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News, Updates, & Rants...
Finished reading Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed Paperback by Ben R. Rich and Leo Janos. That is one great book. If you like airplanes, history, management, and spy craft books, then this book is for you. The writing is very good, clear, and witty. Highly recommend.
It's packed with great management, and absurd stories: e.g. SR-71 was actually named RS-71, until the President (of US) misread the name, the Pentagon then went through everything (like blueprints, etc.) to change the name everywhere from "RS-71" to "SR-71". Wikipedia claims that is only a rumor, but when the guy in charge of Skunk Works puts it in the book, I gotta go with the guy who saw it first hand.
There's also a story of Kelly Johnson having titanium shot glasses in his office---and you can find a set on amazon!. In fact, when you search for "titanium shot glass", on page 3 of results, this book shows up :-)
- Alex; Wed Aug 20 07:05:11 EDT 2014
Had a bit of a car accident, on FDR approach from Queensborough bridge. A girl in a shiny new Jeep Compass rolled into my left side, as I was waiting at a light. Not much damage, just paint scratched and the rear left bumper realigned... no-in-sewer-ants settlement of $100.
- Alex; Sat Aug 16 23:54:04 EDT 2014
Decided to look over A New Kind of Science by Stephen Wolfram. It's been a while since I've read it, and having read some quantum mechanics stuff recently, I think this book deserves a fresh look. There's something about the game of life and locality that seems quite similar to quantum field theory.
- Alex; Wed Aug 13 02:32:53 EDT 2014
Built another release of SQLrunner. This release fixes a header display bug that showed up when using Hive.
- Alex; Fri Aug 8 01:09:19 EDT 2014
Finished reading The Lightness of Being: Mass, Ether, and the Unification of Forces by Frank Wilczek. Another amazing Wilczek book! Below are some really neat quotes from the book:
``An ordinary truth is a statement whose opposite is a falsehood. A profound truth is a statement whose opposite is also a profound truth.'' --Frank Wilczek
``One cannot escape the feeling that these mathematical formulae have an independent existence and an intelligence of their own, that they are wiser than we are, wiser even than their discoverers, that we get more out of them than was originally put into them.'' --Heinrich Hertz, commenting on Maxwell's equations.
- Alex; Thu Aug 7 23:24:19 EDT 2014
Finished reading Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum by Leonard Susskind and Art Friedman. I got this book in February, and it took me 6 months, and three re-re-readings to claim to have "read it". I'll likely end up re-re-reading it again at some point in the future, but for the moment (for this year at least), I'm done with it.
The first "theoretical minimum" book (The Theoretical Minimum: What You Need to Know to Start Doing Physics) was very easy to read... it was tough, but you think stuff through, and it made sense. This Quantum Mechanics one... not so much. It's tough. Very tough. It reads VERY easy, but then you realize you're just reading words without actually undrestanding what's going on. It's very well written, in clear language, with occasional jokes. But the material is damn confusingly tough---and thinking stuff through just doesn't work. I didn't get a lightbulb in the end with `aha, so that's what it's all about!' thing.
The gist (the easy bits) is that quantum mechanics is just like classical physics in many ways, except there's a HUGE distinction regarding what you (or anyone) can measure. For example, in classical mechanics, you can say: this object is at x,y,z, and that's the end of it. In quantum mechanics you know the object has a state, but the measurement problem takes on a bigger role... and some measurements may screw up each other, for example, measuring the x may screw up y, so you won't measure object being at x,y,z. More on that in a second.
The state of the system (say an electron spin) is represented as a vector [of complex numbers], such as |state> That's usually a column vector. You can flip that to a row vector and change sign of complex numbers (conjugate) and get <state| vector.
Observables are represented as "operators", which are just square matrices, like M. You ``measure'' (observe) the state by applying the matrix,
e.g. <state| M |state>. This results in a vector of probabilities---where the probability is... well, the probability of being in a certain state.
...but but but... how are the observables related to the probabilities of states? It turns out that observables are actually eigenvectors of matrix M, and probability vector essentially tells you which eigenvector is most probable.
The book goes through quite a bit of detail on setting up operators, and explaining how they work, etc., but even after reading through the chapters 3 times, I still can't remember how it all fit together---but apparently it does.
Anyways, here's a 30 second explanation of the key thing in quantum mechanics: measuring position AND momenum of the particle. Let's imagine that you somehow manage to measure position so precisely, that the position function is defined on exactly one very precise point. Now, to find momenum (or velocity), take the derivative of that function. You suddenly realize that the derivative is not defined on a function that is defined in only 1 spot. So according to calculus (forget quantum mechanics), you cannot know position and velocity at the same time.
A car analogy: you can take a very sharp photograph of a car on the highway. If your shutter is very fast, the car will appear to stand still in the picture... fast shutter made the car position very precise---but you have no idea how fast it's moving! So you slow down your shutter speed---you get a picture of a blurry car, but now you can figure out how fast it is moving... but you've lost the sharpness that tells you it's exact position.
To sum it up, as much as I enjoyed the first theoretical minimum book, I wouldn't recommend Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum, unless you enjoy that sort of thing... just keep in mind that it won't come easy. This is certainly not light reading.
- Alex; 20140801
Swapping T-Mobile for GoSmart mobile... quite a bit cheaper, for similar service (I do need "unlimited" data, but don't really care how fast it is... emails don't take much).
- Alex; 20140731
Got one of them GeekDesks. Took them almost a month to ship the thing, and a mixup at the warehouse resulted in me getting two of them... now they have to send me shipping labels to send the 2nd one back.
As for the desk itself, haven't had a chance to use it yet. Assembly wasn't bad, but it did take a bit of time (the top doesn't have any pre-drilled holes, so a bit of pain there, but the rest is pretty easy).
- Alex; 20140730
Drove out to Mnt.Marcy for a day trip. Did the loop from Loj to Marcy Dam, then to Lake Colden, then to Colden Dam, then to Marcy summit, from there back to Marcy Dam, and then back to parking lot.
Got to the trailhead a bit later than usual, around noon-ish, so was starting the hike as many folks were just leaving... which resulted in nobody on Mnt.Marcy summit by the time I got there---it was great... warm, relaxing, nobody around, etc.,
- Alex; 20140726
Haven't seen this in ages: Get Quaked 3! Ah, the warm and fuzzy nostalgia...
