Saturday, November 05, 2005

2 Tons

"Books: 4000+ lbs"

Item from the inventory of Grabel movers on our apartment.
Holy Shit!

I would never have guessed we had that many books. OTOH, all the closets are full, every corner is piled with them etc. We have pieces of furniture which are effectively 90% book by weight. If you've never been inside the apartment, this is the reason why. It's usually a mess with books all over the place. But two tons?? I would never have guessed that.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The First Lady's Possessions

Well, she looks possessed to ME.

Wonkette is hilarious today. (Especially the bit about Scott)

A Complex Quote

I'm not sure what to make of this quote from Bill Frist:

''It was, of course, a heinous and dishonest thing to do. And I was totally schizoid about the entire matter. By day, I was little Billy Frist, the boy who lived on Bowling Avenue in Nashville and had decided to become a doctor because of his gentle father and a dog named Scratchy. By night, I was Dr. William Harrison Frist, future cardiothoracic surgeon, who was not going to let a few sentiments about cute, furry little creatures stand in the way of his career. In short, I was going a little crazy.''
--From Bill Frist's 1989 memoir concerning his capturing, killing and dissecting of cats

I'm not sure of the context of "capturing, killing and dissecting of cats". If he means he caught them himself and dissected them, it seems a little weird. I don't know that much about med school, so if anyone has any idea, I'd appreciate enlightenment.

He certainly seems to have a conflicted tone here, arrogant, ambitious and yet uncomfortable about his moral limits. And, to his credit, self-aware enough to know he's uncomfortable. In general I am slightly more reassured by this than if he had no qualms about (I'm presuming) hunting and killing cats. OTOH, he clearly went past some outer moral lighthouse on this and kept going. Maybe that's a strength, maybe it's sociopathic ambition, I can't tell.

It's an interesting quote though, even if I can't quite parse it.

There is more, even more amaturish psychobable here. I think the writer read too much into it.

A Risk I Am Willing to Take

I had a dream as a kid where I died in the Middle East in my 40's. It was very strong and for a long time (until the date in question finally passed) I superstitiously gave it a wide berth.

Geoff brings this into the conversation below:

Toast171: You know, in the dream where I get shot coming off the plane in the middle east, you are standing next to me.
Toast171: Maybe you do come with me after all
Thaurloteion: see? so i have to come
Thaurloteion: otherwise it disrupts the timeline
Toast171: and it would cause a cascade of quantum collapse across all the realities. You are a nexus.
Toast171: {I heard that on Dr. Who}
Thaurloteion: well see then i have to go
Toast171: actually, according to temporal physics, you already went.
Toast171: You go because you always go
Toast171: nothing I decide can change it
Thaurloteion: so book me a ticket
Toast171: oh, you have to pay for it yourself
Toast171: but you do, because you always do
Toast171: in a sense, you already paid for it
Thaurloteion: how do you know i dont always have my ticket purchased for me?
Toast171: it's a possible disruption to the fabric of all reality I am willing to risk

Thaurloteion: but think of all those alternate realities you could wipe out
Toast171: Every decision wipes out alternate realities.
Toast171: Chicken or Fish? Poof! Millions of worlds gone
Toast171: Coke or Pepsi
Toast171: smooth or ribbed
Toast171: it's all the same

I Blog, You Decide

I have an opportunity to perhaps go to Iraq and help them set up some infrastrucutre for a Central Bank. Working with third world countries and getting them into the payments area has become an accidental speciality at MSFT and we are considering going in and setting up a good portion of the central systems.

I made the mistake of mentioning this to Geoff.

