# Saturday, July 24, 2021

In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck describes two mindsets: Fixed and Growth. People with a Fixed Mindset believe that each of us is born with a finite amount of intelligence, talent, and skill. Those with a growth mindset believe that we can work to improve our intelligence, talent, and skill.

As a society, we tend to embrace the idea of Fixed Mindset. We praise those gifted with natural athletic ability; teachers tend to label children as smart or dumb; and people talk about relationships as if they were destined to be together. But the reality is that it takes work to improve one's athletic prowess, education, and relationships. A Fixed Mindset discourages this work as pointless, which inhibits growth in these areas.

The most significant difference between the two mindsets is in their approach to failure. Fixed Mindset people see failure as an indictment of their abilities. They tend to stop trying when they encounter failure, and they avoid those activities that do not have a high chance of success. In contrast, Growth Mindset people are challenged by failure. They view it as an opportunity to learn and are motivated to develop themselves further. They choose challenging activities that will push them to stretch their limits.

Those with a growth mindset tend to be happier and more successful.

While the book favors anecdotes over clinical research, Dweck's theories make intuitive sense to me. I look back on my own life and realize that I was trapped in a Fixed Mindset during my early years. I was labeled early on as a "smart kid" and so I tended to coast through school without pushing my boundaries. In Elementary School, I perceived myself as a poor athlete with low strength, so I did not attempt to excel at sports. Later in life, I shifted my outlook and sought to improve myself in areas where I was weak, and this made a huge difference in my life. Dr. Dweck's ideas are not revolutionary, but she articulates them well.

Saturday, July 24, 2021 9:19:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Tuesday, July 20, 2021

I attended my first concert in 1977. It was at Olympia Stadium in Detroit, where the Red Wings played before moving to Joe Louis Arena and again to Little Caesar Arena. Four singers/songwriters/guitarists performed: John Denver, James Taylor, Harry Chapin, and Gordon Lightfoot. Lightfoot's hit song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" released the prior year was still getting significant airplay and I loved seeing him live. Chapin and Denver are gone, but Lightfoot is still touring at the ripe old age of 82.

His touring was interrupted 17 months ago, but he kicked off a new tour Sunday evening at the Copernicus Center in Chicago.

I watched contentedly from the fourth row, remembering a night long ago when a high school David experienced this for the first time.

Many of the songs were the same. Lightfoot's peak of popularity occurred in the 1970s when he established himself as arguably the greatest songwriter in Canadian history.

The years have weakened Gordon's once-rich voice, but he can still carry a tune and he can still put emotion into songs that he has been singing for decades. More importantly, he engaged the audience between songs, joking about everything from his age to almost meeting Elvis Presley years ago (the crowd exiting the arena slowed him so much that Elvis had left the building by the time Gordon finally arrived backstage.)

The sold-out theatre was filled with many gray and balding heads, but they responded enthusiastically to the music of their youth. Lightfoot sang all his hits, including "Carefree Highway", "Sundown", "Early Morning Rain", "Rainy Day People", the aforementioned "Edmund Fitzgerald", and my personal favourite - "If You Could Read My Mind". In between, he mixed in many lesser-known songs, each one enjoyable.

He performed for about two hours with a 15-minute intermission and returned to the stage for one encore.

It was an evening well spent.

At this rate, I will be 103 and Gordon will be 126 when we next meet.

More photos

Tuesday, July 20, 2021 11:38:23 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, July 19, 2021

Episode 669

Sarah Withee on an Open Source Pancreas

Sarah Withee describes how the open source community has created software to help diabetics make it easier to manage insulin levels and injections.

Links:
https://github.com/nightscout/cgm-remote-monitor
https://github.com/nightscoutfoundation
https://github.com/openaps
https://loopkit.github.io/loopdocs/
https://github.com/loopkit
https://github.com/loopdocs/

Monday, July 19, 2021 9:25:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Sunday, July 18, 2021

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not new, but it is challenging for most people. In her book You Look Like a Thing and I Love You, Janelle Shane breaks down this technology in simple terms and illustrates it with examples that are interesting, humorous, and sometimes absurd.

