Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Math Is Cool

In his profile for the 2006 TopCoder Open, in response to the question, "If you could be the keeper to the answer of one of the most unknown questions in the world, what would be the question?" Reid Barton wrote: "The Riemann Hypothesis. Then I’d sell out, in exchange for eternal fame and fortune."

Thanks to Google and Wikipedia, I found:

Which, in turn, lead to:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riemann_zeta_function, where two things have always seemed too cool to me (in a totally math-geek sorta way):

1) That a series like this can result in the value pi; somewhat like a mystical incantation, where each term leads closer to unleashing the magic.

And, even cooler:

2) That the equation is directly and provably related to primes; written in long form:

To smarter folks than I, these relationships may seem intuitively obvious. But, to me they offer a window on relationships in mathematics that seem nearly magical. To me, that's cool.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Farewell, Part 2

Early Friday morning, my father died...

I feel very fortunate that I had the opportunity to say good bye, and that I was able to say thank you to him... but most of all, I feel fortunate to have had him as a father.

In a letter I wrote to him in February, I said:

There’s so much I have to thank you for, that it’s hard to know where to begin. I feel somewhat like the winner of an Oscar, on stage preparing to thank everyone that contributed to their success. But, in fact, although my list of things to be thankful is long, the list of people to thank is relatively short. What is clear is that you and Mom are at the top of the list.

Thank you first of all, for being who you are and setting an example for everyone who has known you.

You have demonstrated honesty, and expected the same from me. You have demonstrated integrity before I understood what the word meant, and let me discover it on my own, through your example. You have demonstrated responsibility, and guided me with a loving and gentle hand to learn responsibility and to enjoy myself along the way. And, you have demonstrated love and compassion for all of us, and especially for the way you’ve lived your life and marriage with Mom.


And, although I suppose it’s a part of your integrity, your determination is unique and stands above others as well. It is rare that you tackle a job, or pursue a goal and then give up. I’m sure that there are a few challenges that you’ve faced where you realized that you had to give up. But, off hand, I can’t think of any I’ve witnessed.

Probably one of the most impressive examples of your determination has been your response to your illness over the past few years. You have demonstrated a degree of determination that can only be described as courageous. Again, your positive outlook in the face of adversity has been an example to all around you. And, even as you have been weakened, and reached a point where determination might not be enough, and while it has been hard for all of us close to you to see you suffer, you have demonstrated a patience and grace that are an inspiration to all of us.


The world is a better place because of the time he was here.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


After drinks with friends, co-workers, and several guys from one of our contractors, we all headed over to Morton's for dinner. Somehow, I ended up at the head of the table of nine. I ordered a Whiskey Manhattan, and then my phone rang....

My Aunt had called from my mom and dad's house, and it rolled over to our home phone. My wife got the call, and called me a second time. She relayed the news that my dad wanted me to come say goodbye.

There wasn't much more to it than that, so I told the guys I was sorry I had to leave, and headed to my parents home just a few minutes away.

Laying in a hospital bed, downstairs near their big screen TV, my dad lay comfortably, resting. Although talking was difficult for him, he expressed that he felt himself going "up" and then "down" and that he wanted to say goodbye.

He told me that he loved having me for a son, that he felt very loved, and that he has no regrets.

To my brother, on the phone from California, he said the same thing.

We talked for a bit, but mostly I just held his hand.

Throughout the day, friends, neighbors, and former co-workers called and stopped by to pay their respects, say goodbye to my dad, and offer their support to my mom.

It's not easy saying goodbye... but I can't imagine any better way.

No regrets.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


I've decided that it's good to have the problems that get you up in the morning, and bad to have those that keep you up at night.

Fortunately, these days, I have more of the former, and relatively few of the latter.

When I joined AOL in 2004, my objective was:

A senior position working with a talented and enthusiastic group of people to solve advanced technical problems involving software development, in a role where I can be effective in helping to lead the team and be directly involved in the analysis, design and implementation process.

Although my current role doesn't directly involve "analysis, design and implementation" I am working with a talented and enthusiastic group of people, and many of the problems we're solving do qualify as "advanced technical problems involving software development."