- Alex; Sat Jul 19 22:59:26 EDT 2014
And back in NYC...
- Alex; 20140707
Of the California National Parks, my favorite is Sequoia National Park---so having a free day, decided to walk among the big trees. Got there right at dawn, and...there's nobody in the park---the entire park is empty. I ran all over the place, etc., it's great to have that kind of park all to myself... :-)
- Alex; 20140706
Joshua Tree National Park was the "primary" park to visit during this trip. I've already been to the rest of the parks before, so to visit something "new", Joshua Tree was the primary destination. Anyways, got there in the morning, and phone beeped a flash-floor warning as soon as I got there---in the desert!!! Apparently previous day there was quite a storm, and some roads looked washed out (I didn't realize desert downpours produce flash floods like that). Luckily none of those hit while I was there.
After visiting the visitor's center, decided to do the usual loop road, and hike the primary mountain in the middle of the park. And stop by every turn out, etc.
I didn't even realize what this park is all about until I got there. One thing is obviously the Joshua trees---this park is full of them. Though there are places in death valley just as nice. What really amazed me about Joshua tree were the rocks... roundish boulders just there in the middle of this desert---very out of place. They're also easy to climb, etc.
In the middle of the park, walked up the Ryan Mountain (5.4k feet). Pretty easy hike---only struggle is the heat, not the elevation.
On driving out of the park noticed another turn out labeled ``Hidden Valley Nature Trail'', so decided to do that too. This turn out to be pretty neat. Very pleasant walk. I'd label this the key hike in the entire park.
- Alex; 20140705
Arrived in Lassen Volcanic National Park, asked for the best hikes in the park at the visitor's center, and proceeded with the "best" onwards. The best, according to park rangers, was to Brokeoff Mountain... it's the longest/steepest hike in the park. The parking lot for it was full, so had to park at the visitor center and then walk to the trailhead. The view from the summit is nice, but the trail itself is average-foresty-trail, nothing spectacular.
The second hike on the list is Bumpass Hell trail. Lassen apparently still some heat underneath it, (had a big eruption about 100 years ago or so). Anyways, there are geisers kinda like in Yellowstone in one particular area in Lassen---and they're at the ``end'' of the Bumpass Hell trail. The trail is short, and ends in a viewing area where you can see (and smell) earth breathing surfur, and bubbling pools of something.
The third hike is the Lassen Peak itself. Highest point in the park. By this time I was thoroughly tired, and barely made it to the summit. There's still snow up there apparently. Got back to the car just barely before sunset...
- Alex; 20140704
Flying out to San Francisco :-)
- Alex; Thu Jul 3 15:16:24 EDT 2014
Finished reading Fantastic Realities: 49 Mind Journeys And a Trip to Stockholm by Frank Wilczek. Wow, this is an amazing book. Highly highly recommend! Good chunks of this book went right over my head, but the chunks that didn't, were crystal clear. For example, Wilczek explains the reason for fields---it's the speed of light and locality. If you don't have instant communication, whatever interactions you have with anything is via fields---which leads to generalization of these fields---the reason all particles, electrons, protons, etc., all look the same is because they're not particles, but artifacts of the same field---there is no such thing as empty space, the same field extends everywhere, etc. Supersymetry is just a mathematical trick to combine the known fields into a ``single field''. Wilczek also mentions the F=ma equation---and that there's no such things in relativity---there are no forces! There's not even a concept like force... and yet it was so useful in Newton's time. I've heard this mentioned in other places, but it's amazing to have this concept just put out there like that---there's no spoon^H^H^H^H err... force... :-)
This book is just a brain dump of really neat mind craft stuff, definitely worth reading if you're into that sort of thing.
- Alex; Wed Jul 2 01:29:48 EDT 2014
Mauna Loa, 6 months later: Well, it's been 6 months since my Mauna Loa trip... kind of like in that panda cartoon, `yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery, and today is a present...' It's good to be around :-)
The only residual problems left since the trip are numb toes---I don't think I step on the right part of the toe when I walk, so if walking an extended distance (say 10 miles or so), the toes start to hurt (besides that, they're pretty numb, so maybe hurting isn't bad?). There doesn't appear anything lasting... so, yey! It took a good few months of barely walking to recover from the frostbite---at the time I didn't think I'd actually be able to walk normally, at least not in the 6 months or so, but, eh, walking rocks. Also re-started jogging regularly, and going on long hikes... And might just do Mauna Loa next year (likely as a shorter "day hike" of running up and down in one day).
In other news, made another release of SQLRunner. This new release is compatible with Hive JDBC driver (HiveServer2). The unsupported methods that throw exceptions are ignored. Also fhead2ddl utility got updated to support Hive13 datatypes such as varchar, date, and timestamp---though I wouldn't personally use them just yet (the hive implementation is kind of dumb at the moment; it only recognizes YYYY-MM-DD timestamps without any option of changing the input format---in other words, if your data is anything other than this format, you won't be able to read dates as "DATE" datatype). Also added "nocreate" option to fhead2ddl utility---to make it easier to script stuff within create statements.
- Alex; Tue Jul 1 02:01:37 EDT 2014
Went to the beach---first time this season. There's a weird pipe exposed right on the beach, A Massive Rockaway Gas Pipeline Is Being Built Right Under Our Beaches. And that's just BAD. At the very least, they should've burried it under many many many feet of sand (not "right on the beach"). But it appears to be literally "right on the beach"; there are even artificial sand dunes for folks to climb over it to cross. They ruined that beach!
- Alex; 20140629
Got one of those Synology 8-Bay Diskless NAS thing. This thing really has a bit too many features for casual users like myself. I just want to stick old harddrives into the thing and have it work, but... that's not as simple. Need to configure volumes, raids, etc., it's quite a bit more complicated than it needs to be. Also, mounting it on my LAN is just a pain---rsync doesn't work out of the box via ssh, you need to mount the thing as NFS then rsync to that NFS mount.
