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August 11th, 2015



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www.theParticle.com
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!
     What this site is about?

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...

     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 11th at wikipedia...

     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; }'
before
after 0.336811691596271
before
after 0.722206850859465
before
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; }'
before
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

     May 2nd, 2015

Got to Omaha around 6:10-ish, which appparently was about an hour too late. There was a HUGE line by the CenturyLink building---and it was almost 8am by the time I found a seat... all the way way way back. Swapped seats during lunch.

Amazing presentation, etc., Witty. Very very witty. Charlie Munger rocks! The whole meeting does repeat the theme from previous meetings---so you mostly know the answers to questions before Buffett/Munger answer them.

Went to company BBQ---don't think I'll be doing that again. Way too many people---way too long a line to get in. So... ended up going to ``Swine Dining'' for dinner (before going, googled, and it was right up there as the "best BBQ in Omaha" place; it was great!).

- Alex; 20150502

     May 1st, 2015

Flying out to Omaha, Nebraska for a weekend of entertainment :-)

- Alex; 20150501

     April 30th, 2015

Day trip to DC...

- Alex; 20150430

     April 29th, 2015

Added textdelim to outormat=text in SQLRunner. The default is one space.

- Alex; 20150429

     April 28th, 2015

Eh! Is the Universe a Hologram? Yes, and it gets weirder!

The major thing to realize is that we're *never* seeing 3D space---we're seeing light in our eyeballs. In other words, our perception of space-time is electromagnetic fields causing stuff to happen inside our heads. I'm going to stress this again: the *local* electromagnetic field inside our heads is causing us to ``see'' stuff ``out there''. This has very little to do with String Theory, and more to do with the finite speed of light.

Now, that *local* EM field appears to have a finite capacity. There's only so many bits of information that can exist locally (inside our heads, or encoded in the EM field). The ultimate limit of that capacity is the black hole, but the same principle applies for every point of space-time.

This information capacity isn't a volume, it's actually proportinal to a *surface area* (of a black hole). If you place a bubble around your head, then everything you ever see and percieve is encoded on the surface of that bubble arund your head. That is a 2D surface.

Now imagine a similar bubble around our planet. Everything the human race has ever learned (or will ever learn) about the universe is encoded on the surface of that bubble---a 2D surface. No experiment will ever detect anything "outside" that surface---since stuff really *is* local. Now, it isn't a `normal' 2D surface, because stuff does appear to vary depending our perspective... stuff *does* look 3D on it.

What do you call a 2D surface that has 3D looking stuff on it?

- Alex; Tue Apr 28 07:58:06 EDT 2015

     April 26th, 2015

New avalanches hamper rescue efforts on Mount Everest after Nepal quake. This sux. Shit happens. It's worth remembering that folks on that mountain didn't go there to die---they went there to live. It sucks to die on top of a mountain---but is it any more sucky to die doing what you love than dying of anything else? Yes, if they all stayed home, they'd all be alive now... but if nobody did anything, life wouldn't be worth living.

- Alex; Sun Apr 26 23:21:53 EDT 2015

     April 25th, 2015

To simplify data validation (e.g. Hive vs Greenplum), SQLRunner now supports timestamp formatting to output microseconds and nanoseconds (from database timestamps that support those). Since Java doesn't natively support this kind of formatting, I've added a ``custom'' (also found in Greenplum/Netezza/PostgreSQL) format of "NS" (nanoseconds) and "US" (microseconds). The rest of the format pattern is Java's default... e.g. a timestamp with microseconds would be formatted as: 'yyyy-MM-dd HH:mm:ss.US'. The default format was kept as 'yyyyMMdd HH:mm:ss.SSS' (timestamp with milliseconds).

- Alex; 20150425

     April 22nd, 2015

Bumped up version of SQLRunner. Fixed critical Hive output bug, removed Hive logging clutter, added support for credentials retrieval via a command---instead of hard-coding the password, now you can setup SQLRunner to run a command to retrieve a password from whenever. e.g. Leave pass blank, and define pass_cmd with the command to execute to get password. Works on all connectivity fields (username, driver, url, etc.). With this release, SQLRunner is actually becoming usable for Hive stuff.

- Alex; Wed Apr 22 01:58:21 EDT 2015

     April 6th, 2015

Finished reading Data Mining and Predictive Analysis: Intelligence Gathering and Crime Analysis by Colleen McCue. Well, this book isn't techy... it mostly glosses over the details, but... it is still very entertaining to read. It's kind of the data mining book equivalent of Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (which I also recommend).

