Saturday, February 28, 2009

Travelling Salesman Problem

My first encounter with TSP was while working as a laborer for Busse Building and Remodeling in Oakland, CA, during my hiatus between high school and college.  Back then TSP stood for Trisodium Phosphate, a nasty cleaner for prepping surfaces for painting, also found in Cheerios.  It will dull most anything, including your fingertips.
Since, then I learned a new application for TSP, the Travelling Saleman Problem.  I'm sure I came across the problem before, maybe even as a kid when I used to read Martin Garnder books in awe.  I used to read his math puzzle column in Scientific American before I even knew what algebra was.  For some reason I was always fascinated by math and what it could do. Unfortunately, math turned out not to be one of my best subjects and I couldn't get much past the required math courses in college, even though one of my favorite classes, Control Systems had differential equations as a prerequisite.
My latest foray at conquering my math hurdle involved reading Julian Bucknall's great book, Algorithms and Data Structures.  In fact, it is sitting on my desk staring mockingly at me as I type.  I read this book cover to cover last summer to kill time while waiting for the horrible bus service at PABT.  If you don't know that acronism, consider yourself lucky.  Maybe there is a budding mathematician somewhere deep inside me, but at 41, I think, as Hume may have put it, that dream "fell stillborn from my mothers womb."  But I persist and one day I may have my cake and eat it, but until then I must trudge on.  Lucky for sites like rentacoder and elance.  They have helped me immensely.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Mapping Opportunity


If there ever was an opportunity to get something publish for traction, it's here:

Any other takers?  Ben.  I know you can handle this!

SasS Watch

SasS is one of those cryptic terms like XML.  It is a fringe technology, which neither has a lot of media hype, nor community support.  However, I believe it is a sector to keep any eye on.  At least is sounds cool.
A basic google search pulls up these sites:
I don't endorse any of these site, but I thought I'd post them for reference.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Starting a new business in a recession?

Is it a good idea to start a new business in a recession?  I'm sure there are dozens of reasons to just do it and dozens of reasons to not.  What I have noticed, during the this recession, is that people flock towards where the money is, but where the money is, isn't necessarily where innovation or even best breed are.

The companies that thrive in a down economy are the ones that are most needed, the ones that provide the essentials of business.  One industry sector that is a conundrum, is information technology and especially the service providers.  Everyone nowadays is hopelessly dependent on their PC and the internet.  These tools are just about as vital as the phone.  You can't do business without it.  If you have an IT business or are one of those people in the back office that run the company, chances are you are some degree of job stability.  It's all relative, and this idea loses water when you get into big companies with a lot of bloat (unless you are lucky enough to be the government, which gets to print more money on demand from their tax in the form of credit ATM).

So if you have that business plan in your back pocket, just make sure that it fills a tangible need.  If you expect to survive in this economy, the name of the game is customer acquisition.  And if you don't already know this, to acquire a customer is to steal a customer from another vendor.  So don't worry so much about "innovation" or "break-through technologies."  With the financial markets at 10 year lows, competence will suffice.  Just make sure you are in the right field.

Hume » Mach » Einstein » not me

It isn't every day that I learn something new, but I try.  I'm a big fan of the philosopher, David Hume.  I think he's was as wise as he was fat, an epicurean hog, as Berkeley put it, I think.  Hume was full of original ideas and made major contributions to the activity of philosophy. 
Subsequently, Ernst Mach (pronounced max--what a cool name) was a philosopher and a scientist.  The speed of sound measure is named after him.  Additionaly, Mach's principle is as follows:
"[The] investigator must feel the need of... knowledge of the immediate connections, say, of the masses of the universe. There will hover before him as an ideal insight into the principles of the whole matter, from which accelerated and inertial motions will result in the same way." ...from Wikipedia
Einstein was influenced by Mach's ideas and attributed, in part, his idea of relativity to the works of Mach.  Fascinating. 
Where are all these smart people now?  Dead of course.  I wonder who the smart people are in my generation?

Four Bad Bears

Face it, the economy sucks. Unless you are some masochist, and I'm sure there are plenty out there, the pain that the world is feeling right now is enough to break any good man or woman.

Thre are lots of doomsday charts floating around the net, the one above is one of my favorites. It shows the stark reality of the crisis we are in and even though we have been trained well in reason and can justify any sort of event even though we know in our gut that things aren't as they should be. It must be a natural defense mechanism, but that's for another discussion.

