Mike Beversluis

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Adventures in health care insurance

In what passes for excitement around me, there are two developments: 1) I've manged to halve my rent. I'll add that when you negotiate for anything, politely ask for as many concessions as possible - it's amazing what you can get with a little shopping around. (eg)

2) In the spirit of taking my own medicine, so to speak, I've signed up for a health savings account based health insurance policy. Basically, it's a 401k that you and your employer fund to pay for any health costs. What you don't spend, rolls over to the next year. You can spend this money to cover all costs of health care, so there are no copays or percentages. If you exceed that amount, it's out of your pocket until a rather high deducatble is met. Admitadly, it's a scary thought, and my office mates selected a traditional health insurance plan because of that fact. However, I'm feeling young and dumb, which is at least half true. Once that deductable is spent, a traditional catastrophic insurance plan kicks in, with a maximum out-of-pocket limit on your contribution, ie, you won't have to ever pay more than $x per year ($x depends on your household). Besides that, basic physical preventive health care and dental care is free (eg, checkups and tooth cleanings).

The nicest benefit for me, though, is that because of my employers contribution, the HSA contribution is larger than my pretax premium. If I don't spend it, my net salary is effectively increased, while I'm still getting insurance. It's the difference between renting and developing equity. Since the HSA is mine, I can keep it if and when I leave. At any time, I can pull the money out for qualified health spending tax free of penalty (the IRS decides what qualifies), or like a 401k, I can take the money out for any purpose now if I pay a 10% penaly + tax. Or I can leave it until I'm 65, and then take it out without penalty (still with taxes). This is in addition to my normal IRA, except that the investment risk and returns are obviously lower (presumably T-bills).

This is obviously going to motivate a cheap bastard like me to never go to the doctor, which is what I've been doing for the last 15 years anyway. To be honest, I'm not sure I would do this if I had a family. It's also something that you need to start when you're young.

So, 24 hours after taking the serum, no effects have been observed.

Symba

Their Circular Life.

Update: Similar, but on a little longer time-scale.

Operators are standing by!

top-5-f0x
(via Jonah Goldberg)(Admittedly, I had to use a zero for an "o")

Use his illusion

More.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Quote

"Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art."

Tom Stoppard, "Artist Descending a Staircase"

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

I kinda miss the old Keillor

BDR has pretty consistently pushed Garrison Keillor over the line which separates funny from mean, but nothing quite brings a domestic fight to a temporary standstill as the introduction of external enemy. Meet Bernard-Henri Lévy:

Any American with a big urge to write a book explaining France to the French should read this book first, to get a sense of the hazards involved. Bernard-Henri Lévy is a French writer with a spatter-paint prose style and the grandiosity of a college sophomore; he rambled around this country at the behest of The Atlantic Monthly and now has worked up his notes into a sort of book. It is the classic Freaks, Fatties, Fanatics & Faux Culture Excursion beloved of European journalists for the past 50 years...

Read the rest at the NY Times. Two comments spring to mind: First, what American would be interested writing that book? As Homer Simpson explained, "Just because I don't care doesn't mean I don't understand." Second, it really only points towards my own prejudices and stereotypes, but:


Depardieu called and he wants his look back.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Washington Car Show

I went to the Washington DC Car Show today, and here are a few pictures:


The Shelby Mustang is very nicely executed, especally the exterior. I'm sure it's a blast to drag race, and if I had 40k lying around, I'd pre-order one right now. That said, Ford's interior design here, and in general, looks okay, but really needs work on the quality of the materials and on the fit and finish. The plastics are flimsy and cheap feeling. They are thisclose, though.



Given it's billet switches and Grosse Pointe Blanke zipcode, the Ford GT probably doesn't have to worry about those quality issues. Plus, get it in black with the pewter stripe, and your Batmobile is ready, sir. It was smaller than I expected. Magazines always compare it to the Porsche Carrera GT and the Ferrari F430, and implicity or explicitly suggest that the Ford is a big boned cornfed ploughboy by comparison. It's not. Seriously, it is a low slung car. So, take that prepacked geopolitocal car meme.


