Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Thousand Best Popular-Science Books

The Thousand Best Popular-Science Books: Over at Cocktail Party Physics, Jennifer has cast a baleful eye on the various lists of the world’s greatest books, and decided that we really need is a list of the world’s greatest popular-science books. I think the goal is to find the top 100, but many nominations are pouring in from around the internets, and I suspect that a cool thousand will be rounded up without much problem. (Via Cosmic Variance.)

Follow the links for some interesting lists. Since my library is scattered among several places in Philadelphia and Palo Alto, I'll rely on my very fallible memory for this unordered list of ten books that stayed:

  • Microcosm, Carl Zimmer
  • The Best of All Possible Worlds, Ivar Ekeland
  • The Fabric of Reality, David Deutsch
  • Annals of the Former World, John McPhee
  • Thin Ice, Mark Bowen
  • The Plausibility of Life, Marc Kirschner and John Gerhardt
  • Battle of Wits, Steve Budiansky
  • Alan Turing: the Enigma, Andrew Hodges
  • The Illusion of Conscious Will, Daniel Wegner
  • Three Roads to Quantum Gravity, Lee Smolin

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Chile trip report

Chile August 08

I just returned from a road trip in Chile with my friend Rick Winfield. Our original plan was to try to summit and ski three volcanos: Lonquimay, Antuco, and Volcán Nevado in the Nevados de Chillán complex. In the end, the stormy weather — heavy winds and snow in half of our days there — kept us to lift-served skiing more than we had planned, but we got the bonus of some nice powder skiing in Nevados de Chillán and La Parva.

We arrived in Santiago early August 15, and we drove all day (770 km) to Corralco, the small resort on the South side of Lonquimay. It blew and snowed moderately all of Saturday, as shown on the first 12 photos in the album. To do something, we skinned twice from the lodge to the ski area (around 300 m vertical) where we saw Chilean soldiers practicing winter skills, and where we practiced crampon travel on a wind-scoured slope.

Sunday (photos 13 to 28) was summit day. We got a ride on a snow cat to the ski lifts, because the road was still partly unplowed, and rode the chair to the top of the small bump (1900 m) on the right of the photos of Lonquimay. We started skinning from there at around 11:30am along the SE ridge until it got too steep at around 2500 m, and then we used our crampons to reach the 2850 m summit at around 2:30 pm. It was very windy and cold most of the way, with a few lulls in the wind that didn't last. Cris, a Chileno snowboarder we had talked with in Corralco, reached the summit just after Rick and before me. You can see the windblown snow and ice in several of the summit photos, including Cris's photo. It was that windy. We descended the East face, which had a good cover of nicely carvable windpacked snow, with no evidence of significant slabs. It was a great ride the around 1300 m down to the lodge, finishing at around 4 pm.

Cris had told us that Antuco's snow level was high and required a trudge off the snow. We were in Chile to ski, not to hike, so we decided to bypass Antuco and drive directly to Las Trancas for three days skiing Nevados de Chillán.

Monday was very windy, and we guessed that the SE shoulder of Volcán Nevado, which is critical for the ascent, could be very icy and exposed. We decided instead to seek good snow in lee sides, and we found some. Tuesday started snowy, windy, and with terrible visibility. The Don Otto, Nevados de Chillán's longest lift, was not running. We poked around trying to find wind-deposited goodness, and it got better and better, with visibility improving a bit by late afternoon. It snowed more overnight, and Wednesday dawned sunny if still windy. We decided to chase powder (sorry, no pictures, I was too busy skiing) and we weren't disappointed. Even though we had some 15 cm of new snow and a lot of wind, we did not find any significant wind slabs on the steep lee sides we skied, mostly in the Pirigallo valley (we avoided suspicious rollover and corniced areas on the notorious Elefante ridge). So, Rick did not summit Volcán Nevado (I had done it back in 2003), but we had a great day of fresh tracks.

We drove back to Santiago after skiing, and got a very late dinner at one of our favorite places there, Etniko.

Thursday, we drove to La Parva through dense morning traffic, and got there at around 10:30 am. We kept skiing the steeps around the Las Aguilas lift, where we found some nice, mostly untracked snow. I quit exhausted at 3 pm after six days of ascent and descent, Rick took one more run, and we drove back to Santiago to change clothes, pack, and drive back to the airport for our 16 hours of travel back to San Francisco.

