Tuesday, September 30, 2008

On the financial crisis

As much as I have no great desire to live in Michigan, I wish I lived in this guy's district because it would be so nice to have a candidate I could vote for without having to hold my nose.

This pretty much sums up my position on the bailout; let the market do what it's doing, correcting for past excesses; let those who gambled on the bubble wear their justly deserved losses; and let the Government stop thinking that it can repeal the laws of economics with my money to buy the votes of those who were too stupid to think twice about what they were doing.

If you bought a house with no money down - you're a fool.

If you bought a house believing that you'd sell it in a year and make a killing - you're a (greedy) fool.

If you bought a house with an adjustable rate mortgage and didn't think about what you'd do when the rate reset (to a higher level) - you're a fool.

If you're a bank that issued a mortgage with no money down - you and your shareholders are fools.

If you're a financial institution that bought mortgage backed securities without caring to understand the true risk of the underlying loans - you and your shareholders are fools.

I'm sorry (well actually I'm not), but I don't tolerate fools terribly well. And I certainly don't want the Government taking my hard earned money to reward them for their folly.

Monday, September 29, 2008

You know you're a joke when...

They parody you on Saturday Night Live and the script uses your exact words.

No wonder I'm having trouble telling which one is a candidate for Vice President and which one is the comedian.

I'd love to say that I'm voting against McCain/Palin because I disagree with their position on the issues, but seriously, I can't find a position in this.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Spring Creek trail

Today we took advantage of the fantastic fall weather to hike the Spring Creek Trail. We did it the easy way; someone dropped us at the top and we hiked down as you can see from the elevation profile.

But it was still reasonable exercise since we walked for two and a half hours and covered 5.71 miles.

As you can see from the photos, the fall colours are at their peak right now and it is unbelievably beautiful outside.

You can see where the photos were taken on Google Maps. Picasa provides the basic capability of associating a map reference with a photo but I had to manually locate the photos by cross referencing the timestamp on the photos to the timestamp on the tracking points downloaded from my GPS unit. One day in the not too distant future I'm sure this will be an automated process.

I haven't uploaded the image of the track yet due to a technical problem on the Garmin website. Hopefully tomorrow.

Update: 29 September 2008: Here's the track from Google Earth:

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Another beautiful fall day in paradise

This is the view that greats me this time of year when I look out the window.

Apart from admiring the inherent beauty of this scene, when I see these golden aspen leaves bathed in the afternoon sunlight I dream about skiing my favourite tree runs, Shadows on the left and Twilight on the right, less than three months from now!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Neat use of facial recognition

In my work I often implement facial recognition technologies in government applications like border control and law enforcement.

I was aware that the technology was moving into civilian applications but it hadn't struck me how useful this could be until today when I discovered a new feature in Picasa Web Albums, Google's photo sharing application. When you upload new photos it automatically detects any faces and then tries to match them to people you've previously identified.

With reasonable image quality the face finding accuracy is excellent. The only images that didn't work were old low resolution ones from my first ever digital camera and those where people are wearing ski goggles or the lighting is really bad.

The facial recognition algorithm does not appear to be cutting edge, but in this context that doesn't matter because the number of faces the image is being compared to is quite small - I'm guessing that most users would have less than 25 people in their list - and the system only needs to identify the two or three most likely candidates to be very useful, which is exactly what it succeeds in doing. It's not quite in the same category as comparing a face to 40 million others to make sure someone isn't trying to register twice!

The neat thing is that you can then easily filter your photos by person, and because Google assumes that people in your photos are likely to be in your Gmail address book you can also quite easily send your family and friends links to the photos that they are in. The one thing missing is the ability to find photos containing all of the selected people e.g show me all the photos with me and my wife together.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Lowering the bar

We live in a world where companies in most industries must try relentlessly to improve their products, services and price competitiveness simply in order to keep up with the competition.

Airlines and airports seem to exist in some bizarre parallel universe where the opposite applies.

First there's the high farce know as "airport security". One set of rules apply when you board your plane in the US and a different set apply when you board your plane in the UK to return home. Even worse, the rules applying today at Heathrow are different from the rules that applied at Heathrow last week when I flew to Dublin!

Then there's crap like this that BMI have the hide to sell as "Business Class."

Yes you do get a hot meal and the flight attendant does hang your coat for you, but come on, this is standard sardine style economy seating (it doesn't look too bad in the photo only because that's the first row in the plane). Even United, which has become a miserable excuse for an airline, doesn't have the chutzpah to market its Economy Plus product as business class and it's at least got an extra five inches of legroom!