This Jag is seriously sweet. It's what a Vette turns into when it grows up, and costs a fraction of the Ferrari Panamerica, albeit without the very trick electrochromic windows. I'm pretty sure Kaiser Soze drives one.


Dodge needs to build this Challenger concept before the next gas crunch makes it unsellable. It, unlike the Ford GT but like the superbowl, is xtra-large.


The FJ didn't appeal to me as much as I had hoped. Toyota really needs to get a new design chief. And it wouldn't kill Honda either. Both of you, please stop making reliable but fugly vehicles. Also surprising, the new Buick Lucerne has a better interior than any Toyota. Despite the GM dna, that car's interior was way nicer.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

Quotes of the Day

"If there is anything the nonconformist hates worse than a conformist, it's another nonconformist who doesn't conform to the prevailing standard of nonconformity."

"Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them."

- Bill Vaughan

Truth in Advertising

Detroit is cold, and other fascinating stories that'll bore you.

For all your time keeping needs

As an oblique reference to my employer, here are some clocks:


Incidentally, I don't wear a watch. But I feel retarded for writing that now. It's like claiming you don't watch TV or wear a tie. Yeah, okay Tyler Durton, you're no white collar slave. Cracker, please.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Free books

Well, free if your time is worth nothing (ha ha):

And yet Deion Sanders is nowhere mentioned


From this article also known as Prime Time:

Riemann found that certain complex numbers, when plugged into the zeta function, produce the result zero. The few zeros he could calculate lay on a vertical line in the complex plane, and he guessed that, except for a few well-understood cases, all the infinity of zeros should lie exactly on this line.

What does this have to do with the primes? If you plot how many primes exist below a given number (see Diagram above), what you get is a smooth curve with small wiggles added, —that is, the 1/ln(x) rule, plus deviations.

According to Michael Berry of Bristol University, you can think of that pattern of deviations as a wave. Just like a sound wave, it is made up of many frequencies. "And what are the frequencies?" asks Berry. "They're the Riemann zeros. The zeros are harmonies in the music of the primes."

Berry isn't speaking in metaphors. "I've tried to play this music by putting a few thousand primes into my computer," he says "but it's just a horrible cacophony. You'd actually need billions or trillions—someone with a more powerful machine should do it."

There are a few directions I could go here, but behind door number one is the fact that every number theorist I have ever met or known was borderline insane. Furthermore, a few had spent time South of the Border. There is just something about the study whole numbers (and whole numbers only) that self-selects the unbalanced. (Pi springs to mind) The take-home message is that genius is best appreciated from a safe distance.

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Cool Type


Sidewalk Chalk

"Watch out, that first step is a dooozy," or not.

The Universe is Overlayed by a Lattice of Coincidence

Free online pdfs and pdf generators for all sorts of graph paper. Download what you need and print it out. I'm still a big fan of Engineer's pads (the green tint calms me down, man.) and moleskin notebooks, but this is pretty cool. ("Incompetech" sounds like something Mike Judge would come up with, too.) Naturally, the pointer came from Cool Tools.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

WHEREAS = Sheer Hilarity

I suggest reading the following exerpt with a Keanu Reeves voice:

WHEREAS, The 49ers have not had a winning season since 2002; and,

WHEREAS, Many bars and restaurants depend on football fans for their income and are negatively impacted by the 49ers not making it to the playoffs again; and,

WHEREAS, Mike Holmgren, head coach for the Seattle Seahawks began his career as a celebrated football coach at Lincoln High and has strong, long-term ties to San Francisco football fans; and,

WHEREAS, [blah blah blah]

WHEREAS, The Seattle Seahawks achieved a 16-3 regular season record and thus have a good shot of winning Super Bowl XL; and,

....