Here's a question for anyone who knows personal finance better than me. If stock market gains typically underperformn the market indices, then do sock market losses generally outperform a falling market, i.e., do people like you and me feel more pain than is on the charts like these? If you had any money invested with Madoff, then the resounding answer is yes. You diversify to pare losses. I can understand that in a rising market. Is that the same in a falling market?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Philosophy Bites

Came across a totally awesome site just now.
It's a bunch of interviews with present day philosophers interpreting works of the real philosophers.  Great resource for anyone interested in philosophy, but not necessarily wanting to read any of it...complements Paul Strathern's philosophy in 90 minutes books.

My Letter to the President

Sent on contact form:
Mr. President,
First of all congratulations on your election success.  Your achievement will go down in history as monumental as Jackie Robinson's, Jesse Owens, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr among others.
I have a request that you add two more datasets to the data on  The figures posted on the site are pretty lame, if you excuse my frankness.  This is not transparency, this is akin to an investor relations slideshow for Citibank and worse than useless.
I would expect to see the money as it is apportioned down to the dollar amount given to private companies and public agencies and not to even stop there.  If I have to file my taxes to the dollar, you can return the favor and let me know where those dollars are going (and not by rounding everything to billions, or even millions.  How about thousands?)  To most of us, that is a substantial amount.  $8B in other spending is not comprehensible to 99% of your citizens.
Secondly, I would like to see another dataset that covers the amount of money that is repaid on the loan.  If you are borrowing the money from our future earnings and that of our children, then we should track the rate at which the money is being replenished, or paid off.  Think of it as your credit score is about 1 right now.
If we as a country want to be a credit worthy country we must take these steps.  If you need some bright minds to help you with this task, I will make myself available.
Paul St. Amant
Small Business Owner
Tax Payer
Husband and Father of Four
Obama Supporter
According to the web site, "President Obama is committed to creating the most open and accessible administration in American history."  What that means, time will tell.  I know that Mr. Bush has sent me several 8x10 photos of himself updating me on things political.  (I read in some pop culture book about the different strategies of party fundraising and hands down the republicans win with the glitz).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Updated Layoff Report

Here's a list I found on Morningstar.  Scary.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sick Jobs

I recently commented on an interesting article I read on Internet Evolution.  Basically the author was objecting to the fact that Google can collect advertising revenues on questionable content, like videos of hooligans visciously attacking handicapped people...I didn't see the video, nor did I want to and didn't want to see it to understand the author's point.  I totally agree with the author.  There are just some things that cross the line.
On another note, that certainly opens up an opportunity for some saavy (and unscrupulous) marketing plans.  As a test, I googled for info Steve Jobs being sick.  If anyone has the power to control the net, then Jobs has a good chance.  There it is, you can be all alone if you search for 'Steve Jobs sick' if you want it.  You can go one step further and corner the market for 'Steve Jobs dies,' as well; if you have no scruples, that is.
Maybe I should buy ads for the keywords "Google stupid".  Actually I just checked it and I could be first on the ad list...better watch out, though...oops, there's a knock at my door.  Must be the google police.


Risk is a fascinating subject.  My Nobel prize idea for today is to quantify the risk of success (risk and chance or possibility used interchangeably--incorrectly I may add).  Why is the risk of success so minuscule, but the risk of failure is so high.

Monday, February 16, 2009


House is a funny show.  House is a smart doctor.  In fact, he's the smartest doctor in the hospital.  He gets results, not from knowing everything, but he is very good at solving problems.  His staff is also very smart.  Many times, or maybe every time, his staff helps him solve cases that he wouldn't have been able to crack on his own.

I finally figured out why the the arrogant, coarse doctor in charge is so popular.  He is an intellectual's alpha-male dream.  Here is is an average looking Joe with a crippled leg and as many faults as a Philip K. Dick hero, yet uses his brain to always come out on top.  It is his commanding intellect which gives him the ultimate power (even his boss is an attractive, power hungry woman).  Jeez.  That Dick guy knew what sells.

Another appealing characteristic of Dr. House is that, even though he is surrounded by smart, capable doctors, he is the one who always gets the credit.  An easy way to end the series would simply be to introduce another character who was smarter than he was.  Then all of his accomplishments, big and small, would be reduced to the commonplace.  Dr. House was good, but Dr. Mansion, he's the best (there is after all only room for one alpha-male).

