August 2013 Archives

James Altucher has a cheat sheet for starting and running your own business, but I contend that almost all the items on his 100-long list can be applied to almost any career, even when you're working for someone else. Everyone has customers, everyone has investors, and everyone wants to grow. Even if you aren't an entrepreneur you can apply these principles to make your work-self awesome.

It's interesting to me that Google's interview process is so onerous considering that they admit it has little predictive value. It seems to me that a policy of probationary hires might be more productive. Perform an initial screening to weed out the obviously unsuited and then bring candidates on for six-month contracts and see how they do. It would still be more onerous than what most companies do, but a six-month track record would certainly be predictive of future results.

Frankly, the use of highly-technical trick questions strikes me as embarrassing.


NBC has this picture of a shark swallowed whole by another shark.

This bizarre "turducken of the sea" photo was captured by researchers at the University of Delaware's Ocean Exploration, Remote Sensing, Biogeography (ORB) Lab. The scientists were in Delaware Bay this month to recapture sand tiger sharks that had been tagged with satellite-tracking tags, or to recover tags that had come off prematurely. [See Video of Shark Trapping & Tagging]

To capture a sand tiger shark, researchers baited a hook with a menhaden, a common marine fish, which was quickly snatched up by a smooth dogfish (Mustelus canis). "This unlucky smooth dogfish couldn't resist the menhaden used as bait and, unfortunately, fell victim to one of the top predators in the bay," ORB researchers wrote on their Facebook page. "The dogfish was about 3 feet (1 meter) long and completely swallowed by the sand tiger shark."

The Atlantic has an exhaustive and engaging article that touches on every aspect of drone warfare. It's well worth reading, even if you know a lot about the subject.

"Gun-free zones" -- where only criminals have guns -- are good enough to protect our kids, but politicians get taxpayer-funded security guards. It's almost as if they know that the "gun-free zones" aren't effective, and they're more concerned with their own personal safety than with the safety of children or even with ideological consistency.

Here is the response of the White House:

Working to Keep Everyone Safe

Thanks for your petition.

We live in a world where our elected leaders and representatives are subject to serious, persistent, and credible threats on a daily basis. Even those who are mere candidates in a national election become symbols of our country, which makes them potential targets for those seeking to do harm to the United States and its interests. In 1901, after the third assassination of a sitting President, Congress mandated that the President receive full-time protection, and that law is still in effect today. Because of it, those who are the subject of ongoing threats must receive the necessary and appropriate protection.

And so forth. Basically, if you're rich and powerful then you can get taxpayers to pay people to guard you with guns; if you're a regular citizen then you and your family are at the mercy of criminals.

Pedestrian Observations dissects Elon Musk's Hyperloop concept and decides that it's mostly nonsense. Along the way he laments the hubris of successful entrepreneurs:

There is a belief within American media that a successful person can succeed at anything. He (and it's invariably he) is omnicompetent, and people who question him and laugh at his outlandish ideas will invariably fail and end up working for him. If he cares about something, it's important; if he says something can be done, it can. The people who are already doing the same thing are peons and their opinions are to be discounted, since they are biased and he never is. He doesn't need to provide references or evidence - even supposedly scientific science fiction falls into this trope, in which the hero gets ideas from his gut, is always right, and never needs to do experiments.

The attorney for one of the Benghazi whistleblowers claims that 400 surface-to-air missiles were stolen from Libya and are now in the hands of terrorists.

Former U.S. Attorney Joe DiGenova, who now represents one of the Benghazi whistleblowers, told a Washington radio station Monday that the real scandal in Benghazi is the theft of 400 surface-to-air missiles by some "very ugly people."

The Obama administration fears those missiles will be used to shoot down an airplane or blow up one of our embassies, he said.

DiGenova said he learned about this from his client Mark Thompson, who served as Deputy Coordinator for Operations in the Bureau of Counterterrorism at the U.S. Department of State;

Think 400 is a lot? Back in 2011, after the fall of the Gadhafi regime, DefenseTech estimated there were20,000 SAMs in Libya ripe for the picking.

These missing missiles could be very easily smuggled into the United States and are a huge threat to people, our infrastructure, and our economy. If this information is true, it seems more a matter of "when" than "if" they'll be used.

(HT: NRO and CNS News.)

A stark warning for anyone in the research and development domain: Nokia wasted $40 billion on R&D over the past decade on useless projects that never turned into products. You can hire a lot of smart engineers and spend a lot of money, but if you don't organize it well your time and energy will be spent for nothing.

More than seven years before Apple Inc. AAPL +0.94% rolled out the iPhone, the Nokia team showed a phone with a color touch screen set above a single button. The device was shown locating a restaurant, playing a racing game and ordering lipstick. In the late 1990s, Nokia secretly developed another alluring product: a tablet computer with a wireless connection and touch screen--all features today of the hot-selling Apple iPad.