Read the rest here, if you like. [via Mike Sando]

Another Deep Thought

Norm Abrams is the biggest tool in his $4 million wood shop. Norm, your design aesthetic is bad and you should feel bad.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Easy there buddy


Dude, I think there's another game. But much rezpeck for wearing the Rick Mirer jersey, which if anything, captures the magnitude of the turnaround. Just to add that little personal touch, I made a double or nothing bet with my barber that Seattle wouldn't make it to the Superbowl (Man, just wait till next year...). So, now he can cut my hair half as short for twice as much money, yet it's totally worth it.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

[LMS] Match point

Match point, by Woody Allen (UK/Luxembourg 2005)

I have read around many people saying that they like it, and I also do; there is one of the most important characteristics of the tragedy, the fact that it is impossible to solve the situation and at the end someone will lose. I add this; I have seen just a few movies by Woody Allen, and from the few I have seen I got the impression that his characters have quite weak relationships with the place they live in. Granted, they go around NY and other cities, but they aren't linked to them either economically or by affections; their encounters do not lead to putting down some roots.
Well, the protagonist of Match point does not have roots as well, and this lets tragedy develop more easily; he does not have any space for retreat and this leaves him exposed to the violence of passion, to the unavoidable changes in the body and to the eyes of the spectators.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Lowest Gas Price Near You

Find the lowest gas price near you.

Taco Town!

Taco Town! (Samberg strikes again. I'm going to have to start watching SNL again. Or not, since this gets posted online anyway.)(NB: "Tacos + Mr. Pibb = Crazy Delicous.")

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Elevator Rules

ElevatorRules.com!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

J Imag Genomics


After the recent stem-cell debacle, Science is thinking of changing their format to include sections detailing the contributions of each author and the author's "Statement of Concurence" with the paper's conclusions. This spoof by the NY Times is so true, it's... really true. My favorite bit, from the third author:

I performed all PCR reactions, gel analysis, bioinformatics, statistical analysis, collection of pine tree samples and nuclear transfer procedures. I also suggested the original idea for the experiment, wrote the grant proposal and executed all experiments without the aid of a technician.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Football

Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning QB is exactly the sort of informative analysis that most shows, be they sports or some of the car shows excorated below. I think he nails the Seattle-Washington game:

Washington at Seattle: Last week, Tuesday Morning Quarterback noted the Redskins' defensive performance improved late in the season because Washington's cornerbacks were hurt, which forced the tastefully named Gregg Williams to give the corners safety help and, in turn, prevented Williams from calling blitzes. I cautioned, "Elite corner Shawn Springs is expected back for the upcoming Washington at Seattle contest. For heaven's sake, tastefully named Gregg, don't use that as an excuse to go blitz-wacky." Springs played, Williams resumes his blitzing ways, and surely as the night follows the day, blitzes were Washington's downfall.

Seattle's opening possession, the Seahawks faced third-and-4. It's the first expected-blitz down of the contest, first test of whether the tastefully named Gregg can resist the urge to go blitz-wacky. Aaaaaiiiiiiiyyyyyyeeeee! Big blitz, 37-yard completion to Darrell Jackson. Now Seattle leads 7-3 and faces third-and-3, six-man blitz, 31-yard completion to Joe Jurevicius. Now Seattle leads 14-3 and faces second-and-8, another blitz, another 37-yarder to Jackson. Now the play that ended Washington's season: Seattle leads 17-10 with 5:17 remaining and faces third-and-6. Six-man blitz and blocking back Mack Strong, 17 rushing attempts on the season, takes a draw for a career long run of 32 yards. A few snaps later, it was 20-10 and Washington's goose was cooked. At Seattle when the Redskins played conventional defense, things went well; when Washington blitzed, the Blue Men Group gained yards in big bunches. And how many sacks or interceptions resulted from Washington blitzing? None.


