Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Throes of Success

Vice President Cheney recently commented that the insurgency in Iraq is in its "last throes". He later clarified that:

"If you look at what the dictionary says about throes, it can still be a violent period, the throes of a revolution. The point would be that the conflict will be intense, but it's intense because the terrorists understand that if we're successful at accomplishing our objective -- standing up a democracy in Iraq -- that that's a huge defeat for them."

First of all, consulting the dictionary is so Clintonesque. Secondly, the problem is not what "throes" means, but what "last" means. If there's still going to be a significantly long period of violence ("a lot of bloodshed", in his own words), then it's not in its "last" anything. Thirdly, perhaps the Vice President has secret sources of information, but the commoners don't have a way to distinguishing intense violence because the terrorists are about to lose from the intense violence because the terrorists are winning. So excuse our cynicism.

And if that's not enough, he added: "We will succeed in Iraq, just like we did in Afghanistan." You can't make this stuff up. Afghanistan is probably much better than it was, but if today's Afghanistan is his measure for success in Iraq, I would just have to remain speechless.

He also doesn't know when to stop. Take, for instance:

"There isn't any other nation in the world that would treat people who were determined to kill Americans the way we're treating these people."

which I might agree with. But that's not enough, because he adds:

"They're living in the tropics. They're well fed. They've got everything they could possibly want."

Cuba is indeed tropical, but the prisoners are not exactly living in Club Med suites, sipping cocktails with little umbrellas. They might be well fed, but what moron will say that they have everything they could possibly want? If the prisoner is innocent, surely one of the things he would still want is freedom and justice. If the prisoner is a real terrorist, surely he still wants to see even more dead Americans. If they already have "everything they could possibly want" there, why are some of them trying to get released?

Running for a Brown Tie

I forgot to write about the fun run. We (well, mainly Mabel) signed up for the 5K fun run, which comes with lunch and tickets to an A's game. I have plenty of excuses, including flat feet, but the truth is I rarely run more than a mile even on the treadmill. I wasn't really concerned, because I was sure I could walk five kilometers, but not wanting to embarrass my lovely wife too much I worked out harder than usual in the preceding weeks. Mabel has finished a 7K run a few months ago, so she's not going to be the problem.

Anyway, after slowing maybe three times to a walk, we finished the run in just under 39 minutes. That was much faster than I thought I'd be, so I'm quite pleased, even though we were much slower than Mabel otherwise could be. Later, I also found out that we'd been running against domestic violence, so that's like killing two birds in the bush or something. We also got a tie personally designed by pitcher Barry Zito... who should stick to pitching. Oh, and there was a T-shirt.

Lunch was a small burrito with some stale chips, so we chowed down, changed, and headed to the Coliseum. Being one of the first 10,000 or so fans, we were offered the tie again on entry, which we politely declined. The first-come-first-served seating we got was right behind the section usually filled with the most rabid fans. You know, the people who have all the gear, flags, and sometimes even body paint. The A's won, which was great. I had planned to tan a bit, so I rolled up my sleeves and hiked up my shorts. Unfortunately, I put on suntan a bit too late, so I got burned in several places. I was lobster red until yesterday.

Lesson: don't sunburn body parts that are meant to stretch, such as elbows or knees.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Coaching the Uncoachable

Phil Jackson will return as the coach of the Lakers, earning a reported $10 million a year. Now that's a scam of a job, because I can coach the Lakers. Here's are some of the things I will say while coaching:

"What do you think, Kobe?"
"Pass the ball to Kobe."
"Screen for Kobe."
"Get the offensive rebound if Kobe misses, and pass the ball to Kobe."
"What should we do, Kobe?"
"Can I give you a foot rub, Kobe?"

Jackson is a whore to return to a ball club that still employs Kobe Bryant, an "uncoachable" player in his own words. But at least he's an expensive whore.

Thursday, June 9, 2005

Bug Report of the Day

"Expected result: test case should pass."

No, really?!

