Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Fast Archery

10 arrows in 4.9 seconds.

This is an ancient technique which showed that ancient archers were fucking fast.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Really, drive old fashion manual car

On Thursday October 24, 2013, an Oklahoma court ruled against Toyota in a case of unintended acceleration that lead to the death of one the occupants. Central to the trial was the Engine Control Module's (ECM) firmware. 
Barr's ultimate conclusions were that:
  • Toyota’s electronic throttle control system (ETCS) source code is of unreasonable quality. 
  • Toyota’s source code is defective and contains bugs, including bugs that can cause unintended acceleration (UA). 
  • Code-quality metrics predict presence of additional bugs. 
  • Toyota’s fail safes are defective and inadequate (referring to them as a “house of cards” safety architecture). 
  • Misbehaviors of Toyota’s ETCS are a cause of UA.

I am a developer by trade and all of these software automation in cars scare me. The problem is the source code to these critical systems are not open to inspection and a mechanic will have really hard time to figure out what's happening on your car during maintenance and inspection. The car industry has had over 100 years experience on mechanical control design - electronic control, not so much. 

Second solar system discovered

A team of astrophysicists at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft und- Raumfahrt; DLR), together with German and European colleagues, has discovered the most extensive planetary system to date. Seven planets circle the star KOI-351 – more than in other known planetary systems. They are arranged in a similar fashion to the eight planets in the Solar System, with small rocky planets close to the parent star and gas giant planets at greater distances. Although the planetary system around KOI-351 is packed together more tightly, it provides an interesting comparison to our cosmic home. Livesperkilis

Sunday, October 27, 2013

NSA spied on Merkel since 2002

The United States may have bugged Angela Merkel's phone for more than 10 years, according to a news report on Saturday that also said President Barack Obama told the German leader he would have stopped it happening had he known about it. Reuters
I am not worried too much with world leaders being bugger/monitored. It comes with the job. What I hate is government monitoring ordinary citizens' communications. 

IKEA Shelters

The Swedish furniture giant IKEA has sent self-assembly huts to the savanna of Ethiopia to house Somali refugees. If the test case proves successful, they soon could be used as alternatives to tents in other parts of the world. Spiegel
This is awesome. IKEA has the industrial capacity to produce and distribute large number of ready made shelters around the world. Right now each shelter costs 7K USD because they are made by hand and still in prototype stages. They aim to reduce the price to 1K USD for large scale production.

I hope this experiment works well.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Clearing up the air on

I think it's important to note that comparisons to "the physical hardware costs $x" or "a start-up could have done this project for $y" are completely invalid. This is an easy trap for anyone who has ever tinkered in their basement or hacked away at code can fall into. In Real Life (TM) no massive integrated system is built by MacGyver on a $5 budget.

First, recall that this is a government project. There are inefficiencies and bureaucracy. Preferred suppliers. Yes, even political sweetheart deals. Percentages to the raw cost get added at every level; imagine 5 to 10 levels of subcontractors. Second, this project deals with healthcare data. The sheer amount of laws that govern the usage of this data are mind boggling. Not to mention every state has a different set of rules. This complexity is incredibly high, inefficient, and requires many, many domain experts as compared to a standard "big data computer, turn the crank" system. Lawyers, Health Policy people, Doctors, Bureaucrats in health, etc.

Third, this project has insurance companies. Insurance companies have an even more complex system of actuarial science and secret sauce that they use to package policies. Think about how long it takes an agent to get a single quote together for you. A half hour on a good day, and a week on a bad one. Now imagine every insurance company in your state having to produce a quote, using a different system of their computers and algorithms, and black magic based on this juggernaut of a government system. At this point, we can finally add in the cost and complexity of the physical system and work to physically build/program it. It's probably less than 1/8th the total cost.

Am I saying it is optimal? No. Am I saying it is the worst usage of government spending ever? No.