I hope Carolina will blitz like crazy, in which case, more plays like this would occur:

Sweet Play of the Week: Seattle holding a slim 7-3 lead in the third quarter, the Seahawks faced third-and-3 at midfield. Washington blitzed six, no rusher getting anywhere near Matt Hasselbeck, thanks to excellent blocking including from Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-QB Non-RB NFL MVP Walter Jones. Joe Jurevicius ran a quick stop. Hasselbeck saw there was no safety behind Jurevicius and motioned him to streak up the field; 31-yard completion and Seattle takes a 14-3 lead on the possession. It was strictly a "go down to the lamppost and cut toward the blue car" play.


His likewise critique of Pittsburg's blitzing also seems right, although my knowledge is a little too shallow to rebutt.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Car Shows

I TiVo a fair amount of car shows, which can definately be sorted into better and worse categories. No doubt I'm wrong, but Top Gear just pisses me off. I think it's intentional. Robert Farago [The Truth About Cars] wades in with John Bolton-like tact on Jeremy Clarkson:

Jeremy Clarkson is a one man army. The English auto hack wields barely-judged invective like a malarial Crusader swinging a Damascus double mace, flailing at anyone and anything within reach. Self-deprecation and self-righteousness are the spiked balls in question. While the combination is a clear indication that Clarkson suffers from a bad case of class-related self-loathing, the journalist's deep-rooted insecurities don't detract from the fact that he'’s superb writer, with an instinctive command over the English language.
Read the rest if you like, but if you want to talk about hacks, I think the Car & Driver and Motor Trend shows have more to answer for: Motor Trend has never met a car they don't love ("The Hitlermobile is sporty and a class value, and has better trunk space than some of its competitors to boot."), while Car and Driver is all about the BMW - witness their last "comparo" where they praised the BMW's quality even though it pulled a HAL-"I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you use the brakes now" during the test. Yes, BMW's are nice to drive, but everyone and their mother knows they are maintenance timebombs. Unless you have piles of cash moldering in your basement, you'd better be on warranty. Yet no review ever mentions this - again, even when the brand new car nearly blue screen of deaths during the test drive!

But I digress. My favorite new car shows are the somewhat overlapping Dream Car Garage and Sports Car Revolution. They too shill for their aftermarket sponsors, but they do include a fair bit of quantitative testing, and if something doesn't work, they seem to say so. The three ring circus is run by Tom Hnatiw and Peter Klutt with Canadian self-depreciation, and even better, they pull that off without constantly teeing off on the neighbors to the South (Mexicans?) (They aren't pro-American, they're just too busy hosing each other. 'Take off, Hoser!") (unlike the aforementioned Brits). Highly recommended show(s) even though I'm not quite sure why they have two of them.

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Tradition!

What's tradition good for? Depends what you mean - if you're a lyrical jew, you might say:

Tevye: A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn't easy. You may ask 'Why do we stay up there if it's so dangerous?' Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: tradition!

If you're Scott Adams, it might mean something less... uh, traditional.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

We sell time

Bendimus tempus barattu

Bendimus tempus barattu,
chie còmporat tempus?
Chie còmporat tempus sardu?
Lu bendimus a oras
a annos a edades:
tempus de provvista,
tempus zóvanu,
tempus forte,
tempus galliardu,
tempus d'oro.

...

Predu Mura (1906-1966)

Time on sale

We sell time, it's a deal,
who shall buy it?

...

We sell it by the hour,
by the year and by the age:
time good for harvest,
a young time,
a strong time,
powerful, made of gold.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Pretty Pictures

From the archives of LiveScience.com Image of the Day comes this map:

See also one of my favorite photoblogs, Kathleen Connally's A Walk Through Durham Township, Pennsylvania. The best pictures portfolio is amazing, even if her copyright notice seems to preclude fair use.

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Non-Apple Hatin' for a change


Actually, I don't hate Apples - I just don't want to pay for them. And not digging the iPod is all about not joining the cult, however much that's cutting off my ears to spite my face (?). However, let me concur with Shannon Love over here and give the A-team their propers over the new laptop power cord connector. I really like my Fujitsu S-series, but after 3 years its connector is starting to go a little wobbly.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Semi-auto nerf rifle


Frankly, for this much trouble, I'd just stick with the real bullet version. [via Make]

Random links

The NFL Misery Index - the Seattle Seahawks come in at number eight with a misery factor of 32.5. The intangible misery score of 8.0 seems right to me.

