network is the bottleneck!? There's this in inherent assumption in this book that you're running on virtual machines (that *have* performance problems), and there is amble capability on the physical machine to meet pretty much any capability that the virtual machine may need. The reality isn't as nice: more often not than, when scalability is the problem, it's at the physical level, and no amount of `oh, just get a bigger virtual box' or more virtual cores, or a `faster' network would help. In other words, if your physical nodes have 4 gigabit nics, and you need to grab data at faster than 400MB/s per node on those links (perhaps because you have a dozen virtual machines running on that node, each one pulling data)... there's nothing you can do---any overhead on top will just slow it down.

- Alex; 20150716

     July 14th, 2015

Hmm.... Google Takes Stricter Approach to Costs... ``As growth slows, staff additions ease and the firm looks for ways to be more efficient.''

- Alex; 20150714

     July 5th, 2015

First thing in the morning, around 10am, got an appointment with Dig This in Las Vegas. It's a place that lets you drive excavators and bulldozers! My lifelong dream has been to drive a bulldozer, and this was it... I got to dig a hole, drive into it, over it, fill it back up, push tires with the bulldozer, etc., it was amazingly fun. Definitely something I'd recommend anyone to do (especially if you've always wondered what it's like to operate something like a bulldozer).

Right after, asked Dig This folks about shooting ranges, and they pointed me towards Gun Garage. This place does not require reservations---you just show up, pay moneh, and they let you shoot pretty much anything. I went for the Zombie Apocalypse `experience'---which essentially means I got to shoot AK-47 (in full auto!), a Shotgun, an Uzi, and a Glock at two targets. It too was a lot of fun---not sure if bulldozer of this tops the list for the day.

After Las Vegas, drove to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. This thing is 900 years old! Who would've thought that Arizona has 900 year old Volcanos? This park is pretty amazing, and nice Hawaii-feel trails, but... they don't let you hike to the *summit* of the volcano---so hiking wise, this was a HUGE disappointment.

...and back to the airport---through thunder and lightning, and lots and lots of traffic.

- Alex; 20150705

     July 4th, 2015

Around midnight, met two shell-shocked hikers who ``lost'' their kid-brother. They were sitting on a rock in total darkness. Lost as in, they know where he is, no point in looking for him, but they ``lost'' him. Yah, that was weird. Perhaps they're on drugs or something. In such situations, I generally say ``it was nice meeting you, good luck in finding him'', and then scamper off. (this may be a NYC mentality---don't talk to crazy folks sitting on a bench at night).

A while later, someone else was walking in total darkness (no moon yet, it really *is* dark)... this time, it was the park ranger (apparently their feet remember the trail, so they don't use the headlamp).

The ranger (Megan?) was looking for the two shell-shocked hikers, they were probably on their way to the ranger cabin. Apparently they really did lose their brother on the trail that day/night. Best guess at the moment was heat exhaustion. She said that up the trail, a mile or so past the ``Assenine'' hill (the one by Ribbon Falls) there will be another (armed) park ranger (Foss?) who is sleeping by the *body* of the lost kid brother---so should approach with caution.

True enough, a mile or so past the Assenine Hill, the other park ranger was right on the trail...and so was the body. Right on the trail! It's a very narrow path. Had to bushwack to get around. (this is all happening at 2am or so).

News coverage: Accomplished Paradise HS student dies in Grand Canyon.

Right after the canyon hike, decided to run run run (well, drive) to Antelope Canyon. It's one of the more amazing places in Arizona---very unique. On way there, scheduled a following morning bulldozer driving thing.

Spent the rest of the day by Page, Arizona, hanging out around Horseshoe Bend and the local McDonalds.

[Grand Canyon Rim-2-Rim-2-Rim pix] [Antelope Canyon pix]

- Alex; 20150704

     July 3rd, 2015

Got to Walmart in Flagstaff, the usual place I stop over to grab supplies. It's open 24/7, making it very convenient.

Then off to South Rim, then walk walk walk walk walk walk walk... followed by some more walking.

Got to North Rim around 5PM-ish, had ``lunch'', and started back down around 8pm, in the dark.

- Alex; 20150703

     July 2nd, 2015

The Grand Canyon Weekend, Day 0.

Got to Phoenix... the car rental (Hertz) place tried their best to convince me to ``upgrade'' me to a bigger car (their logic: ``when driving around the grand canyon area, the bigger car is more powerful, the smaller car, you turn on the air conditioner and it's struggling''). Since I mostly don't care what I drive, I refused to upgrade. In the end, just gave me a ``bigger car'' anyway, admitting that they ran out of smaller ones. Eh!

There are some amazing thunder storms (with lightning and everything) north of Phoenix!

- Alex; 20150702

     June 26th, 2015

Passed the Literature Review portion of my adventure to get a PhD [An Overview of Machine Learning and Pattern Recognition]---will be doing the next step(s) soon.