Thanks: Above all, Rick for driving and for putting up with a slower climbing and skiing companion; Corralco staff for their hospitality and help with transportation to the volcano; Cris for advice on Antuco; Stuart at Cabañas Los Andes for a good stay and good stories; Owen and his family for an entertaining dinner and skiing company; staff at the Santiago Crowne Plaza for help with baggage and changing after skiing; Chilenos for their friendliness and willingness to put up with my fractured Spanportugish; Delta Airlines for getting us and all of our gear there and back without a hitch; our friends at CASA Tours for introducing us to this stunning part of the world; and Frédéric Lena for the advice in his beautiful Chile-Argentina: Handbook of Ski Mountaineering in the Andes.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Vista do forte de Almádena

Notas esparsas de férias- vista do forte de Almádena: (Via aguarelas de Turner.)

My sister has been on vacation and posted this picture. There are many beautiful rocky coasts in the US, from Maine to Mendocino, but this particular composition of cliff and sea color doesn't match anything I've ever seen in this continent. Maybe it's just how it evokes those intense memories of childhood summers. But this picture, coming as it does as I take my own vacation in Chile exploring skiable volcanos (more pictures to come), makes a striking contrast with today's snow-swept araucarias.

araucarias in the snow

Sunday, August 10, 2008

clueless "targeted advertising" found in today's email

clueless "targeted advertising" found in today's email: Picture_1

(Via tingilinde.)

How's the poor computer to know about the details of meteor shower observation? At least it didn't try to push bath supplies...

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Atomic Cloud

The Atomic Cloud: At our recent Social Media Summit, in a break out session with Marti Hearst, Joanna Robinson and others, the topic of the open social network came up: who owns the network implicit in Facebook, what happens if LinkedIn evaporates, etc. [...] Now, imagine a different architecture, one in which our identities are tied intimately to a mobile device that we carry around, and the device is actually an active node in the network. It not only stores your data (your own social network) but also acts as a server for that information (according to appropriate policies). This would remove the risk of the single point of failure and the problems of social graph ownership. (Via Data Mining.)

Back in the 90s, when I worked for AT&T, we spent a lot of time brainstorming about similar ideas, and so did many others. The big problem is that we still need a centralized naming system so that devices know who they are talking to and which devices are authorized to do what. The fantasy or a totally anarchic social networking system is no less a fantasy than extreme libertarian fantasies about radical human autonomy. All of our human transactions depend on social systems for naming and authentication. Thus, the problems with possible failure and abuse of social networking infrastructure are mainly political and economic, not technical. As we have seen with all the political and economic conflicts and compromises with the current Internet naming system.

Coincidentally, Dave Winer has been writing recently about closely related issues, in a more pragmatic but maybe still too optimistic vein.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

El Viento Viene, El Viento Se Va

Maybe my favorite Manu Chao song, but also a beautiful backcountry skiing trip report from Las Leñas.

Not this year...

My blog logo picture to the right was taken in 2006 from an elevation of about 2300m on the Llaima volcano in Chile. The picture on the left of this post is of Llaima itself early July. Quite a different scene. I'm hoping to climb and ski Lonquimay, on the logo picture's horizon, in a couple of weeks, but surely I won't be getting any closer to Llaima than that. The Pacific Ring of Fire is alive and well.

olympic hill climbing

olympic hill climbing: A NY Times piece on The Incline. It sounds painful. (Via tingilinde.)

Looks like perfect training for backcountry touring. I wonder if there's one around here...

Friday, August 1, 2008

Brain Rules and Computer Science Education

Brain Rules and Computer Science Education: I just finished reading Brain Rules by John Medina [...] The point is that in medical school students are learning the theory of medicine at the same time they are practicing it [...] I think Computer Science education can really benefit from such a model. I obviously don't have all the details worked out here, but imagine that every Computer Science department (or set of departments) had a software company on the side. As students go through the program, they start getting tasks from that company to build software for it, participate in designs, see how product decisions affect engineering processes, and even see some company politics at work. [...] Given that these companies are likely to have challenges competing in the market, they need to address a niche of customers who are willing to put up with lousy service, mediocre products and delays in software release cycles. I.e., customers who have nowhere else to go! [...] These customers are called scientists (Via Alon Halevy's Blog.)

We are on the same page, Alon.

The Knack

Sorry, mom. I know it was tough do deal with the leaking chemicals in my bedroom and my weird sleeping schedule, but it's not been all bad... (Hat tip to Bev).