During my last few years at Legend, I realized that I was having more bad days, than good. And, the really tough times came in 2001 where on a particularly bad day every month or two, I had to write down all the problems I was facing just to articulate why I felt so miserable. ...the lists went on for pages. It was actually pretty amazing to see them all neatly categorized, page after page. There was a certain catharsis in recognizing that I felt badly for a whole bunch of really good reasons.

Ever the pragmatist, I dealt with the problems that I could resolve, and did my best to accept or ignore the problems that I couldn't solve. And, over time, many, if not all of the problems were resolved, or became less significant to me.

These days, I feel fortunate to be able to say that for a couple years now, I've had more good days, than bad. And, although not all the problems I face are pleasant, increasingly, I'm glad to say that they get me up in the morning, and don't keep me up at night.

And, best of all, every now and then, the best sort of problems come along... the ones that keep you up at night, and get you up in the morning.

On that note, when's the next code challenge, Sree?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Dream

A little over a year ago, my dad was diagnosed with cancer... again.

He was first diagnosed with throat cancer in late 1998. At the time, the surgeon he spoke with gave him a 40% chance of living another year, if, he underwent extensive surgery. Fortunately, a couple of really great doctors, and chemo and radiation therapy saved him; five years later, he had a clean bill of health -- nearly full recovery, and no sign of the original cancer. But, after a year or so of good news, the news turned bad again. A new cancer, likely a result of the original radiation therapy, had developed into a tumor. In the following months, various experimental treatments helped, and a return to chemo shrunk the tumor for a while. But, this year, the doctors have had to acknowledge that the treatments they have been exploring are no longer working.

It has been a difficult time for our family and friends. Especially difficult for my mom. But both she and my dad have demonstrated exceptional grace. My mom has truly lived the traditional wedding vow "in sickness and in health."

The original radiation treatment damaged my dad's saliva glands, and in the last several months, the tumor has grown large enough that it interferes with his ability to swallow. The combination has made speech increasingly difficult for him. Lately, our convesations have been pretty one-sided.

Last night, I had a dream in which I was talking with him. It didn’t surprise me at all, but when I realized that I was enjoying our talk, I turned to face him. The person I saw was late 20-something, not exactly my dad, but very familiar; very similar to photos of my dad from that era. When I realized that he was “well” I hugged him, and could feel my emotions welling up.

Then I woke up....

I miss the times we spent talking with each other. And, with our time together now measured in weeks, or perhaps, days, I know that I’ll soon miss him entirely. But, I feel fortunate that I’ve had the opportunity to talk to him, thank him for everything he has done for me, hug him a few more times, and tell him how much I love him.

…Don’t take time with your friends and loved ones for granted.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Reading List

Reading Currently:
Family First: Your Step-by-Step Plan for Creating a Phenomenal Family, by Dr. Phil McGraw

The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
The Divine Matrix, by Gregg Braden
Wikinomics, by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams
The Five Love Languages of Teenagers, by Gary D. Chapman

What’s Next:
A Course In Miracles
Freakonomics, A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Einstein: His Life and Universe, by Walter Isaacson
Einstein: The Life and Times, by Ronald W. Clark
e: The Story of a Number, by Eli Maor
The Golden Ratio: The Story of PHI, the World's Most Astonishing Number, by Mario Livio
Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, by Charles Seife
Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman
The Hookup Handbook, by Lavinthal and Rozler
The Luck Factor, by Richard Wiseman
Dispora, by Greg Egan
Permutation City, by Greg Egan
Quarantine, by Greg Egan
Reviving Ophelia, by Mary Pipher and Ruth Ross

There Must be a Pony in Here Somewhere, by Kara Swisher with Lisa Dickey
Valhalla Rising, by Clive Cussler
Ilium, by Dan Simmons
Black Wind, by Clive Cussler

Trojan Odyssey, by Clive Cussler
Cyclops, by Clive Cussler
Treasure, by Clive Cussler

Shock Wave, by Clive Cussler

July 2007
An Imaginary Tale: The Story of "i" [the square root of minus one], by Paul J. Nahin
3001, by Arthur C. Clark

June 2007
The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne

May 2007
The Joy of Pi, by David Blatner
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

April 2007
Crossing Over: The Stories Behind the Stories, by John Edward

March 2007
John Reynolds The Autobiography, by John Reynolds with Jason McClean

February 2007
Performance Riding Techniques, by Andy Ibbott

January 2007
Tales of Ten Worlds, by Arthur C. Clark

December 2006
The Dirt, by Tommy Lee, Vince Neil, Mick Mars, Nikki Sixx, Neil Strauss