So Dr. House, enjoy it while it lasts.  We enjoy watching your brilliance as you put your reputation on the line week after week.  Now I understand why people quit while they are ahead.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Taoism and Music

I wonder what Lao Tsu thought about music.  If a rock is so perfect and a flower so beautiful, the what about music, especially classical music?  I can see that untouched, nature is perfectly perfect and the houses and roads we erect, while they certainly make life easier, they could hardly be considered superior in the Tao sense of the world.
But what about classical music?  Could anyone deny that a beautiful landscape could be enhanced with an arrangement by Mozart, Bach, or Beethoven?  That is a tough one.  Classical music is wholly a human construct.  Musical instruments are complicated and contrived.  How then could a beautiful song compete with a beautiful, untouched stream or beach or vista?  IMHO it does.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Height of Civilization

Such is the plight of humankind that throughout history people live in a period that could be described as the living at or near the height of civilization.  In hindsight, save for a nuclear holocaust, that can never be true.  A stronger or more compelling force is always around the corner, yet to mere mortals such as ourselves, what the future holds is shrouded in darkness and uncertainty.  In fact, humans are usually as dumb as animals in forseeing and avoiding unnatural disasters (those brought onto ourselves).

I am quite pleased that Barack Obama was elected President of the United States.  He is a stronger leader than George W. Bush.  In fact, I'm sure that future generations will view this occasion as a turning point in US history.  We are, at least I am, kind of taking it for granted, but think of the other people who have breached the racial barrier, Jackie Robinson, Bill Cosby, Jesse Owens, etc.  These people are revered.  There achievements mark milestones in our history.  Barack's achievement will be no different.

Those two points, signify that we are at a crossroads.  A major event has just happened and our civilization is on the verge of a great change (for the better I must say).  Was it by chance that in my Google reader I am subscribed to a blog named the Austrian Economists because I am a fan of Frederick Hayek, a Nobel Laureate and author of the highly acclaimed book, The Road to Serfdom, a book about a plausible future (not a good one--at least for me), mentioned one of Hayek's peers, Mises, who for some unbeknownst to me reason, defined hundreds of words, one of which was picked by the blog editor to entice readers. 

That word was chiliastic, which I still don't know the exact meaning, though I blogged it on my Facebook page as Paul is feeling chiliastic today and the only one who noticed it was a black friend of mine who was my supervisor last year in the city before I was laid off because of the of the economic slowdown which evolved into a meltdown which made it easier for a black man to handily beat a Bush-man, to wake me up from my political slumber and see what John the Baptist saw a couple of centuries ago.  Someone is coming to fix everything....if only people listen.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Economic Stimulus Package Passed Today

Today the stimulus package passed through congress.  What that means is best left to the experts, i.e., not me.  However today there was a good article in the WSJ posing a contrarian view (not uncommon, in fact, maybe there are so many conflicting views, it may not be contrarian at all, but mainstream).

And after reading some of the comments, here are my thoughts:

I think it is funny how many armchair economists discount the ideas of Mr. Becker and Mr. Murphy.  Becker and Murphy definitely know what they are talking about.  As a small business owner and a tax payer, the part that worries me the most is the expected return on the stimulus spending.  I am in agreement that the multiplier will be well below one, that is, unless you look ahead 10 to 20 years when some of these investments may pay off.  I am sure congress has good intentions with this bill, but they are still just politicians.  I would have been much happier if they crafted their plans, multiple ones and held an emergency popular vote so we as citizens could lobby for, and finally vote on our economic stimulus plan.  At this point, does anyone trust congress on the matter?  I certainly don't, and it seems most people who are more informed that me, of which there are many, are not in agreement either.

There are a few economists that I agree with strongly.  Those who believe that the government should help to make sure small businesses could succeed and thrive.  This would be an integral component to restoring confidence and stability to the economy.

Free up money so local businesses can keep their doors open or open new ones.  Help the local economies thrive by lowering the cost of capital and lowering health care costs (no one saw Sicko?).  Every dollar spent in a small business goes right back into the economy unlike money spent trying to shore up stock prices.  If you put the money into the communities people will be able to find jobs.  So what if the stock market falls to 20 or 30 year lows.  The government just has to admit it screwed up royally and needs to start over again.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Where do thoughts come from?