In this book you learn about how law enforcement applies data mining. Some of it is damn impressive, much of it isn't, but some key bits are pretty neat. So next time you see an unusual number of police officers, know that a computer model predicted something is more likely to happen there.

Towards the end, the book gets a bit... amm... creepy. The author thinks it's an amazingly great idea to monitor everything. For example, folks taking pictures in public... since that data can be used to detect unsuual interest in a certain location---like if you take pictures at times square, and then more pictures from different angles, the "big brother" would want to know that, and correlate that with some danger factors---and if you follow that up googling for emergency procedures or area evacuation guides, you're like put on "a list" of some sort... Yes, that's the later chapters right there :-/

The interesting bits are mostly about how the drug markets operates, and how many criminals get caught... how the training data is essentially all the criminals who were caught... making it pretty damn hard to catch akind of criminal who haven't been caught before.

Just like Freakonomics, it's very entertaining to read, with a bit of knowledge here and there. But if you're looking for data mining algorithms, you won't find any of that in this book.

- Alex; 20140406

     April 5th, 2015

Day 3:

Googling for a bit, realized that Yosemite is indeed open. The East road is closed due to snow, but both West roads are open... that means going around the Sierra mountains... and ...about 8 hours of driving later... got to Yosemite.

Last time I've been there, I didn't do much except hike up Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Point. I decided to do pretty much the same thing this time---I won't have the "whole day" here, and in order to make the return flight, I'll have to leave no latter than 1-2PM.

On the drive, noticed an open road, 16 miles, to "Glacier Point". This being morning, and nothing better to do, I decided to give it a look. Wow! this is perhaps the best view of the valley! In fact, I would label it as the main attraction of the park.

Then back down into the valley... Park car, and with only ~2 hours to spare on the "up" leg of the hike, started to `run' up Yosemite Upper Falls trail. About 2 hours later, was at the waterfall, and another half hour later, was at Yosemite Point. Quickly took a few pics, ran back to Yosemite Falls, took a few more pics there, and then quickly quickly quickly ran down back to the parking lot.

Now it's just a matter of making it back into SF on time for the flight...

All in all, an amazing few days... passed out on the airplane, so the flight was effortlessly quick (also upgraded to sit in the first row---so was first out of the airplane when it landed :-)

[Yosemite trip pix]

- Alex; 20140405

     April 4th, 2015

Day 2:

...about 14 hours of driving later... got to Death Valley (morning the following day).

I've done this drive a few times, so knew exactly what to expect... in fact, was looking for to it. The drive is from Eureka (tiny town of meth users---this is according to one of the residends, so I'm not making this up) through the mountains to Redding. This is an amazing drive by the river in a canyon... the speed limit is 55mph, but going 30mph is often a bit "too fast" for those curves---very exciting.

Past Redding, after a bit of flatness, you go thorugh even more mountains (literally drive through Lassen National Forest---a bit to the side of Lassen Volcano. This is also an amazing slice... Past Reno, NV (this is the place Tesla is building their Gigafactory, me thinks) the land mostly flattens out, and you have hours and hours of straight line roads that go off into the horizon (and after all the mountains before, these straight roads feel great...). This "road trip" is an attraction in itself... quite amazing experience.

The plan is the same as the previous day: find some good day hikes. I've been to Death Valley half a dozen times before, but never actually did any extensive hiking... mostly a hop-out-of-car, run arond, and then hop-back-into-air-conditioned-car again. This time it's different.

According to rangers, one of the better hikes is the Golden Canyon, which can loop in Zabriskie Point, so that's the first hike of the day. It's amazing! It never occured to me that Death Valley would have this kind of trails---you're walking around badlands and actually *on* the hills that Zabriskie Point overlooks.

After walking to another hiker, decided to do Mosaic Canyon next (apparently also one of the top ones in the park).

Next on the list is Dante's Peak---which is a short hike from Dante's View. This is a must place to see when visiting this park. I didn't know you could overlook the entire valley---Dante's View is just amazing. The peak is kinda interesting to get to on a windy day---the trail is right off the cliff of a mountain, and sometimes you really do feel like you're losing balance.

Next on the list is Zabriskie Point, the actual touristy one. After the golden canyon hike, this wasn't as exciting.

Then onto Artists Palette... Overhead someone saying they're planning to visit Yosemite... I didn't even know it was open for the season yet... last time I checked (a few weeks ago), many roads into Yosemite were closed for the season. Perhaps change plans for following day.

