New Caelifera

New Caelifera

modern methow cabin

Sad News

I’m sad to share the news that my wife, Melissa Bacon, passed away this last weekend after a battle with cancer. She was amazing beyond words. For those in the Seattle area, we will be having a celebration of her life. Details here A Celebration of Melissa Bacon.

Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face
Do you realize we’re floating in space,
Do you realize that happiness makes you cry
Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die
And instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It’s hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn’t go down
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round
Do you realize, oh, oh, oh?
Do you realize that everyone you know
Someday will die?
And instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It’s hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn’t go down
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round
Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face
Do you realize?

admin May 16, 2018 2 Comments Permalink

And Now Back To a House Blog

We close on a new home next week! So, apologies to my two readers, I’ll now be posting about various home decor sundries.

admin November 23, 2017 Leave A Comment Permalink

Book: Crystal Fire

Crystal Fire: The Invention of the Transistor and the Birth of the Information Age by Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson

We live in the age of the transistor. One estimate is that humanity has made over 2.9 sextillion transistors (sextillion is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000). This number is amazing, though whenever I think about counting numbers, I remember, Agravados number and am humbled by complexity of biology.

Crystal Fire is a history of the development of the transistor. As such it focuses on the three who won the Nobel Prize for this discovery: Bardeen, Braittain, and Shockley. The book is well done, and a good introduction to the story. I guess because I’ve read a lot about the early history of the transistor I was, however, a little bit disappointed. The book doesn’t delve into the Julius Edgar Lilienfeld’s early patent (though it is mentioned as a motivator for the speed with which the transistor was patented), a story which I find fascinating. It also doesn’t discuss the “second” invention, the Transistron. It also doesn’t give as thorough accounting of Shockley’s wild time after the invention of the point contact transistor in which he needed to make his own ideas real. I did learn a bit more about Braittain, probably the most famous graduate of Washington state’s Whitman college (and definitely the most famous person from the Okanogan valley).

Recommended for a good introduction to the early invention of the transistor.

admin August 19, 2017 1 Comment Permalink

Book: Moore’s Law

Moore’s Law: The Life of Gordon Moore, Silicon Valley’s Quiet Revolutionary by Arnold Thackray, David Brock and Rachel Jones.

Gordon Moore once said my name. I’ve always been pretty stoked about that. Mostly because he was at the center of one of the greatest technological revolutions that humanity has seen: the rise of the silicon microprocessor. This book is a detailed biography, including lots of back story on Moore’s family. Moore’s personal life and even his personality was, in some ways, not too remarkable. This is not a book full of amusing stories, but instead focuses on the long pull of Moore’s life work. I came away from it with a greater appreciation of how complicated the story of the integrated circuit really was. We forget how long and how many challenges were overcome over the many decades of the rise of Moore’s law. Seeing how these were attacked was illuminating. The attack was generally first by putting on the scientist hat to try to understand, and then pivoting to engineering to see how to fix it, but often was a messy mix of the two, with an amazing amount of prior “expertise” necessary to make progress.

Recommended for nerds of the history of computing.

admin August 12, 2017 Leave A Comment Permalink

Book: Amusing Ourselves To Death

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman

This book caused me to uninstall multiple apps from my phone. I suppose that is a strong recommendation. It also inspired Roger Waters album “Amused to Death”, which I am quite fond of. While some of the book is dated by its focus on television, the central ideas about how technology has shaped culture feel even more relevant today.

We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another – slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.


admin August 12, 2017 Leave A Comment Permalink

Book: John Stewart Bell and Twentieth-Century Physics, Vision and Integrity

John Stewart Bell and Twentieth-Century Physics: Vision and Integrity by Andrew Whitaker

The strangeness of quantum theory shows itself in Bell’s theorem. At its root it says that if quantum theory behaves as it’s formalism predicts, you have to give up locality if you want to think about there being some underlying mechanism behind quantum theory. When Bell came up with this theorem, he was motivated by the Bohm-de Broglie nonlocal hidden variable theory, which he thought had been badly maligned. But the cool thing is that he did not just add another philosophical argument about interpretations of the foundations of quantum theory, but turned this into a question about how different ways of thinking about quantum theory might lead to testable predictions. Local realism, it seems, can’t be a good description of our world. Today there are loophole free experiments confirming this. I once wrote a paper on modifying Bell’s theorem when you have just a little tiny bit of non-locality, so you can guess I’m a big fan.