Thaurloteion: when are you supposed to go to iraq?
Toast171: dunno
Thaurloteion: where in iraq are you supposed to go?
Toast171: Baghdad, in theory
Thaurloteion: can i come too?
Toast171: I'm thinking... no
Thaurloteion: you said next time you got a security detail i could come
Toast171: ...
Toast171: I didn't mean go "into a war zone"
Thaurloteion: I don’t eat much and I don’t know right from wrong
Toast171: neither of those things are true
Toast171: I am not taking you to Iraq
Thaurloteion: maybe it'll scare me away from thinking about enlisting
Toast171: like scared straight?
Thaurloteion: yes
Toast171: ... but with bullets instead of anal rape
Thaurloteion: right
Toast171: No!
Thaurloteion: please?
Toast171: I don't think this is a "please" situation
Thaurloteion: what kind of situation is it?
Toast171: a Kevlar pajamas kind
Thaurloteion: that wouldn’t be an issue if you would have bought me that kevlar i wanted in high school
Toast171: The past is full of regrets for all of us
Thaurloteion: travel abroad is always a plus on a resume
Thaurloteion: especially a resume for the letter soups
Toast171: so is "being alive"
Thaurloteion: that’s what the security detail is for
Thaurloteion: plus itd be a good networking opportunity
Thaurloteion: i could talk with the civilian contractors and see who's hiring and such
Toast171: networking with Al Queda?
Thaurloteion: no, places like kbr
Thaurloteion: it'd be a nice thing to do
Toast171: How about if I blog this and let the responses decide?
Thaurloteion: ok
Thaurloteion: if there’s one thing we republicans are good at, its rigging elections

Comment below please

What I Do for a Living

I often get asked, especially by friends I don’t see very often, what I do for a living. Sometimes it’s kind of hard to describe and, often, my job title doesn’t help much or is only tangentially related. Generally speaking, I solve various kinds of problems. Sometimes they are problems in logistics, or software testing, or design and engineering. Occasionally they are management or personnel problems and every once in a great while, it’s a problem like funding or patents. Once or twice in my career, I’ve been asked to work on a team which tries to solve something big, sometimes really big, and I enjoy these jobs the most.

Often, but certainly not always (or even the majority of time), my solutions work. Most times they don’t work completely and sometimes they totally fail. Generally though, the sum value of all the working bits outweighs the non-working bits and folks end up giving me more problems to solve. When I was younger, I would do this in ways which would often frustrate and annoy my friends because, while everyone would agree the solution worked, no one quite understood how I’d come up with it. [One that comes to mind was solving a complicated problem involving inductive transformers by looking at the problem as a magnetic circuit and solving it in 3 lines. Knezek actually whaled on me with a copy of Jackson for about 5 minutes until I hit her back. To this day *I* am considered the bully there for some reason!] These days, since I am being paid and the solutions often have some value, no one really cares much how I did it.
This is good, because often, I don’t know either.

Once in a very great while, usually only once or twice in one of my 5 year company careers, I do something really cool. At CertCo I got to do that twice, once with the Identrus architecture and once again with the NTBTO. At HKS I invented an automated QA system that used an AI. At Kurzweil… well, nothing that great actually. Some UI stuff, some organizational stuff, but nothing “oh!” kind of clever. I never work on these alone, so I would never claim sole credit, but they are cool collaborative efforts in which I’ve seen an idea of mine come to life.

I’ve gotten my first opportunity to do one of these at Microsoft. In this case, it’s the future of banking. The challenge; only given technology you have accessible today, design a banking/trade floor system that will last for 30 years. Burroughs did this in the late 60s, early 70’s, IBM did it in the mid-70’s, as did Tandum and a few others. But all those systems are old now and, despite the fact that I don’t believe in a singularity per se, technology really is changing very fast, Moore’s law is still approximately correct and standards are evolving at a pace which calls into question the use of the word. The old systems are dying quickly and there is a real problem with replacement. Some would say “don’t bother, it’s changing too fast. Design it for 5 to 7 years.” Which would be a fair answer to another technologist, but bankers just won’t accept it. Y2K was a big shock to them and many have not gotten over it or really understand why it happened. Bankers think in 30 year timeslots and MSFT has gone in, unsuccessfully with the 5-7 year line for 20 years now and it simply doesn’t fly.

Kenny McBride, the head of MSFT Capital Markets along with Warren Lewis and David Vander in Banking, and I have been cranking on this problem for about a year now. The first cut of this is ready for public consumption, at least at the Vision/prototype level. We’ve put together 5 technical architectures in Payments, Trade Order Management, Insurance, Compliance and Channel Renewal, all based on existing technology, pieces of which are in play at different banks and Financial Service Institutions all over the planet. I’ve been test marketing the idea now for a few months and showing parts of it to various audiences, all of whom have given valuable feedback. This package was launched this week at the event with the PSI Banker’s School and Microsoft’s ISU 2005 and it seems to have gotten a good reception.