Finally, some perspective. Government spending is somewhere around 3.8 trillion for 2013. $634 Million is approximately 0.01% (yes, that is percent) of all government spending. Saying that a theoretical "startup" could do it for 1/6th is like taking a bucket of sand from the Sahara desert and claiming success in a terra-forming project.

TL;DR Government Bureaucracy coupled with healthcare data coupled with insurance companies coupled with a physical project is very expensive. It's not optimal, but when has government funding ever been "highly efficient" in the way it produces goods? Reddit
From the engineering perspective, Federal Online exchange marketplace is a massive and complex undertaking. It is a massive project with strict deadlines. No one with a software engineering background and a bit of common sense are surprised with the problems plaguing the system.

The system will get stable at some point. Right now ignore all the political talk and be grateful that a somewhat functioning health care program is law in the US.

And this comment is also worth reading in full.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Free HIV test in Jakarta

Jakarta Deputy Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama underwent testing for HIV on Tuesday in a bid to encourage all Jakartans to seek out screening.

Basuki said the city administration had set up voluntary counseling and testing facilities at City Hall, which began operating on Tuesday. He said he hoped his decision to get tested himself would motivate the public to follow his example. The Jakarta Globe 
After a long time, Jakarta is finally getting some competent administrators.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

New Plane: Bombardier's CSSeries

The sales pitch for the new plan
The CSeries has been designed from scratch and conceived with cutting-edge technology. It is without precedent: an ultra-lightweight, ultra-quiet, ultra-fuel-efficient commercial airliner that can reach near-transcontinental distances from a measly 4,000 feet of runway. Its ability to make big leaps with small environmental footprints make it an ideal aircraft to reinvigorate downtown airports that have fallen out of favour with governments and residents in recent decades. It also has the potential to open up new direct flights on what the industry calls “long, thin” routes: destinations too far for a regional jet but with not enough travellers to justify a larger plane. In short: it will make life easier for the average travelling business schmo. Canadian Business

An Indonesian Royal Wedding

IB Times

Yes, we still have an active Sultanate in Indonesia and the Sultan become the Governor of the special region as part of Indonesian government.
When the Indonesian independence was proclaimed, the rulers, the Sultan of Yogyakarta and Prince of Pakualaman made a declaration they would become part of the Republic of Indonesia. Those two regions were unified to form the Yogyakarta Special Region and the sultan became the Governor of Yogyakarta and the Prince of Pakualaman as the vice-governor; both were responsible to the President of Indonesia. The Special Region of Yogyakarta was created after the independence war ended and legalized on August 3, 1950. Wikipedia

Monday, October 21, 2013

Falciani - the Snowden of International Tax Evasion Regime

At the end of 2008, Hervé Falciani committed what is believed to have been the most portentous theft of banking data in history. The systems engineer and former employee at the Geneva offices of HSBC left Switzerland for France and took data from around 130,000 customers at the Anglo-Asian bank along with him. Spiegel
This article is from July 2013. It is full of remarkable information about the dirty side of international tax evasion.
Falciani, 41, has also cooperated with the American authorities. Indeed, on the strength of the information he provided, HBSC was forced to pay a $1.9 billion settlement with the United States after a Senate committee found that failures in HSBC's money-laundering controls had enabled terrorists and drug cartels to gain access to the US financial system.
So the US is fine with using stolen data. 
SPIEGEL: Could you give us a dumbed down description of how money laundering through double accounting works?

Falciani: Let's say a Mexican drug lord has a bank account in Mexico that contains millions from the drug trade. He also has an account in Switzerland with nothing in it. Using its software, the bank sees the account balance in Mexico and grants him a loan in his Swiss account worth the same amount. The money is now laundered and the drug lord can even write off the interest on that debt from his taxes. We need to expose and combat such systems. I would like to get more governments to take part in this.
Nice trick huh. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pay It Forward phenomena

Perhaps the largest outbreak of drive-through generosity occurred last December at a Tim Hortons in Winnipeg, Manitoba, when 228 consecutive cars paid it forward. A string of 67 cars paid it forward in April at a Chick-fil-A in Houston. And then a Heav’nly Donuts location in Amesbury, Mass., had a good-will train of 55 cars last July.