On a somewhat related note, here's a choice excerpt from a Matt Hasselback interview:

On raising a family in Seattle

It's all about my kids now. They're four [Annabelle], two [Mallory] and six months [Henry] old. And I think I might be out here a while. The other day, we were in the car and I said, "Where do you guys want to go for lunch?" And my two-year-old -- my two-year-old -- says, "Starbucks!"

[via Hawk News Daily]

The Prejudice Map. The entry for France seems bogus. England too. Also Germany. Just sayin'. [via American Digest]

Speaking of prejudices, this entry on a horrible boot from Russia reminds me of the old RC Cola Russian Fashion commercial ["Beach Wear = Grey Jumpsuit with Beach Ball; Evening Wear = Grey Jumpsuit with flashlight...]. Ugg boots really need to go away, but this might be a case where the devil you know is better than the devil you don't:

Trust the Manolo, nothing says, Comrade, I have in my soviet-era apartment stockpiled 500 rolls of the low-quality toilet paper like the valenki.

Do not be the babushka, do not wear the valenkis.

Manolo on the Valenki.

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Kaus vs Bangle

Mickey Kaus gets around to writing about cars, which I wish he did more often (frequently). Taken out of context, he writes:
Just because you can make new shapes doesn't mean that they will always be appealing. Bangle interspersed his slide show with photos of beautiful and fashionable women, mainly Audrey Hepburn, which had the effect of subtly subverting his pitch. The design of women, after all, hasn't changed all that much over centuries. Yet they still retain their brand appeal!
It's part of my cunning plan to make you to read the rest.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Old PopSci covers

I wish science was more like these old magazine covers. [via American Digest]

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Sherman's March

Dean Barnett writes over at Soxblog about Sherman's famous march to the sea:

THIS WHOLE COUNTRY WOULD BE BETTER off if it studied the life of William Tecumseh Sherman. Sherman spent some of the happiest days of his life as the first president of Louisiana State University (L.S.U.). In Louisiana, Sherman developed a powerful fondness for the genteel Southerners and their ways.

A few years later at the battle of Shiloh, then-General Sherman was appalled by the carnage. More Americans died at Shiloh than had died in every previous battle held on U.S. soil combined. Sherman’s warm feelings for the Southern aristocracy soon turned to anger and something that bordered on hatred. The Confederacy’s soldiers were poor men fighting a rich man’s war. The soldiers paid the ultimate price, while the burdens borne by the wealthy civilians were minimal. That fact combined with Shiloh’s gore animated Sherman to find a better way to fight the war than sending his lines into battle with the Confederacy’s lines to efficiently butcher one another.

And that’s what Sherman’s “March to the Sea” and his sacking of Georgia were all about. With Sherman’s march, the landed aristocracy had the fight brought to them; until then they had avoided the war’s consequences even though it was a war that they themselves had started. Sherman changed that. He torched their estates, took all they had. In short order, the Southern power structure lost its appetite for the struggle for its “freedom.”

I didn't know Sherman had lived down South before the war, but it's an intersting insight, and the parallels he draws to our modern conflicts seem apt too.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Blurry on purpose

Mark Twain once wrote (I think) about how his ability to appreciate the beauty of a river had been ruined by his years of river boat piloting. When he looked at a river, his trained eye immediately anazlyzed the currents and located sunken logs and shallows. He couldn't turn off this analysis and just see the river. So, for what it's worth - it occurs to me that the TV (20") is flickering at 60 Hz (field rate) and was located around 7 feet away from the camera. The angular velocity of the camera is...

Quotes

From Ray Bradbury, who seems to be a Teddy Roosevelt Zen No-Mind "Be the ball" adherent:

"Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can't try to do things. You simply must do things."

