Tuesday, August 28, 2007

This could be my last ever visit to the US :-(

I'm in New York this week on training for work. Sadly, the venue is about twenty miles outside New York City and it's looking unlikely that I'll get the opportunity for a trip into town but the venue itself is pretty good.

However, when I arrived at Newark, I queued for about half an hour to go through the passport check and was then somewhat perturbed when the agent declined to stamp my passport and, instead, called "Escort!" and had me shipped into a separate room, where I had to wait for another half an hour until another agent entered my details on to a computer and spent five minutes typing away.

Eventually, I was told I could enter the country.

It appears that somebody with my name - or something similar to it - is on a list of baddies. I find this somewhat hard to believe... I mean do you know anybody else with "Gendal" for a middle name?!

This also happened to me when I was here in March.

I asked the agent this time what I needed to do to ensure this doesn't happen again. Apparently, there is nothing I can do and this will happen every time I visit in the future.

I think I'd rather just not come again.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Dance, Monkey. DANCE!

Alex Tabarrok has a great idea: make those who seek to exercise power over us participate in a game show so they can prove themselves before we're saddled with them.

It's interesting to speculate on how the UK's leaders and would-be-leaders would perform in the games Alex suggests.

Coase it Out: Presidential candidates have 12 hours to get a bitterly divorcing couple to divide their assets in a mutually agreeable manner.  (Bonus points are awarded if the candidate convinces the couple to stay together.)

I suspect David Cameron would do better at this than Gordon Brown. As one of Alex's commenters points out, however, giving bonus points for convincing a couple who hate each other to stay together may not be optimal. However, it would be precisely the skillset needed to bring a treaty negotiation to a close

Spot the Fraud:  Presidential candidates are provided with an economic scenario (mortgage defaults are up, hedge funds are crashing, liquidity is tight).  Three experts propose plans.  The candidate must choose one of the plans.  After the candidate chooses, the true identities of the "experts" are revealed. One is a trucker, another a scuba diver instructor and the last a distinguished economist.  Which did the candidate choose? 

My take on this is that Gordon Brown would know the right answer and David Cameron wouldn't. However, and this is the problem with Alex's scheme, that doesn't mean he would do what he knew to be the correct thing!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Something interesting in the *hardware* space? Whatever next!

I struggle to get excited about computer hardware. I work in middleware; the rest is mere detail. UNIX? Windows? RISC? Partitioning?   BORING!!!

But, then, every so often something comes along that seems genuinely interesting.

If Mark is for real (and he doesn't have a track record of just making stuff up), it would seem that it is now possible to migrate running workloads from one physcial machine to another.

I have to admit that such a thing would, indeed, be rather worthy of comment. I may even allow myself to emit a little "wow" sound.


So there. I did it. A post about hardware.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Some investment recommendations, please

Readers, it may have noticed that there is some volatility in world markets at present. Stock markets have tumbled, credit markets have seized up and many people seem to be worried.


Things have got a little cheaper and there are probably some good buying opportunities.

I will probably restrict myself to purchasing shares but could be talked into investing in a fund or buying a different asset class if it could be done easily through www.selftrade.co.uk as I don't want to have to open up an account somewhere else.

Given that I'm employed in the IT sector and sell primarily to companies in the Financial Services Sector, my preference is to avoid increasing my exposure to them. Any other area would be considered, however.

Any ideas?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

It turns out I asked a good question!

Well, well, well.

My question about optimal locations to hold a party turns out to have been harder than I expected. As always, my super-intelligent commenters made some good observations (read the comments on the other thread).

Taking the biscuit, however, was my colleague Lee Hollingdale.  He decided that, whilst theory is nice, nothing beats a good bit of empiricism: he knocked up a program so that I could experiment for real.   Wow.

Here are the results of Lee's program.

Firstly, let's look at the "two friend" case.  The brighter dots represent points of minimum "total distance travelled". As we see, our prediction that it would be the entire line between the two friends was correct:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

 Now, if we add an extra point - along the same line, something interesting happens.  The optimal position is now just that single new point:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket


If, instead, we move the third friend to somewhere not on the line, but still close, it seems that their house is the best place to hold the party:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket


But if they move out into zone 6, it rapidly becomes clear that their house is not appropriate (quite right, too).

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket


And now, if we pretend to have loads of friends, the optimal point (and there is just one point) can be seen:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket


So, it does appear that two friends is the special case but the "hold the party at the third friend's house" result is not one I was expecting


Thanks Lee!

Monday, August 06, 2007

A mathematics challenge

Six of us were having dinner in a restaurant in on Friday evening. We had travelled from different parts of London and had travelled different decisions.  I started thinking about where we could have met to minimise the total distance we travelled.

In other words, given a set of friends and their starting points and assuming we measure straight-line distances - ignore roads and hills - there must be at least one point that requires the least total distance to be travelled in order for everybody to meet.  Furthermore, there may be more than one such point.   As an example, consider just two friends: any point on a straight line between them would be a meeting point that satisfied my requirement that the total distance travelled is miminised.

My question is: given an arbitrary number of friends and their starting points, what can we say about the set of points representing minimum total distances travelled?   In particular, will its points necessarily be connected to each other or could they be dispersed?