Showing posts from May, 2017

One of the most amazing results of number theory

The prime numbers are not spaced evenly along the number line. What is the biggest gap between prime numbers?

There is no such "biggest gap." If we take the number, say, 3455324898588757997446990653578956897469994337854, we can always find a gap between prime numbers at least that large! (And I just typed a very large, completely random sequence of digits: this result holds for any number whatsoever!)

Covfefe Ops

Prediciton: "Dev Ops" will soon be replaced as a trend by "Covfefe Ops."

Something rotten in the state of Blogger

Here are this week's stats:

Clearly, that spike was automated, and not real readers. But what is going on? And why do the bots keep visiting "Central Planning Works," rather than fanning out across all posts?

Kan't Ban

David T. Anderson is the guru of the Kanban movement for managing software projects.

But a competent economic analyst he is not. He divides economic activities into those that "add value" and those that are "wasteful." But activities that do not add value to a final product (and are known not to add value) are not the activities of an economic producer at all: they are called "consumption" or "recreation." (The whole idea of "adding value" in production is itself questionable, but let's not go into that.)

For instance, he talks about staining a wood fence for a customer:
This involved a trip to Home Depot. There was also some preparation work required on the fence: some repairs, some sanding, and trimming plants... To allow access for painting. None of these activities could be described as adding value. The customer does not care that I have to make a trip to Home Depot. The customer does not care that this activity takes time. I…

Educators, open source your test material

I've heard from several professors that they don't like to put their course material in publicly accessible places, because then students will merely memorize that material, and be able to pass the course without any real understanding of what is going on.

That's true for a single professor posting her material from the past couple of semesters, which she hopes to re-use again in the next few semesters.

But what if an entire department established an open source repository of all of their test and homework material? Then the faculty would have access to a pool of thousands of possible test questions and homework assignments.

And what about some student who went and memorized all of this material? Well, such a student deserves an A!

In other words, the way to handle the problem of students looking up previous tests and homework assignments so that they can gain an edge in their course is not to try to hide that material (which, as my colleague admitted to me, doesn't w…

Building software tools

How much time one should spend building the software the customers want, versus how much time one should spend building tools to better enable one to build the software the customers want, is simply a special case of how "round-about" one should make any production process.

My friend Howard Baetjer noted this many years ago, but it seems it is still not widely recognized in the software industry.

Puzzling blog post puzzle

And just why do so many of my recent posts have "puzzle" in the title?

Another page hit puzzle

I don't really look at these stats too often, so that's why when I occasionally do, I am so puzzled by what I see. For instance, this month, most of the top posts have gotten a thousand or so hits. But this post, from 7 years ago, has 47,000 hits this month! Say what?! It's not even a very interesting post.

What the heck is going on here? Is there some way someone could be routing spam through one of my blog posts? That doesn't seem possible, given what I know about blogs, but I ask because I don't really track how these things work, and I can't understand why one of my old, relatively uninteresting posts could suddenly be generating so much traffic.

A linguistic puzzle

I am watching a Hindi language movie. In the opening scene, a board showing the train schedule at a station is shown.

The headings on the board are all in English: "Track", "Train", "Departure", etc. But all of the entries on the board are in Hindi.

Why would anyone design a train schedule board in this fashion?

A passenger who can only read English can read the headings but not the actual train information. A passenger who can only read Hindi can read the train information, but not the headings. And anyone who can read both could read the board if it was written entirely in one language or the other.

So what could be the motivation for this mixed language board?

Traffic puzzle, part II

It seems I do have a lot of new links to this blog, but they are being recorded as coming through this site.

But what is that site? And why are my hits showing up as coming from it, rather than the actual blogs that are linking here?

Man, this software stuff is confusing!

The falsity of the "they're just reading" response

In response to my post "The Most Rapid Alteration of Human Behavior in History," A couple of readers essentially responded, "They're just reading," and sent me links to items like the photo above.