November 2006
Danica - Crossing the Line, by Danica Patrick and Laura Morton
Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson

September 2006
Fast Bikes, Sport Rider, Cycle World (September)

August 2006
The Applause of Heaven, by Max Lucado
Loser, by Jerry Spinelli

July 2006
Fast Bikes and Sport Rider (July Issues).... over and over again ;-)

June 2006
The Universe in a Single Atom, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

May 2006
Atlantis Found, by Clive Cussler

April 2006
Stealing Time, Steve Case, Jerry Levin, and the Collapse of AOL Time Warner, by Alec Klein
The Five Love Languages for Singles, by Dr. Gary Chapman

March 2006
90 Minutes in Heaven, By Don Piper
Eats, Shoots and Leaves, By Lynn Truss
Cryptonomicon, By Neal Stephenson

January 2006
People of the Lie, By M. Scott Peck, M.D.

The Disappearance of the Universe, By Gary R. Renard
Design Patterns, by Gamma et al
Gödel, A Life of Logic, By John L. Casti and Werner DePauli
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling

The Gnostic Gospels, By Elaine Pagels
Mathematical Carnival, by Martin Gardner

After the Gold Rush, by Steve McConnell
I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
The Rise of Endymion, By Dan Simmons
Linear Algebra, By Steven A. Leduc
Endymion, By Dan Simmons
Decoding the Da Vinci Code,

The Four Noble Truths, By The Dalai Lama
Data Structures and Algorithms, by Alfred V. Aho, John E. Hopcroft, Jeffry D. Ullman
C++ Simulations and Cellular Automata, by Scott Robert Ladd
The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown
Jarhead, A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles, by Anthony Swofford

Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown
The Height of Your Life,
Diamond Age, By Neal Stephenson

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling
Atlantis Found, by Clive Cussler
The Fabric of Reality, by David Deutsch
The Fall of Hyperion, By Dan Simmons

Hyperion, By Dan Simmons

Snow Crash, By Neal Stephenson
The Two Sides of Love, Using Personality Strengths to Greatly Improve Your Relationships, by Gary Smalley & John Trent, Ph.D.
The Five Love Languages, by Dr. Gary Chapman

Virtual Light, by William Gibson
Sahara, by Clive Cussler

“Does Wednesday mean Mom’s house or Dad’s?” by Marc J. Ackerman, Ph.D.
The New Creative Divorce, by Mel Krantzler, Ph.D. & Pat Krantzler, M.A.
Harry Potter and the Prisner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling

The Pragmatic Programmer, by Andrew Hunt and David Thomas

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling

The Art of Happiness, A Handbook for Living, By His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, by Richard P. Feynman
Joining the SAS, How to Get in and What It’s Like, by Barry Davies

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J.K. Rowling

Billions & Billions, Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium, By Carl Sagan
How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci, Seven Steps to Genius Every Day, By Michael J. Gelb

Flood Tide, by Clive Cussler

The Jungles of Randomness, A Mathematical Safari, By Ivars Peterson
Object-oriented Analysis and Design with Applications, by Grady Booch
Object-oriented Analysis, by Peter Coad and Edward Yordon
Rapid Development, by Steve McConnell

Inca Gold, by Clive Cussler

Satan, Cantor, and Infinity, By Raymond Smullyan

Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card

When Elephants Weep, The Emotional Lives of Animals, by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy

The Arrow of Time, A Voyage Through Science to Solve Time’s Greatest Mystery, By Peter Coveney and Roger Highfield
Relativity, The Special and the General Theory, A Clear Explanation that Anyone can Understand, by Albert Einstein
Dragon, by Clive Cussler

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
Gateway, by Frederick Pohl

Deep Six, by Clive Cussler

“What Do You Care What Other People Think?” Further Adventures of a Curious Character, by Richard P. Feynman
The After Death Experience, by Ian Wilson
The Sexual Brain, by Simon LeVay

The Emperor’s New Mind, by Roger Penrose
Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, By Douglas R. Hofstadter
Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein

“Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”, Adventures of a Curious Character, by Richard P. Feynman
The Amazing Brain, by Ornstein, Thompson, Macaulay
The Education of Koko, by Patterson & Linden
2061, by Arthur C. Clarke

