The Fields Medal. A genius Mathematician racing against time. Will he make it before he’s 40? The journal of his adventure is what this book is about. Along with his fears, the way he measures himself against other giants (does he really have to? To the reader it may seem he does not, but to him is matters a lot; the top is the top). And yes, it is written as a diary.
I will not pretend that I knew, or still understand anything about Landau damping. Or even the Boltzmann equation. In fact I know only of a handful of people who could recognise the complete notation used. Interestingly, this does not make the book less enjoyable. It took me over a year since I first found out about the book, started reading it and then finishing it. And you know what? It was not the Mathematics that put it to a pause. It was a long chapter on music, on stuff that I could follow in complete detail. When I reached there I paused in order to find the proper time to enjoy the written soundtrack. Well that time came about a year later.
Far too many top Mathematicians and Mathematical Physicists parade in the book. Perelman‘s antics and perseverance get explained. Luckily some simpler (to grasp, not solve) problems too, the Collatz for example. As it happens I too use it sometimes to block my mind from interference. But that’s where the similarities with the author stop. The other thing that felt close to heart was Coq. I always had ideas about using it in ways not expected by its creators, but my academic limited attention per suject blocked this.
All in all a fascinating read about a man, his passion and his target. You can safely ignore the Mathematics. It is hard enough for the professionals and is there to show what he dealt with. The pain is described not in algebraic notation but with plain alphabet.
I’ve started reading John Day’s Patterns in Network Architecture and during the first pages it makes strong references to Saltzer’s 1982 paper. Why would I bring this up? Well, I just heard Surprisingly Awesome‘s episode on Postal codes where they deal with two countries (Lebanon and Mongolia) with almost non-existent addressing plans. Here is what an addressing plan should give you:
- a name identifies what you want,
- an address identifies where it is, and
- a route identifies a way to get there
Day makes the case that we usually use that address of a network element in the same way that we use its name also which is an error, since by moving an element elsewhere in the network, we need to change its name also. You on the other hand do not change your name when you change your home address. You used to change your phone number, but even that has become equally portable.
In places where no stable addressing system exists the courier is required to build a mental representation of the routes in their area of delivery, based on landmarks, trees, neon signs, whatever can help to make the delivery. In Mongolia this is solved differently: When something arrives at the post office, they call you back and you go and pick it up.
Enter the NAC. What is it exactly? It is an effort to map longitude and latitude to a more memorable representation using the base 30 number system using digits and capital letters. Borrowing from Wikipedia, the NAC for the centre of the city of Brussels is HBV6R RG77T. Compact, accurate, but not quite memorable.
what3words seems to be a service set to solve this since with their solution a unique combination of just 3 words identifies a 3m x 3m square anywhere on the planet. For example, roughly the same place as above is described as october.donor.outlined. I admit, this is much easier to type in a GPS (or tell Siri).
However, I am still surprised that nobody ever thought of using IPv6 for this (maybe somebody has? Please tell me). Given the abundance that the 128bits give us, we could have indexed every square meter on the surface of the planet and make it addressable. Oh, the directories we could have built on top of that. But I have no fear. It is quite probable that much of the inhabited First World’s surface will be pingable in the foreseeable future. The IoT will make sure of that.
Randy, it’s such a shame that people perceive you as being so arrogant, because it’s going to limit what you’re going to be able to accomplish in life.
I will admit to never having seen The Last Lecture. Over the years I’ve started watching it, only abandoning it after the first couple of minutes. The only thing that I’ve seen, and this only by chance, is the part where Randy Pauch describes how his parents let him paint his room. Somehow this stuck with me and in our house the kids are allowed to draw on the walls of their room, only in contrast to his parents, the room gets painted from time to time and the drawings are thus erased.
Somehow I decided to read the book. Mostly because it contains one of the most annoying phrases I’ve ever heard offered as consolation: “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand”. Well, you cannot argue with a dead guy, and Pauch, if alive, would not let you win the argument.
It takes tremendous self discipline to write a book like that (even though technically he did not write it, he dictated it on tape and a writer undertook the polishing). I was told though by a good friend that similar efforts (like keeping a journal) help coping with the situation. And this is visible in the writing. As is visible that we are not the main audience of the book, his three kids are (lately I pick authors with three kids). He even admits that at the end of the book. The man has little time left and a lot of guidance to give. So what is this book? A self-help book? A career-advice book? A parenting one, drawing mostly from the example his parents set for him? All of that?