This book does not require any prior knowledge of neural networks, machine learning, artificial intelligence, or even computer science. Dr. Shane writes in a straightforward prose that is easily consumed - even by those unfamiliar with the math and science under the hood.

She begins with an explanation of Artificial Intelligence - what it is and why it is useful. She then covers some uses of AI, focusing on its limitations and misuses. Her samples include many unexpected results. The title of the book comes from an effort by a neural net to generate pickup lines after examining hundreds of actual lines.

Here are a few thoughts from Shane's book:

  • An AI is very literal. It will try to solve the problem you give it - sometimes in unexpected ways. If you tell it to come up with a game-playing strategy that minimizes the number of times a player is killed, it may decide to hide in a corner and not move, which accomplishes the stated goal but is probably not an effective strategy for winning a game.
  • An AI will take shortcuts if it can. In an experiment to identify the presence of sheep in a photograph, the AI noticed that nearly every photo of sheep also included grass. Since it was easier to identify grass than sheep, it concluded that any photograph of grass also included sheep.
  • AI works best when it is given a narrow focus. It struggles if the problem is too broad. It is possible to create a bot that can have a conversation with a human, but that conversation will be far more meaningful if we train it to stick to a narrow topic. Try to train a bot to both take travel reservations and give relationship advice and it will likely fail at both.
  • Because AIs are trained in a simulated environment, they may choose solutions that only work in that environment, but not in the real world. One experiment asked an AI to find the fastest way for a robot to get from one point to another. It concluded the optimal solution was for the robot to grow a long leg and fall toward the destination.
  • Bias in input data can result in bias in predictive results. Train a system on existing resumes and hires and it may conclude that men are better hires than women because they were hired more often in the past.

As a result of these and other limitations, Shane concludes that we are unlikely to develop a general-purpose intelligence system, such as Star Trek's Data, 2001's HAL, or Terminator's Skynet any time soon. But that does not diminish the usefulness of the field, which can solve complex problems in imaginative ways. We just need to be aware of the pitfalls, so we can avoid them.

Sunday, July 18, 2021 9:12:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, July 17, 2021

In 2005, Time Magazine published its list of the 100 best English-language novels.

The magazine had three filters to the list:

  1. The original publication was in English. No translations qualified.
  2. The book was a work of fiction, even if it was based on a true story.
  3. It was a novel. No short stories or plays qualified.
  4. It was published between 1923 and 2005.

Rule 4 may seem puzzling until you consider that Time Magazine began publication in 1923. These are the 100 greatest English language novels of all Time and this list defines "Time" as the era of Time Magazine's publication, rather than the infinite progress of existence that is usually assigned to that word. Authors like Edith Wharton, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, and Mark Twain lived too early to make this list. Sinclair Lewis's "Babbit" and "Main Street" were published just prior to this time span, as was James Joyce's "Ulysses" and Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle". But the list spans 82 years, which is still a lot of novels to consider.

The list was compiled by literary critics Richard Lacayo and Lev Grossman, who made no effort to rank the novels - a book is either on the list or off.

Three of the "books" - "The Lord of the Rings", "A Dance to the Music of Time", and "The Berlin Stories" - were actually series. "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" is part of the Narnia Chronicles, but only this volume was included. In each of these cases, I read the entire series. A few of the books, such as "I, Claudius" and "Rabbit, Run", inspired sequels that were not included in the list, and "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold" includes characters that appear in other novels by John Le Carre.

Eight Authors appear twice on the list: George Orwell, Graham Greene, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Thomas Pynchon, Virginia Woolf, Vladimir Nabokov, and William Faulkner. No one made the list three times.