All in all, it's an amazing piece of hardware, I just with they had the "stupid mode" where you just stick in any number of drives, and it automatically replicates *files* on at least 3 disks (forget volumes, etc., don't get for those). And if 1 disk fails, it should just rebalance the under-3-copies to the other disks... etc., but it doesn't seem to do that, nor have the stupid mode. (raid does work, I've learned that some of my old disks really are "bad"---but recovering from a bad volume is not easy if you don't have a spare bigger disk---for example, I put in four 3T disks, two 2T disks, and two 1T disks, and then the one by one, the 2T disks failed... even though I had spare 1T disks, I couldn't use them... so ended up rebuilding the volume, etc., just a pain. Would've been nice for the thing to say "hey, you got like spare 9T of free space overall, let me just rebalance the files across the disks that are left, oh, and stick in that old 1T disk in there, we'll use it for file replication".
I'll probably end up getting another one of these though... but they really should've made it easier to use for home users.
- Alex; 20140617
Hiked Mnt.Washington in NH. The tuckerman ravine trail is still closed due to snow (yes, middle of June, and there's still snow there!). Did a loop going up via Boot spur trail, to lake of the clouds, to summit, and down via lion's head. Weather was mostly typical Mnt.Washington---partly clear and sunny, with upper-30s temperature rain on the other side of the mountain (so going from cool morning, into a freezing rain with high winds, then warmer, and then just plain hot descend).
- Alex; 20140615
Finished reading Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty. For one, I really don't understand why this book is so damn popular and so criticized---my guess is that anyone who criticizes it hasn't really read it (certainly seems like the case from reading negative amazon reviews).
The book is NOT a rehash of Karl Marx, or an updated version of. It's a completely different book, that actually criticizes Marx at one point.
There are also news stories that some of the data is `wrong'. Well... who knows, but I highly doubt it. As the author himself says, the data is very hard to come by, and the assumptions are all explained in the text, and they do seem reasonable.
The main thing in the book: rate of return on capital is generally higher than growth rate of the economy, which leads to income inequality. That's it. That's what this whole book is about. There are other minor themes in the book, but I really don't see how anyone can argue with the main thing.
For example, lets say there are $100 in the whole world, and you own $20 of them, in say realestate. The whole economy grows by an amazing 3% a year, and your realestate value grew at 5% a year. The end result is that there are now $103 in the whole world, and you own $21 of them.
So before year started, you owned 20/100 or 1/5th of the money, and after the year is out you own 21/103 of the money. I'll turn that into decimals so it's clearer: before start of year you owned 20% of the moneh, after year: 20.388% of the moneh. Guess what happens after another year? It doesn't take a PhD to notice a trend that after a few years, you'll own everything.
Yes, there are limits, and as your share of ownership gets to those limits, your return on capital will equal growth rate of the economy--but that point is when you're owning just about the entire economy. (e.g. King's fortune grows at the same rate as his kingdom).
With GDP growing at extremely low rates (and projecting to be going at similarly crappy crates long into the future), and no investment portfolio even considering rates below 4% a year... you get the idea. The rich getting richer and poor getting poorer, in absolute sense. One can't argue with that.
What one can (and many do) argue with is whether anything should be done, and if yes, then what exactly should be done? That I don't know.
The author is proposing a tax on capital, similar to property taxes. For example, if you own realestate, you pay tax on it every year (irrelevant whether it generates money or not). If you own $X dollars or shares in a company, you don't pay any tax until you realize the gains. The author proposes to tax capital in the same way we currently tax land. So of you own shares of a company worth $X at the end of the year, even if you don't sell them, the gov would tax you on the value of those shares---so every year you're forced to generate a return higher than the tax. Obviously the tax rate would be progressive, etc.
Whether you agree with this approach or not is a different matter---if you have a better idea, publish a book on it! :-)
- Alex; Thu May 29 08:02:07 EDT 2014
Arrived at Death Valley National Park at 2am or so. Spend a few hours staring at the sky. The stars are amazing---with a moonless night, and the nice comfy 95-degrees outside during the night, it was very pleasant to just sit back and enjoy the skies.
At sunrise, did a short walk by Badwater (lowest/hottest point in the park). Stopped by a few sightseeing attractions, etc., then drove off to Las Vegas.
In Las Vegas, walked the whole length of the strip, from Luxor to the Eiffel tower and back... then drove off to Hoover Dam.
At Hoover dam, walked the whole length of the dam, from east to west and back... then drove off to Phoenix.
It was still way too early for the flight back, so on GPS found the closest state park near Phoenix, and apparently it's ``The Lost Dutchman''; so drove there to spend a few hours. In the park, spotted a ``Lost Treasure Loop'' trail, so... went on that.
As the sun was setting, I walked the 2.5 miles up the mountain and down the mountain in the Lost Dutchman...and it was great. That park is really nice, the trail is well marked, very scenic, especially with the setting sun making everything red. Just amazing.
Then drove to airport, and that's about it for the trip.
- Alex; 20140526
At the first sign of light (4am?), drove off from Grand Canyon to Bryce Canyon National Park. I've been to Bryce twice, but never actually done any hikes inside the canyon---first time I didn't know any trails (and visitor's center was closed), and second time trails were closed due to ice. This time, they were all open---and I read that the best trail is `Queens Garden', so that's the one I went on.
The trail is a loop that goes along the canyon rim from `Sunset point' to `Sunrise point' and down (and up) through the canyon on the return leg. Pretty nice, and definitely feels like you're seeing the best parts of the canyon (when viewing the canyon from the rim, you're seeing the rock formations from top to bottom, and no way of getting closer... on the trail, you're walking right by those weird rocks).
After the Bryce, drove to Zion National Park. The plan was to attempt to do (first half of?) the `subway' hike. But after talking to folks at visitor's center, it turned out to be in a "wrong park" or "wrong side of the park" and in any case, need a permit and climbing equipment for it, etc., so that was out of the question. So with a few hours of daylight left, decided to run up Angel's Landing---the neat steep hike up a narrow mountain where you have to hold the chains while climbing.
About an hour or so later, I was at the summit, and fed the summit chipmunks some almonds. On the way down, the knee started to give me some trouble (must be the pain killers wearing off).
After the Zion NP, didn't really have any plans. That was the maximum I was planning for the trip, so the rest of the trip was... improvised.