Waited out the daylight by Badwater. The Badwater place is *ugly*. Last few times I visited it looked super clean---white salt flats with crumbly salt thingies, all white, etc. This time it's mud ugly with very high raised edges making it hard to walk... so a bit of a disappointment with Badwater :-/

I almost always take the "south" exit from Death Valley---drive south from Badwater. It eventually hits a highway that gets you places quick. On the drive, saw a "moon rise", and it was the most amazing blood moon I've ever seen. Very little light pollution---full moon, huge by the horizon---it was unreal, it felt so close!

In all this running around, I managed to scrape my foot, and being super prepared, I thought no problem... I carry a small medical office with me all the time---supplies to do just about everything that would be required in the field. I can treat snake bites, etc.,, and have pills for pretty much everything. Anyways, what I didn't have apparently were plain vanilla bandaids (apparently ran out and never refilled) and neosporin (apparently left it at home). Little things like that turn into big headaches---luckily the next gas station I visited had both of those :-)

[Death Valley trip pix]

- Alex; 20140404

     April 3rd, 2015

Day 1:

Got to SF, rented a cheapo Ford Focus, and off onto road-trippin. First destination (and plan): day trip in Redwood National Park.

By early morning (it's ~6 hour drive from SF), got to Kuchel Visitor Center, got some trail advice from rangers, and bought a coast redwood and sequoya seedlings. Hopefully they'll survive in NYC (well, not outside yet).

The hiking plan is to do a bunch of trails near `Big Tree' (supposedly the `biggest tree' by some measure). So onto the Prairie Creek, the hub of a bunch of trails.

The first hike is to take the Cathedral Trees Trail to Big Tree, loop back via Prairie Creek Trail. The Cathedral trail is amazing... If you're spending 1-2 hours in the park, this is it. It has a bit of everything.

The second hike is to Fern Canyon via James Irvine Trail. This trail goes all the way to the ocean coast. From there, a short walk to Gold Bluffs and loop back via Miner's Ridge Trail. These trails are amazing---very few people, and amazing scenery. There's some light elevation gain, etc., and it's great. Can't really think of a better turnout for this "day trip in redwoods".

[Redwood trip pix]

Next stop: Death Valley.

- Alex; 20140403

     April 2nd, 2015

Flying out to SF tonight... yet another crazy road trip. Planning to visit Redwoods, Death Valley, and Mystery Spot.

- Alex; 20140402

     March 17th, 2015

Finished reading HBase: The Definitive Guide by Lars George. This book has been in my safari folder forever---it starts out quite well, then slows down quite a bit, and then picks up speed during the architecture chapter. This book is quite dated... I'd expect the API has evolved, especially around the rough edges---for example, Cassandra is more polished. Outside of cursory examples, I haven't used HBase for anything serious yet---so this is just a noobs opinion. Still, this book explains how stuff actually works, which parts of HBase are efficient, and which parts aren't, etc.---those parts I wouldn't expect to date as quickly.

...and there'll be a 2nd edition of this book this July :-/

- Alex; 20150317

     March 14th, 2015

Happy PI day! 3/14/159265359 :-D

- Alex; 20150314

     March 13th, 2015

Finished reading Predictive Analytics and Data Mining: Concepts and Practice with RapidMiner by Vijay Kotu and Bala Deshpande. Well, this book was pretty bad: absolutely nothing original nor in-depth. For literally everything, the book uses RapidMiner, a GUI software thingie to build machine learning thingies---it's about the same level of excitement (and frustrating) as programming lego mindstorms using the GUI tools. You draw what you want to do using a UML-like box diagram, where graphical artifacts represent data or various algorithms, with connections between to pass data around. If that's what you're looking for, then this book is it... but you don't learn WHY nor HOW that stuff works---you just get a short description of the problem, and then a guide on how to do it in RapidMiner. Sorry, I hoped for more---so, I don't recommend this book---to anyone.

- Alex; 20150313

     March 10th, 2015

Watched the whole Fixed Income Conference in which lots of fixed income stuff was discussed. It's amazing how broken that whole market is... spreads of 5-25%, comissions of 5% or more, and markups that are damn hard to detect. Most of it caused by no liquidity and no information---exactly the things that have been fixed in equities.

Also (related), Gallagher: Mandate GASB Standards, Possibly By Linking to Tax-Exempts. He also said something along the lines of: if industry doesn't fix fixed income markets, then the government will be forced to step in...and fix it in a way nobody will like.

