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The President Computer

I really wish there was a fiction novel about a computer being elected president. It’s one of the rules of the Internet that if the content doesn’t exist, it should be created, so, here you go. Imagine this as a very very short book. Read more…

Bring Back #Christchurch

On February 22nd, 2011, a severe earthquake hit the central city of Christchurch, New Zealand. Over 200 people died in this natural disaster. This was the first time the National State of Emergency has been declared in the history of New Zealand, and many came together to do our best from where we were to pull us out of what will be remembered as ‘our darkest days’. Read more…

Tethering the Kindle 3

Ever wanted to use the free world-wide 3G account on your Kindle for browsing on your laptop? Now you can. Here’s my quick howto for tethering a Mac OS X laptop to the Kindle 3 in 10 easy steps:

  1. Jailbreak the Kindle (or google for kindle-jailbreak-0.3.N.zip)
  2. Install usbNetwork (kindle-usbnetwork-0.13.N.zip) and run “;debugOn” and “~usbNetwork” from the Home screen
  3. Plug the Kindle into the laptop with the USB cable and configure a manual IP address for the laptop on 192.168.2.1
  4. Open a terminal window and ssh root:fiona@192.168.2.2 or telnet 192.168.2.2 .. ssh doesn’t always work (does anyone know why?)
  5. Upload tcpdump-arm to the Kindle and move it to root home folder. Run “mntroot rw” just in case.
  6. Use “~/tcpdump-arm -nAi ppp0 -s0” to identify amazon proxy x-fsn authentication key by browsing the web over 3g on the Kindle browser.
  7. Create an ssh tunnel for proxy between laptop and the Kindle proxy server (fints-g7g.amazon.com –> 72.21.206.113)
  8. If sshd (dropbear) decides to stop working for whatever reason, telnet into kindle, reverse ssh into your laptop from there and set up the link (ssh -R 8099:72.21.206.113:80 user@192.168.2.1). Run a ping 192.168.2.2 for connection keepalives.
  9. Use the Modify Headers Firefox extension on laptop to insert x-fsn key into every page.
  10. Configure laptop Firefox proxy to 127.0.0.1:8099. If you like, you can forward additional ports for SSL etc as separate SSH tunnels

It should now be possible to browse the net on the laptop through the kindle 3g connection and Amazon proxy servers. Not everything works (gmail anyone?), and it’s not as fast as the iPhone 3g service, but if you’re stuck in an airport in Europe or Asia with no internet, this might just be good enough, and (likely) free.

Thanks to Collin Mulliner and MobileRead Forums for helpful hints on setting this up. Please note that you are using Amazon proxy servers, and from the x-fsn key they do know who you are and (possibly) what you’re doing; there’s always a chance that Amazon will charge you for the data usage. Their current costs for delivering personal documents to the Kindle is $0.99/mb for international and $0.15/mb for domestic data; caveat emptor.

A stand-up statistician

Today Tim and I made up statistician jokes during lunch. I am 95% confident that about 0.0000000001% of the population will enjoy these:

  • Why did the statistician get arrested? Because he was too perverted for the standard deviation.
  • Did you hear about a statistician who became a pirate? He was really good at speaking in R.
  • Why are statisticians both beautiful and smart? Because they “model and Excel”
  • Ten statisticians sit at a dinner table. Person 1, 8 and 9 die. Why? There was a Poisson distribution.
  • Why did the statistician get high? Because she thought that LSD had narrow limits.
  • How do statisticians never get fat at networking events? They don’t over-sample.
  • Why did the old statistician go crazy? Because he regressed.
  • Why to statisticians have so many LinkedIn connections? Because it adds to their confidence interval.
  • Why do statisticians buy Chevrolet cars? Because they all love ANOVA.
  • Who are the unluckiest statisticians? It’s those for whom the bell curve tolls.
  • Why did the statistician buy coloured crayons? Because he thought they were stochastic.
  • How did the statistician get pregnant? She random-sampled her birth control pills.
  • Why do statisticians make bad stand-up comedians? Because they demand a control group.

Hidden treasure map

What is money?

A few months back I started thinking about money, and began to wonder where it comes from. Long story short, I found a number of articles and presentations of varying quality saying that money is made by the Fed and issued by Treasury, but that wasn’t the interesting part. In researching how debt and credit is created, I unexpectedly discovered different paradigms of what money is.

Think about it. Is money just one thing, or are there multiple lenses that it could be perceived through?