- Alex; 20140525
Arrived in Phoenix, AZ. The car rental company ran out of "box on wheels" models and upgraded me to a 5L V8 Mustang. That car eats gas like crazy... Only ~200-something miles range (since I ended up driving about 2k miles, you can imagine how often I had to fill up :-/. It does have a rather pleasant engine sound though... low pitched rumble (sounds like driving a truck), and when slamming gas it does take off pretty quickly---but for someone like me who prefers to drive 5mph below speed limit... that's kind of useless.
After getting out of Phoenix airport, drove to Walmart in Flagstaff---got snacks, knife, etc., and onto the grand canyon.
Apparently many folks had the same bright idea of showing up at grand canyon very early... I got there a little after 4AM, and about 5AM something was on the bus to the trailhead... Definitely not the first to the trail---very hard to walk with all the "slow" walkers slowing everyone down (and not taking hints to get out of the way).
By about 8AM was at Phantom Ranch. Mostly ran through it, since it was already packed with other hikers.
At the `Ribbon Falls' junction, after talking to another hiker, decided to cut the trail a bit... (the Ribbon Falls have a side trail, except to see them you have to backtrack---there also rather steep mountain you have to climb). Anyway, it turns out the trick is to go in the *opposite* direction than what the trail arrow indicates at the ribbon falls junction. Trail arrow says "robbon falls" go right... and you should go left :-)
This alternate route requires walking (carefully) through the river, but gets you to the ribbon falls, AND lets you avoid the steep hill. So it's a win-win.
The ribbon falls are amazing. If I knew they were this nice, I would've visited them during my previous hikes (but I never wanted to backtrack just to see a waterfall, and didn't know about the trick of hopping through the river).
By about 11AM-ish, was at Cottonwood campground. Shortly afterwards the thunderstorm started... the thunder is...amm...VERY loud in the canyon. Feels like the whole thing is shaking all around you. Waited out the bulk of the storm at the ranger station (2 miles north of Cottonwood).
Then up up up... I think I hurt my knee while jumping from rock to rock on the south side descent. Was limping all the way up the north side.
The plan was to hang around the north rim, and then head back to the south rim (walk at night, look at stars, etc.,). Hiking at night has its rewards. But with the bad knee, that plan was not working out. I asked other hikers what arrangements can be made on the north rim---and apparenlty there's a shuttle that takes folks from south to north or vice versa, twice daily... one in morning (around 8am), and another at 2pm. The shuttle requires a reservation, etc., I learned all that at 2pm, roughly two hours away from the actual summit.
So with all hope mostly gone, got to the north rim, and decided to seek a taxi, or find other hikers who might be pooling into a car to get to south rim. If all fails, I was prepared to walk back, but... that would've been a major pain in the... knee.
At the north rim trailhead, someone pointed me at a van parked right by the trailhead. It was about to drive off... I literally chased after it waving my arms. Apparently that *is* the shuttle van to the south rim---the one that was supposed to leave at 2pm, but was still there at 4:30pm! (this is just plain dumb luck).
The shuttle was waiting for another party ("Millers, party of 6") to show up; since apparently they made the resevation, and nobody else... if Millers didn't show up, the van wouldn't have a reason to go :-/
So there we (me and the driver) waiting in the van for the Millers to show up. We drove from north rim to lodge a few times (sometimes shuttling hikers for tips). By 6-ish, the driver's boss called and said he's not to drive after dark... so of Millers didn't show up in the next 15 minutes or so, the driver should spend the night on the north rim, and 'sorry about the other guy, but he didn't make a resevation'. So there... with dumb luck of getting the van, the whole thing was unraveling...
The reason for not driving at night... Apparently the north rim is FILLED with deer. Like every 100 yards or so, there's a bunch of them standing by the road... ready to jump in front of the car. More deer than I've ever seen in my life.
At 6:30PM, half the Millers show up! Apparetly they were also doing the Rim-to-Rim, and half of them were a bit quicker on the way up. Yey! With Millers around, we were sure to make the trip (a 4.5 hour drive!). We waited a bit more, and when everyone showed up, drove to the south side. I think we got there by about 12-ish or so (it took a bit longer than 4.5 hours, since we stopped for gas, and a coffee break).
And that's how day one of the trip ended.
- Alex; 20140524
Flying out to Arizona :-)
- Alex; 20140523
Finished reading Building Automated Trading Systems: With an Introduction to Visual C++.NET 2005 by Benjamin Van Vliet, and agree with the amazon reviewer who said it's a waste of paper.
About 99% of the book talks about elementary .NET C++, and has nothing to do with ``trading systems.'' In fact, there's nothing non-obvious that is discussed---the most complicated thing the author does is a moving average. If you're interested in learning how actual *trading* systems work (the ones that cross orders, clear trades, implement route strategies, etc., you'll have to look elsewhere). The rest of the book is just going over .NET C++ features and how they work in the language. For example, there's a chapter on classes, objects, references, threads, etc., the basics of the language.
Considering that I haven't seen .NET `managed' vs `non-managed' C++ before (e.g. using ^ as ``pointer'' in C++, etc.) this book isn't a total waste (I learned to stay away from .NET---not that I didn't know this before).
- Alex; 20140521
Played around with Postgres-XL, the ``Scalable Open Source PostgreSQL-based Database Cluster.'' Compiled the 9.2 release candidate from source (mostly painless on Ubuntu server---some libraries were missing, but mostly easy to figure out), and loaded a few moderate (about 10gig) tables onto a two node cluster.
Very disappointed so far. I was expecting an open source of greenplum or netezza, and this is FAR from it. The release candidate is buggy to the point of unusability. This bug [ERROR: Invalid Datanode number] pretty much makes it unusable... and I didn't do anything weird to get it (just follow the steps, load data, and query it)---they obviously didn't test this release (at least not with multiple datanodes; the single node version works fine---but then I could just use plain PostgreSQL for that!).
Assuming this bug is fixed, other things I was curious in were execution plans. If you distribute both tables on the same key, and then do a join on that key, one assumption is that the database will perform a normal join without redistributing the data. Well... this one doesn't---it does something way more stupid. I created two tables distributed on "keyA", and when you join the tables on just "keyA", the database does a local join. But then you join the tables on "keyA, keyB", the database stupidly redistributes the data(!).
