Bleak House

When the incomparable Charles Dickens wrote his masterpiece, Bleak House, he did so to satirize the unbelievably flawed English judicial system, but after the horror of last night’s election he could have as easily written his opus about our failed election.  Fuck Trump, I could care less that “he” won; the Orange Talking STD is a symptom of last night’s travesty but in no way it’s cause.  Even so, his presidency will surely bring great harm upon the republic.

What makes me heartsick, however, are my so-called “fellow” Americans; the bitter and disenfranchised half of our so-called plurality who sided with hate and hopelessness, with pettiness and bile and spite.

Sad to say, the joke’s on them.  The “Make America Great” nostrum was always a farce, and will only prove to be more so as time marches on.  And no, I’m not talking about Trump reneging on his promises.  I have every belief that he’ll build his stupid useless wall.  Even so, he will not make “his” people one whit safer, or richer or happier or any of the other good and desirable words, let alone “great.”  Indeed, his so-called “Non-College Educated Whites” will continue their historic slide away from greatness as technology and globalization makes them increasingly irrelevant (except, perhaps, as canon fodder) in the coming years.

The thing they don’t get is that Trump’s central argument is hopelessly flawed.  When the unschooled braggart tweets “I will bring our jobs back to the U.S., and keep our companies from leaving. Nobody else can do it. Our economy will ‘sing’ again.” he has no ideas what he’s talking about.  There are (literally!) no good jobs to be brought back.  Indeed, the future is quite visibly rushing in the exact opposite direction.  In GM’s heyday, it employed 618,365 people in the US, alone.  Today, it employs 216,000 or so, worldwide, a great many of which will be ripe for the chopping block in the coming years.

The heart of a tragedy is missing the obvious as it stares you in the face.  Something you’d learn in college…

How many cops does it take to evict a hawk from a porch?

Upside Down HawkTrick question.  It actually took my bird-savvy neighbor, Jocelyn Bayes, to finally send the poor beastie on it’s way, but I’m very grateful for the cops help, too!

My wife Marie and I woke up before 7:00am last Saturday morning to get ready for a contractor (the talented and helpful Larry Andreozzi) who was coming over to replace a broken window on our third floor.  Imagine Marie’s surprise when she went downstairs and discovered that some sort of big bird had made it’s way onto our screened in porch and was flapping around violently.  The flapping, however, was the least of it.  It turns out the bird was a largish hawk who had smashed straight through the screening only to get tangled up in some Christmas lights and shade pulls  on the front side of the porch.

When I arrived on the scene, the bird had been hanging upside down but as I approached the nearby French door, the bird went into a flapping frenzy.  It must have been exhausted, but being a hawk, the chief thing it looked was steaming mad!

We had no idea, of course, how long the bird had been there but it clearly needed help to get gone.  Unfortunately, with Saturday morning not being the best time for any sort of emergency, a couple of calls to animal control didn’t yield anything!  Our contractor had showed up by that time, however,  and had a great idea: call the cops.

I was a little trepidatious to do so, at first—they certainly had better things to do—but within a few short minutes, first one, then two and ultimately four separate cop cars showed up in front of our house.  Apparently, Drexel Hill’s finest do indeed do birds, and they do so in force.

None of us knew exactly what to do, but Larry had the idea to wrap the bird up in a big moving blanket he had in his truck so it wouldn’t be able to claw anyone while being cut free of the cords.  The cops went with it.  It’s a bit hard to describe what followed next but this video should give you some idea.  I was holding the screen door open for the cops so my camera work is pretty shaky.  Sorry!  Also, the video stopped a bit shy of the bird being eventually shooed off the porch by Jocelyn (who was yielding nothing more than a towel!), but the important takeaways are (a) the cops cut the bird free then after a bit of alarm and hilarity (b) the bird was shooed off the porch and winged it’s way away; hopefully unharmed.

Quite a story!  I’m sure the bird had a lot to tell its friends…

Don’t Renko; Wicko!

WickoViewerThere are countless ways to chart price movement (interval or tick-count-based candlesticks, range-bars, Kagi, etc.) but my hands down favorite is Renko. Well, not Renko, per-se, but rather a Renko variant I like to call “Wicko.”  Renkos track fixed price movements irrespective of time, which is super useful if you want to filter out noise.  Unfortunately, a traditional Renko only includes Open and Close prices; not High’s and Low’s.

As to why I bothered to create my own Wicko feed (or to use the QuantConnect term: consolidator), I couldn’t find a single bug-free C# implementation even though I spent something like four hours looking.  There are plenty of contenders, of course—the internet is rife, after all, with iffy code!—but each and every implementation had one or more obvious bugs.  The rounding errors and lack of edge-case handling were the least of it, but the deal-breaker was the marked ignorance of gap handling.

Dare I say, my own implementation handles things beautifully, proved out by a bunch of unit tests.  You can download the source from my GitHub repository.

BTW, the name Renko come from the Japanese term for bricks: renga.  I’ve always liked the notion of laying down bricks on a chart, so that’s another reason to love ’em.

San Diego, Seattle, then Seattle; Oh My!!