Margaret Mitchel, Harper Lee, and J.D. Salinger published only one novel each during their lifetimes ("Gone With the Wind", "To Kill a Mockingbird", and "The Catcher in the Rye " respectively) but those novels all made this list.

Most of the stories are set in the United States or Great Britain and were written by residents of those countries; but there are some Australians on the list and a few stories set in India, the West Indies, the South Pacific, and other locations. African Chinua Achebe's novel "Things Fall Apart" takes place in his native Nigeria. Achebe and Vladimir Nabokov accomplished the impressive feat of writing classic novels in a language that was not their native tongue.

A variety of styles and themes are represented among these 100 items. The list includes a diverse set of topics and genres: detective stories, postmodern stream-of-consciousness ramblings, science fiction, morality plays, satires, character analyses,  political statements, and more. There are books written for young people ("Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret", "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe", "The Catcher in the Rye") and books that feature rape and extreme violence ("A Clockwork Orange", "Tropic of Cancer", "Deliverance")There are stories of dystopian futures ("1984", "Never Let Me Go") and fictionalized histories of real people ("The Confessions of Nat Turner", "The Sot-Weed Factor", "I, Claudius"). There are stories that mock the absurdity of war ("Slaughterhouse-Five", "Catch-22"), stories that shine a light on American race relations ("Invisible Man", "Native Son", "Go Tell It on the Mountain", "To Kill a Mockingbird"), and stories of the effects of colonialism ("A Passage to India", "Things Fall Apart"). Immigrants - particularly Jewish immigrants - making a life in America ("Call It Sleep", "The Assistant", "The Heart is A Lonely Hunter") is a common theme.  Another common theme is the tensions underlying a seemingly mundane life in American suburbia, as in "The Corrections", "Appointment in Samarra", "American Pastoral", "Revolutionary Road", and "An American Tragedy". Drug culture is explored in "Naked Lunch" and "On The Road", while "Under the Volcano", "The French Lieutenant’s Woman", and "A House for Mr. Biswas" detail the main characters' march toward self-destruction. There is even a graphic novel, as "The Watchmen" compiles a 12-issue comic book series.

The thing that almost all of them have in common, however, is tragedy. There are very few happy endings. Great art tends to inspire great emotion and sadness is a powerful emotion.

As with any list like this, there will be some debate. Your favourite author or novel may have been omitted and you may not be a fan of some of the books that were included. As for me, I did not find any bad novels in the list. I enjoyed all of them and I loved some of them.

It took me almost three years, but I managed to power through this entire list.

As I began this list, I marked off books that I had already read. A few I had read recently because they were on NPR's Top 100 Science-Fiction and Fantasy Books - a list I had recently completed. But, as I approached the end of the English language list, I decided to revisit any book that I had not read in the past 5 years. It had been decades since I read "Beloved" and I had not opened "Gone With the Wind" since high school.

I wanted to re-read the old books to see how my impressions had changed, but also to make it easier for me to accurately review the book. My reviews served multiple purposes. Writing about a book forced me to think more about its themes and what I liked or disliked about it, which increased my appreciation of it. I find it easier to remember a book if I go through this exercise; and, if I forget, I have a reference to which I can return. I also enjoy sharing these thoughts with others and exchanging ideas with them about what we have read.

I discovered that I enjoyed every book on the list - some more than others of course. Here are my top 30, in no particular order:

