Hard Choices review

Hard ChoicesHard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Man, Hillary was busy as Secretary of State! The book is long and certainly interesting in parts, but it wasn’t really a page turner for me.

It is interesting reading about Hillary’s philosophy about American power – basically, that it can be a force of good in the world, and the various sections of the book do offer evidence for this.

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Paddington movies, and a new house

David sent me this article about why everyone loves the Paddington movies (including Paddington 2, in theaters now!). We tend to like good kid’s movies (i.e. Studio Ghibli and Pixar movies), and we had to work last night due to being busy during the day with house stuff, so we figured “what the heck!” and gave it a shot.

And it’s a legitimately good movie! I mean, it’s clearly a kid’s movie, but there’s very little potty humor and it’s sweet and funny. Recommended!

Also, we bought a house!

Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything review

Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That'll Improve and/or Ruin EverythingSoonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything by Kelly Weinersmith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Very good book! Each chapter takes a look at the current state of an emerging technology, what might come in the future, concerns with the development of that technology, and how it would change the world. The technologies run the gamut from things I expected (cheap access to space, fusion power) to…well, things I didn’t (programmable matter, robotic construction). The chapters are long enough to really get into a lot of details, which is great since I’m familiar with the basics of some of this stuff.

Oh, and one of the authors is the guy who writes Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, which is like the second-geekiest comic I read (xkcd is #1), so there are comics intermixed and the whole thing is pretty funny.

Highly recommended! (honestly, it’s really closer to 4.5 stars, but the other author is a professor at Rice and she talks to a number of other Rice professors so I’m rounding up 🙂 )

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friday linked list: driving as a series of moral choices, fighting the attention crisis on your phone, lobbyists

How Would Jesus Drive? – A reminder that we make a ton of tiny moral decisions every day.

Take control of your phone (from Time Well Spent) – this is an interesting set of recommendations. I haven’t followed a lot of these but I’m trying to follow the spirit of them by being more thoughtful about jumping into my phone. One positive change that I’ve made is using Gmail’s Inbox app for my mail. I only get a notification on my phone if an email is deemed “important”, which is mostly emails from people I know (and about house stuff, these days…), and it automatically bundles low priority for me. It makes it easier for me to keep my inbox low and lowers my stress level because I’m not looking at notifications for emails I don’t care about all day. (thanks for the recommendation, Mary!)

I was a lobbyist for more than 6 years. I quit. My conscience couldn’t take it anymore. – so, this sounds pretty bad. But politicians of both parties begging for money, while unfortunate, is not hypocrisy; it’s a necessary part of getting elected to Congress. You can support campaign finance reform of some sort, but that doesn’t mean you have to unilaterally disarm to be moral!

A Radical New Scheme to Prevent Catastrophic Sea-Level Rise – I am seriously all for geoengineering projects like this. Technology got us into this climate change mess, technology can get us out of it!

What Putin Really Wants – very good (and long) Atlantic article.

What Serena Williams’s scary childbirth story says about medical treatment of black women – nothing good! In her case it was clearly an issue that she wasn’t taken seriously because she’s a woman and black. (since she’s both rich and famous…)

Physicians who refuse to accept Medicaid patients breach their contract with society – food for thought.

Uber’s Secret Tool for Keeping the Cops in the Dark – Uber doing something unethical? *drops monocle out of shock*

The diabolical genius of the baby advice industry – yeah, I didn’t even read that many baby books but there was still plenty of conflicting advice…

Why Mickey Mouse’s 1998 copyright extension probably won’t happen again – cool!

Sarah Silverman’s response to a sexist tweet is a much-needed ray of hope – wait, it’s not what you think! I mean, I don’t know what you think, so it’s possible it’s what you think. But probably not!

Guess Who’s Coming to ‘Peanuts’ – neat! This is something I’ve talked with David about for a while – if you go back and look at old “Will and Grace” episodes, for example, I’d imagine the gay characters look pretty stereotyped today. But for its time, having a gay character as the star of a primetime network show was a very big deal! (see Joe Biden on gay marriage: ‘Will and Grace’ helped educate America) So you do have to judge things in context.