Serial pay-it-forward incidents involving between 4 and 24 cars have been reported at Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Del Taco, Taco Bell, KFC and Dunkin’ Donuts locations in Maryland, Florida, California, Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama, North Dakota, Michigan, North Carolina and Washington. NY Times
So it's apparently not just a movie. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Economist sounds alarm on scientific studies

It is tempting to see the priming fracas as an isolated case in an area of science—psychology—easily marginalised as soft and wayward. But irreproducibility is much more widespread. A few years ago scientists at Amgen, an American drug company, tried to replicate 53 studies that they considered landmarks in the basic science of cancer, often co-operating closely with the original researchers to ensure that their experimental technique matched the one used first time round. According to a piece they wrote last year in Nature, a leading scientific journal, they were able to reproduce the original results in just six. Months earlier Florian Prinz and his colleagues at Bayer HealthCare, a German pharmaceutical giant, reported in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, a sister journal, that they had successfully reproduced the published results in just a quarter of 67 seminal studies The Economist
Scientific studies must be able to be replicated to verify its correctness. However there are growing number of data showing that a lot of them cannot be replicated. Bear in mind also that the effort to replicate a result requires funding and nowadays it is hard to get funding to replicate scientific research.

Possible scientific explanation on the purpose of sleep

Believe it or not, science has not nailed down the true purpose of sleep. However they are making some progress recently
Most physiologists agree that sleep has come to serve many different purposes, ranging from memory consolidation to the regulation of metabolism and the immune system. While the "core" purposes of biological functions such as breathing and eating are easy to understand, however, scientists have never agreed on any such original purpose for sleeping. The new study, by Maiken Nedergaard and colleagues at the University of Rochester in New York, provides what Charles Czeisler, a sleep researcher at Harvard Medical School in Boston, calls the “first direct experimental evidence at the molecular level” for what could be sleep’s basic purpose: It clears the brain of toxic metabolic byproducts
The new work, published online today in Science, “fits with a long-standing view that sleep is for recovery—that something is paid back or cleaned out,” says David Dinges, a sleep researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. It builds on Nedergaard's recent discovery, described last summer in Science Translational Medicine, of a network of microscopic, fluid-filled channels that clears toxins from the brain, much as the lymphatic system clears out metabolic waste products from the rest of the body. Instead of carrying lymph, this system transports waste-laden cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Before the discovery of this "glymphatic system," as Nedergaard has dubbed it, the brain's only known method for disposing of cellular trash was to break down and recycle it within individual cells, she says. Science Mag
If this is true, then a consistent habit for lack of sleep is harmful to  your brain. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Apocalypse (to be) averted

We are pretty far from okay, but it beats spending the rest of your life getting raped in a dungeon, which is more or less what the House Republicans had planned. The Republican debt-ceiling gambit was meant to force Obama to accept the GOP agenda without any Republican concessions — a depressing enough outcome on its own. But it also would have dragged in a reordering of the Constitutional order and the institutionalization of endless crises and panics. We can’t be certain Republicans will never hold the debt ceiling hostage again; but Obama has now held firm twice in a row, and if he hasn’t completely crushed the Republican expectation that they can extract a ransom, he has badly damaged it. Threatening to breach the debt ceiling and failing to win a prize is costly behavior for Congress — you anger business and lose face with your supporters when you capitulate. As soon as Republicans come to believe they can’t win, they’ll stop playing. NY Mag
The House GOP folds and it's great news for everybody. What a fuckin' bunch of drama queen.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Lies, Statistics and Benchmarks

Benchmarks are programs, or apps, that repeat a single task or set of tasks to stress-test a system, and might be just a single complex calculation that repeats again and again; in general, you'd hardly ever do what they do. They're meant to highlight key performance differences between similar devices. But, in fact, they're not useful.