This book is a rather academic look into Bell’s life. It covers in detail his childhood and covers almost every paper Bell published, including the vast majority that were outside of the area of foundations of quantum theory. I’m hesitant to recommend this book to anyone first encountering Bell, but if you are interested in his life and especially the physics beyond foundations that he worked on, it is worth going through this book. One nit would be that the book constantly points out when a physicist thought highly of Bell, perhaps as a sensitivity to the reputation that people who work on foundations of quantum theory have in physics.

Book: Dark Pools, The Rise of the Machine Traders and the Rigging of the U.S. Stock Market

Dark Pools: The Rise of the Machine Traders and the Rigging of the U.S. Stock Market by Scott Patterson.

A bit of a misnamed book, mostly this is about the rise of electronic trading markets, with a good discussion of role of high frequency trading in these new markets, and not solely focused on dark pools. The book focuses in particular on the ideals of the early creators of these electronic markets in contrast to how they eventually ended up catering to the high liquidity provided by many high frequency traders. The one thing I would have liked more of was to understand in more detail the authors claims about how particular order types in these markets cause an unfair advantage over other market players. Another area that would have been interesting would have been to better understand the claim that high frequency market makers disappear during times of high volatility. The book is definitely well written, but I did find myself wanting more info at exactly the place where the author seemed to get a bit out of their depth (in particular the AI section towards the end really doesn’t do a good job delineating different machine learning techniques.) All in all, though, this is a good read, with a lot of entertain real world characters, so I recommend it to those interested in learning a bit about this part of the financial world.

admin February 26, 2017 Leave A Comment Permalink

Book: A Man for All Markets, From Las Vegas to Wall Street, How I Beat the Dealer and the Market

A Man for All Markets: From Las Vegas to Wall Street, How I Beat the Dealer and the Market by Edward O. Thorp.

Edward Thorp has does some amazing things. He invented card counting for the game of blackjack. He built, with Claude Shannon of all people, one of the world’s first wearable computers. That computer was used to beat roulette. He came up with Black-Scholes formula for pricing options before Black and Scholes. He ran for many years a very successful statistical arbitrage strategy before such arbitrage was on anyones radar.

This an autobiography which covers much of Thorps life. There are some pretty amazing scenes, like the time he asked Feynman whether roulette was beatable and Feynman said no. Thorp’s reaction was to then think he was definitely onto something (interesting Feynman’s student Hibbs, shortly after this encounter, exploited misbalanced roulette wheels to great success.) But I think what comes through most in all of this is how clear of a thinker Thorp is. The ideas he describe sound straightforward, I think, because he does an incredible job laying them out from a foundational perspective. This is a rare gift.

Another important part of this story is that Thorp gave up the life of an academic mathematician. (Here example of one of his papers). In the book he describes this transition. Even all these years later you can feel how much of a change this was for him, he had sort of always planned on being an academic. OK, I guess mostly it’s just that I can really relate to this transition, so it was good to read someone else’s thoughts through that journey.

Recommended for those whose first thought when encountering a game is to analyze it and those interested in the history of games and finance.

admin February 14, 2017 1 Comment Permalink

Book: Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

An ambitious look at humanity from the time when we could first call ourselves human. The book shines the brightest when it takes a step back and looks at humanity without the prior lens of how we frame our history and culture. This is especially true in the first half of the book, where the author digs into the many created myths and ideas that shape history. My one beef would be that at times, the author turns pastoral, though often while admitting that he can’t really judge whether this idealism about the past can be justified. Recommended.

admin February 12, 2017 1 Comment Permalink

Book: Overcomplicated, Technology at the Limits of Comprehension

Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of Comprehension by Samuel Arbesman

Time, or at least today’s society, points in the direction of more technological interconnectedness. In this book Sam Arbesman lays out the increasing complexity of our technological world and how we have moved into a regime in which we can potentially not even understand what causes these complex systems to misbehave. As someone who works with complexity daily (what do you think software development is, these days?) I can attest to this in spades.

This book will be eye opening to those who believe our increasing technological sophistication marches hand in hand with our increasing comprehension. My one quibble would be that I think there is a missing portion of this story which is the techniques that everyday practitioners use to work in this increasingly complex environment. I mostly agree with both Arbesman’s observations about our current complex state, and his argument that we will require new approaches to understanding the complex artifacts we create. But tomorrow I must go to work, and build a system that works in this complex world. What techniques can I use to best insulate myself from this complexity, indeed to get anything done? Here I think there is an untold story filled with cool ideas from distributed computing.

admin February 5, 2017 Leave A Comment Permalink