"If we listened to our intellect, we'd never have a love affair. We'd never have a friendship. We'd never go into business, because we'd be cynical. Well, that's nonsense. You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down."

"All you umpires, back to the bleachers. Referees, hit the showers. It's my game. I pitch, I hit, I catch. I run the bases. At sunset, I've won or lost. At sunrise, I'm out again, giving it the old try."

Bradbury also said:

"Those who don't build must burn. It's as old as history and juvenile deliquence."

"You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance."

I think I'm getting better at the first, and the second has never really been an issue. Bradbury's Wikipedia entry points out that he's still alive, which surprised me, but it also includes this unbelievable trivia:

One well known irony is that Bradbury, despite writing about spaceships and interplanetary travel and having lived in Los Angeles for most of his life, has never driven a car.

Kinda casts the whole thing into doubt, since living in LA for 50 years & never driving seems unphysical, even if your family and friends accommodated you as much as possible. Then again, Paul Erdos went around pretending he couldn't boil water either (Incidentally, I'll bet you $1 that my ancestral degree of separation from Erdos is less than my Erdos number). Finally, from yesterday's Quote of the Day I include this Wodehousian bit:

"'Whom are you?' he asked, for he had attended business college."
- George Ade

Ha! Take that business school graduates.

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Friday, January 06, 2006

Odd Advertisement

I'm sorry, but John Cleese does not come to mind when I think of "Incredible entertainment experiences in my lap."

2006 poetry

Beni, dammi sa manu, isfortunadu,

tue ses dignu de s’istima mia;

lottend’in d’unu mar’ ’e angustia

custu virgine cor’has meritadu.


Peppino Mereu - around 1890


Come and give me your hand, unlucky friend,

you are worthy of my esteem;

struggling in a sea of anguish

you deserved this virgin heart.

=====


As a brief comment ... so says a girl to the man that has pursued her for such a long time; or at least this is what the man would like to hear.

Nike

I visited my sister and brother-in-law and took a tour of the Nike campus, which I suspect is a cover for a vast underground secret base, ie, Phil Knight = Scorpio and has giant robots with swooshes on them. Even though it's a facade, the place is extravagantly designed compared to Boeing or Microsoft.

Sure, you expect the acres of manicured Japanese gardens, 1-ton floating stone sculptures, and computer-controlled fountains, but even the stop signs and handicapped parking signs are not just your normal painted on variety, but are three dimensional laser-cutout sculpted versions instead. I ask you, who else but a evil billionaire bent on world domination would spend $1000 on a nifty stop sign?

Anyway, one of the perks of working there is their design library. This place is a lending library filled with spendy art books and computer workstations for Nike designers to come to and research whatever it is they need to research, I guess. They actually had all sorts of cool objects on hand as design examples, including this bit of origami:


If your interested, it's on sale at the SFMOMA.

Also in that Nike library was the funky but cool in the all-black model Z-doc shoe (which is way more funky and not so cool in the other colors). I'll go out on a limb and guess you can't buy them on sale, since there were only 140 of them for the US:


Instead they are doomed to live in the closet of some design nerd shoe fetishist. Since I couldn't buy those, I bought these instead:


They are currently 40% off over at Zappos. So, ha ha, take that Phil Knight.

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Euro Elites

Pardon my bias, but how did this end up in The Stranger?
A few years back, after a prolonged immersion in American Protestant fundamentalism (I was writing a book), I moved from the U.S. to Western Europe, ready to bask in an open, secular, liberal culture. Instead I discovered that European social democracy, too, was a kind of fundamentalism, rigid and doctrinaire, yielding what Swedish writer Johan Norberg calls "one-idea states"—nations where an echo chamber of insular elites calls the shots, where monochrome media daily reiterate statist mantras and shut out contrarian views, and where teachers and professors systematically misrepresent the U.S. (millions of Europeans believe that free public schools, unemployment insurance, and pensions are unknown in America). The more I saw of the European elites' chronic distrust of the public, and the public's habitual deference to those elites, the fonder I grew of the nasty, ridiculous rough-and-tumble of American democracy, in which every voice is heard—even if, as a result, the U.S. gets capital punishment and Europe gets gay marriage.