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Plan B

Apple announced yesterday that due to problems with IBM's delivery of faster and cooler G5 chips, they will be switching to Intel chips within the next few years. There have been all sorts of reactions to this news, so I just have to chip in my two cents.

Winner: Apple Pro Apps. In an arena where "render time" is still a four-letter word, and with the public crossing into HD-land, Apple needs to ship some of the best machines that money can buy in order to keep customers. Despite the badmouthing of a former Quicktime engineer I now work with, the move will allow the power users to pick which platform they like, and not be forced to use Windows for hardware reasons.

Loser: VirtualPC. VirtualPC lived because although VMWare was faster, it could not run on a foreign CPU like the PowerPC. On an x86 Mac, VirtualPC will basically have zero advantage over VMWare.

Loser: YellowDog. They make Linux distributions for PowerPC Macs, and when that disappears, they need to find a new line of work.

Winner: Users. On a dual-booting Mac, software inefficiencies inherent to either Windows or MacOS X will be inexcusable. This should lead to better benchmarks and performance improvements in both operating systems.

Loser: Developers. Especially those who spent time optimizing for AltiVec or G5. Some developers like Adobe or Microsoft may be happy to better unify their cross-platform product, though. The Mac-only developer who doesn't actually need the extra CPU power, however, incurs only additional cost.

Loser: ISA Purist. The unspeakably ugly x86 instruction set has conquered the final competitor on the desktop. The world, for many developers, will now really be just the x86. Endianness and misaligned accesses shall mean even less than they do today.

Winner: Programming Teachers. Without high level languages, the transition would be magnitudes more painful. Write clean, portable code, and you may survive such a switch.

It's clear that this isn't Apple's happiest day. I'm sure they would rather have announced 4 GHz G5 PowerMacs and 3 GHz G5 PowerBooks, but that just wasn't going to happen. Rather than slip again in performance, they are taking a bold step to keep up. Interesting times.

Thursday, June 2, 2005

Have PDA, Will Travel

Over the past decade, the hoopla was about not having to travel, and the technologies in question were teleconferencing and videoconferencing, not to mention the long distance telephone. These past few years it seems to be about being just like at the office when you're travelling, with technologies like VPN and mobile email access taking the spotlight. Properly prefixed with "enterprise" this and that, of course.

<cynic>Did the pointy-haired class finally figure out that phone calls don't come with frequent flyer miles and expense accounts?</cynic>


The fascinating Michael Lewis book called Moneyball offers a look inside the Oakland Athletics major league baseball team, and how they remain competitive against teams with thrice their resources. The basic problem is that baseball insiders have built their teams on subjective criteria, with the underlying belief that it's hard to tell how each ability of each player is more important than others. The A's have taken a different approach, and can almost determine the value of a player down to a single number.

The important thing is that it doesn't mean that the A's can therefore get all the best players, because that still takes resources. It means that the A's can get the best players that they can afford. It also means they can get some grossly underrated (and therefore undervalued) players. As obsessed as baseball is with statistics, Moneyball contends that they are obsessed with the wrong statistics, and the A's are exploiting that cognitive gap. While the A's have struggled in the playoffs, where each game is unusually important and statistics fail because of small sample size, they have excelled in the regular season over hundreds of games in the past few years. The A's are a good team even when you don't consider the size of their wallet.

Software has some of the same problems, and some different ones. For one, the goal of software is not as clear as baseball: winning 95 or 103 games a season by scoring more runs that you give up to your opponent. Is software meant to produce maintainable code, on-time code, fast code, or what? Are software engineers as interchangeable as baseball players? Can software engineering expertise really be quantified? One thing is for sure: I'm so not smart enough to figure this out, especially since I very nearly flunked statistics in college.

Will there be a day when management can plug into an equation, asking for 45% maintainability, 35% on-time, etc., and get a number back as to how many resource units are required? Can they then go into the job market and assemble a team of engineers who can sell them those resource units? This would almost be the holy grail of predictable management, and despite the grossly dehumanizing feeling of being reduced to a number, can be what keeps jobs from being outsourced if you are provably a good value to your employer.

How many lines of code per dollar are you? ;)