First of all, before the photo above was taken, reading had been gradually spreading amongst humans for many thousands of years. Nevertheless, the spread of literacy did represent a profound change in people: we remember far less than our preliterate ancestors did, instead relying on external documents for our memory. No less a figure than Socrates worried about this change, and apparently that is why he never wrote anything.

But the photo I used in my post (the one linked to above) was taken, not several thousand, but only a dozen years after the invention of the smartphone.

Furthermore, the behavior of smart phone users is pretty different from that of newspaper readers. True, for some time people have read newspapers while waiting in line, or riding a train. But a…

Now available for pre-order on Amazon

Our new ebook, The Idea of Science.

Why Are We Discussing the "Probability" of Something That Happened?

This is bizarre -- when illustrating how dominant the Warriors were during the NBA regular-season, Ben Alamar chooses to discuss their "win probability"... rather than, say, their actual number of wins! Statistics have become more real to him than actual events!

Dynamic Programming, the video


Greedy Choice Versus Dynamic Programing

To give a mini lecture on when one can use a greedy algorithm and when one must resort to dynamic programming, I had a little cross disciplinary breakthrough: we can make the greedy choice (and thus use a greedy algorithm) when there is no opportunity cost for doing so. When are choice does come with opportunity costs, the greedy choice won't work.

I hope to post the lecture later.

"Contacting" Amazon

On their Kindle publishing site, Amazon has a "Contact Us" button. (It is at the bottom left on this page.)

Is it just me, or does the "Contact Us" button just lead you around and around more web pages, with no ability to contact anyone at all?

UPDATE: I finally found a link leading to an actual contact page!

Philosophy of Nature

My review of Paul Feyerabend's Philosophy of Nature is now published at British Journal for the History of Philosophy.

Blog readership puzzle

Here's the chart of hits per month for La Bocca:

The puzzle is, I have no idea what caused the liftoff in readership a year ago, or why it has climbed with three distinct peaks as it has. And when I look through my referrals, the main source of traffic seems to be, not a link from some big name blogger, but Google.

The Lonely Unicorn

Nothing to see here, move along!


The Garden in May


The relevance of van Bavel

As you may know, I am currently reviewing Bas van Bavel's The Invisible Hand? for History: Review of New Books. As I am reaching the end of the book, I am ready to write the introduction for my review!

Van Bavel's work might best be characterized as "applied history." (Students of Michael Oakeshott will recognize that this means van Bavel, while doing serious historical research, is primarily dealing with the "practical past," i.e., the past viewed as providing lessons for present choices.) The context in which this work is set is the ongoing debate over optimal economic policy. For a time, from the collapse of the Soviet Union until about a decade ago, it seemed that this debate might be settled: neoliberalism had triumphed, and the best political economy prescription clearly involved a heavy dose of free markets. Certainly, there was debate at the margins: Should healthcare be publicly provisioned? How big a welfare state should one have? What is the pro…

The most rapid alteration of human behavior in history

And it seems nobody is paying it much attention. Well, of course not: they are too busy checking twitter!

My enthusiasm for DevOps

It might appear that I am simply latching on to a trendy topic.

But it actually goes a little deeper than that: the previous time I was involved in professional software engineering ended in about 2004. At the time, my friends and I had been pushing ideas like software as infrastructure, why one should prefer open-source software, and the advantages of text-based systems. But we faced a lot of opposition.

Fast-forward a dozen years: I dive back into the professional development world, and discover... we won! And the name of that victory is: DevOps.

Of course, like every other marketing term, "DevOps" will be over-hyped, and claims about its wonderfulness and ability to make babies' poop smell good need to be taken with a grain of salt. And, of course, in 2004 we hadn't yet forseen every aspect of the DevOps revolution: after all, a whole lot of smart people have devoted a whole lot of thought to this topic in the dozen years I was gone. And I am now in the process o…

DevOping the MS computer science curriculum

What I am going to say here applies mostly to training software engineers. Training theoretical computer scientists is a different matter, and my guess is that that is already being done pretty well.