I think Depak Chopra has a theory about where thoughts come from, but for the life of me I can't remember what it was.

Social Networking

I figured something out today with the help of my bro.  By chance (okay, I was googling myself), I found my brother's blog.  It's a decent site, with lots of activity.  He has some interesting subjects.  I suppose because of our common genes, we have overlapping interests, but I don't really know the guy.  He's like five years older than me and in sibling years, that's like, at least a generation.  Anyway I was amazed at how much activity he gets on his blog.  There are like 50 responses to each blog post.  It really puzzled me because I real plenty of blogs and very few of them get such lively discussions.  But, I think I know why.  It probably has something to do with tribes, ala Seth Godin.  Put your blog where like-minded people congregate and you will get feedback.  One day if I can ever find any like-minded people, I'll work on generating traffic.

Morbid Thoughts

I've been having morbid thoughts lately.  I don't know why, but I've been obsessing about my father's death.  It keeps popping into my head.  I don't know if it is a premonition or just some sort of hallucination, but everything seems to remind of that event.  Well, actually not the event, but of his funeral--in particular his eulogy.  Is that weird?  I get along fine with my father and don't think there are any gaps that I need to close with him or any unfinished business.  I went to my childhood best friend's dad's funeral last year.  It was a somber event, but reassuring at the same time.  It was as nice funeral as anyone could want.  The same was true for the previous funeral I attended for my younger brother's friend who blew his own brains out. 
My father is a different story.  He has five sons and two daughters.  I am neither the oldest, the youngest, the closest to home, nor the furthest away.  I do feel that I am the most spiritual of the lot, but that's only because I'm probably the most arrogant (and humble, too I must add--ha ha ha).  Anyway, I feel the responsibility of delivering my father's eulogy--honestly I don't think anyone else will volunteer.  When the time comes, I'll simply say...I'll do it.  I've been preparing it for years, hopefully not months or even days.  What to say...I haven't a clue.  Anyone know how to start one?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Stimulus Package

I think our elected officials have put the cart before the horse, yet again.  Right now they are all excited and working hard on trying to figure out how to spend about a trillion dollars to jumpstart the economy.  Now they already spent hundreds of billions of dollars in the first round to prevent a disasterous stock market crash (disaster for everyone with a boatload of money invested in the stocks anyway, which means everyone currently in congress--isn't there a conflict of interest somewhere here?).  So a crash was averted. 
Infusing cash into a few key corporations seems to have staid the economy in the short term and all the fund managers and financial advisors and even traders could convince each other to keep their money in the market.  And, for those who have, missing the opportunity to get in at the bottom was just too tempting. 
I think the market is totally being domiated by greed.  Any smart investor should either do what Buffett did and negotiate guarantees for investing a wad of cash into a company, or like most everyone else, just sit out until the market settles.  But how can you not be in the stock market now.  At these levels, you are guaranteed a nice return when the stock market returns to its previous highs.  Next month, next week could be too late.  Buy and hold because if we aren't at the bottom we definitely must be near...just ignore the jobs data.  In fact, embrace them because cost cutting boosts profits--one more reason to buy stocks at these levels.
An to further guarantee our natural born right as US citizens to be the wealthiest nation in the world, we are prepared to spend up to $1,000,000,000,000 to get the economy going again.  The first step in spending that amount of money, or any amount for that matter is to (and remember this point because it is very important) raise $1,000,000,000,000.  I repeat, the first step is to raise $1,000,000,000,000.  Ok. we don't have to do that because we are the government and we can print as much money as we need.  Now the second job is to spend a trillion dollars.  That's easy. 
Just pick a handful of companies and states and give the money to them.  Don't worry about how they spend it or where it goes.  They know what to do with it.  They have lots of ideas of how to spend it.  But we don't need to know the details, right?   BofA knows what to do with it.  They said that they'll pay back the $10B in a few years.  Any customer who thinks that doesn't include them, then they are fooling themselves.
Now Obama's plan, to use the money to rebuild the country's infrastructure sounds good, if we were Mexico or something, but will that really generate the trillion dollars to cover costs?  I don't see it.  It is like the housing bubble all over again.  Let's take a trillion dollars of equity out of our country and then remodel our land and then it will be worth even more than when we started.  And these people are running our country?
If I could point the finger at one person...well to be fair, one person couldn't pull off this the two people who are at most to blame are Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson.  Their biggest crime, working that fateful weekend to help JP Morgan fund the purchase of Bear Stearns.  In their short-sightedness they thought that they could pull an Alan Greenspan/Long-Term Capital Management trick to sacrifice one company for another so the markets could bear the shock.  The shock that every investment bank's executive teams must have known was coming. 
This trend that hasn't stopped, yet.  I have no doubt that this unbelievable situation we are in has been exacerbated by the Bernanke solution: when in doubt, hand the money out.  I hope the textbooks that come out in the next few decades can expose the real culprit of the melt-down, whether it be anyone from Ronald Reagan to Obama and beyond.  It wasn't right to do and there are probably few people with clean hands.