I used to have a simple and well defined view on this – throughout my life I perceived money as a means to obtain goods and services. In other words, as a mechanism of exchange. Money could be saved, spent, invested and gifted. One of the purposes of employment was to obtain as much money as feasibly possible, to later spend exchange it for things I need and want. As high school economics teachers point out, money is an evolution of the ancient barter system of shells and coconuts.

When I started investing in the stock market, I saw another paradigm – money as a commodity. I could trade, buy, sell, borrow and lend it. I would buy money on the cheap and then later sell it at a more expensive price for an arbitrage opportunity. This is simpler than it sounds: buying money is done by borrowing it – for example, I can buy $100 now for $110 dollars in six months. Selling money is lending it – if I can sell the same $100 for $120 in three month, I make a tidy profit. So, just like orange juice, concrete and copper, money is a commodity.

Over drinks with a well connected friend who had the chance to meet the board of the Fed and discuss money with them, I discovered yet another paradigm – of money as an abstract concept to measure confidence levels in an economy. How much money should there be in circulation for people to have faith in tomorrow? During the 2008 financial crisis, the Fed created over a trillion dollars of bailout funds. Was that enough to convince the public and the world that the US economy would survive? Looks like it. This was the value of confidence in the financial system, and it was largely made by entering a few numbers in a computer – there was very little additional cash made.

I often think of money as not real. That’s not entirely true – money is very real, and a large part of our lives. It is however a very interesting abstract concept with multiple dimensions, and it’s rather useful to increase the different perspectives of what it is to suit different situations. If anything, the notion of money certainly doesn’t have a single correct definition. What other paradigms are out there?

Gorillaz make a 90s megamix

Last night I watched the video for the new Gorillaz clip, Stylo, and was so thrilled by it that I got the entire new Plastic Beach album and put it on my phone to listen to in the car this morning. The video is practically overwhelming with raw cool – fast cars, leather jackets, fat cops, guns and the trademark Bruce Willis yippee-ka-yay smile at the end. The back beat is a solid late 80’s synth bass track with a high pitched and catchy vocal track. The lyrics are spacious and the pacing is controlled. I was hooked and enthralled that Gorillaz have finally put out some new music – the last high water mark of Clint Eastwood was too long ago.

The kind Auckland traffic this morning offered me a spectacular opportunity to listen to almost the entire album while being stuck in a jam on the way to work. In brief, on the first listen, the album held up OK. Too much plastic, not enough beach maybe. The tracks wonderfully bring together hooks, words, emotions and motives of many 70’s, 80’s and 90’s songs in my memory – power ballads of Boston, Boney M pop tunes, self-referential underground rap of Dj Vadim, laser soundscapes of Jean Michel Jarre and lots of other artists thrown together. Thrown together rather well, because Gorillaz didn’t copy the music but instead stole the underlying feelings and emotions. For a megamix of the last three decades, the album stands up surprisingly well – although I can’t say the same about the complexity and quality of the writing.

Lets see what gets done well – and, preeminently, because the album is a piece of interpretive art, it’s the emotional aftertaste of the songs. I felt great after listening to it. The songs were technically simple and didn’t make much sense at first, but the remaining feelings developed after a few minutes in my mind. Didn’t I hear that last part in .. wasn’t that like the time I was .. did that last song remind me of .. how did they? I laughed when I heard the a rap track in the late 90’s style suddenly change into bubblegum pop in Superfast Jellyfish. I felt great. Empire Ants had perfect timing of a relaxed rock ballad, but certainly sounded nothing like one. Glitter Freeze could really have been done better and be less repetitive – it’s the first song I felt like skipping because yes, it made a point, but there was no need to hammer it in with continuous laser effects.

The album is great as a trip back to the last few decades. Unlike much of the synth-driven mass-produced factory pop that sets the base direction of the album, it has a meaning and brings up emotions. Rather unfortunately, the musical styling stays within simplistic bass lines and lead scales and doesn’t go out of the ordinary like the previous work on, say, Fire Coming Out Of The Monkey’s Head. The sound is mostly made on a synth, and while yes, that’s the whole point of the album as I see it, it could have been done better and on a more complex level, just look at the awesome layering work on Massive Attack’s Pray for Rain. Even doing the bass lines on a real bass guitar would have added more dimension to the sound. It would be curious to listen to this music live.

In any case, I am so excited for the breakout success of the lead single Stylo. It does so many things right that I am glad to now have a 90’s megamix that I never knew I always wanted.