- Alex; 20150626

     June 17th, 2015

Finished reading Big Data, Data Mining, and Machine Learning: Value Creation for Business Leaders and Practitioners by Jared Dean. Surprisingly good, with absolutely no SAS, which I found kind of surprising (considering it's written by ex-SAS employee). It's not technical enough to be practically useful, but does provide an overall picture of the challenges and techniques.

- Alex; 20150617

     June 11th, 2015

Fixed a pretty nasty/weird bug in SQLRunner's stream.pl.

In perl, when you do "my $a" you declare the variable, and unless you assign something to it, you expect it to be undefined. In other words, this works as expected:

perl -e'use strict; sub a { my $b; print "before $b\n"; $b=rand(); print "after $b\n"; } while(1){ a(); sleep 1; }'
after 0.336811691596271
after 0.722206850859465
after 0.620547911423397

However, if you conditionally declare it, such as: "my $a = 7 if 0;" then something strange happens... it somehow manages to get the OLD value, e.g.:

perl -e'use strict; sub a { my $b= 7 if 0; print "before $b\n"; $b=rand(); print "after $b\n"; } while(1){ a(); sleep 1; }'
after 0.681569314402626
before 0.681569314402626
after 0.437785078861879
before 0.437785078861879
after 0.798538471610424
before 0.798538471610424
after 0.684879432755174
before 0.684879432755174

Weird, no? (it doesn't appear to be using the global $b, since printing that outside the loop is still undefined). Still... not the behavior I'd expect of Perl :-/

- Alex; 20150611

     June 9th, 2015

Congratulations to a long time friend of mine on getting her PhD!

In other news, Blizzard ``sold'' me 30 more days game time for in-game-gold. I got a TON of `useless' in-game-gold, so now I can use it for something :-)

- Alex; 20150609

     June 2nd, 2015

Blizzard gave me 7-free-days to play WoW :-/

- Alex; 20150602

     May 29th, 2015

Visited the One World Observatory (TWC Freedom tower) on opening day. The view... is nice, but very similar to the one I get from my office :-)

[One World Observatory pix]

- Alex; 20150529

     May 25th, 2015

For the last day of this trip, decided to do a buncha hikes in Needles... specifically, I have this fond memory of Confluence hike, and the Joint Trail hike... those two are just amazing.

Started on the Confluence hike first thing in the morning. Walking 11 miles would take many hours---not leaving much time for the 2nd hike. So decided to run it. Doing the 11 mile ``hike'' only took about 2 hours. An hour there, and an hour back. Very enjoyable, light jogging. Utah is amazing.

The second hike is Joint Trail... that one is also 11 miles. So running too (otherwise miss the flight). Since I didn't get the map, got a bit confused on the trails, and went the wrong way (more towards druid arch---so probably added a mile or two to the whole thing). Anyways, also an amazing hike---can't think of a better way to spend the weekend.

[Confluence Hike pix] [Joint Trail pix]

On the way back, ran into serious traffic. Was stuck for about two hours. Was almost certain I'd miss the flight back :-/, but then it just cleared up, and I made it to the airport with perhaps 15 minutes to spare (it was really this close!).

Must've passed out on the airplane---I think there was a delay taking off by about two hours (the arrival was 2 hours later than it was supposed to), but all I remember is the landing---slept through the whole thing.

- Alex; 20150525

     May 24th, 2015

Got to i70 (near Moab)... GPS says take east on i70. Only 10 miles to go till the destination exit. I'm running low on gas, so hoping there's a gas station near by. Suddenly there's a sign on i70... No services for like 130 miles. WTF! Pulled over, considered GPS, and apparently there's a gas station like 3 miles east (wrong direction), but to get there, I have to go 10 miles forward, and 13 miles back (damn intestate with no exits!). Anyways, got to this tiny place called Green River, filled up, and it turned out that I didn't actually need to take the other exit anyway---Green River has the "1010" road that goes directly to Horseshoe Canyon Unit (of Canyonlands National Park). GPS: 38.474404, -110.200454

It's always fun to drive offroad on a 4WD truck. This was great! Though most of the road can be done on a 2WD car, I wouldn't attempt it. There are some steep gravel road hills that are easy on a 4WD, but I have a feeling a 2WD wouldn't get much traction.

Short tutorial on driving a 4WD car: lock the differential (button or switch somewhere). If hilly, put car in 2nd gear. Make sure to average over 20-30mph---the car will feel a lot more stable than if going 5-10mph. Then just enjoy the fun :-)

Quite a bit of time later got to the trailhead. Was surprised to find 2WD cars there---some brave folks!

Filled up backpack with water, and headed down the trail. There are some dinosaur footprints on the trail, in at least two spots (those are the marked ones). I'm sure there are more.

About an hour later, got to the pictographs. They really look like ancient graffiti. The indians probably just had some fun with the walls---and didn't give it much thought. On the other hand... ALIENS. That's why we're here, after all.

