kitchen table math, the sequel: 7/21/13 - 7/28/13

Friday, July 26, 2013

Fort Hood

I stayed for a day and a half of presentations and ended up missing a fabulous talk by a retired British.... Colonel, I think.

He talked about the French army and confirmed everything Ed had said previously on the subject of France being a warring nation, which I hadn't known. If I get to it, I'll post a couple of Ed's slides listing all the wars the French have fought over the centuries. There are many.


Forget Ed's slides. Check this out.

France may also be the longest continuously existing state, btw. Another thing I didn't know.

Ed says Glen told the soldiers that they have to think of the French military as the Marines; they are that good.

He also made a point that had never occurred to Ed or me although it's obvious once you hear it: armies need to fight wars. Meaning: the only way to stay in practice is to fight real wars. War exercises aren't enough.

The French army fights real wars. Glen showed videos of the Mali operation, and the take-away was essentially that the French army is brilliant. French soldiers were doing 9000-mile sorties and making them look like a field trip to the recycling plant.

He also showed photos (videos?) of the German army, which is choc-a-bloc with expensive weaponry and aircraft, but whose soldiers haven't fought in a real battle since --- WWII? His opinion is that if something happens in Europe, only two countries will be prepared to fight: England and France.

In terms of defense, the issue is Russia, which has been sending probes into the airspace over the Baltic States (I now know what the Baltic states are, so time well spent...) and over Sweden. Apparently Russia is too intimidated by Finland to poke its nose into Finnish air space.

Russia also stages showy war exercises to practice an invasion of the Baltic states. The Russian army is doing one now, I think -- now, or not long from now. Military analysts assume Russia would like to take back the Baltic states because they have warm-water ports, which don't freeze in winter. Russia is too weak to attempt that now, but, on the other hand, Putin may not know that. He may be surrounded by people telling him the country is a mighty power; there is no way to know.

At dinner Glen told Ed that his first experience as a soldier was in Northern Ireland. In a situation like that, he said, you have to pay as much attention to the men under your command as you do to the situation you're trying to control because the men you lead are 18- and 19-years old and terrified. One of his soldiers came within a hair's breadth of shooting a civilian because the man was walking down the street carrying an umbrella in the rain.

Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect

Terri reminded me of the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect, and thank the gods! A couple of months ago I was trying to think of the name of the effect and trying to think of the effect itself. I couldn't remember either one, but I vividly recalled thinking the what's-it effect was extremely cool.

I was driving myself crazy.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Speaking of pundits

You may have to be a subscriber to the Times to find this funny, but here goes.

I've been reading the papers on my iPad for a couple of years now, but Ed still gets the Sunday Times. In June, two weeks before the Egyptian coup, he sat down at the kitchen table, opened up his paper, and saw Tom Friedman's weekend column:

He read the tag line out loud in a tone of pronounced indignation (What is this doing in my paper?), and then sat there, glaring at the page and waiting for my reaction.

It took me a good three or four seconds to absorb "Egypt is a mess but there is hope in the young environmentalists" (What?) ---- and then we both burst into horselaughs.

I think that's the loudest I've ever heard Ed laugh.

Big data strikes again

The New York Times is reliably fun to read on the subject of technology:
SAN FRANCISCO — Although certain kinds of engineers are in short supply in the United States, plenty of potential candidates exist for thousands of positions for which companies want to import guest workers, according to an analysis of three million résumés of job seekers in the United States.


[T]he technology industry argues there are not enough qualified Americans [to fill tech positions]. Its critics, including labor groups, say bringing in guest workers is a way to depress wages in the industry.

Many economists take issue with the industry’s argument, too. One side points out that wages have not gone up across the board for engineers, suggesting that there is no stark labor shortage.


“I didn’t expect this result,” said Steve Goodman, Bright’s chief executive.


“We’re Silicon Valley people, we just assumed the shortage was true,” Mr. Goodman said. “It turns out there is a little Silicon Valley groupthink going on about this, though it’s not comfortable to say that.”


The Senate immigration bill, passed last month, nearly doubles the number of H-1B visas that companies can seek every year. Industry lobbied heavily for it, bulldozing efforts to add language that would force companies to try to hire an equally qualified American first.


The age of workers, which the study did not look at, may also play a role....[A]mong 32 technology companies surveyed, only six had a work force with a median age over 35. At Monster, the job search portal, the median age was 30; at Google, 29; and at Facebook, 28. The median age of American workers over all is 42.3 years old, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As if to underline the study’s findings, Mr. Goodman spoke from a conference room that looked out on decorated ping-pong tables, a liquor bar and tiki-themed snacks. Later that day, Bright was having a party, partly to attract new talent, he said, including foreign programmers here on H-1B visas.

Big Data Analysis Adds to Guest Worker Woes
JULY 23, 2013, 10:23 AM
Groupthink in Silicon Valley, groupthink amongst the punditry, groupthink in the White House....


This part was interesting:
For a few job categories, like computer systems analysts, there are relatively few “good fits” among American applicants, Bright found. Computer systems analyst jobs, considered relatively low-skilled in the tech world, had four openings for every American candidate. For others, like high-skilled computer programmers, there were more than enough potential candidates in the United States, the company found.
As I recall, there's a section in the Steve Jobs book where Jobs explains to President Obama that the workers they really can't find are skilled workers with Associate degrees.

I'll have to find that and post.

For the record, I had absolutely no idea there wasn't a shortage of engineers until Kitchen Table Math readers explained the world to me. I never questioned the narrative; I just took all the Silicon lamentations at face value.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Workflowy for packing

Workflowy cuts my packing time in half, or close to. It's amazing.

With my usual travel list(s), I get into an obsessive-compulsive scanning doom loop.

I put something in my bag and cross it off my list.

Then I put something else in my bag and cross that off my list.

Unfortunately, crossed-off does not mean invisible, so every time I check my list to see what to pack next, I end up rereading the whole thing, or at least re-scanning the whole thing; plus I start to experience doubt.

Did I really pack the long cord for the iPad? Sure I crossed it off the list, but did I put it in my bag?

Better check.

(Same problem with recipes, btw.)

With Workflowy, when you cross something off the list it disappears (if you want it to).

So the list gets smaller and smaller, and there's never anything to scan other than items you have definitely not packed. There's no re-scanning, and there's (almost) no checking or re-checking. Out of sight, out of mind.

When you want to restore the list, you just Un-cross all the crossed-off items et voilà! List restored.

Gone fishing, part 2

Ed has been invited to give a seminar on France at Fort Hood, and I'm going!

The army invited specialists on various European countries, and I'd love to hear the whole thing, but I'm coming back Wednesday.