Sunday, October 25, 2009

Los Gatos Meats & Smokehouse – Sandwich

Los Gatos Meats and Smokehouse Pig Barbeque
Travelmarx is in Los Gatos and had a hankering for a meat sandwich so we stopped by the Los Gatos Meats & Smokehouse for a sandwich after one and a half hours of serene sweating at Yoga Source. A delicious reward. If you are in the area this is a great place to grab a sandwich. We had a Smokehouse Signature JJ Special which was slow smoked, pulled pork w/ BBQ sauce.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

I just finished The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995) by Carl Sagan (1934-1996) and I was left scratching my head as to why science is still just a candle in the dark. Sagan’s hope is that science and the scientific method become accessible to the layperson. His main plea throughout the book is for the reader to be skeptical and guard against credulity. Chapter 10 has this quote that sums it up: “Keeping an open mind is a virtue – but, as the space engineer James Oberg once said, not so open that your brains fall out.”

Only a few times does Sagan suggest why skepticism is lacking. At one point in Chapter 18 – Dust in the Wind he states that he believes science and the required skepticism that goes along with it are difficult for the average person to grasp due to political and hierarchical pressures, that is, it isn’t innate capability that’s the problem. Later in Chapter 24 – Science and Witchcraft he elaborates a bit more and writes:

“The business of skepticism is to be dangerous. Skepticism challenges established institutions. If we teach everybody, including, say high school students, habits of skeptical thought, they will probably not restrict their skepticism to UFOs, aspirin commercials, and 35,000 year-old channelees. Maybe they’ll start asking awkward questions about economic, or social, or political, or religious institutions. Perhaps they’ll challenge those in power.”

The last thought is interesting and should be followed up using the very same methods Sagan is proposing in the book, methods he calls the Baloney Detection Kit. The kit is in some ways the centerpiece of the book. It is a checklist for evaluating a claim to knowledge. (For example, a claim that aliens built the pyramids. One would use the kit to evaluate that claim.) The checklist items are quite accessible and easy to read and provide a good filtering apparatus for evaluating all ideas or positions that you might encounter. The kit also includes a list of common fallacies in logic and rhetoric that you might encounter in applying the aforementioned list of points with someone who holds a claim you are evaluating. Here’s a video summary of the idea of the Baloney Detection Kit – though this summary has slightly different points – that gives a pretty good idea of what it’s about.

Since Sagan is a science popularizer the book may seem lightweight to those looking for some more substance. At times Sagan seems dreamy-eyed with the prose. But the story he tells, the relevancy of the topic, and his sincerity for the subject keep the dreamy aspect from dominating too much. I especially liked the fact that Sagan used stories from the lives of historical figures like Frederick Douglass, James Clerk Maxwell, Sir Isaac Newton, and William Blake, to name a few, to make his points.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

An Interview Kiss Off

I received this from a recruiter recently regarding an interview several weeks previous:
Apologies for not looping back with you sooner. Unfortunately we won't be moving forward at this time. We are resourcing the team a little differently and won't be hiring positions that would be a good fit for you until early next year.

I cannot decide whether to believe this or not. This was from a recruiter that I had to beg to get any information from so it feels lame. A day after the interview I wrote an email thanking the recruiter and the team that interviewed me. The recruiter responded immediately and said that they would make a decision in a day or so. Fast forward two weeks and still no word so I decide to send a polite note asking for status. I got an instant email reply that implied I would get a call that very afternoon. I waited but no call came in. Six days later and still nothing, so I sent another email saying that I now had another job offer and would like to know where I stood. (The new offer was not a threat but true.) That’s when I received the statement above. Boy, nothing like setting expectations. I’m okay to not be qualified for a position, but I would like to know where I stand so I can move on. This was also from a recruiter who waxed glowingly that in the company I was interviewing for (and that the recruiter works for), how you do something is just important as why. Oh, I see now.