"Oh my God," Mr. Nuovo says as he clicks through his old slides. "We had it completely nailed."

Consumers never saw either device. The gadgets were casualties of a corporate culture that lavished funds on research but squandered opportunities to bring the innovations it produced to market. ...

Nokia is losing ground despite spending $40 billion on research and development over the past decade--nearly four times what Apple spent in the same period. And Nokia clearly saw where the industry it dominated was heading. But its research effort was fragmented by internal rivalries and disconnected from the operations that actually brought phones to market.

Instead of producing hit devices or software, the binge of spending has left the company with at least two abandoned operating systems and a pile of patents that analysts now say are worth around $6 billion, the bulk of the value of the entire company. Chief Executive Stephen Elop plans to start selling more of that family silver to keep the company going until it can turn around its fortunes.

"If only they had been landed in products," Mr. Elop said of the company's inventions in a recent interview, "I think Nokia would have been in a different place."

I've been playing Borderlands 2 for a month or so and I have to say that it is one of the most fun and best-designed games ever. With one exception, which I'll get to in a moment, every component of the game is excellent:

  • The guns are the stars of the show. There's a huge variety of weaponry, and it's always fun to find something new. The way that weapons fall behind as you level gently nudges you to try new things.
  • The enemies are fun, varied, and smart. Unlike many games, there are very few instances where you can just hide behind terrain and slaughter baddies who wander around impotently. It seems like every bad guy has a leap attack, a grenade, or something to push you out from behind cover eventually.
  • Challenges! I love the challenges, some of which are specific to a level, or an enemy type, or a weapon, or even span the whole game.
  • The missions are fun. The rewards are occasionally underwhelming, but most missions end with a red chest that give you a random assortment of cool items.
  • Graphics: I love the style.
  • Audio: The voices are great, as are all the effects.

My only complaint is that the character leveling system doesn't feel very substantial. Your health and damage get increased automatically when you level up and are completely outside your control. All you get to play with are a few skill trees, but most of the points you invest don't feel like they have a significant impact on the gameplay. I'm only level 25, so it's possible that the higher tier skills have more of an effect on your character.

Basically, Borderlands 2 has the gameplay that I was hoping for out of Skyrim. The world of Skyrim was huge and fantastic, and the story was great, but the actual mechanics of playing the game were boring to me. The combat wasn't fun, the spells were monotonous, and the enemies were predictable and repetitive. So wouldn't it be great to mix the two? Yes it would! Someone make that game for me.

Another action by President Obama that I approve of: reduced sentencing for non-violent offenders. In general I think we'd benefit greatly by ending prohibition on most drugs, but this is certainly a step in the right direction. Drug prohibition is really seeking to solve two linked but separate problems: drug addition, and drug violence. Unfortunately prohibition exacerbates violence by creating a black market for drugs.

"A vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities," Holder plans to say Monday, ­according to excerpts of his ­remarks that were provided to The Washington Post. "However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem rather than alleviate it."

Holder is calling for a change in Justice Department policies to reserve the most severe penalties for drug offenses for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers. He has directed his 94 U.S. attorneys across the country to develop specific, locally tailored guidelines for determining when federal charges should be filed and when they should not.

"Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no good law enforcement reason," Holder plans to say. "We cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation."

Here's a fantastic piece by the Washington Post about the hazards of the Great Falls along the Potomac. The information about river hazards is interesting, but what really stands out is the superb use of graphics and animation that brings the content to life.

I know that most people probably think I'm sort of right-wing nut, but the fact is that my nuttiness is much more esoteric. For example, here's some "leftist" thought I can agree with. I'm eliminating all context and isolating the phrases I like!

[the] law protects those already in power and manipulates the electorate to support the continuation of that power. Rhetoric about reverence for law is the way to acquire power in America, and Obama was great at that.

It looks like FDL is devoted to the rule of law, all the time, on every issue, but Kos is saying the rule of law is a con, and powerful people use it selectively, to protect what they want.

The rule of law is important, but it's also important that The Law isn't used as an excuse to prop up the status quo for the enrichment of the powerful. Why don't leftists realize that the huge, powerful government they tend to favor (these days) renders so many of their aspirations unattainable?

Aside from the President's general approach to space policy I haven't liked many of Obama's ideas, but here's one I can get get completely behind: wind down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Eliminating these pseudo-governmental corporations will go a long way towards cleaning up the mortgage market and reducing government corruption.