Time is all you have. And you may find one day that you have less than you think
It is a time-management book. Because here is a guy that was on the path to success, that had a lot to give to his field and his family, who is suddenly told that long-term plans do not matter any more. This is what you’ve got at best, squeeze whatever you can inside. So through his book (and the lecture I suppose) he basically delivers a lesson in time management (which explains how he managed to do so many things until he was diagnosed terminally ill), planning, team building, mentoring and correcting one’s behaviour.
This is not a book that made me feel relaxed or even good about myself after reading it. Nor is a book that I agree 100% with what is written. More likely close to 60% of the advice. But am I happy I read it? Yes. Should you read it? Only if you can handle enumerating all your mistakes so far.
I do not remember how I happened upon the book, but it is one of those books that you need to read if you are interested in the technology competition during the Cold War. It is also a far more interesting book than that because by following the lives of Joel Barr (and his alter ego Al Sarant) you learn a lot of stuff about OPSEC failures, how naive and ill equipped was the FBI during WWII in its counterintelligence efforts, the Communist Party USA at its prime, the Rosenberg Spy Ring and the technology transfer that resulted because of its operations.
You do learn of the life that two foreigners led during the Cold War “on the other side” and the passion for recognition of one of them “who was not Caltech material” according to R. Feynman which resulted in singlehandedly him kickstarting Soviet electronics. Sarant was definitely driven to prove him wrong, and when placed in an environment where he could operate, in a way he did: The UM-1, the Uzel and Zelenograd are his and created within an environment that did not favor his modus operandi.
You also learn a lot about management, how risk aversive management ultimately leads to failure and how choosing to copy instead of competing (and embracing failure) widens the gap and leaves you behind:
And then one of them, the highest one, a department head at the ministry, asked me, “Do the Americans do that?” When I said I didn’t know, he said, “Son, remember, if they don’t do something, it isn’t worth doing.”
There are also patterns of behaviour that we still find peculiar and contradicting today, but are explainable by those who commit them really easy:
the prospect of committing a crime to further a cause in which you deeply believe is a very exciting one. Here is a test not only of what you believe, but also of what you are.
Think about that the next time a suicide bomber explodes. This is what rationalises everything in their head. And while you are at it, here is how contradictions between actions and ideology get rationalised too:
These little people in the party accept the discipline of the party, do what they are told, think what they are told; and if these things seem contrary to reason, patriotic duty or common sense, they do them because the party says that is the correct thing to do “at the time”.
There you have it. That explains the party herd. And the following explains the rest:
He was particularly impressed by their ability to tune out the intellectual garbage that was thrown at them from every form of communications media, even in the ubiquitous slogans that adorned rooftops and bulletin boards.
Orwell was a genius! As a rule I try not to buy books that cost more than $20 (thanks to tsundoku) but I am really glad that I broke the rule this time. I find the stories of Berg (Barr) and Staros (Sarant) valuable, both in their political mistakes and in their engineering perseverance.
I needed to share some big files with a friend / colleague who lives some hours away. Couriers were not available at this time and I felt a bit “command line happy”, so with
ngrok http –region eu 8000
Done. Ain’t this the security manager’s nightmare, or what?
Now I need to find time for my own version of localtunnel (because NIH).
Τα παρακάτω τα έγραψα σε σχόλιο στο Facebook, αλλά τους αξίζει να “διασωθούν” με ένα ποστάκι:
Η αλήθεια είναι πως το συγκεκριμένο παιχνίδι άλλαξε την προσέγγιση του Αμερικάνικου μπάσκετ για τις διοργανώσεις εκτός NBA (κι ας είχαν και άλλες ήττες πριν) με τον ίδιο τρόπο που άλλαξε την προσέγγιση τους στο μπάσκετ και η ήττα από την Βραζιλία στο Παναμερικανικό του 1987. Έχουν ακόμα τον ίδιο προπονητή και ο Κόμπε το 2008 ήθελε να κερδίσει την Ελλάδα επειδή δεν ήταν εκεί το 2006. Παρεπιπτόντως και στην ήττα του 1987 από τους Βραζιλιάνους προπονητής τους ήταν πάλι ο Σιζέφσκι.
Το συγκεκριμένο παιχνίδι δεν άλλαξε τίποτε όμως στο Ελληνικό μπάσκετ.
Το επόμενο παιχνίδι άλλαξε το Ισπανικό (και το Ευρωπαϊκό) μπάσκετ, αλλά την αλλαγή δεν την κάναμε εμείς.