I Like Russian Spam Email

Russian Spam Email
Well, at least better than other spam email because Russian-language spam is amenable to filtering. In Outlook I just set a few rules to watch for a few common Cyrillic characters. For example, this character: Д in the subject seems common and so I filter on that. (I guess it translates to a “D” or “delta”.) I also throw anything from the domain away. Think of all the deals I’m missing.
Rules Wizard in Outlook

Garden Orb Weaver Spider

Garden Orb Weaver - Dark Shade Garden Orb Weaver - Light Shade
We sure have some fat Araneus diadematus hanging around Travelmarx headquarters these days. The common name for this spider is the European garden spider or cross orb-weaver. They are plumping up and getting ready to leave behind an egg sac for the next season. The spiders photographed will most likely die as they live typically one season. The two spiders shown here show some of the color variation the garden orb-weaver is known for. These are both females due to the presence of an epigynum on their undersides. (I'm guessing that the males of this species must make a web in order to catch food?)

These spiders hang head down in their webs waiting for prey. These and other spiders start their webs using a technique called “kiting” where a thread of silk is left to blow in the wind until it contacts an object like a branch.

Some other tidbits about the European garden spiders.  The specific epithet (diadematus) means crowned; wearing a diadem; adorned. And, this spider has had it's own movie, a short documentary called Epeira diadema (1952) by Italian director Alberto Ancilotto (1903 - 1971). 

For more pictures of A. diadematus and other spiders in this genus, see European orb-weavers at Spiders of NW-Europe.

(Note: For quite some time, I misidentified this as Eriophora transmarina until an astute reader corrected me.)

Thank you diadematus for your service this year and hope to see your young ones next year.

Update: 2010’s Spider

Monday, October 19, 2009

Vegas: What Happens in Vegas Can Stay There

Gambling in the Las Vegas Airport 

I can't put it any other way: Vegas is fairly ugly and contains frumpy people. I will grant you that many of the frumpy people seem to be travelling there for vacation. (For the record this was not a Travelmarx vacation. This trip was about visiting family on the outskirts. We had a good time.) 

People in Vegas are misshapen, dressed in all sorts of wacky outfits, and are wrinkled in the hard-knocks-kind-of-way, not in the sagely-nice-kind-of-way. Furthermore, people who travel there seem to throw any decorum to the wind and behave like idiots. Have you ever been on a plane bound for Vegas where the rowdiness started before even leaving your starting point? I rest my case.

As if frumpy, misshapen people are not enough, they arrange themselves in front of video machines, pulling a lever with one hand with a big drink of some kind in the other and all the while wearing a vacant and vaguely dissatisfied look on their faces, all while losing money. Oh humanity and the misunderstanding of probability theory. 

Traveling around Vegas proper is all endless concrete highway and pavement, crushed stone, cookie cutter residential condo units with names like they want you to believe you are somewhere else (Italy?): the Tuscany, Tremezzo or Bella Fiore (should be bel fiore technically ?). There are the more honest and descriptive complexes with names like Ridge View or Whitney Ranch but they are still cookie-cutters. 

Driving around Las Vegas leave you with a feeling of isolation. Outside of the strip and downtown, we hardly see people using sidewalks or engaged with the community. It’s all built to be best experienced from the privacy and comfort of your car at 50 mph. You learn quickly which parking lots connect to each other so you can avoid an eight lane road here or a divided highway there that you can’t easily get across. There is endless retail: lots of dentistry, video poker and bad food.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Music Recommendation: Emiliana Torrini

Emiliana Torrini - Me and Armini
We just got our hands on the now one-year old album from the fabulous Emiliana Torrini called Me and Armini. From start to finish, we can’t find anything bad to say about it. Some videos from the album: Jungle Drum, Big Jumps, Me and Armini. Torrini’s album before this, Fisherman’s Women (2005), was very good as well. Torrini was the voice on Gollum’s Song (video) from the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers soundtrack.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

De Long’s Grape Varietal Table, But For Software Technology?

De Long's Wine Varietal Table - Poster
Whenever we go to pick up the latest arrival at Garagiste, I can’t help but sneak a peek at their De Long’s Wine Varietal Table. The De Long’s Web site calls it a “reference disguised as a fine art print” – but the average person on the street would probably say “poster”. Nonetheless I love the attempt at presenting the information graphically and textually in an appealing way. I have no idea if it is considered useful or fluff by those in the know.

After looking at the wine varietal table I started to wonder if technology – and I’m talking here software-related technology but it probably could be more generalized – could be arranged in a similar graphical way. So you could see quickly how C++ is related to C#, C# is related to F#, and F# is related to Python. Or how WCF is related to REST, REST related to SOA, and SOA related to Web 2.0.