In more complicated joins (3 way joins, two tables distributed on keyA, one table distributed on keyB), the database did even more crazy things---such as inner loop joins (something that would not complete until the sun burns out), redistributing things on "keyC" (some tests had join on "keyA,keyC" and "keyB,keyC")---and keyC had very low cardinality.
In other words, this distributed database is far far far from ready for prime time---at the moment, I'll label it downright unusable. For this test, all tables were hash distributed, and analyzed after the data load.
Going forward, they might have a bright future---if they fix the usability bugs, and tweak the optimizer quite a bit (it's not enough to just use postgres optimizer, distributed databases must have bulk data movement component to optimization---if you don't have to move data, don't move it).
- Alex; 20140518
After spending 4 hours in the airport... the flight was canceled. Instead of spending the night in a hotel (heh!) and cutting short the trip to literally 1 day (instead of a weekend), I canceled the whole reservation, and went back home. Will have to checkout Hot Springs NP some other time.
- Alex; Sat May 10 14:40:00 EDT 2014
Flying out to St Luis :-)
- Alex; Fri May 9 14:47:54 EDT 2014
Got around to uploading pix from last trip: [Badlands NP] [Theodore Roosevelt NP] [Mount Rushmore].
Also uploaded pix from last December's trip to: [Key West and Everglades NP].
The rest of the albums are [here].
...goal is to visit all national parks...and I'm upto 39 (out of 59).
In related news, going to Hot Springs National Park in 2 weeks, and all over Arizona/Utah in 4 weeks :-)
- Alex; Sun Apr 27 05:44:41 EDT 2014
Setup 2nd Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK; one of my `desktops' this time. Think I'll wait before getting a 3rd (to replace my `dev box')---there doesn't appear to be an easy way to get that NUC model to work with dual HDMI (or dual DVI) monitors---and my monitors don't have a display port :-/
- Alex; 20140425
Upgraded one of my `media' computers to an Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK. Essentially it's an i5 computer that you buy components for. I added Crucial M500 480GB mSATA SSD, and Crucial 16GB DDR3...and it flies. It's a tiny powerful computer! Plays HD video using only 6% of the clocked down CPU running at 800Mhz! This thing will save moneh on electricity. Already ordered another one. Plan to replace all my home desktops/servers with these tiny powerhouses in the next month or so.
- Alex; 20140423
Got to Voyageurs National Park (Ash River Visitor Center) just before dawn...and discovered to my surprise that all the lakes are frozen :-/
And the Ash River Visitor Center was closed---for the season :-/
Pretty much all one can do is run around on the ice a bit---the ice itself is closed to vehicles (apparently it's open in the winter for trucks/SUVs upto 7000lb). I didn't feel safe to run all the way out in the middle of the frozen lake, but near the shore, it felt pretty solid. Eh!
Saw a Bald Eagle eating roadkill on the side of the road.
After hanging around for a bit, headed back towards Minneapolis, with frequent stops along various places.
Headed back to airport, and... back in NYC in just about 2 hours :-)
- Alex; 20140420
Got to Badlands National Park right after dawn, and headed down each of those scenic viewpoints. This is also an amazing park---seriously contemplated going on a day long hike there, but ended up doing a few `short walks' instead. I had this crazy idea of doing more stuff on that day, so by noon-ish I was out of the park, and on my way to...Darwin.
The next stop is Biggest ball of twine in Darwin, Minnesota. Mostly since hearing Weird Al's "The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota" song, it's one of those things to visit in Minnesota. Here's a link to youtube video.
Stopped by the restaurant across the street from the ball-of-twine. Had a HUGE steak, two sides, and a beer...for $20 (I was impressed at how cheap it was).
Headed towards the next-big-thing: Voyageurs National Park.
- Alex; 20140419
Landed in Minneapolis, rented a Mazda box-on-wheels and started towards Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Got there by morning, and started on the 36-mile loop road. Saw prairie dogs, bison, feral horses, bighorn sheep, etc. Really didn't expect this park to be this nice. Wish I allocated more time to it for some hiking.
After a quick drive through Theodore Roosevelt NP, headed towards Wind Cave National Park. That is NOT a quick drive---this is definitely something I underestimated. Anyways, made it to Wind Cave NP by 3-ish... the GPS took me to the *wrong* side of the park, so ended up driving throug the entire thing without realizing I was actually *in* the park (there's a State Park that turns into a National Park). Got to visitor's center a bit late for the "cave tour" (and all tickets were sold out anyway). Hung around the place for a bit longer, then decided to go visit Mnt.Rushmore...something I was planning to do the following day.
On the drive to Mount Rushmore followed the signs towards the Crazy Horse Memorial, which turned out to be a private venture unrelated to any state/national park---and collets $10 just to get a closer look. I fully agree with all the criticism expressed in the wikipedia article---the whole experience and visitors center felt a bit of a scam to suck moneh out of visitors.
On the road to Mount Rushmore noticed a helicopter tour company---so stopped by and asked about a tour. And ``you can be doing the tour in 20 minutes'' really impressed me, so I paid to have a fly over Mount Rushmore, which is ~20 miles away from the helicopter place.
The flight to Mnt.Rushmore was over Harney Peak, the highest point in South Dakota. A very windy flight! First time I felt a helicopter go sideways due to wind and have those turbulence effects like falling. Neat experience! Saw some goats on the mountain as we flew over them. Mnt.Rushmore looks a bit small from the helicopter.
After helicopter flight, drove to Mount Rushmore Memorial; got there before the gift shops closed, and almost made it to the caffeteria... but they closed literally in the exact minute I walked in :-/
Since Mnt.Rushmore is apparently "lit" in the evening, decided to stick around until dark to see it at night.
A bit later, headed to nearest town, to visit a Walmart; got food, and then headed off to Badlands National Park.
- Alex; 20140418
NY Attorney General subpoenas HFT firms. ``HFT has come under scrutiny over the past several weeks following the release of the Michael Lewis book "Flash Boys".'' Eh!
In other news, flying out to Minnesota tonight.
- Alex; Thu Apr 17 00:35:29 EDT 2014
Went outside at 3am to observe the Blood Moon, and nothing. The sky was overcast, and the moon wasn't there where the Google Sky Map said it should be (guess it was there, eclipsed, and due to clouds, nothing). Eh. Oh, well.
And in other news, Happy Tax Day!