'Ragtime' by E.L. Doctorow
'Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret' by Judy Blume
'Go Tell It on the Mountain' by James Baldwin
'Animal Farm' by George Orwell
'The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
'1984' by George Orwell
'A Clockwork Orange' by Anthony Burgess
'Slaughterhouse-Five' by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
'The Grapes of Wrath' by John Steinbeck
'Lolita' by Vladimir Nabokov
'A Dance to the Music of Time' by Anthony Powell
'Beloved' by Toni Morrison
'All the King's Men' by Robert Penn Warren
'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' by Ken Kesey
'To Kill a Mockingbird' by Harper Lee
'The Sportswriter' by Richard Ford
'The Spy Who Came In from the Cold' by John le Carre
'The War of the Worlds' by H.G. Wells
'Lord of the Flies' by William Golding
'The Blind Assassin' by Margaret Atwood
'The Great Gatsby' by F. Scott Fitzgerald
'Native Son' by Richard Wright
'The Corrections' by Jonathan Franzen
'The Painted Bird' by Jerzy Kosinski
'The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter' by Carson McCullers
'White Teeth' by Zadie Smith
'Ubik' by Philip K. Dick
'Deliverance' by James Dickey
'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
'Watchmen' by Alan Moore

The least enjoyable ones for me were Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity’s Rainbow" and David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest", but I fully admit that the fault may have been mine, as these two novels contain a plethora of characters and subplots that I struggled to keep straight. A re-reading (if I ever have the time) may improve my opinion.

You can find my reviews on various websites, including this one.

Here is the complete Time Magazine list:

Title Author
Neuromancer William Gibson
Slaughterhouse Five Kurt Vonnegut
Snow Crash Neal Stephenson
1984 George Orwell
A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess
Animal Farm George Orwell
Appointment in Samarra John O'Hara
Brideshead Revisited Evelyn Waugh
The Adventures of Augie March Saul Bellow
The Confessions of Nat Turner William Styron
The Lord of the Rings J.R.R. Tolkien
Watchmen Alan Moore
The Crying of Lot 49 Thomas Pynchon
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret Judy Blume
Wide Sargasso Sea Jean Rhys
The Day of the Locust Nathanael West
To the Lighthouse Virginia Woolf
Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe
Red Harvest Dashiell Hammett
Housekeeping Marilynne Robinson
Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neale Hurston
Mrs. Dalloway Virginia Woolf
The Power and the Glory Graham Greene
Ubik Philip K. Dick
The Painted Bird Jerzy Kosinsky
The Moviegoer Walker Percy
The Assistant Bernard Malamud
The Heart of the Matter Graham Greene
Lucky Jim Kingsley Amis
A Handful of Dust Evelyn Waugh
Deliverance James Dickey
Never Let Me Go Kazuo Ishiguro
Tropic of Cancer Henry Miller
Death Comes for the Archbishop Willa Cather
White Noise Don DeLillo
The Sheltering Sky Paul Bowles
Ragtime E.L. Doctorow
Revolutionary Road Richard Yates
The Heart is A Lonely Hunter Carson McCullers
Herzog Saul Bellow
Under the Volcano Malcolm Lowry
I, Claudius Robert Graves
White Teeth Zadie Smith
Call It Sleep Henry Roth
The French Lieutenant’s Woman John Fowles
Light in August William Faulkner
The Man Who Loved Children Christina Stead
Possession A.S. Byatt
An American Tragedy Theodore Dreiser
Infinite Jest David Foster Wallace
A Death in the Family James Agee
A Passage to India E.M. Forester
American Pastoral Philip Roth
Atonement Ian McEwan
Go Tell it on the Mountain James Baldwin
Invisible Man Ralph Ellison
Naked Lunch William S. Burroughs
Rabbit, Run John Updike
The Big Sleep Raymond Chandler
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Muriel Spark
Loving Henry Green
Falconer John Cheever
Play It As It Lays Joan Didion
At Swim-Two-Birds Flann O'Brien
Under the Net Iris Murdoch
The Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger
Beloved Toni Morrison
Dog Soldiers Robert Stone
Money Martin Amis
Native Son Richard Wright
The Berlin Stories Christopher Isherwood
The Death of the Heart Elizabeth Bowen
The Blind Assassin Margaret Atwood
Midnight’s Children Salman Rushdie
A House for Mr. Biswas V.S. Naipaul
The Corrections Jonathan Franzen
The Golden Notebook Doris Lessing
All the King’s Men Robert Penn Warren
Gravity’s Rainbow Thomas Pynchon
The Sot-Weed Factor John Barth
The Recognitions William Gaddis
A Dance to the Music of Time Anthony Powell
Lord of the Flies William Golding
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Ken Kesey
The Bridge of San Luis Rey Thornton Wilder
The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold John Le Carre
The Sportswriter Richard Ford
To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
Gone With the Wind Margaret Mitchell
Portnoy’s Complaint Philip Roth
The Sun Also Rises Ernest Hemingway
On the Road Jack Kerouac
Pale Fire Vladimir Nabokov
The Sound and the Fury William Faulkner
Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
Blood Meridian Cormac McCarthy
Catch-22 Joseph Heller
The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe C.S. Lewis
Saturday, July 17, 2021 3:06:54 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, July 12, 2021

