2010-12-07 02:48

A new stage, blah blah blah

You surely have seen a million posts like this one. Hacker X starts saying what a great time he had at company Y/college/mom's basement/the circus and how he will always miss the people there but anyway it's great to look forward to the challenge of life at company Z/unemployment/feng shui consulting/elefant excrement shoveling.

Well, this one is pretty much the same thing.

I started working at Canonical today. Yes, Canonical. The Ubuntu guys. You may wonder what a dyed-in-the-wool KDE guy is going to do there. Well, it's a job, dude, the 90s called and they want their flamefest back.

I am the new "Engineering Manager for the Desktop+ group". What the heck is that? Well, my job is to help a bunch of talented people I like (at least the ones I've known so far ;-) deliver cool software.

I will probably not be coding much, since this is a grownup job, the kind where instead of lines of code you are supposed to develop gastric ulcers and receding hairlines while you herd cats to the closest cat shed, but I will probably manage to do something, sometimes.

This position came at a good time for me. My kid is going to be 4 next year and go to school all day. What the heck was I gonna do at home all day then, watch anime? Build killer robots? Plan how to conquer the world?

And what happens to my previous job? Well... I still have it somehow. I own a piece of Net Managers (http://netmanagers.com.ar) but I will be stepping away from the daily management and operation of the business.

So, basically, I intend to take the money and dump the work on the backs of my capable partners (just kidding). In any case, the company can work just as well without me since we can now maybe hire an employee instead of paying me, so it's win/win ;-)

On other news, I will still work in the same table as the last 5 years, doing some of the same things, with different people. It doesn't sound so big when said like that, uh? Well, I will travel more, and there are interesting challenges in this new job.

In short: canonical, little coding, still own netmanagers, happy guy.

2010-12-06 18:56

Charla: docutils / rst y sus amigos

Again, spanish only because it's a video... in spanish.

Resulta que me olvidé que sí habían grabado mi charla de docutils y compañia. Gracias a Germán por hacerme acordar y mostrarme adonde estaba!

Y ... acá está:

2010-12-02 12:20

Charla: aplicaciones extensibles con PyQt

Spanish only, since it's about a video in spanish ;-)

Acá está, gracias a la gente de Junín, un video de mi charla "Aplicaciones extensibles usando PyQt", en la que intento mostrar como desarrollar una aplicación con PyQt y yapsy.

No es una charla con la que esté muy contento. La otra salió mejor, pero no se filmó, así que quedará solo en la memoria de los cuatro gatos locos que estábamos ahí ;-)

El resto de las charlas: http://unnoba.blip.tv/

2010-11-24 13:03

The market is down because... [sound of shaking magic 8-ball]

Let me share with you a piece from Money Central, but I am not picking on them, you can find the same crap on every newspaper or TV channel's financial section:

The push to dump stocks came in response to news that artillery fire was exchanged overnight between North Korea and South Korea. Though tension between the two nations has been persistent, the latest episode marks a dramatic escalation of the tone between them.

That development added to the distress of market participants, who have long held concern for the fragile state of finances among countries in the European Union periphery. Even Ireland remains a point of worry as it has yet to completely structure a bailout package and implement austerity measures.

Distress and uncertainty moved many into the relative safety of the dollar, which was up 1.3% against competing currencies at the close of trade. The advance marked its biggest one-day bounce in a month and put the currency at its best level in almost two months.

But my title is a lie, these guys are not looking at a magic 8-ball. What they are looking at is the rest of the newspaper. Let me share the recipe:

  1. See if the market is up or down.
  2. Up? Then look at the news and check for good news.
    1. What? No important god news? Awesome! Then figure out how something that looks bad is actually good. That's a golden chance to be declared insightful.
    2. Good news? Bingo, that's why the market is up.
  3. Down? Look at the news and check for bad news.
    1. Bad news? Ok, that's why.
    2. No big bad news? Great! Then something that's good needs to be described as "causing uncertainty"

In the real world, the business analysts have only the foggiest notion of why the markets move as they do. In fact, if they had a notion, the market wouldbe predictable. If it were predictable, then savvy investors would beat the market.

And that doesn't happen.

2010-11-17 23:10

Smoking 40 cigarettes a day decreases risk of lightning strikes, say statistics!

This title came to mind when I saw in the news references to an article in The Lancet about how in 2030 7 out of 10 deaths would be due to cardiovascular, diabetes, cancer, and chronic obstructive respiratory diseases.

The lesson most newspapers get out of this is "whoa, we are a bunch of lazy, salt and fat eating morons and we are all gonna die".