How could that be? Commendably, Ars Technica dug into the Note 3's system files and discovered one called "", which contains a list of benchmarking apps.

If the system detects that one of a hard-coded list of apps is running, it turbo-charges the graphics processing unit (GPU), yielding that 20% boost. Then when the test is over, it scales it right back, because turbo-charging uses up the battery.

To prove this, the Ars team took the code from a benchmark called Geekbench and tweaked how it would present itself to the system. "Stealthbench", as they christened it, was the same benchmarking code, yet the Note 3's GPU didn't turbo-charge. No 20% boost – just the same performance as the LG.

Samsung has pulled this trick before with built-in lists of benchmark apps for its Galaxy S4, which yielded similar 20% speedups. Guardian
Benchmarks are a set of programs designed to measure and test the performance of a specific device. What Samsung has essentially done is detect a broad variety of benchmarks software and generate specific actions that improves its performance results according to a particular benchmark criteria. It's essentially lying.

Malaysia, apparently master of the Arabic language

An appeals panel has ruled that a Malaysian Catholic newspaper could not use "Allah" to refer to the Christian God in a case that sparked attacks on places of worship three years ago Al Jazeera
They are redefining the word that has been used for millennial in the Middle East to define the God of all monotheistic religions (Jews, Christian, Islam).

Friday, October 11, 2013

boost your green credentials even further

The US National Marine Fisheries Service has cut off pollock fishermen in one segment of Alaska waters. From today's Federal REgister.

SUMMARY: NMFS is prohibiting directed fishing for pollock in
Statistical Area 630 in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA). This action is
necessary to prevent exceeding the 2013 total allowable catch of
pollock for Statistical Area 630 in the GOA.

DATES: Effective 1200 hrs, Alaska local time (A.l.t.), October 8, 2013,
through 2400 hrs, A.l.t., December 31, 2013.


SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS manages the groundfish fishery in the
GOA exclusive economic zone according to the Fishery Management Plan
for Groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska (FMP) prepared by the North
Pacific Fishery Management Council under authority of the Magnuson-
Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Regulations governing
fishing by U.S. vessels in accordance with the FMP appear at subpart H
of 50 CFR part 600 and 50 CFR part 679.
    The 2013 total allowable catch (TAC) of pollock in Statistical Area
630 of the GOA is 27,372 metric tons (mt) as established by the final
2013 and 2014 harvest specifications for groundfish of the GOA (78 FR
13162, February 26, 2013).
    In accordance with Sec.  679.20(d)(1)(i), the Regional
Administrator has determined that the 2013 TAC of pollock in
Statistical Area 630 of the GOA will soon be reached. Therefore, the
Regional Administrator is establishing a directed fishing allowance of
26,872 mt and is setting aside the remaining 500 mt as bycatch to
support other anticipated groundfish fisheries. In accordance with
Sec.  679.20(d)(1)(iii), the Regional Administrator finds that this
directed fishing allowance has been reached. Consequently, NMFS is
prohibiting directed fishing for pollock in Statistical Area 630 of the

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Extract from IPCC Climate report

I put them here so you can quote them at parties and boost your green credentials. These are not the whole highlights of the report but these represent the core information.
Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased
Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850
Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence). It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0−700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010
Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent (high confidence)
The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence). Over the period 1901–2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m
The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification
Total radiative forcing is positive, and has led to an uptake of energy by the climate system. The largest contribution to total radiative forcing is caused by the increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 since 1750
Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.
Source IPCC Summary for Policy Makers

This is getting ridiculous

A group of men believed to be former rebels seized Ali Zeidan, the prime minister, early Thursday from his Tripoli residence, days after American forces captured a Qaeda leader in the city. NY Times

Monday, October 07, 2013

Portraits of mundane life of a KKK clan

Daily Mail

Well racists need to be belong as well.

US Default?