- Alex; Tue Apr 15 07:58:14 EDT 2014
Finished reading Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis. Reading amazon.com reviews, and watching the CBS 60 minutes interview with Michael Lewis, I was really prepared to dislike this book---I was fully expecting to find a lot of fundamental market inaccuracies. That being said, I actually enjoyed the book, and didn't find all that many inaccuracies (certainly no problems with the central points of the book).
In the book, Lewis goes through a broad description of a problem, and outlines some major high-frequency-trading strategies that take advantage of the ignorant investor (e.g. YOU [the retail investor] submitting a trade via an online brokerage account).
The ``electronic front-running'', ``seeing an investor trying to do something in one place and racing him to the next.'' That would be equivalent to someone providing liquidity (say an offer) on EDGE, and as soon as you take their offer, they turn around (very very quickly) and buy on say NYSE (beating your buy orders to NYSE; so by the time your buy order gets to NYSE, the offers that were there before are no longer there).
The ``rebate arbitrage''. The exchanges have different fee structures, and fees/rebates differ on whether you're taking liquidity or providing it. There are order types (hide not slide from EDGE is an example; though don't think it still operates as described in the book) that help you hop in front of the queue (within the same price point) and get the provider rebate on acquisition of a position; which you can then quickly liquidate, and end up with $0 or positive return (without any risk). Sort of like a no-lose gamble. This was thoroughly described by Haim Bodek in The Problem of HFT - Collected Writings on High Frequency Trading & Stock Market Structure Reform.
The ``slow market arbitrage''. If you see price moves before anyone else, you can do an arbitrage trade buying from one exchange and selling on another. For example, all the exchanges are at $10 by $10.05. A large sell order comes in to NYSE and adjusts the NYSE's price to $9.95 by $10. The other markets haven't reacted---and there exists an opportunity to buy on NYSE at $9.95 and sell elsewhere at $10, assuming you're quick enough.
The ``dark pool arbitrage''. Banks want to boost stats of executions happening on their dark pools, so they send aggressively priced orders to their own dark pool, with instructions that orders should stay there. This creates arbitrage opportunities for folks trading on inside and outside of the dark pool (say buying in the darkpool and selling at a profit outside the dark pool). This must happen, since if a dark pool is say 10% of the overall market, how can they handle even 30% of their own orders internally? (fairly that is).
The book also describes (and starts out the main discussion with; reason for IEX dude to start thinking about market structure) other behavior, which I'd call "fading" (the book doesn't give it a name). Let's say you have a large buy order, you notice that collectively all exchanges are quoting say 10000 offered shares, so you send aggressive take orders (perhaps as ISO---intermarket sweep orders) to all markets---after doing that, you notice that only 2000 shares get an execution. How could that be? --- you just saw 10000 shares, you route 10000 shares, and only 2000 shares actually find the opposite side. What happens is that other market participants react to the 2000 share executions, and pull their shares from other markets---in other words, the first market where your buy order arrives is spreading the information that there's a large buyer, and everyone who is quick enough cancels their orders to get out of its way (your buy order does not arrive to all markets at the same time). This is similar to ``electronic front running'', except instead of front-running, the contras pull their opposite side orders.
Now, this "fading" strategy was the first one I looked at (at work, I'm working on a consolidated cross market data thing, what all this means is that I have access to all US equity order events (orders/executions/cancels/routes/quotes, etc.) across all firms and exchanges all neatly organized in a single large database; nobody else in the world has this kind of access :-). Anyways, the "fading" scenario actually does happen---you can see aggressive order coming in, executing, and the contra firm of that execution cancel their resting prop orders on other markets (all within a few milliseconds). That's one of the things that the book has wrong: regulators actually do have a capability of getting a much better picture of what's happening.
The book also rips on BATS and EDGE regarding their inverted pricing model---both BATS and EDGE have an exchange that pays you to take liquidity (most other exchanges pay you to provide liquidity, and charge you to take liquidity). Anyways, what this means is that a broker handling your order will *prefer* exchanges that pay them to trade---so the broker will route your order first to places that pay them (BATS and EDGE). Those exchanges might provide some executions, allowing the contra parties to those executions to learn of the large order, and do ``electronic front running'' or ``fading'' strategy on other (slower) markets. The broker in search of a taker rebate has leaked information, enticed by the exchange to do so. This is the primary reason why the CNBC interveiw: Katsuyama vs. O'Brien - who won the fight? happened. Besides that, there was nothing anti-BATS in the book; not sure why O'Brien was so pissed during that interview. I don't think folks should be criticized for being "too fast" or for paying for orders---all such criticism should be directed towards brokers who leak information, not the fast exchanges where folks trade.
The 2nd half of the book goes through the history, morality, technical and business hurdles that IEX (investors exchange; good thing they didn't go for investorsexchange.com :-) had in setting up. The book makes their contribution seems enormous, and calls them an "exchange" quite a bit. In reality, they're not an "exchange". They're yet-another-dark-pool. They don't even quote (via ADF). They may have their own weird rules, but I doubt they rank even in the top 100 (by volume) among other dark pools---in other words, they're so insignificant it's amazing anyone bothered to write a book about them. Good luck to them though... this market certainly could use more folks who don't pray on customer orders.
Just a note, none of the behavior described in the book is explicitly illegal, but it certainly doesn't feel right (if you're on the wrong side of these trades, that is).
Definitely recommend it!
- Alex; Sat Apr 12 02:35:20 EDT 2014
Upgraded my phone to Nexus5 (and switched to t-mobile). Wow, this is a huge leap in technology from my old crappy phone (galaxy sII). You turn it on, and say "Ok Google, " and then ask it anything you want to know or anything you want to do, and it responds or does whatever you ask it! It just works! It's amazing---the future is almost here.
- Alex; 20140408
Drove to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Got there before opening, so was in the first wave of folks into the door. My annual national park pass worked to get me free admission! (the Mammoth Cave NP in Kentucky didn't accept the annual pass---you needed to pay for stuff anyway).
Anyways, Carlsbad is a large cave. You buy a ticket, and enter the cave (self guided tour). You then walk (mostly downhill) for about a mile or so inside the cave. Then have the option of going for another in-cave hike for about another mile or so. Then take the elevator back up. (I heard you can actually go outside, but I didn't see anything but the elevator).