Sure, we are all gonna die, and yes, more people will die of those chronic illnesses in 2030. But that's mostly because we are not going to die of many other things that used to kill us earlier.

So, eat more veggies, stop smoking and don't worry too much.

Oh, and about cigarettes and lightning? I must confess I don't have the numbers to prove it, but I would be very surprised if that was not the case. After all, smoking 40 cigarettes a day should reduce your life expectation, and the less you live, the less likely are you to be hit by lightning. It's even a direct causal connection!

2010-11-16 15:38

We live in the future.

/static/thefuture.jpg

Neal Stephenson wrote:

There is something new: A globe about the size of a grapefruit, a perfectly detailed rendition of Planet Earth, hanging in space at arm's length in front of his eyes. Hiro has heard about this but never seen it. It is a piece of CIC software called, simply, Earth. It is the user interface that CIC uses to keep track of every bit of spatial information that it owns - all the maps, weather data, architectural plans, and satellite surveillance stuff.

Hiro has been thinking that in a few years, if he does really well in the intel biz, maybe he will make enough money to subscribe to Earth and get this thing in his office. Now it is suddenly here, free of charge...

And of course, I have just that very thing installed in my desktop. Not all the mentioned data is hooked into it, but hey, it is free of charge.

Heinlein wrote about private citizens and companies going into space. He thought it was not any government's job. And that is going to happen in my lifetime. I know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who went to space paying for it with his own money.

Of course there are no flying cars or rocket backpacks (those were good ideas... not!)

What's the difference between Gibson's Idoru and Gorillaz, except that it's cheaper to pay musicians than it is to build Artificial Intelligences? Can you tell me what's the point in building an AI, anyway? Aren't mechanical turks cheaper and better?

Asimov wrote about a foundation of scholars writing an encyclopedia to be constantly updated, containing the whole of humanity's knowledge (we got wikipedia instead. Good enough!)

Our phones are much nicer than Star Trek's communicators (for example, the loudspeaker is optional)

It's as if most of the ideas of scifi got filtered through a purifier and what made sense came out on the other side. I like living in the future. I want to see the next one.

2010-11-16 11:50

Internet Killed the Video Store

A few days ago, the last video rental in the neighborhood closed. It was a Blockbuster and since it's bankrupt in the US it's hardly surprising that they killed the Argentina operation.

But Blockbuster had, years earlier, killed all the other video rental shops. So now there aren't any, at all.

So, how does anyone with a DVD player actually use it? Well, he can buy DVDs in the newspaper stands. That's expensive because it's buying and it's late. Who will want to spend $35 to watch "Due Date" at home 3 months after the theatrical release? There is no NetFlix here!

And of course, you can do what everyone was doing anyway: downoad it, or buy illegal copies. They are often better than the originals anyway, at least in this sense:

http://www.bobbyschlicht.com/storage/piratedvd.jpg?__SQUARESPACE_CACHEVERSION=1271702206459

And really it's amazing. The whole movie rental industry has basically ceased to exist, and the competition is illegal. They sucked so much at its business that they couldn't compete with a "business" that can't do commercials, has no quality assurance.

Sometimes you got a very bad illegal copy, filmed from a seat in the last row, full of people talking over the movie you can barely see... and still, people preferred to buy that for $7 instead of paying $10 for a "quality" rental.

It's a tale of incredible incompetence. Quickly, can someone find me one example of an business that got killed by illegal and crappy competition?

There are crappy and/or illegal medicines, but pharmaceuticals still work. There are illegal (unlicensed) places to eat, but restaurants still make money. There are illegal cabs, but real cabs are in business.

This is not even bad, it's just embarrasing.

2010-11-15 12:49

Yes, I know I'm wrong, but listen to me...

I have a strong tendency to be argumentative. That's because I really enjoy a good argument, if you'll pardon the obviousness.

The best thing about a good argument is that you get the most amazing insights from the wrong side of it. For example, Lamarckian vs. Darwinian evolution: Lamarck was wrong. But Lamarckism is a heck of an idea, and once you get lamarckism, you can pass it on! (ha!).

Or, the chicken and the egg? I actually got into an argument (and I did not start it myself) about this a couple of weeks ago.

If you start with something that's wrong, you can backtrack and see why it's wrong. What was the implicit mistaken assumption, the incoming garbage that created the outgoing crap. And then you can tweak it. And see what new garbage comes out. Wrong stuff, but new stuff.

And that's one of the great things about being a nerd: nerds are the awesome at this. Oh, you may think people in politics would be better? Nah, they never change their minds. Lawyers? Well, they argue for money!