Talking about United, I can't believe how bad their long-haul international business class is. Yes they have supposedly started rolling out a new flat seat (at last, only a decade behind their competitors) but I've yet to actually see it in the wild, and in the meantime it seems that they've decided to do zero maintenance on the old seats (or their scarily old flight attendants).

Then there's the new Star Alliance lounge at Heathrow Terminal 1. It's in a different class to United's pathetic "Red Carpet" lounges, meaning that it provides the services that everywhere else in the world are standard in an international business class lounge. With one exception. It's supposed to have free wireless internet but the signal hovers between "very low" and "no signal".

It turns out that they don't actually have a transmitter in there and are relying on picking up the signal from the First Class lounge! When you spend tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on fitting out a lounge, I suppose it makes sense not to spend an extra fifty bucks on a wireless hub, because then you might, shock horror, actually provide a decent service to your customers.

The constant incompetence and stupidity of this entire industry just gives me a headache!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What's German for GMail?

I just received this very interesting message when trying to access my Gmail account:

It's interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I'm not in Germany. I'm actually in London (Heathrow airport) on my way to Dublin. I am using a T-Mobile hotspot to access the internet so it must be routed through Germany. You'd think they'd use IP filtering to work out my location though, like this example I blogged a while back.

Of greater interest is the underlying reason for this message. Clearly there's some sort of problem with ownership of the GMail name in Germany (but not the gmail.com domain which Google own globally). Too bad they don't tell you on this page what it's all about. I hate an unsolved mystery!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Don't leave home without it

No, not your American Express card. Well yes, you want to take that too, but I'm talking about your passport.

Marie and I went to DC on Thursday. I spent Friday in our office there and we drove down to North Carolina (through the tail end of the hurricane) where her cousin lives for the weekend to attend a family function and then I was going spend Monday and Tuesday back in the office before returning home.

I almost packed my passport, but then I thought "Don't be stupid, why would you need your passport to go to Washington?"

Well you'd need it in case the COO of your company called you late Friday and asked if you could fly to Dublin on Monday to attend a critical customer meeting (critical in the sense of a $15M deal riding on it).

That ought to be straightforward because there's a direct flight from Washington Dulles to Dublin. Straightforward unless you've left your passport in Colorado! So instead I had to fly back to Steamboat last night so I could fly out to Dublin this afternoon. So instead of just flying IAD-DUB, I'm going IAD-DEN-HDN-DEN-LHR-DUB.

Update, Monday 8 September 12 pm: Our customers coming in from South Africa can't get their visas for Ireland in time so the trip has been deferred to Wednesday. I'm glad though that I got to come home for at least a couple of days.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Thanks Sarah

As a new US citizen one of the challenges I face is deciding who to vote for in November. I've wavered back and forth between McCain, whose economic policies are much closer to my views, and Obama, who I believe understands how much damage the childish "with us or against us" foreign policy of the current Administration has done to America's interests not to mention undermining the very foundations of the freedoms that make America unique.

But the selection of Sarah Palin as McCain's VP candidate has helped me make a choice.

Whilst the Republicans are busily touting her executive experience I couldn't help but look at the reality. She's the Governor of a teenage state, sponging off its parents in Washington. Here's a State that receives back two dollars for every dollar it sends to Washington. So how is she going to apply that model to balancing the Federal budget? Here's a State that's so awash in oil and gas money it has no sales tax, no income tax and sends its residents money every year. So what exactly are the tough choices she's had to make as the Governor of such a State?

Added to that, her penchant for firing anyone she didn't appoint indicates she's a "leader" in the mould of George W. Bush interested primarily in loyalty (to her) above all else (and isn't it interesting that we've just had another hurricane in New Orleans to remind us of the results of Bush's "heckuva job Brownie" model of management).

And for someone running as a "family values" conservative, I can't but help look at her personal life and think, "no thanks I've already got a mother and it looks like you've got your hands full". Plus, I'm sorry, but I don't admire the sort of single minded ambition that would allow you to run for high public office when you've got a special needs baby and a pregnant, unmarried 17 year old daughter on your hands. In the same way I simply couldn't understand how John Edwards could run whilst his wife was fighting breast cancer. Talk about your screwed up priorities (little did I know how big a toad he is).

But it was her speech tonight that really sealed the deal for me. I just can't believe that the Republicans wrote her a speech that regurgitated the same divisive, hateful, totalitarian rhetoric that poisoned the 2004 campaign and risks putting America on the path to becoming a one party state where to hold a different view is considered treasonous.

Well I've got news for Republicans. You are the ones who have wilfully and repeatedly betrayed the very essence of the United States, the Constitution, and until you realise that you're not fit to hold even the lowest public office, let alone deserving of another four years in the White House.