Our Industry and Innovation group (i.e. the marketing group), sat down with Warren, David and myself and asked us a bunch of questions about what this will look like, then put together the following. This is not a technical presentation, but one for getting the banking community to take a look at the underlying architectures and getting them to think about what is possible. Think of this as the commercial which gets them into the showroom where I can talk to them about the engine, gas mileage etc. Since it’s been launched, I think I’m allowed to show it.

It’s here although, somewhat ironically, you’ll need flash to run it. Don’t ask me, I think our whole marketing department runs on Quark Express or some crazy crap like that. Also, it's large. Very Large, 50M

[Update: some security systems won't let you run the demo. I've posted a zip with everything you need ZIPFILE. Download and run it from that. Apologies}

Everything in it is possible to put into production today. All the really hard bits; straight through processing, reference data lookup, micropayments, TARGET 2, STEP2, Basel, etc. are all covered in the technical architecture, which is under NDA. I can say most of the solutions are based on variations of an Enterprise Service Bus architecture, and all of them are compatible with existing systems, legacy systems, unix etc. Mobility is a key technology and, using the .NET framework, the application code is largely independent of the end rendering device, i.e. I can write a smart client app for the desktop and it will work with little or no modification on a mobile platform.

It’s a cool thing and one of the few times I have something tangible I can show a general audience about what I do.

The Geoff Horvath Award

Appearently it's real. There's even a photo of Geoff Horvath.

a hat tip to Becky, who found this

The Heart of the Problem with Traditional Marriage

Dan Savage gets the prototypical letter on "tired marriage syndrome"

Various Conversations with Geoff

He's 20 now, I have to stop calling him "the boy"

Thaurloteion: hows banker college?
Toast171: good! My bank placed 4th overall. I made a lot of money, but lost some accounts
Thaurloteion: did they give you surprises
Thaurloteion: like a robbery
Thaurloteion: robberies drive away accounts
Toast171: It was a $100,000,000,000 bank in 15 states. Robbery is built into the model.
Thaurloteion: oh, good then
Thaurloteion: if you were a school you could make a banner like the one at the school near work
Thaurloteion: it says the school name
Thaurloteion: and what appears to be a motto or something motivational
Thaurloteion: it says "We made adequate yearly progress in 2004"
Toast171: Our bank, with $100 billion in assets was called "The Penny Bank"
Toast171: because we had a lot of pennies
Thaurloteion: one time i hit someone with a sock full of pennies
Thaurloteion: he said it hurt
Thaurloteion: why does your bank hurt people?
Toast171: To teach people painful lessons about saving money


Thaurloteion: did the doctors ever shine a light in your eye to look for a ring of copper?
Thaurloteion: see i saw this on a tv show
Toast171: not my eye, no.

Thaurloteion: there was this crazy lady, and they thought she had schizophrenia
Thaurloteion: but she wasnt crazy she just had some kind of disease that puts copper in your eye
Toast171: Wilson's Disease. It's very rare.
Thaurloteion: probably
Toast171: There is a chance I have that
Thaurloteion: oh
Thaurloteion: thats bad
Toast171: No, it's good. It's curable
Thaurloteion: but it can be fatal
Toast171: the alternative is also fatal and less curable
Thaurloteion: oh, that is also bad
Toast171: I agree. It would also be bad news for my decendants
Thaurloteion: its genetic isnt it?
Toast171: yes, and dominant
Thaurloteion: thats bad for me. but why wouldnt it have shown up prior to now?
Toast171: It usually shows up at 40
Thaurloteion: oh
Toast171: but there is a genetic test for it, so you'd know now and 20 years to worry about it
Thaurloteion: so instead of a car for my midlife crisis, i'm going to get a fatal disease
Thaurloteion: great...
Toast171: no, they don't know that I have that. I'm still hoping for copper.
Thaurloteion: hey! i could play the sympathy card
Thaurloteion: it'd get mad wimmens
Toast171: besides, that means you're at mid-life now, so you'd get a cool car
Toast171: mad wimmins... hahahahhahahahahaha
Toast171: If you do, don't mention the insanity thing right away.
Toast171: wait until your third date
Thaurloteion: see thats the thing with having mad wimmens, its all one night stands and such

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Alito Speculation

From Volokh from Bloomberg

Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito Jr., meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, told one senator that the U.S. Constitution guarantees a right to privacy and won praise from Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said Alito told him in their meeting that he recognized a right to privacy, the principle that underlies the Supreme Court's abortion rights rulings. "I think he believes in that fundamental right," Durbin told reporters in Washington

I'm guessing he makes it, short of another conservative backlash, a nanny problem, or photos of him eating a baby.