TractorTis the season for peregrination, la de dah de dah, de dah, de dah.  For a start I’m off to a fun-filled family reunion in sweltering San Diego (in Ramona, CA, if I’m being particular; to get that gen-u-ine desert during prolonged drought experience!) followed by two back-to-back weeklong internal Microsoft conferences in Seattle.  Yes, the joys of professional development know no bounds, but if that wasn’t enough, I also get to attend a three day team offsite in Baltimore a couple of days after I get back home to Philly.

Anyway, I’m complaining overmuch because for a start (a) I love my family and (b) I’ve heard mention that this time around I get to ride my brother-in-law’s newish 1937 tractor on his “gentleman-farmer” farm, whooping it up and bellowing  my trademark “Yowza” at the top of my lungs as the barely motile beast tops an eye-watering 10mph.  To be sure, life doesn’t get any better!

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My Spinal Tap Moment

No, I didn’t turn it up to eleven.

The whole thing kicked off a week ago when my beautiful and talented wife Marie Anne Chiment asked me if I could print a half-dozen Metropolitan Police Helmet Plates for one of her shows (The Pirates of Penzance, for Philly’s Maugkingbird Theatre; 8/20 to 9/4).  We’d been talking about 3-D printing and so it wasn’t an out of the blue topic.  Even so, the very idea was more than a little intriguing.

As luck would have it, I found a 3-D model of the helmet plate online, at TurboSquid.  A quick upload to Shapeways (a job shop) and I congratulated myself on how easy-peasy the whole thing was.  All in all, it took something like eight minutes to research the idea, find the model and place the order.  Welcome to our Brave New World.

It was supposed to take two weeks to be done but to make matters even more pleasing, the box showed up on Saturday; only four days after we placed our order.  Matters took a left turn, however, when we opened the box.  For a start, it seemed like there was nothing in there except a whole lot of bubble wrap.  I was about to toss it all and call the company to complain that they sent me an empty box when Marie noticed there was a tiny zip-lock envelope inside.

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Handling Poison; Messages, I Mean

A poison message, for the uninformed, is a “queued” message that can’t be processed for one technical reason or another.  Doesn’t sound like much of a bother, but due to the way that queues operate, they can muck up the works if left unhandled.

Azure WebJobs does a decent job of handling poison messages out of the box. Basically, you’re given five tries (by default) to process a given message.  If, for instance, the database you’re trying to write to is unreachable or maybe the instructions embodied in an message were somehow malformed then the message would be automagically moved to a “poison” queue for further processing; but only after five failed attempts.  As to any further handling, it’d be up to you.

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I Need a [Web]Jobs

Once again, with the new formed buds of spring a-budding, it only natural for a young man’s thoughts turn to . . . WebJobs.  OK, probably not.  But this (not quite young!) man has a good reason to be thinking of such things: I’m giving a WebJobs presentation at Philly Code Camp 2016.1 later today.  The session will be more than a little hands-on, but I also have a smallish deck, with a number of highlights and resource links, that you can download: Batch Processing with Azure WebJobs.

For the uninitiated, WebJobs can be thought of the newish Azure tech that (most usefully!) enables workflow for the modern web.  Think image processing, shopping carts, database administration, Monte Carlo simulations, app “glue,” process control, AI, custom testing, IoT facilitation, site scraping, backups, pipelining, log ingestion and more.  Even better, WebJobs are super-simple.  You can be up and running in minutes, but more importantly, the “hard” stuff rarely takes more than hours.

If you work with the cloud: run, don’t walk.


Be Careful When You Feed the Lunatics

One of the hazards of being an outreach-minded astronomer is having to deal with a never-ending stream of lunatics.  Whether it be the overly-fervent gal who got supper-pissed when I failed to agree with her that asterisms were galaxy-sized corporeal beings or the octogenarian who called  out the cops because he was sure that I was using my telescope to peep at him through his solid walls, I’ve had more than my fair share of encounters with both the grossly misinformed and the all but barking mad.  As a rule, though, I tend to take such crackpots in my stride.

The people who drive me bonkers, though, are the supposedly sane and well educated; fellow citizens who hold the most outrageous and improbable beliefs even though a modicum of sense and introspection should serve to dispel them one and all.

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Koza’s Ant (A Modern Take on the Canonical Genetic Programming Problem)

Koza's Ant EvolverWe’ve all had those less-than-notable-at-the-time yet ultra-significant inflections in our world view that in later days loom large.

I had one of those “moments” in 1993, on an otherwise ordinary fall day when I’d squired my not-yet wife to an unmemorable building on the Northwestern campus, in Chicago.  Marie is a Set and Costume Designer so I have to imagine that we were there for some sort of rehearsal, or maybe a design meeting; something about Orpheus Descending at the Chicago Lyric Opera teases at my memory, although given the remove of 22 years the details have faded.

One thing I vividly remember, though, is reading Steven Levy’s “Artificial Life:  A Report from the Frontier Where Computers Meet Biology;” a book I picked up at the campus bookstore while waiting for Marie to finish whatever she was doing.  She must have been at it for hours because I managed to gulp down something like half of the thickish volume before she emerged from the building.

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