- Alex; 20150310

     March 9th, 2015

Finished reading Data Science at the Command Line: Facing the Future with Time-Tested Tools by Jeroen Janssens. I really had great hopes for this book, but it's a complete waste. It should have been more appropriately titled "advanced shell scripting" or something along those lines. Yes, it does show you how to do stuff via the command line---and yes, a LOT of it is some useful command line kung fu, but it has like zero "data science", except calling some other programs that actually do stuff.

In other words, for "data science", seek out another book. If you want to learn how to manipulate CSV files via the command line, this book rocks. (I should add that "big data" would chocke many of the utilities presented in the book, but they're still useful ideas). For example, the csvstack utility presented in the book is damn useful---except I wrote mine in Perl, and call it "unionall.pl" (takes a buncha .csv files and applies "union all" on all of them).

In other news, had lunch at NYC facebook offices.

- Alex; Mon Mar 9 01:15:56 EDT 2015

     March 8th, 2015

Walked up Bear Mountain. It's still very snowy there... weather was great, but it did snow just a bit on the way there. Pretty neat hike. Probably the last snow of the season (hopefully!).

[Bear Moutain pix]

- Alex; 20150308

     March 4th, 2015

Finished reading Data Science for Business: What you need to know about data mining and data-analytic thinking by Foster Provost and Tom Fawcett. This book is much better than doing data science. It's not techy enough for my taste, but it does have the important general things, so... would definitely recommend if you dunno where to start in this field.

- Alex; Wed Mar 4 02:47:46 EST 2015

     March 1st, 2015

Drove to Niagara Falls---never been there in winter time. Apparently there's a ton of snow, and most of the walkways are closed...

The drive back was...fun. Heavy snow, backed up traffic, etc. The I87 was not moving, so took an exit and used county roads---unplowed county roads. It was great!

[Niagara Falls pix]

- Alex; 20140301

     February 28th, 2015

Went for a hike in Adirondacks, walked up Mount Marcy and across two frozen lakes :-)

[Mount Marcy Hike pix]

- Alex; 20140228

     February 27th, 2015

Company I work for, FINRA is mentioned in the in hbase blog... along with Apple and Facebook :-)

- Alex; 20140227

     February 22nd, 2015

Apparently going to backpack around Death Valley area for Good Friday weekend :-)

In other news, spent the day at the dentist :-/

- Alex; 20140222

     February 21st, 2015

Finished reading Doing Data Science: Straight Talk from the Frontline by Cathy O'Neil and Rachel Schutt. Not a bad book, but not a great one either. Mostly a summary of an assortment of things, without any depth in any one thing. I'm not a fan of hearing backgrounds of folks I don't care about, and this book is full of that :-/ For example, the book is a series of chapters mostly contributed by various authors, each chapter begins with a background of the contributor, then talks about their problem, their contributions and overall summary of concepts, etc. It would've been just as good to say "such and such company had this problem, and here's how they approached it" as opposed to spending a page or so doing a background of every engineer to contribute a chapter.

- Alex; Sat Feb 21 14:46:47 EST 2015

     February 8th, 2015

It's about time I did a review of GeekDesk. About 6 months ago I got one of those, and started using it every day.

During the 6 months, I hardly ever sat down in front of it. Maybe once or twice. I do use a regular "sitting" desk at wr0k, so I'm moslty talking about the few hours a day/weekends---the development stuff I do at home. I use it for over 12 hours a day from time to time (when I work from home), and it's not a big deal.

I even played World of Warcraft with it (yes, those long raids... all standing :-)

You can read about the health benefits elsewhere. Yes, they're all true---you'll feel great, leg muscles and everything, etc.

What I'd like to mention is productivity increase: I've noticed that I'm a lot more productive in front of a standing desk. (well, ignore World of Warcraft bit)

You really can't idle in front of a standing desk---you can't watch a 2 hour movie in front of a standing desk. In fact, whenever I'm standing, I feel the urge to get something accomplished---as opposed to just sit and pointlessly browse the web. So as a productivity tool, it's amazing! (if you find yourself wasting hours browsing the internet, get one of these desks, and throw away the chair... and whenever you're on your computer, you'll actually be productive on whatever).

- Alex; Sun Feb 8 22:53:47 EST 2015

     February 6th, 2015

Got Google Chromecast. Not sure why... I have a "tv" computer (dedicated Intel NUC that drives the TV), but, eh, it's a toy.

What it gets you is the capability to 'cast' youtube (and other) videos from your phone/tablet to your TV. That's pretty much the use case. It works great. Setup was super simple, etc., it "just works".