Banking School

I'm away this week, taking a course on how to run a bank. It's been more fun than it sounds so far, made more palatable by tools like the bank simulator. The first part of the day is spent on the blocking and tackling parts of banking, retail, commercial, operations, asset and liability management etc. In the afternoon we work in teams, are given a bank told to build a three year plan. The team is 4 or 5 people (one/two for retail/commercial, one for ops and one for asset management plus a CEO on some teams) and we are given a wide variety of knobs to turn, everything from ATM fees and locations to variable interest rate loans, interbank loans, overnight Fed loans etc. Each team is given the same bank to start, a little time on the simulator and then, at the end of the day, each team puts in a profile and the system runs them against each other along with some economic information. In the morning, we find out what we did right/wrong and what our status is among the other players.

There are about 100-120 folks in the class, divided into 4 regions of 7 banks each. Each team starts with the same bank and with the same economic info (e.g. prime is 800 bp but will goto to 775 at the end the of year one etc.) and with the FULL books and numbers for the bank. It would take the better part of a week to carefully parse the information, think it through and develop a strategy. We have 90 minutes. :)

Some observations:

Lots of folks cut all their mid and mass market programs and "focused" of high net worth. Of the 10-12 teams I talked to afterwards, all but one other took this strategy. Being a contrarian at heart, and remembering the ING think tank last month, I chose the other way and somewhat convinced the team to go along. We'll see today, but I suspect that there will be big fight for a handful of individuals and my Wall-mart, cheap and easy strategy will work (or I will have busted the bank, we'll see).

Most people were very conservative. They took this seriously and made no huge changes. We didn't either.

There was a trend in the HNWI data that, oddly, many of the HNWI strategy folks missed. HNW had a problem with non-performing loans, more so than mass market. This was surprising and we checked the data 4 or 5 times. We fixed this by raising minimum credit scores to 700 from 650 and then pouring some marketing money into it. Everyone else I talked to lowered this number. The way the sim works (I think), they will get a short term bump today, but then get hit hard on NPL tomorrow. We'll see.

No one took the "shoot the moon" strategy, i.e. no one liquidated all their branches and went totally online. Branches are a huge cost and the model would allow you to save huge by getting rid of them, but no one I talked to did. I hope today we find someone who did, I'd like to see how this pans out.

That's it. I'll update tomorrow, but the SimBank think is really a lot of fun and I'm learning shitloads about banking.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Brain Worms

Speaking of which, I am going into Lahey next Monday for about a week after which, hopefully, we'll have a final resolution for the brain worms thing. They're re-running everything from scratch and can compare it to the baselines last year.

Lots of problems are better (walking, swallowing) a few things are not as hot (I make faces now at random, I'm getting twitchier and, curiously for me, I'm getting a little emotional).

My working hypothesis is still some kind of metal poisoning, but I'll be relieved to get this done with and back to normal.

Moving Day

We had our pre-move walkthrough last week. This is where the movers, in this case Grabel, comes through the house, estimates the load, looks for breakables etc. I was traveling that day, so Jim did the tour and confirmed with them that we wanted pickup on the 31st. We spent last weekend packing and getting things in order. On the way back from dinner I noticed the moving permit signs were not up for the following morning. Not good.

Sure enough, the next day, no movers arrived.

I finally got a hold of them around noon. Despite having told them 3 times, they didn't record when we were scheduled for pick up. "Oh we can do it later in the week.", said my breezily unaccountable rep. That's not good for me as I'll be traveling and I'm in Lahey most of next week. ugh.

While being a Problem, it's not quite yet a ClusterFuck.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Also from FSM

I can't get my head around this quote:

"[Evolution] is not a fact . . . We're dealing with censorship here. If we only taught Shakespeare in English class, that wouldn't be fair."-- Senator Chris Buttars

So we should teach Shakespeare in ... gym?


The FSM knows global warming:

You may be interested to know that global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of Pirates since the 1800s. For your interest, I have included a graph of the approximate number of pirates versus the average global temperature over the last 200 years. As you can see, there is a statistically significant inverse relationship between pirates and global temperature.