Choas, Making a New Science, By James Gleick
The Lopsided Ape, by Michael C. Corballis
The Fountains of Paradise, by Arthur C. Clarke

“The Target Is Destroyed” What Really Happened to Flight 007 and What America Knew about It, by Seymour M. Hersh
The Ring of Truth, by Philip and Phyllis Morrison
Imperial Earth, by Arthur C. Clarke

The Fractal Geometry of Nature, By Benoit B. Mandelbrot
The Right Brain, by Thomas R. Blakeslee
Ringworld, by Larry Niven
Giant’s Star, by James P. Hogan

The Brian, by Richard Restak, M.D.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert A. Heinlein
2010, by Arthur C. Clarke

The Body Book, by David Bodanis
The Gentle Giants of Ganymede, by James P. Hogan
The Puzzle Palace, by James Bamford

The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman

Inherit the Stars, by James P. Hogan
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Puppet Masters, by Robert A. Heinlein
The Red Planet, by Robert A. Heinlein
Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein
2001, by Arthur C. Clarke

Starman Jones, by Robert A. Heinlein
Farmer in the Sky, by Robert A. Heinlein
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Space Cadet, by Robert A. Heinlein
The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis

Raise the Titanic, by Clive Cussler

Iceberg, by Clive Cussler

Pending addition...
Star Wars novels
Various Sci-Fi novels

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Reading Lately

A fan wrote in last week to ask where I’ve been all month. ;-) March sorta came and went without a single post. Well... there’s no simple answer. But, I have a couple of things to talk about this month, so I’ll take a shot at turning my webpage back into a blog.

A couple weeks ago, I finished reading Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon. Stephenson is a brilliant writer, and the breadth and depth of his books are simply amazing. Cryptonomicon is no exception. Chapter 56 is one of my favorite examples of the depth of Stephenson’s writing – an introvert’s geeked out technical observation of minutia so detailed that it clearly could only have originated from genius. The sentence that I think perfectly exemplifies this detail:

He would like the milk to be so cold that when he reaches in and grabs it, he feels the flexible, squishy pod stiffen between his fingers as ice crystals spring into existence, summoned out of nowhere simply by the disturbance of being squished.

So, having wrapped up all 918 pages, I was ready for a little “light” reading. Alec Klein’s Stealing Time: Steve Case, Jerry Levin, and the Collapse of AOL Time Warner seemed to fit the bill. ;-)

I’m a little over half way through the book, and after a slow and somewhat painful start, I’m really loving the detail covering AOL’s growth from 1995 through 2001, the behind the scenes history of the merger between AOL and Time Warner, and the anecdotes describing the evolution of AOL’s culture during this time.

During the February Corporate All Hands,
Google’s Dr. Eric Schmidt commented “When you say Programmer and we say Programmer, we mean very different things…” Although I got what he was saying, I didn’t fully understand the context, until I encountered one of the first notable quotes from Stealing Time, p. 64:

In a message from which he would not deviate during his tenure at the company, Pittman preached that AOL, at its core, was not a technology company. We’re a media company.

Kudos to Sree and our new CTO, Maureen Govern, for recognizing that while the entire company may not be in the business of technology, that technology is absolutely at the core of everything we do.

Another great bit of history... describing the forces rallying against the AOL-Time Warner merger, on p. 122 Klein writes:

Margaret Heffernan, the iCast chief executive, locked into the debate. “Tear down that wall,” she blurted out.

A phrase that
Ted Leonsis has embraced, and reiterated in a positive context over the past few months, talking about the birth of AOL.com.

The last bit of history that caught my attention helps explain a phrase Dick Parsons has used on occasion, one that I had misunderstood as “swinging from the fences.” (“You're cuter than I thought. I can see why she likes you. Who? But not too bright, hmmm.”) Describing a visit by Dick Parsons to FTC chairman Bob Pitofsky’s office, on p. 138 Klein writes:

What Pitofsky really prized, though, was a photograph of graceful power: Babe Ruth, the Sultan of Swat, swinging for the fences.

For, from… makes a big difference.

Although the meaning of each of these sayings is clear, understanding their origin provides a new depth of understanding. If you've joined AOL within the last two or three years, and haven't already read it, I strongly recommend this book.

Next up… my reading list.