If you don't have a compuer driving your TV, this thing is great---use the phone as a remote control, etc. That's pretty much it.

I used it for a bit (to watch a few MIT OpenCourseWare lectures), but quickly went back to using the PC---it's just more convinient to click and find stuff to watch using a computer with a mouse, as opposed to one-at-a-time youtube app on the phone.

So great product... but not terribly useful compared to a computer... but for $30, not a bad toy :-)

- Alex; 20150206

     February 5th, 2015

Went to visit the new FINRA office in Chicago. Ref: CBOE to pass regulatory duties to FINRA. This is nearly identical to when FINRA got NYSE regulation back in 2010---the CBOE folks are just settling in as FINRA employees.

- Alex; 20150205

     February 4th, 2015

Replaced the disk in my Thinkpad x201 with Samsung 850 Pro SSD. Apparently the old thinkpad came with a 1.8" SSD (I didn't know this). Anyways, I bought a 1T disk to replace the old 120gig drive, and during the switch, discovered that the new disk wouldn't fit into the same plastic thingie that holds the old 1.8" disk :-/

I thought "they were all the same"---but apparently not :-/

Luckily, I had another old laptop that I could use to salvage the 2.5" disk holder-plastic-thing. After the switcheroo, everything worked great. I even reused the old 1.8" SSD in that old laptop---which got new life (the SSD made it 'fast' again).

- Alex; 20150204

     February 3rd, 2015

Eh. RadioShack in Talks to Sell Half Its Stores to Sprint, Shutter the Rest. This was long overdue, but it's kind of sad to see them go... I haven't been in a radioshack in YEARS, but this was the place I got my first soldering iron, capacitors, transistors, etc. (and books on electronics).

In other news, might be going to Chicago this week :-)

- Alex; Tue Feb 3 07:37:46 EST 2015

     January 30th, 2015

A year later: celebrated by 2nd b-day :-)

Just about fully recovered from my adventure last year. The toe nails kinda grew back, the sensation to toes hasn't returned, but I don't really miss that. I'm also a lot more paranoid about safety now---but that's just normal paranoia, everyone in the universe has that.

- Alex; 20150130

     January 28th, 2015

Well, the snow storm disappointed (NYC didn't get much snow---eh). Also, apparently school starts today...

- Alex; Wed Jan 28 01:06:45 EST 2015

     January 26th, 2015

Yey, back in NYC.

Uh, oh, everyone panic, huge snow storm on the way!

- Alex; 20150126

     January 25th, 2015

Day 9

This being the last day on the island, decided to give snorkeling another try (now that I know what I was doing wrong).

Besides the Kealakekua Bay (Capt.Cook place), the other nice area is Kahalu'u Beach Park, so drove there first thing in the morning. It's supposedly shallower, which would be great for a flotation swimmer like me. Anyways, it turned out all the beaches were closed due to unusually high surf---I came there early morning, and thinking they'd open at 9am, sat in car waiting and waiting, and then when they didn't open, started asking around... and geh. So much for snorkeling plans.

The other experiment I did during the trip involved air-pressure in gatorade bottles. I opened and closed a bottle at "sea level", and brought it to the summit of Mauna Kea. The bottle expanded. I then opened and closed another bottle at Mauna Kea summit. When back at sea level, the Mauna Kea bottle got squished, while the "sea level" bottle went back to its shape.

[Air Pressure Experiment pix]

With nothing better to do until the flight, went to Honokohau Marina to look at turtles. Walked along the shore for about two tours, but didn't see any :-/

- Alex; 20150125

     January 24th, 2015

Day 8

I really didn't have anything more planned for this vacation---so decided to do something crazy: Waimanu Valley via the Maliwai trail. This is supposedly one of the three tougheset hikes on the Big Island (Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa being the other two).

This trail starts in Waipio, with the 25% grade road leading down (you walk that, if you have a crappy 2wd like me). Then there's a friggin river going into the ocean, that you got to cross by walking right into it.

No joke. The height apparently depends on the tide, and rainfall. After crossing (barely not fallin a few times), it turned out to be privates deep. After mentioning that to another hiker, he said `oh, that's easy, sometimes it goes all the way upto your neck'... (how does one protect the car keys/phone from that???).

I then started wondering whose neck. I mean, if it's a basketball player's neck, then one could drown, as opposed to say a midget's neck. That worried me a lot, since it started raining later, and who knows if the tide changes in 9 hours or so it takes to do the hike.