He proposed to "wind down" Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, for the first time outlining his approach to overhauling the two giant mortgage-finance companies that were taken over by the government when they failed nearly five years ago. The companies, which Mr. Obama described in an appearance here as "not really government, but not really private sector," recently began to repay taxpayers.

"For too long, these companies were allowed to make big profits buying mortgages, knowing that if their bets went bad, taxpayers would be left holding the bag," the president said. "It was 'heads we win, tails you lose.' "

Since early 2011, the administration has voiced support for overhauling Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which long benefited from an implicit government guarantee. Years ago the companies came to symbolize a self-dealing Washington culture beneficial to both parties, and especially Democrats, but Mr. Obama's remarks on what comes next were his most specific. For several years, the administration held back from revamping the mortgage-finance system for fear of rattling a weakened market.

The President also made some good observations on the long-time government emphasis on home-ownership:

"In the run-up to the crisis, banks and the government too often made everyone feel like they had to own a home, even if they weren't ready and didn't have the payment," Mr. Obama said. "That's a mistake we shouldn't repeat," he said. "Instead, let's invest in affordable rental housing."

As a homeowner myself I obviously want the demand for houses to be high, but we will all benefit if we can avoid another government-created housing bubble.

Remember when President Obama "reset" our relationship with Russia? Well, he's setting it back it again.

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Russia's decision last week to defy the U.S. and grant Snowden temporary asylum only exacerbated an already troubled relationship. And with few signs that progress would be made during the Moscow summit on other agenda items, Rhodes said the president decided to cancel the talks.

"We'll still work with Russia on issues where we can find common ground, but it was the unanimous view of the president and his national security team that a summit did not make sense in the current environment," Rhodes said.

Obama's decision to scrap talks with Putin is likely to deepen the chill in the already frosty relationship between the two leaders. They have frequently found themselves at odds on pressing international issues, most recently in Syria, where the U.S. accuses Putin of helping President Bashar Assad fund a civil war. The U.S. has also been a vocal critic of Russia's crackdown on Kremlin critics and recently sanctioned 18 Russians for human rights violations.

The problem isn't the "frosty relations" -- those are completely justified based on Russia's adversarial stance towards America. The problem is that Obama was naive enough to have thought that he could have talked his way into genuine friendship with Putin.

I agree with Hannah who writes that there's no such thing as "soul mates". Her wise father told her:

And then he gave me some of the best relationship advice I ever got: There is no biblical basis to indicate that God has one soul mate for you to find and marry. You could have a great marriage with any number of compatible people. There is no ONE PERSON for you. But once you marry someone, that person becomes your one person. As for compatibility, my mom would always pipe up when my girlfriends and I were making our lists of what we wanted in a spouse (dear well meaning Christian adults who thought this would help us not date scumbags: that was a bad idea and wholly unfair to men everywhere) that all that really mattered was that he loved the lord, made you laugh, and was someone you to whom you were attracted. The rest is frosting.

This is profoundly unromantic advice. We love to hear of people who "just can't help who they love," or people who "fall in love," or "find the one person meant for them." Even within the Christian circle, we love to talk about how God "had someone" for someone else for all of time. But what happens to these people when the unstoppable and uncontrollable force that prompted them to start loving, lets them stop loving, or love someone else?

What happens is a world where most marriages end in divorce, and even those that don't are often unhappy.

My marriage is not based on a set of choices over which I had no control. It is based on a daily choice to love this man, this husband that I chose out of many people that I could have chosen to love (in theory, don't imagine that many others were lined up and knocking at the door). He is not some elusive soul mate, not some divine fulfillment, not some perfect step on the rigorously laid out but of so secret "Plan for My Life."

I've already emailed this to my daughters' future email addresses, and I'm sure it will provoke some wonderful conversations in the future!

When you steal a smartphone make sure to tell it to stop uploading all your pictures to the internet or you will be mocked.

The modern information economy relies on cryptography for security, but what if the most widely-used cryptography algorithms are cracked in the next few years? RSA and Diffie-Hellman are everywhere, in every device you use, and their failure could bring the world to a stand-still.

Alex Stamos, chief technology officer of the online security company Artemis, led a presentation describing how he and three other security researchers studied recent publications from the insular world of academic cryptopgraphy research, which covers trends in attacking common encryption schemes.

"Our conclusion is there is a small but definite chance that RSA and classic Diffie-Hellman will not be usable for encryption purposes in four to five years," said Stamos, referring to the two most commonly used encryption methods.

Any hints that those methods could be undermined must be taken seriously, said Stamos. They are used to protect banking, online commerce, and e-mail, as well as the mechanisms that ensure that updates downloaded by operating systems such as Windows and OSX are genuine. The result of the two encryption methods being broken would be, said Stamos, "a total failure of trust on the Internet."

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