Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Daylight Savings Time

"Spring Forward, Fall Back". I have absolutely no problem remembering the mnemonic, but my brain treats that simple statement like someone asking it to divide by zero. After 10 minutes of trying to logic "so I turn the clock forward an hour, so it's actually 2AM when the clock says it's 3AM...", I just give up and ask my wife "so, do I get to sleep in?"

But I think my brain is on to something here. Daylight Savings Time is probably the clearest example of how something we take as an absolute certainty - current time showing on the clock - is just a human convention and construct that, well, we just kinda made up. We insert an extra day here, and an extra second there, and add an hour here and remove an hour there just to keep it limping along.

And as far as DST goes... it's not like 4 year olds get the memo that they get to sleep in on certain special days. They'll wake up at the exact same time (body time, mind you) and jump on the bed until we're up, even on the "good" DST days when you're supposed to get to sleep in. Shucks.


Simon's favourite color is green, he likes rocketships, and he is 4-and-a-half years old. These are the attributes that define him in his mind. I'm sure I was similar as a little boy... but somewhere along the way, favourite colors, books, teams, songs, and movies, or number of times that I've circled the Sun or where I call home on this pale blue dot, or my hobbies, jobs, or titles... all started becoming increasingly smaller part of how I define myself. And increasingly larger part is coming from relationships, or to put it more specifically, from clearer understanding of self, and better understanding of people's impact in my life and my impact in theirs.

This has been percolating in the back of my mind going through the last week. There's a saying "change is the only constant", but I like the translation "everything flows and nothing abides", since it focuses better on the journey that we're all on. For those whose path is taking them down a different fork - thank you for all you've taught me, and may our paths cross again. My fellow journeyers - here's to the next chapter of our adventure!

Friday, March 1, 2019


Did you know that Alexa knows how to count? Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised, since counting is probably the most basic computing task there is... but we were still delighted at Alexa's ability to count. And it's not even just the simple counts - it can count downwards, and it can count by a number (though it counts in one-based numbering, so if you ask it to "count by 5", it counts 1, 6, 11... once again proving that zero-based numbering is The One And True Way).

The most interesting part, though, are the limits. Alexa can count only 100 elements - if you start at 1, it means 101 is the largest number that it can count to. As far as I can tell, they're using signed 64 bit integer, and the counting routine seems to treat "Quintillion" as "Million". The question here is, are these limits a product of a thorough spec? or multiple requirements meetings? Or, just maybe, some poor lambda routine spent 3 hours of compute time counting to a Quintillion then tried to send a multi-terabyte string down to the device and some poor shmuck got paged with a '?' that one time...

Grown up

Simon and I were at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk this weekend - Simon's right at 42 inches, standing straight with just a right puff of hair, so I figured this weekend is the time to go for it. We managed to get on one 42 inch ride, but we were sadly turned around at the second one. I had completely forgotten about the exquisite longing to grow up, to be one of the big kids, to get to go on bigger rides and to the next grade... and all of those feelings came rushing back. I guess completely forgetting about that is basically the essence of being an actual grown up.

Not that being a little kid is all that bad a deal - we then went on the Rock-O-Plane, which is this sketchy and squeaky carnival ride. I asked Simon if he wanted to go upside down, to which he said yes!... then it hit me, of course he's fine being upside down! At just under 42 inches, he's still small enough for me to easily swing him around - it's only the grown ups that need a sketchy and squeaky carnival ride to put them upside down.

President Fillmore

I was delighted to find a little red envelope on my desk on Lunar New Years day, and in it was a Presidential Dollar Coin of Millard Fillmore, our 13th President. Fillmore became the President after death of Zachary Taylor, and he was a half-term president, losing his reelection bid running as a candidate of the "Know Nothing Party". Of course, I had to read up on that...
" ... the Know Nothing movement, was an American nativist political party that operated nationally in the mid-1850s. It was primarily anti-Catholic, xenophobic, and hostile to immigration, starting originally as a secret society. The movement briefly emerged as a major political party in the form of the American Party..."
Well, I am happy to report that I was able to finagle my way up to Andrew Jackson Presidential Coin, going from ~35th ranked to ~8th ranked president! And I am sad to report that my son promptly took it to his preschool class and lost it.

Power & Connectivity

Power and connectivity are some the most important and fundamental constraints that we run into. Finding a little tweak or innovation in those constraints can drive completely different classes of use cases - things like Nest thermostat, Arlo cameras, or Ring doorbell found a niche where part of the innovation came from finding an unexpected source of power.

Speaking of power and connectivity, at least we're not in Tonga!

In the capital, Nuku’alofa, a satellite dish was hastily mounted on Monday to provide limited and slow backup connectivity, prompting hundreds of people to queue outside a government telecom office where the signal is most reliable. “You just wait for your turn to have your 20 minutes to access...it’s currently hot here in Tonga at the moment but they’ve put up a tent outside, with chairs, so people can wait.”


I've been thinking about resiliency lately, with the winter storms knocking down power, phone, and cable lines. Not that it affects me directly, but reading my neighbhours kvetching makes me wonder if coming climate change led infrastructure disasters will have an unintended side effect of dividing urban/suburban/rural folks even more then they already are due to disparate effects they'll have on different parts of the society.

Efficiency is driving pretty much everything towards centralization, and there's going to be a point at which increased robustness will have diminishing returns... and I wonder if we're already passed that point, not in the areas we think & worry about (availability zones! multi-master replication! lamdas!) but areas that we absolutely rely on, and take completely for granted, like the PGE guy in a bucket truck splicing a wire out in the rain.