Why computers will never be alive

I can't remember right now, but at one point, I convinced myself that robots/computers will never be alive. It might have something to do with the fact that life is simply supernatural and any joe shmoe with a soldering iron and a transistor can make a computer. Would a battery give a computer life? It would live and then die when the batter runs out. No that's not right. I have to check my cellphone/blog to see if I recorded my thoughts. I hope I did.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Degrees of Objectification of Will

I am trying to learn a bit more about music.  My current level of expertise is a hair above nil, but music has become very curious to me, lately.  My current favorite site,  After learning about the famous philosopher/composer, J-J Rousseau, I have been intrigued by the fact that he was an accomplished composer in addition to his philosophical writings.  Was music then, as Shopenhauer described, the highest form of art?  I find it hard to argue against it.  Music doesn't get tangled up in linguistics, as Wittgenstein found was the problem with philosophy (at least that which was written).  Maybe there's a culture somewhere that communicates via symphonies (say if birds and not primates developed the big brain--if that sci-fi story hasn't been written, then it should be)...must save that thought in my pensieve.  No time to figger it out now, but maybe it'll come to me.  Note to self, netflix Amadeus.

Google Secret

I discovered a secret about Google today, well, it was last night and was with the help of my wife.  She likes surfing the web an I like programming it.  It's a good combination.  One of the great things about her is that she insists that the computer act correctly, i.e., it should do what she wants it to do, not the other way around, but that's a UI story, a lesson that should never be forgotten.  All of my kids learned how to use a mouse at two years old, and that isn't by accident.  Anyway, my wife was digging around my Facebook account and I went off to read a book.  At one point she googled my name to see where I come up and I came up 5th, behind Paul St. Amant, from LA (no relation).  And that is when my Google secret came to me.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Web is Full of Lame-o's

I'm guilty. I'm more passive than proactive. I'm not even reactive--not for long I hope. Ranting and raving is so easy on the web. I read blogs every day about how Obama and congress should do this or should do that. Or how the middle class is getting screwed, or that our kids are going to be paying for this mess for the rest of their lives. With all the perceived turmoil in the world, why isn't there a single central website (or even an aggregate of them) where people can voice their opinions about how the state of the union sucks. People are more interested in...? what? I don't even know. People should unite to make the world a better place, instead of thinking they are immune or not part of the cause of the state of the economy. I think I need to do this.

J. Baptist

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Get up and run

I wouldn't call myself a runner.  One look at me would confirm that.  However, a three mile run wouldn't kill me.  In fact, this morning, when I woke up it was 12 degrees outside and I still went for a run as planned.  It wasn't 3 miles, but just about 2.  Winter running is especially hard: with added layers of fat from eating comfort food in the confines of your warm house; with the ever mounting stress because of the plummeting economy; with every other excuse in the book; it is easy to just say no.  But I did it and while I was running and could barely feel my face, I wondered, why am I doing this.  My gut made me do it attesting to philosopher David Hume's theory, "reason is a slave to the emotions."  Therefore, trying to figure out the why is pretty pointless, but the fact that I did means something.  I did.  Maybe that means something good.  I hope so.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Curvy is the new bar

One thing that I love are charts.  Charts are a cool way to show aggregate lots of data into something that looks nice.  One of my favorite sites is VisualComplexity.  There are others like IBM's manyeyes, too.  One thing that I've noticed is the curves are in.  If you can say it in a pie with a nice pastel color palette, then it must be important.  Add some squiggly lines, then you are sitting on gold.

Older Posts