Biking to Work

As I clock in on my 36th birthday, I finally have started doing something I’ve wanted to for a decade: ride my bicycle to work. It took another friend at work to start riding as inspiration, and it took planning a route that lets be on non car accessible paths for 50% of my ride, and reduces my interaction with busy roads to < 10% of my ride. The road bike I bought 12 years ago, and barely used until now, is now seeing it’s day in the sun.

I’ve now bike commuted twice to the office, and it’s glorious. It’s 9 miles each way, which is about 40 – 45 minutes in, and 50 – 60 minutes home. In comparison, my car commute is 20 – 25 minutes. The way home is always going to be slower, as I’ve got to gain elevation over it, and it’s a lot warmer at 6pm than at 8am. I’m only going to ride in good weather for now (not raining, high < 90), but even with that I’m hoping to make this a 3 day a week thing.

When you start biking something that you’ve always driven, something in your brain flips about the scale of the universe. What used to be teleporting via you car, a disconnected universe, is now a much more present, and connected journey. This ride is interesting and varied, cutting through Vassar’s campus and some of the quiet neighborhoods of Poughkeepsie. I ride past the houses of two friends, and the work place of another. I’m sure one of these days I’ll actually run into someone I know during the ride.

And lastly, I get this incredible clarity and decompression during the ride home. The ride, the exercise, just clears your head in an amazing way. I love it.

My only regret is that I started doing this so late in the year. Once we get late into September waning daylight is going to make the ride start touching sundown, at which point I’ll need to give it up for the winter. But I think I’ve started a new habit, and I’m absolutely loving it.


Is Algebra Necessary? Yes!

From time to time an academic makes an argument about how math isn’t all that important. Like this one in the NYTimes:

A TYPICAL American school day finds some six million high school students and two million college freshmen struggling with algebra. In both high school and college, all too many students are expected to fail. Why do we subject American students to this ordeal? I’ve found myself moving toward the strong view that we shouldn’t.

The article is a series of randomly thrown out and disconnected statements about how math might not be so important. The kind of non logical arguments you might expect from someone without a good grasp on math and logic. 🙂

It is true that I rarely use my math in my job as a software engineer. Where I use the math I learned in high school most often is on one of my hobbies, wood working. The moment you get beyond 90 degree angles on things, all that algebra and trig comes into play. A few years ago I created a set of built in shelves that had to deal with a 73 degree corner in my house, and have a sheet of pencil scribbles and trig functions to figure out all the cuts and sizes of pieces I’d need. I’ve got a host of custom built furniture in my house, all of which required algebra and trig to get right. And don’t even get me started on my deck.

The math you learn in high school is actually the math of carpenters and farmers. It’s a foundation for high math, but it’s real use is in much more concrete things. And that’s the reason why “Our civilization would collapse without mathematics.”

So the next time someone starts going on about how math is unimportant, look them in the eye and say: you’ve never built anything with your hands, have you?

Olympic Fever

The London games have swept me up in an Olympic Fever that I haven’t had since Sydney (when I was there). The live extra streams (even with all there problems) take me back to being in the command center, with a bank of 16 screens all running live feeds off the venues. These are the same cameras, same floor coverage, with no commentary that I remember. The olympics raw. Love it.

That being said, the streaming has it’s issues. There is the cable requirement, that made me bump my programming up by $15 for the month. Annoying, but not a big deal. Our $60 satellite bill this month is something I’d gladly pay fully for Olympic coverage.

Device support, is less cool. I’ve yet to get Linux working with their live streams. Given that it’s all flash, that wasn’t supposed to be an issue this time around. I did just get the Nexus 7, and the Samsung S3, both of which are streaming fine. As I write this I’m watching the women’s bike race, in all it’s raw glory.

But, NBC is making is difficult to get this raw form onto your TV. The live extra app doesn’t work on Google TV. No Roku solution. So if you want streaming TV coverage you pretty much need to hook a full computer to it. The fact that MSNBC and NBC have been completely taken over for broadcast means we’ve got enough content to keep us busy, and can even fast forward through the fluff and commercials, but on principle I’d love to just have the road race up on the set instead of next to me on the Nexus 7.

And then there are the NBC chuckle heads, the ones that don’t know who Tim Berners-Lee is. It is truly amazing how horribly ignorant they all are. My only consolation is that the rest of the world is watching BBC coverage, and not seeing NBC’s american ignorance. After paying a couple billion dollars for these games, you’d think NBC would find more reasonable on air “talent”.

I really wonder how this will evolve for 2016. The right steps were taken this time around, but there is still so much more potential here. Just imagine if NBC ran multiple commentaries on the opening games, user selectable. You could then have the kind of commentary you were looking for. My vote would be for Peter Sagal and John Hodgeman. And let me stream to my TV if I’m allowed to stream to my tablet.

So it’s not all Unicorns and Rainbows, but for the first time since Sydney I did get to watch a Handball match, so I’m pretty happy.

The Nexus program – lead by example

2 years ago Google created the Nexus program for their Android phones. Vendors were off screwing around with things like dual screen android phones, 3D android phones, all the weird gimmicks that marketing people loved, and actually people hated (especially on a 2 year contract). The point of Nexus was to lead by example, and get out ahead of the vendors enough that they’d realize there was a better way to do this, and stop screwing around on egregious differentiation that had no real value.

I consider the Samsung S3 to be the natural child of the Nexus program. A non-Nexus device from Samsung which is gorgeous, wonderful to use, and has only minimal tweaks off the base UI. My wife and I just flipped to Verizon and got a pair of these last week, and my love for this device only gets stronger by the day.

I really think of Google’s new fiber project as a Nexus program. Google is demonstrating that there is a better way to do broadband, and that the economics are there for fiber to the home if you look at it systematically. A rethinking of how to roll out a network. I’m pretty sure Google doesn’t actually want to be an ISP, any more than they want to be a phone manufacturer. But by leading by example, they are going to change the nature of home connectivity.

Consumers only have control of the past

There is a popular saying:

If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.

This frames our relationships with Google, Facebook, etc. All those “free” web services that are trading in your data.

But there is a corollary:

If you don’t have the source code, and are willing to use it, you’re not in control of your future; consumers only have control of the past.

This is a lesson lots of large and small companies and governments have learned. It’s been a driving force in the rise of Linux and Open Source in general.

Recently, the new “app economy” has started to get hit by this, as this is a broad new consumption market. The sparrow acquisition by google has been a recent flash point.

Hopefully people participating in the app economy are going to start realizing that it does matter whether or not you have source code, and the right to use it to these apps.

Wise words about software

From a former Firefox developer, truer words were never spoken:

Software companies would do well to learn this lesson: anything with the phrase “users love our product” in it isn’t a strategy, it’s wishful thinking. Your users do not “love” your software. Your users are temporarily tolerating your software because it’s the least horrible option they have — for now — to meet some need. Developers have an emotional connection to the project; users don’t.

All software sucks. Users would be a lot happier if they had to use a lot less of it. They may be putting up with yours for now, but assume they will ditch you the moment something 1% better comes along — or the moment you make your product 1% worse.

I gave up Firefox as my main browser when Chrome decided to support WebGL on Linux, and Firefox kept back burnering it. Mozilla is now deprecating Thunderbird, which is the only product of theirs that I still use regularly. Guess that means I’m going to have to get used to GMail’s web interface eventually.

Sad to see something as critical as Mozilla, the beast that cracked the IE hegemony, become an also ran.