Anyways, after crossing the river, you hike up perhaps 1000 feet or so on the opposite side of Waipio valley, and enter a jungle, filled with the usual assortment of trees you'd expect of jungles---and some not so expected, like huge pine trees. You walk walk walk for hours, and reach Waimanu Valley, which is a carbon copy of Waipio, except there are no people---only camp sites.

Waimanu also has a river, but here they actually put a rope across it, so you can hold onto something while crossing. This one was also privates deep. Anyways, walked along the beach, to the end, ate a snack (I brought Mayday 2400 Calorie Food Bars; they're horrible if you eat them every day for 8 days), and turned back.

On the way back, slipped on the rock, and fell into the Waimanu river. There *is* a current pushing out into the ocean---it's not a very fast current, but it's still there. Good thing for the rope.

With everything (literally, everthing---not a single thing was dry) properly soaked (with sea water no less), started up that hill... and guess what... it started raining. Hard. And it didn't stop. It's still raining as I type this (many hours later, in the car).

So before I was "soaked" from the fall into the river, then I was soaked from the downpour that they call rain.

Eventually got to the Waipio valley, and either the tide changed or something, but there was noticebly more water in that Waipio river. Being a bit scared of the whole thing (falling into this thing, again!), I watched another hiker find a shallower spot, and cross... then I just followed in their footsteps, as in, with boots and all, since everything was already so fully soaked it hardly mattered.

Good thing I was smart enough to put cellphone and car keys into a plastic bag, that I also placed into plastic bag. Weird thing is that it *still* got wet (both phone and keys were wet, but both functioned fine---probably surface wetness and not fully submerged wetness).

[Waimanu Valley Hike pix]

After the adventure, drove to Mauna Kea visitor's center to look at stars. This is my last night on this island, so might as well make full use of it. But without any dry clothing (I don't have many more spares!), I could only stay so long in shorts and jacket; damn cold weather :-/

Drove to Volcano NP to look at the Volcano (and take some more long exposures).

- Alex; 20150124

     January 23rd, 2015

Day 7

Started day with a morning hike to Green Sand Beach (that's right off the south point). It takes ~40 minutes to talk from the parking place to the beach---and I just went there and back quick---since... snorkeling!

What better place to snorkel in Hawaii than Captain Cook's? Apparently that's the place to go for this kinda stuff... so went there, again.

Another reason to go Captain Cook's place was to find the plaque of where he died. First time there, I didn't find it, so will look for it agian.

On the way to Capt. Cook's Memorial, around trail marker 4, a HUGE "cow" on short legs runs across the trail, perhaps 20 feet or so away. A few seconds later, it runs back. Very fast. I then realized it was a HUGE feral hog. It moved fast...ignoring the plants, or anything in its way. It just slammed through the bushes on the side of the trail. And that was it. I had the camera in my hand, and in shock didn't even realize to take a picture :-/

Anyways, back to snorkeling. What I didn't realize was that the Kealakekua bay (capt. cook memorial) is pretty deep. It *looks* shallow, but is in fact deep. I know how to keep myself afloat (that's the extent of my swimming abilities), so put on the snorkel, and very carefully went into the water.

The left side of the memorial that's in the water, has a rock under it that lets you descend into the water---if it wasn't for that, there wouldn't be a safe place to hop in/out of the water---the waves are pretty brutal against the rocky beach.

After a minute or so, my facemask filled up with water. So naturally I did the sane thing and breathed in the sea water with my nose... that ended badly. I tore the mask from my face, paddled to the memorial rock, and got out of water to get a grip.

Decided to try that again (without the distraction of the camera), and got the same result... either I dunno how to snorkel (which is VERY likely---but what's there not to know?), or there's something wrong with the fancy snorkel mask (it has a valve that's supposed to get water out, but apparently that valve is letting water in (!). So in other words, I don't know how to properly use it. Will shelve the idea for now.

Update: After watching a few youtube videos, I now relize I need to exhale throught he nose (that way valve gets rid of water), and inhale through the tube---if you attempt to `inhale' (with nose and tube), then the valve will pull sea water into the mask. Eh, who knew? Weird thing is that the simpler cheaper mask would've worked out just fine for me.

Drove back to Volcano National Park (I didn't want to waste have a day). Went to the end of Hilina Pali road, and attempted to hike to Kaaha. Got to within a mile or so when had to turn back due to setting sun.

Decided to get dinner at the Volcano House again---this time got in without reservations :-)

Then spent the evening watching the volcano at the Jagger Point.

[Jagger Point Volcano pix]

- Alex; 20150123


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