The propsed explaination drew this response:

"It is a serious offense to mock God.",Mrs. Kathy Martin, District 6, Kansas State Board of Education

Technically, they are mocking you Mrs. Martin.

There is also this shameless bit of self-promotion:

Flimsy moral standards.
Every friday is a relgious holiday. If your work/school objects to that, demand your religious
beliefs are respected and threaten to call the ACLU.
Our heaven is WAY better. We've got a Stripper Factory AND a Beer Volcano.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Futurama pi-K

The mathematics of Futurama.

and, of course, the Simpsons.

2. Lisa: Dad, as intelligence goes up, happiness often goes down. In fact, I made a graph! [She holds up a decreasing, concave upward graph on axes marked “intelligence” and “happiness”] Lisa: [sadly] I make a lot of graphs.

250,000 superballs in San Francisco

via Boing Boing.


Geoff and I once released a dozen superballs into a parking strucuture in Altoona. This is exactly 20,833.3333 times better.

The Geometry of Pundits not orthonormal. From the NYT today on the atmosphere in the White House

"People who tell you that having a scandal doesn't affect them have one, never been through it; two, are lying; or three, are idiots," Mr. Sosnik said.

Climate Change News

Sometime back Travis had linked to the following as a catch-all explanation for why one should not believe in climate change data as relates to the Greenhouse Effect. All the recorded temperature change could be explained by variations in the solar cycle. I had a little free time today and thought I'd take a look at the paper. The graph above summerizes their findings.

It's quite a compelling chart.

It's also been completely refuted. While the authors of the refutation don't make a political judgment, they do show that the only arithmetic errors Friis-Christensen and Lassen make support their hypothesis and handle the rest correctly.

The revised chart without the errors fails to support their idea in any way.

Alastair G. W. Cameron, 80, Theorist on Creation of Moon, Dies

From the NYT:

Dr. Cameron's famous work, known as the giant impact theory, holds that a planet roughly the size of Mars struck Earth, sending fragments of Earth's mantle spinning into the atmosphere. The ring of space debris that resulted may have ultimately come together to form the Moon.

Dr. Cameron was a former associate director for planetary sciences at Harvard and was chairman of its astronomy department from 1976 to 1982.

He and others, principally William K. Hartmann of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, proposed the impact theory in the 1970's and developed it in later decades. The two scientists had been working independently on the idea when Dr. Hartmann presented his research at a meeting at Cornell in 1974.

The origin of the Moon has been a long standing problem in astrophysics. Lest you think it's been completely solved, there are still arguments about getting all the angular momentum balanced out from Cameron's theory.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Ummm... That's What 'Coverup' Means David

I haven't posted anything on the Scooter indictment in part because I wanted to get my thoughts together and in part I wanted to see how things shake out.

I disagree in general with the celebratory mood over at Kos. This is not "Fitzmas" or some crazy thing, this is a potential tragedy and no American ought to be partying over this. If true, it means that the highest level of government conspired to mislead the American public and hide the evidence deep enough so that investigators could not find it.

I also disagree with the folks at National Review who seem to have taken up the "trivial perjury" talking points. Again, if true, there is nothing trivial about this.

I also can't quite figure out the mood at RedStates who seem to think this week was just a bad one and now they can get back to running the country into the ground. I think there is a lot of fall out yet to come and the elected GOP folks are going to try to get some distance from the president.

Then there is Volokh where the mood is sober, the discussion enlightened and the partisanship minimal. Quite refreshing.

Finally, there is this totally outer space piece by David Brooks today:

But he did not find evidence to prove that there was a broad conspiracy to out a covert agent for political gain. He did not find evidence of wide-ranging criminal behavior. He did not even indict the media's ordained villain, Karl Rove. And as the former prosecutors Robert Ray and Richard Ben-Veniste said on "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," he gave little indication he was going to do that in the future.

I sent the following email to Mr. Brooks:


You're missing the point. The point of the perjury and making false statements charges is that Mr. Libby has hidden any possible evidence well enough that the Justice Department couldn't find it. It doesn't mean, at this point, that evidence doesn't exist. Assuming Mr. Libby is cleared of these charges, one can then safely assume there was no crime.

Sometimes I can't believe I paid money to read his craptastic logic.