Episode 670

Jason Bock on Mutation Testing

Mutation Testing involves modifying code that should break tests in order to validate the quality of these tests. Tools like Stryker allow you to do this automatically. Jason Bock discusses how this fits into your testing strategy.

https://stryker-mutator.io/
https://youtu.be/zbOnygEeFLU

Monday, July 12, 2021 9:52:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Sunday, July 11, 2021

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

Although dead television channels today emit a different pattern, the opening line of William Gibson's 1984 cyberpunk novel Neuromancer still draws the reader into the story.

This is the story of Henry Case - a computer hacker, who committed his crimes in "the matrix" - a virtual reality cyberspace of the near future. Case was caught stealing from his employers, who retaliated by injecting him with a neurotoxin that prevented him from ever again connecting to the Matrix.

Case was devastated and unemployable until he was recruited by Armitage, a mysterious patron who promised to reverse the neurotoxin effects in exchange for performing a job. What Case did not know was that the reversal was only temporary - the surgeons left sacks of toxin within his veins that would dissolve without a transfusion. This set a time limit on the job.

So, Case partnered with Molly Millions - a beautiful mercenary, who has surgically enhanced her body to make her more dangerous; Maelcum, a Rastafarian space pilot; and a host of other bizarre characters to connect with powerful artificial intelligences and complete Armitage's jobs.

Gibson does a very good job of building a dystopian world and a digital cyberworld within that world. Among the features of this world:

-A personality may persist after death by uploading a person's consciousness into the Matrix. Case and his allies are assisted by the Flatline consciousness of a former mentor.

-Extreme surgical enhancements are commonplace - sometimes for aesthetics and sometimes for practical reasons. Molly has replaced her eyes with glass lenses that boost her vision and has retractable razors embedded beneath her fingernails.

-Artificial intelligences are self-aware and have grown powerful, manipulative, and dangerous.

This story is complex enough that I often found myself lost and re-reading chapters. Significant characters are introduced suddenly and it was not always obvious to me whether our antiheroes were in the real world or the Matrix.

But ultimately, I enjoyed this novel. The narration has the feel of both a science fiction story and a noir detective novel. Gibson reflects on humanity's relationship with technology and where it is headed. His description of a worldwide system of connected computer networks was prophetic - predating the proliferation of the Internet by at least a decade.

I respect the novel's place in history. William Gibson is credited with the invention of the cyberpunk science fiction subgenre (he originally coined the term in an earlier short story) and this - his first novel - helped to establish that subgenre in the popular consciousness.

Sunday, July 11, 2021 9:13:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, July 10, 2021

It is not easy to make a pizza delivery exciting. But when the delivery takes place in a dystopian future and the pizza franchise is owned by the Mafia and the punishment for late delivery is severe, it can get your pulse racing. And Neal Stephenson makes this happen in the opening scene of "Snow Crash".

Hiro Protagonist is the hero and protagonist of this novel. He is a deliverer of pizzas, a hacker, a music promoter, and an expert swordfighter, who fights most of his battles inside the Metaverse - a virtual reality world with its own rules and laws.