The cave is amazing. Pretty much every amazing thing you'd expect from a cave, can be found at Carlsbad cave. The Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is not pretty at all---it's just huge. The Carlsbad cave is actually amazingly nice. I didn't expect it to be good, but it certainly was an amazing visit.
After about two or so hours of walking underground, I took the elevator up, and headed to Roswell, NM. Perhaps it's an annual thing, but once again, visited the UFO museum :-)
Decided to take the "long way" to Albuquerque, so instead of going north from Roswell, drove West. There are a few historical sites on the way that way.
The first attraction on the way was Lincoln County historial thing (33.491857, -105.385089). This is the place Billy the Kid was tried at (visited the court house, etc.).
The second attraction was Smokey Bear Historical Park. Yep, that's the final resting place of that living-legend bear (he died in 1970s in Washington DC Zoo).
The third attraction was Carrizozo Malpais or actually Valley of Fires Recreation Area. The terrain is amazingly similar to Hawaii---lava everywhere.
Towards the end of the day, stopped by the same Starbucks in Albuquerque I stopped by about 3 years ago... (the one with leather chairs and a fireplace). Was there until it was time to go to the airport... and that's that.
...and Back in NYC!
- Alex; 20140406
Landed in Albuquerque, NM. Upgraded my rental to a red mustang, and set off driving towards the Trinity site. Took a nap at a rest area---then drove to White Sands Proving Grounds.
Arrived arond 7am, and yet there was already a rather long line of cars waiting to get in (I thought I'd be first in line, but no, some folks must've arrived way before me, perhaps 5am-ish?). Anyways, waited for the gates to open, drove to the Trinity test site, ran around, took some pictures, bought some souvenirs (atomic bombs keychain, and a glow-in-the-dark coin!), and ran off... the whole stay at trinity, about 20 minutes total. I was literally the first car that drove off the lot (they had to open the lane for me to drive out the other opposite direction).
Now onto Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The drive there is a good 5-something hours at mostly 75-80mph (on impossibly straight roads that just disappear into the horizon). The Mustang rox at 75mph... very stable at those speeds (my SUV is very wobbly and requires a lot of attention---in the mustang, you hardly feel the speed).
Around El Paso, TX, I hit a highway trap---police pulling over everyone. After being pulled over, the police officer asked: ``Are you a US citizen?'', (yep), ``Is there anyone traveling with you?'', (nope), ``Ok, you're good to go.'' and that it that! Didn't ask me for any identification, nothing; it still seemed crazy to have experienced that in the USofA. I always thought it was a myth... (e.g. why are those Arizonians so pissed off at immigrants?) this has NEVER happened to be before---but apparently it's quite common near the border :-/
Got to Guadalupe National Park at around 2-ish. I had this very crazy plan of hiking up the Guadalupe Peak, the 8,751 feet highest point in Texas.
My frostbitten feet have lost their dark spots just 2 weeks ago (the entire skin apparently died, some chunks of it turned black, and eventually, most of it peeled off; now feet are baby-soft and tender, and still numb; the nails might fall off eventually, but haven't so far).
Anyways, the park ranger said it's usually a 7-8 hour hike up the mountain, with fast hikers doing it in 5 hours or so---so if I stareted at 2pm, I'll probably be hiking back in the dark (so prepare accordingly). With my squishy feet, I thought it would take me longer, so I packed *everything* (if I needed to spend a night out there, I'd make it through just fine).
Took me just about 2 hours to get to the summit. Apparently it's not *that* difficult of a hike. Spent about 30 or so minutes at the summit (weather was amazingly nice, sunny, etc.,). Then slowly (by then, my feet started to hurt a bit), walked down. But yah, it felt great being able to actually go places! After my Hawaii trip, I haven't gone anywhere---besides wr0k and home (and subway), I haven't gone *anywhere*. This was an amazingly nice trip! I got my feet back, mostly!
- Alex; 20140405
Flying out to New Mexico tonight :-)
- Alex; Fri Apr 4 17:01:25 EDT 2014
Finished `reading' Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum
by Leonard Susskind and Art Friedman. I started reading it part-time about a month ago---and I must admit that about 1/3rd way through, I got completely lost. This book is dense! Started to re-read it again---I ended up re-reading the first theoretical minimum book about 4 times before everything sunk in... I think this one will take a few more tries before stuff starts to make sense.
- Alex; Mon Mar 31 00:17:41 EDT 2014
Finished reading Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales. I got this book as a gift, after my Hawaii adventure, and I must say, it's damn good book!
First, Gonzales's writing style is kind of annoying. At least it starts out kind of annoying. There's a bag-of-words concept, and the writing style in this book reads like a bag-of-sentences approach. You take a paragraph, put all sentences into a bag, shake well, and throw them back onto the page. That can get kind of frustrating, but you do get used to it after a while, and then the book reads amazingly well.
The author did his homework! The book is a series of stories and analysis of situations, with a lot of analysis of what's going on inside the survivor's head. Some of the stories read eerily similar to my own experiences. There was a story of a chap who stepped outside of a ski resort, got turned around and lost direction in a whiteout blizzard. The poor fella spent 3 days in snow with very little clothing---thinking more or less the same thoughts I was thinking on that volcano in Hawaii... It's just amazing how the book captures all the emotions of that kind of situation---I found it hard to read that whole experience---it felt a bit too close.
One of the things the book captures really well are the types of hallucinations people experience. Apparently my crazy unique experiences weren't very unique. For one, there are the audio/visual hallucinations that place you in a safe place. I thought that my brain was trying to trick me, into letting go of this world and just dying quietly. I literally pictured myself being warn and safe, only to `wake up' still on top of that frozen volcano---this repeating every 20 minutes for the entire night. I remember vocalizing `I'm still here damn it!!!' Gonzales says that this kind of a hallucination is to remove you from the stressful situation, and allow your brain to recover and plan... (not to trick you into spacing out and freezing to death). Even telling yourself that ``I'm right here!'' is completely normal in these situations.