The Post has a profile in motion of freshman House Republican Ted Yoho (FL). The focus is how he's part of the faction who forced John Boehner to trigger the government shutdown and now wants to move along to default on the national debt. How bad will default be? "I think, personally, it would bring stability to the world markets," Yoho told the Post. Talking Points Memo
10 days to go for US self triggered default (October 17). We shall see some freak out in the financial market next week.

Yeah, you read that right. The US is on the path of refusing to honor its debt, Argentinian style.

The issue is not about finance. It's about a minority party that control the House (which controls the budget) that try to use its authority to nullify an election of a President.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

How to lose 30 billion USD in a year

That Batista, new to the oil business, had brought in wells gushing with crude was the sort of announcement investors had come to expect of him. At that moment, Batista embodied Brazil’s decade-long economic expansion, and for international investors wanting a piece of the new Brazil, he could do no wrong. Many of those investors were American. BlackRock (BLK), the world’s largest money manager, had bought millions of OGX shares. Pimco (ALV:GR), manager of the world’s largest bond fund, owned $576 million in OGX bonds. General Electric (GE) took a 0.8 percent share in EBX valued at $300 million. Brazilians “should be very proud” of what Batista and OGX had achieved, said Rousseff, sporting her own orange OGX jacket onstage at the Açu port. “OGX has a big contribution to make in the offshore oil production of Brazil.” Batista, in an interview a few days later with investment conference host Michael Milken in Beverly Hills, declared Rousseff’s appearance at his port not simply a feather in his cap but also “a major event for Brazil.”

To say Batista overreached would be to seriously undersell what has happened in the 18 months since that self-regarding presstravaganza of hubris and magical thinking. In what is shaping up to be one of the largest personal and financial collapses in history—if not the largest—Batista may be nearing bankruptcy. On Oct. 1, OGX missed a $45 million interest payment on bond debt it had racked up during its rise. Batista has sold his planes and his helicopter, and creditors are arguing over the remains of his companies. He’s no longer on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index and has become the butt of jokes in Brazil. One suggests that Pope Francis plans to return to Brazil soon and will again be visiting the poor, including Batista. Business Week
I'd say bravo. He still has one fucking billion dollars. I mean, really - what's the point of having 35 billion dollars if you cannot take risky projects.

Had he succeeded, Business Week would have applauded him as visionary and amazing risk takers. Fuck 'em.

Friday, October 04, 2013


Being married to an Italian woman means that I get to travel to Italy more frequently nowadays. Every time we travel back to visit la famiglia we try to visit a new Italian city. This time we visited Genova, the home of Christopher Columbus and one of the Italian Maritime Republics.

It is a vibrant port city where the hills meet the sea. It is also the home of Italian pesto. The atmosphere is very open thanks to its long history as trading port - exposing the city to various cultures around the world.

You can visit the house of Columbus, a tiny house located at the edge of the historical city. My tips, don't get in and pay the 2 Euros. It has nothing special inside but the garden surrounding the house is lovely and can be visited for free. There is also a nearby tower which should be skipped. We paid 5 Euros each for some mediocre views of the city. Go up to the hills instead to get breathtaking views of Genoa.

In some part of the historic city, you see prostitutes operate in day light, chatting and fixing their makeup while waiting for customers. The historic city narrow alleys make perfect location for this type of business. 

The city is also home of Genova University so there is a large presence of young people on the street with all the life facilities around there.

The historic city can be explored in one day. The atmosphere of the city is relaxed. You can interrupt your walk by stopping by in the small cafes and bistros for an aperitif or quick lunch.

There are plenty of palaces and museums to visit (we visited none) if you have some extra time. I can't really recommend the Genova Aquarium - it is nice enough but pale in comparison to the ones you can visit in Singapore or other places in the world. Its 25 Euros adult entry price is also a bit too much.

Genoa is interesting. It is has the shady aura of a major trading port and the charm of a small hilltop Italian city. It has no famous landmarks or monuments - it just has plenty of beautiful bites of pleasures.

Bottom line: if you are visiting Italy, make this one of your stop.