The United States government has collapsed, and hyperinflation has devalued its currency a trillion-fold. In California, each suburb is now its own autonomous nation. Hiro helped create the Metaverse, where he discovers a new virus that infects both computers and people. After some research, he realizes that the virus is an ancient one - predating computers by thousands of years and that it attacks the human brain in the same way a computer virus attacks the files and memory of a machine. This virus is so ancient that it may have inspired the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel.

Hiro encounters a religious cult, artificial intelligences, crime lords from various factions and nations, a rebellious teenager, and a psychotic Aleut.

I loved the way that Stephenson combined linguistics, history, cybercrime, and characters. He tells the entire story in the present tense, which gives it a sense of immediacy. Stephenson includes satire of commercialism and capitalism. Most of the suburb-states are controlled by corporations. The church exists for the personal financial benefit of its founder and is bankrolled by a telecommunications tycoon. And he includes a hilarious description of the bureaucratic regulations on the use of toilet paper.

The book is not without its faults. After an exciting start, it fails to maintain that same energy throughout the novel and the ending felt a bit rushed. Some of the characters could use a bit more development. Y.T. and Juanita - the most important female characters - were at least as intriguing as Hiro, but we did not get to know them as well as I would have liked.

A potential flaw is that this book contains several extended scenes in which Hiro or an Artificial Intelligence explain world history and background information in great detail. Usually, I prefer to learn things in a novel as the action unfolds, rather than having someone explain it to me; but I found their lectures interesting and illuminating - especially as they compared and contrasted the stories from various religions. And the author offsets these monologues/soliloquies with many scenes of intense action. Hiro and Raven the Aleut are the two badassest people on the planet - Hiro with his sword and Raven with his harpoon, so their battles tend to be epic.

This was not the first cyberpunk novel published, but it established Stephenson as a master of the genre.

Saturday, July 10, 2021 9:03:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Friday, July 9, 2021

The recent pandemic forced the Drive-By Truckers to cancel their tour and take a hiatus from touring that lasted more than a year. They are scheduled to resume their tour in August; but lead singer/co-founder Patterson Hood could not wait. So, he grabbed his guitar and hit the road in June. He opened his tour Wednesday evening at the City Winery in Chicago. I already had tickets to the Truckers' show in Evanston, IL September 3; but I also could not wait. So, I headed for the Winery to hear what Patterson had to offer.

He offered a lot. For 90+ minutes, he delighted a full room with just his voice and his guitar. Drive-By Truckers celebrated the 25th anniversary of their first recording session just a few days prior to this show and Hood drew liberally from the band's catalog of thirteen studio albums.

"I play in a band", he confided to the audience, although we already knew this.

Hood opened the show with the emotional "Sandwiches from the Road" off of DBT's debut album "Gangstabilly". "Nothing can hurt you but yourself", the singer advised from the chorus.

Many of his songs tell stories and Hood interspersed the songs with some stories of his own. "Road Cases" was an ode to the Atlanta Rhythm Section - a band that experienced a meteoric rise in the 1970s leading them to purchase a plethora of equipment and cases. Cases with the band's logo appeared in many secondhand stores after their popularity declined so that many Georgia bands ended up with cases stenciled with the ARS logo.

After playing for about 90 minutes, Patterson did not go through the traditional charade of leaving the stage and allowing the audience to call him back. Instead, he stood up, announced the set was over, and asked if we wanted to hear some encore tunes. Of course, we did and of course, he obliged, delighting us with three more songs.

It was clear listening to Patterson Hood that he enjoyed his time back on the stage and he managed to transfer that enjoyment to the audience.


more photos

Friday, July 9, 2021 4:36:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, July 5, 2021

Episode 668

Michael Dowden on Firebase

Firebase is an application development platform that includes databases, serverless functions, static hosting, push notifications, analytics, and other features. Michael Dowden discusses these tools and how he uses them to build applications and products.

https://firebase.google.com/docs

Monday, July 5, 2021 9:22:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)