But nerds? We do it for fun. And most of us don't give a damn about looking weird to others because we already know we look weird to others.

Spending 4 hours locked in a car with average humans is mostly a chore. Someone will play music, maybe people will talk intermittently about stuff that happened in the last few days, whatever.

But lock 4 nerds in a car for 4 hours and you're going to listen to stuff. This happened to me twice in the last few weeks. And in between, we had a dinner with a very high nerd factor (with alcohol assist)... great fun.

IMG14266.JPG Warning, nerds and alcohol mix a bit too well.

Now, I know many experience this when they are with people that have a certain thing in common. I've seen something similar happen betwen, for example, communists and former communists. They would talk for hours, and it was lots of fun (even for me ;-) but what they talked about was their common thing: communism.

IMG14268.JPG Yes, the tiramisu has penguins in it.

Nerds apparently don't have such inclination. Nerds will argue about anything. Nerds will argue about everything. And that makes me think... why are nerds seen as shy and introverted? Hell, why are nerds shy and introverted? How can I reconcile what I see when I'm among fellow nerds and how others see us?

IMG14262.JPG Yes, penguin cookies

And it's not easy. I am by all standard measures painfully shy. I had great difficulty making friends when I was a kid. I didn't like the things other kids liked. I didn't know many things they knew all along. I continuously was the butt of jokes for being naïve on things I had never heard about. I was always afraid to speak when I was in a group because I thought I would make a fool of myself.

Shy doesn't mean boring. Shy doesn't mean someone who doesn't have anything interesting to say. Shy means someone that has problems starting.

On the other hand, I have spoken in front of hundreds and I've been told I look relaxed (I am not, I am faking, guys). I write under my real name and I never felt something was "too weird" so I shouldn't write it (coming soon: an economic explanation of why men like to see women kissing), so I am not really afraid of people thinking I'm weird. What the hell, I know I'm weird. Ask me if you see me: Am I weird? Yes!

But I still have trouble when I am in a party with people I don't know (I am lucky my wife is like social WD-40). I still have trouble making small talk. I don't know what happened in the TV show everyone watches. I appear shy and introverted. Until you know me.

2010-11-12 00:47

The lottery as a rational investment.

There is a prejudice that the poor play lotteries because they are lazy, can't save and are generally stupid and are hurting themselves by chasing the fantasy of winning instead of saving pennies. You know what? It's bullshit.

When I was in high school (about 13 years old), I once had a plan to make money: I would play the lottery. Here's the mechanism I had in mind.

I would play $1 in the quiniela. Quiniela pays $700 for each $1 you bet, and you have to choose a number between 000 and 999. My idea was: I can bet the $1 my parent give me every day, and there's a chance I make $700. If I had $700 I could buy anything a 13-year old kid may want. With $1? Not so much.

Of course you are right now thinking: What a moron! He has a 0.001 chance of winning and it pays 700 to 1, so it's a losing bet! Bzzzzzt!

Let's start with some simple simulation code:

import random

n = 476

for tests in range(10000):
    for w in range(1000):
        q = random.randint(0,999)
        if n == q:
            break

    print(w)

Short explanation: run 10000 simulations of this process:

  • We play each day for 1000 days.
  • If we win, we stop.
  • If we don't win in 1000 days we stop.
  • We record the number where we stop.

So, I ran it. Here's a graph of the results

histogram

So, how many never won anything? In my data set: 3699 players out of 10000 never won anything.

How many actually lost money? 5030 players.

And how many won money? 4967 players won money.

2910 players won in less than 350 plays.

3 players got exactly even money, winning in their 700th play. For them, this was exactly the same as saving their money.

So, is it a good idea to play a lottery like this? It's a coin toss. Half the time, you end with no money. Half the time, you end with more money than if you had saved.

If you are betting disposable income (a sufficiently low amount that "it doesn't hurt"), it works out. You have a fair chance (50%) of a reward at least as good as saving the money, and a decent chance (25%) of a reward twice as good.

And you have a fair chance (50%) of losing money. But you would lose it very, very slowly and painlessly. ¿How well do you think stocks compare to that? ¿And what are the barriers to entry on both games?

In short: playing the lottery is not irrational, really, it's just a savings plan. It sure was a better idea than buying candy!

2010-11-11 00:00

Memorias de un ingeniero

  • Author: Alfredo de Hoces
  • Rating:
  • See in goodreads
  • Review:

    I read this by recommendation of my friend Nico César and... it's so much fun even the spanish slang didn't bother me.

    From now on, egg cartons will never be the same thing for me.

Contents © 2000-2019 Roberto Alsina