The problem I perceive is that software engineers are being trained at universities by using methods more appropriate to training theoretical computer scientists: what's students get when they sign-up for an MS in computer science is the first portion of the curriculum used to train theoretical computer scientists for doing a PhD. Now, that knowledge is not useless to a working software engineer: all of the top working engineers have some understanding of theoretical computer science. Certainly, a good engineer should know what is being said when someone points out, "But your algorithm will run in exponential time," and have knowledge of how to determine the asymptomatic complexity of an algorithm they are considering.

But this is a minor part of most working engineers jobs…

I'm number one!

A reader just wrote to tell me, "Your book Oakeshott on Rome in America has gone to number one at in the category 'Books on Oakeshott, Rome, and America.'"

Crony Capitalism: The Free Market Cycle, Part II

"Also, in the course of the cycle described here, those groups and organizations in society who would aim for changing the arrangements of the market in order to balance or reduce negative externalities, gradually lost their economic and political power... Their revolts in the later stages of the cycle proved futile. This is also because of the consolidation and entrenchment of the elite in these later stages... Exactly in the last phases of the cycle the elites... closed their ranks...

"In all these cases, the state increasingly came under the influence of those who benefited most from the market system...

"In the first phase of the cycle, in each of these cases, the role of the state was not yet very prominent,  and it figured next to all kinds of other organizations and associations that fulfilled semi-public roles... In the second phase, states... increasingly stimulated the rise of markets in more direct ways, induced to do so because of fiscal reason. These marke…

van Bavel on McCloskey

"I do not think the market fosters immorality of individuals... On the single point... I would agree with McCloskey that such a critique would be mistaken. However, this is not because capitalism will improve our ethics, as McCloskey argues, but rather because such a critique misses the crucial mechanism and the essential point. Even if the market itself is not anti-moral, and market behavior at the micro level is not immoral either, the outcome of market dominance at the macro level in the longer run will likely be a negative one, as shown in the cases investigated... This negative outcome is bound to occur particularly within a skewed social context..." -- Bas van Bavel, The Invisible Hand, p. 267

Microservices running on unikernels

That's the future of computing, my friend.

For example, that you were writing the weather prediction application, that needs to rapidly execute matrix operations on very large matrices. Your first thought may be, "Well, I find a good linear algebra library, and compile it into my program."

But there are several problems with this approach:

Every time the producers of the library find a bug and fix it, you will have to recompile your program and redeploy it.Every time the producers of the library add a feature you want or improve the performance of the features you use, you will have to recompile your program and redeploy it.If there are security holes in the linear algebra library, they are now in your program also.Your program is now larger by the size of the linear algebra library.If there is specialized hardware for running these sorts of computations, you will need to make sure your program runs on it or forego the speed improvements it would provide.
A better soluti…

Tech-support running out the clock

"Please install the latest updates to your phone, watch, Apple TV, Mac Book, and thermostat before we go any further."

THIS time, I'm sure they are correct!

"Trump will never survive this Comey scandal."
Brought to you by the people who told you:

Trump will never survive those remarks about Mexicans.Trump will never survive the first GOP debate.Trump will never survive the first Republican primary.Trump will never survive Big Tuesday.Trump will never survive the GOP field narrowing.Trump will never survive the GOP convention delegates coming to their senses.Trump will never survive the first presidential debate.Trump will never survive the hot mike tapes.Trump will never survive election day.Trump will never survive the revolt of the electors.

Corporatist new-left alliance

McDonald's is now advertising itself as a force for "diversity." This is hilarious: is there a single corporation in the world that does more to wipe out diverse local cuisine's then McDonald's does?