The other kind of hallucination of hearing voices: I thought it was me just going crazy, but apparently under extreme stress, the rational part of the brain starts to vocalize itself to you---like hearing a voice in your head. The voice apparently tells you to do rational things that often save your life. On Mnt.Whitney, when my legs were not holding my weight for more than a few steps, the voices that were re-programming my brain (they were literally telling me that they were uploading a patch, to fix bugs, or something), the voices told me to step on the same stones that got me there---sort of a temporary workaround, before they prepare a permanent fix---first in last out, except with the path. Thinking back, that was probably a very rational thing to do in the dark, descending an icy mountain at night while suffering severe altitude sickness---with 1000 foot drops just a few feet away from the trail.
So next time a voice in your head tells you to do something, you follow its advice! It could save your life!
There are also a few tidbits in the book about the krazy hike I did in Kaua'i. The Kalalau trail---apparently it kills a buncha folks every so often---and I was stupid enough to do the return journey at night! There's a warning sigh on the trail that so-and-so-many people died here, with a scratch mark representing the counter. The book says that whoever manages to slip off the cliff (and that place is very slippery)... is usually never heard from again (the currents cut up the body against the volcanic-rock cliffs, and bull sharks get rid of the rest; not a situation you can swim your way out of). Same goes for the beaches in that area.
One of the things I like about the book is that it doesn't advocate not going on adventures. In fact, the whole book reads that people *should* go on adventures. ``Shit happens, and if we just want to restrict ourselves to things where shit can't happen... we're not going to do anything very interesting.'' When an average Joe gets hit by a bus, nobody says ``well, he shouldn't have been walking there'', but somehow I got to hear the ``why did you go up that volcano'' quite often after my ordeal. From author's daughter: The Gutter Theory of Life: You don't want to be lying in a gutter, having been ran down by a bus, the last bit of your life ebbing away, and be thinking `I should have taken that rafting trip...' or `I should have learned to surf...' or `I should have flown upside down---with smoke'"
Some quotes from the book I like: ``Adaptation is important, the plan is not.''. ``Intelligence is a matter of "guessing well"''.
In other words, I highly recommend this book---just work with the writing style---you'll get used to it, and the book becomes great.
- Alex; Mon Mar 24 23:59:00 EDT 2014
- Alex; Thu Mar 20 08:21:33 EDT 2014
Java 8 Officially Released. They've finally made a serious attempt at minimizing false sharing... :-)
- Alex; Wed Mar 19 02:40:58 EDT 2014
Finished reading Island in the Sea of Time by S. M. Stirling. Pretty good. Guess I'm getting the sequel :-)
- Alex; Tue Mar 18 08:09:03 EDT 2014
And now I'm back in NYC :-)
During the trip, had lunch at Oklahoma Joe's, the original gas station one. Best BBQ I've ever had.
On airplane had a very interesting conversation with another traveler, who happend to be a farmer from Kansas, farming corn, beans, etc., and raising cattle. I was surprised by how much the guy knew about futures markets, specifically futures on corn, etc. He manages a 5k acre farm, so we talked about how much these things cost to own, rent, operate, etc., (he rents the land, but some farmers own, rent varies from $40 to $200 per acre, usually rent is proportional to yields), the yields per acre, etc., machinery speed (how many acres per hour can the combine go through). I also learned what crop rotation really means, as well what it means to have 3 harvests per year (apparently, it's 3 harvests from 3 *different* fields---you don't plant 3 things on the same land in 1 year). It's something that never occured to me. It maximizes your work---while you work one field, the other fields grow, etc. And it would've never occured to me that you need 2 acres of feed per cow... they're not cheap to buy, and then account for 2 acres of rents for a year, etc., they're not cheap to raise. It's an amazing business---but apparently with very low margins. I figure you make at most few hundred dollars per acre per year, and that does not extend to all 5k acres (and that's not including labor/machinery/administrative costs). One thing that's interesting is that there are service places that handle financial matters for farmers (such as managing the day-to-day maintenance of futures contracts, and they get paid a rate by bushel in the futures contract (e.g. 13 cents per bushel, just to manage the futures contracts on corn). There's also insurance, which is not an insignificant factor (~$20-$40 per acre)---and if you operate without insurance, and a freak storm wipes out your harvest, and you're unable to buy out your futures contract, you're screwed financially. The trick to making a living farming is apparently to do things on a large scale. You make a pittance per acre, cow, whatever, so you gotta have a LOT of them so the tiny margin adds up (I doubt you'd make any decent living farming 100 acres or so). Anyways, a very interesting and very educational conversation.
- Alex; Sat Mar 8 18:48:12 EST 2014
Flying out to Kansas :-)
- Alex; Wed Mar 5 08:10:24 EST 2014
More videos from my friend: Hawaii Videos. I was in the back of the truck in the green sand video---so that's kind of participation; fun fact, the gopro camera fell off the truck on the way back, and didn't break.
- Alex; Sat Feb 22 18:48:36 EST 2014
Facebook buys WhatsApp for $19 billion. The deal is only $4 billion in cash, and the rest is in Facebook shares (eh!). This is why it's happening: FB P/E: 111.39. When your shares are flying *this* high, you'd be stupid not to buy stuff with them, but still... at least FB has earnings. WhatsApp? ``even if every single one of its active users becomes a paying customer, WhatsApp would generate just $450 million in total revenue'' [ref]. This isn't profit. This is revenue. FB is not getting much leverage out of their sky-high P/E if they're buying a company with a similar sky-high P/E. Smart thing would've been to buy 19B worth of GE, or PG... (you know, use high P/E shares to buy up low P/E shares, etc.).
- Alex; Thu Feb 20 09:20:05 EST 2014
Still recovering. After last Tuesday night, could barely walk most of last week (walking around with trekking poles at home). Being immobilized like that certainly feels debilitating---major effort and pain just to get to the rest room and back---can't do anything except sit and use a computer or watch tv. Frostbite is now my #1 serious injury---I certainly didn't give it enough credit before---but it sure hurts a lot with a pain that doesn't go away much with pain killers. Hopefully the worst is behind me though. It still hurts, but at least I can stand without holding onto something. Will attempt to go back to wr0k this week; the swelling is mostly going down, the dark spots on toes haven't expanded, and with enough pain killers, perhaps it will be fine. We'll see :-)
In other news, I wasted a 3-day-weekend sitting at home! :-/
Friend uploaded his hawaii video: [Doors Off Flying in Helicopter].
- Alex; Tue Feb 18 01:16:57 EST 2014
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