[via]

Thursday, January 05, 2006

35

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
che' la diritta via era smarrita.

Dante, Inferno, 1, 1-3

In the middle of our life's walk
I found myself in a dark forest
because the good path was lost.

(My translation)


Halfway through the journey we are living
I found myself deep in a darkened forest,
For I had lost all trace of the straight path.

(Translation taken from http://www.italianstudies.org/comedy/index.htm)

Monday, January 02, 2006

Paul Graham, Richard Hamming, and the Good and Bad of Science

Paul Graham has a good essay on procrastination (his advice on starting a startup is great too) [via Marginal Revolution]. Presented somewhat without context, Paul says:
The most dangerous form of procrastination is unacknowledged type-B procrastination, because it doesn't feel like procrastination. You're "getting things done." Just the wrong things.
I've been working on better orgainizing my work and time, and along these lines I've found David Allen's book Getting Things Done to be helpful (which I found on Cool Tools). Besides creating lists and calenders, he empahsizes the role of priority evaluation, along with regular planning and reviewing sessions. Anyway, included in Paul's essay is a link to Richard Hamming's advice on doing Important Science. One of the money quotes =
Now Alan Chynoweth mentioned that I used to eat at the physics table. I had been eating with the mathematicians and I found out that I already knew a fair amount of mathematics; in fact, I wasn't learning much. The physics table was, as he said, an exciting place, but I think he exaggerated on how much I contributed. It was very interesting to listen to Shockley, Brattain, Bardeen, J. B. Johnson, Ken McKay and other people, and I was learning a lot. But unfortunately a Nobel Prize came, and a promotion came, and what was left was the dregs. Nobody wanted what was left. Well, there was no use eating with them!

Over on the other side of the dining hall was a chemistry table. I had worked with one of the fellows, Dave McCall; furthermore he was courting our secretary at the time. I went over and said, ``Do you mind if I join you?'' They can't say no, so I started eating with them for a while. And I started asking, ``What are the important problems of your field?'' And after a week or so, ``What important problems are you working on?'' And after some more time I came in one day and said, ``If what you are doing is not important, and if you don't think it is going to lead to something important, why are you at Bell Labs working on it?'' I wasn't welcomed after that; I had to find somebody else to eat with! That was in the spring.

In the fall, Dave McCall stopped me in the hall and said, ``Hamming, that remark of yours got underneath my skin. I thought about it all summer, i.e. what were the important problems in my field. I haven't changed my research,'' he says, ``but I think it was well worthwhile.'' And I said, ``Thank you Dave,'' and went on. I noticed a couple of months later he was made the head of the department. I noticed the other day he was a Member of the National Academy of Engineering. I noticed he has succeeded. I have never heard the names of any of the other fellows at that table mentioned in science and scientific circles. They were unable to ask themselves, ``What are the important problems in my field?''

If you do not work on an important problem, it's unlikely you'll do important work. It's perfectly obvious.

I think this is all quite true when evaulating the big picture aspect of your career. But at the same time, I think it shows the egotism that undergirds so much of science. I guess I want it both ways, because people who float by aimlessly bother me, but people driven by the need to be great also do so too. Hamming points out that greatness requires a relentless drive and workaholicism. I think he misses how socially deformed this is. I think he was joking about not eating lunch with the dregs, but he still left them and moved on, and once the oppurtunities were drained there, he moved on again. He seems to be quite an unpleasent person. Frankly, his social interactions seem to be broken.

More fundamentally, working on problems seems to be less about the problems and more about advancing yourself. I guess it's important to recognize this, but if you did, do you think science is the most productive way to make yourself famous? What's so great about being more efficient while taking such a difficult route? It seems to lack a global awareness.

Yet more fundamentally, what's so great about being famous? That need for affirmation will likely alway be unfilled.

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