After this hike, decided to visit the False Kiva---it seemed appropriate. On the drive back, saw a dust devil wondering the desert... it must've been going for like 30 minutes. Took a video of it. It's amazing.

Got to False Kiva tailhead, GPS: 38.423202, -109.908778, the trail starts at: 38.421070, -109.908596 (just away form the parking spot). It takes ~20 minutes to hike there---made it there right at sunset... was hoping that sunset is visible from there---but apparently that view is obscured by a mountain on the right. Anyways, the hike itself was neat.

[Ancient Alien Art Hike pix]

- Alex; 20150524

     May 23rd, 2015

Arrived in Salt Lake City, upgraded car to a Nissan Frontier Truck, and pointed GPS towards the nearest Walmart---which was closed :-/

Headed off to Devil's Tower. After many many hours of driving---found a walmart that was open. Got supplies (mostly water, snacks, etc.).

A few hours after that, finally got to Devil's Tower. It really is in the middle of nowhere---hours away from *anywhere* remotely interesting.

Did the loop hike (about a mile or so), and... that's pretty much it for the stuff to do there. There's really nothing there, except that big rock. There's no way to get up there---except perhaps by helicopter (or climb?).

[Devil's Tower pix]

Headed for Yellowstone. The purpose of this trip is to spend a few hours at Artist Point---perhaps the best spot in all of Yellowstone (at least for me). I've never driven through the east entrance---and it was quite an experience. It's VERY scenic! And weather went from summer warm to hailing ice back to summer warm in minutes. It's an amazing drive.

Arrived in Yellowstone a few hours before sunset... spent an hour or so by Artist Point (amazing place---especially towards the end of the day, when all the (other) tourists are sparse). Decided against going to Old Faithful (no point after dark), so drove onto... the ALIENS. [Artist Point at Yellowstone pix]

- Alex; 20150523

     May 22nd, 2015

...and off to Utah :-)

- Alex; 20150522

     May 21st, 2015

Finished reading Concept learning: An information processing problem by Earl B Hunt. This book is amazing---I never realized the field was this advanced in 1966! It's very elightening to read about speculation of the future, what problems will be easy or hard, how far will computers go, etc. Another neat trivia: a lot of the AI simulations this book talks about are done with pen and paper; my guess it wasn't that uncommon in 1960s to do that, especially for non-computery fields.

- Alex; 20150521

     May 20th, 2015

Yey, done with classes!

- Alex; 20150520

     May 18th, 2015

...and back in NYC :-)

- Alex; 20150518

     May 17th, 2015

With nothing better to do for the remainder of the day, decided to do a slow drive thorugh New Mexico... and visit some nice places. Starting with Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Whenever I fly, my strategy for being well rested after the flight is to get slightly drunk, and mostly pass out during the flight. So thus began my quest to buy some liquor in New Mexico on a sunday. Not an easy thing, apparently.

After visiting a few places in Carlsbad (the city), found out that they have a rule not to sell liquior on Sunday before 12pm. Off to Rosswell I go... to visit the UFO museum ('cause, well... I'm not saying it was the aliens... but... aliens!).

At the UFO museum got a Rosswell themed baseball. All the other touristy junk is... well, junk. I've been there like 6 times already... and those `I want to believe!' posters are getting a bit old (X-files been off the air forever now).

Anyways, back to liquor. Rosswell apparently also has a rule not to sell any alkihole in the entire city on Sunday (yes, the *whole* sunday). So off I go... After a few stops, found a gas station in the middle of nowhere that sold me really cheap alkihole. It was literally cheaper than the soft drink!

Visited Valley of Fire in New Mexico. It's a lava field that looks remarkably similar to Hawaii... except for pointy plants. None of those in Hawaii.

Stopped by Trinity site entrance---too bad it's closed :-/

Spent the rest of the day driving well below the speed limit to the airport...

[Carlsbad National Park, and drive through New Mexico pix]

- Alex; 20150517

     May 16th, 2015

Got to ABQ, and after a 10 or so hour drive, got to Big Bend National Park. Asked the ranger for the best hike in the park, and apparently it's the `South Rim Trail'. It's a surprisingly tough trail---not too long (about 12-13 miles round trip; and you can make a loop).

The South Rim Trail doesn't get anywhere close to the Rio Grande river; so after the hike decided to so seek out the river... which is apparently right by another visitor's center. Did a few scenic hikes by the river. Was surprised to see a tiny boat---apparently folks cross that river often. The river itself doesn't look too serious---could probably walk through it without issues (maybe it's the drought or something, but it didn't seem all that big).

[Big Bend National Park pix]

- Alex; 20150516

     May 15th, 2015

...and off to New Mexico I go...

- Alex; 20150515

     May 3rd, 2015

...and back in NYC :-)

- Alex; 20150503

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