A man after my own heart

I have previously pointed out that the new left's hedonic individualism plays right into the hands of global corporate interests. Here is a nice statement of why this is so:

'Nevertheless, what Korab-Karpowicz rejects is treating the dominant culture as a whipping boy and substituting it with a bland, sterile relativism. As thesis 7.6232 states, the goal of such actions is often “the reduction of human beings to the same kind of individuals, motivated only by primitive lust”. Moreover, modern global business elites, sadly, welcome this process. As Korab-Karpowicz states “such [motivated only by lust] individuals make ideal consumers, whether for commercial goods or for sex, and are at the same time (as persons deprived of higher values, such as virtues), easy to manipulate to instigate to quarrel” (p. 156).'

A curious claim

"Output per worker around 1300 was as high as after 1348, even despite the windfall gains caused by the population decline of the Black Death..." -- Bas van Bavel, The Invisible Hand, p. 107.

The thinking here seems to be that with fewer workers working the same amount of land, employing the same amount of capital, output per worker "should" have gone up. But this seems to ignore some important factors, such as the fact that many people were ill, while those who were not ill were often tending to the ill, or burying the dead, or fleeing to a remote retreat in order to avoid becoming ill. Once we take these countervailing factors into account, it is not at all obvious to me that a plague will present a "windfall gain" in output per worker.

"When the program is loaded..."

don't let it drive a Google car!

Egg white omelette

"Please remove all the nutrients, and then charge me extra for what is left!"

Algorithm textbook complaint

When I took algorithms, we used Robert Sedgwick's book, called, quite imaginatively on his part, Algorithms. Today, the book usually known as CLRS, for the initials of the last names of the authors, dominates the algorithm textbook market.

I am re-reading Sedgwick at the moment, leading me to say: I think this is a shame. Sedgwick's book is much clearer and better written. It also has a much more useful approach for engineering students, with emphasis on how to actually implement the algorithms, rather than pages of mathematical proofs of their run-time complexity.

The Worst Part about Pornography (for males, at least)

Note: here I am not talking just about "Internet porn," or dirty magazines: I am talking also about the constant flow of pornography that arises from our mainstream movie industry and our advertising industry, both of which constantly try to sell males on the idea: "You will be made most happy by a woman if the shape of her body conforms to certain socially admired standards."

This is total and absolute rubbish. Men: your life will be enhanced by a woman to the extent she loves you, supports you, and desires to help you. Whether she has a "big butt" or "small" whatevers will have very little impact on your life with her.

Of course, if a woman's (or a man's) body is grotesquely extreme, that can (quite naturally) preclude a sexual relationship with that person (as it is often a sign of deeper malady). An adult woman who weighs 60 pounds or one who weighs 400 pounds each might be very hard to embrace as a sexual partner. But in the broad …

The free-market cycle

As a student of social cycles, I am always on the lookout for new instances of social cycle theories. And in writing my current book review, I have come across one: the free-market cycle. Here is the author of The Invisible Hand?, Bas van Bavel, describing this cycle:
The three main cases analyzed in the book, and also the three modern cases that are more tentatively discussed, show a similar pattern in the interaction of society, market institutions, and economy. In this pattern, an originally positive feedback cycle -- between increasing freedom, growing factor markets, and economic growth -- turns into a negative one, with the increasing social polarization, institutional sclerosis, markets that become increasingly skewed towards the interests of market elites, and economic growth stagnating and turning into relative or absolute decline. (251) The cases being analyzed are ones in which factor markets -- for land, labor, and capital -- come to increasingly dominate the allocation o…

Availability bias

I used to never see two G trains in a row at the Carroll Street station, but I would often see two, or even three, F trains coming before the G did. "Why," I wondered, "are there so many more F trains than G trains?"

That was when I was riding the G. Now I take the F... and I never see two Fs in a row. For the same reason that lost things are always in "the last place you look for them"... because once you find them, you stop looking. And once your train comes, you stop waiting. So you only ever see the other guy's train come several times in a row.

You mentioned you were interested in learning about VMware?