The Strange Brands in Your Instagram Feed – this is…weird. Not sure how much value these people are adding?

weirdest computer problem ever

Last week my work computer was fine. On Monday, things started acting up. I could access most websites, but some, like Stack Overflow and Slack, wouldn’t work. This was true across browsers and in the Slack desktop app – none of them would connect. (Firefox showed a message like “Waiting for TLS handshake”) This was irritating, but Visual Studio also hung while loading a solution (based on the stack trace it was doing something with source code control), and my command line build also hung. (later I discovered it wasn’t hung, but it took 4 and a half hours to build instead of the usual 5 minutes or so!) But again, most websites worked and I couldn’t see any sort of pattern.

Since it was consistent across browsers and apps, I assumed it was some kind of network problem. So I tried a bunch of things:
– rebooting
– disabling and reenabling the network adapter
– plugging in to a different port on my switch
– plugging in to a different switch
– swapping out network cables
– doing a System Restore (which I’m not sure actually worked?)

I spent a while with the help desk, and the guy tried updating my drivers (which I should have thought of!) and a few other things, but nothing helped.

Anyway, my support ticket got escalated, and in the meantime I was chatting with people at lunch about my bizarre problem, and a coworker said he had a similar sounding problem, also starting on Monday! He fixed it by using a USB to Ethernet adapter instead of plugging directly into his Ethernet port.

So I borrowed his adapter (because apparently a few days later he went back to the Ethernet port and everything worked fine), and lo and behold it fixed my problem!

I’m still having a hard time figuring out what the heck could have been going on, but I guess all’s well that ends well…

How unusual is the word “STOP”? (or, better living through combinatorics!)

As I was out picking up some milk for Vanessa one night, I noticed that “STOP” is a pretty unusual word – “S” and “T” are adjacent in the alphabet, and so are “O” and “P”. In fact, all the letters are within 6 of each other!

So: what’s the probability that a random set of four letters would all be within 6 of each other?

(a reminder, (n choose k) represents the number of ways to choose k items from a set of n items if order doesn’t matter. So n choose 1 is n, n choose n is 1, etc.)

My first thought was as follows: first pick the range of letters (could be “A” to “F”, or “B” to “G”), then pick which letters are in that range. There are 26-6+1=21 ranges, and inside each range there (6 choose 4)=15 ways to choose the letters, so this would give 21*15=315 combinations.

But, this actually counts the same set of letters multiple times! Consider the letters CDEF. These are counted under the “A” to “F” range, but also under the “B” to “G” range and the “C” to “H” range. So our answer of 315 is too high.

We could account for this by using the Inclusion-Exclusion principle, but there’s a simpler way. Instead of counting the number of combinations that are 6 letters apart or less, we can count the number of combinations that are exactly 4 letters apart, and exactly 5 letters apart, and exactly 6 letters apart.

Let’s look at the 4 letters apart case. First, let’s pick the outer letters. These could be “A” and “D”, or “B” and “E”, all the way to “W” and “Z”. There are 26-4+1=23 choices for this. Then we just need to pick the inner letters, and there are ((4-2) choose 2)=1 way to do this.

We can use similar formulas for any number of letters apart, which gives us

(26-4+1)*(2 choose 2) + (26-5+1)*(3 choose 2) + (26-6+1)*(4 choose 2)=215 possibilities. Since there are (26 choose 4)=14950, the probability that a random set of 4 letters are within 6 of each other is 215/14950, or around 1.4%. That’s pretty unlikely!

There’s also a nice identity we discovered here. When you choose 4 letters from the alphabet, the number of letters they’re apart is between 4 and 26. So this means that

(26 choose 4) = sum from j=4 to 26 of (26-j+1)*((j-2) choose 2)

Pretty neat!