Rob Kolstad is an Asshole

This month’s Wired has a great article (not online yet, so no link) by Jason Fagone about the International Olympiad in Informatics where high school students from all over the world compete to solve problems through software. It’s fiercely competitive and has its own sub culture of super stars, namely Gennady Korotkevich of Belarus, who at 14 became the youngest world champion.

What should have been an inspiring and interesting look into this academic sport with open ended problems such as how to best determine the language of a given text string, went sour for me when Fagone brought up US coach, Rob Kolstad, who admits he doesn’t “know how to do most of the algorithms.” After Korotkevich won his second straight Olympiad at 15, Kolstad remarked, “the question is, will he die a virgin?

I expect smartasses with no respect for the brilliance of these kids to say something like that, but not someone who works with them every day and helps them train. He’s not someone I want to represent the US either.

Rob Kolstad
US Coach Rob Kolstad, who clearly does very well with the ladies.

Sorry, it just made me angry.

Scariest thing I’ve read all year: The Dunning-Kruger Effect

When Will Ferrel describes his George W Bush impression, he says he just imagines having a lot of “unearned confidence.” How would you know if you were one of these people? I first heard about the Dunning-Kruger effect in a comment on Hacker News and it immediately made me question a lot of things.

David Brent: Classic case of the Dunning-Kruger effect

The Dunning?Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which an unskilled person makes poor decisions and reaches erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to realize their mistakes

Throughout my life I’ve forced myself to be confident in my abilities (ie. gotten out of my comfort zone) in an effort to improve my skills and do more things. I’ve always considered being optimistic and determined to succeed was a positive thing.

Luckily, according to Dunning and Kruger if I suffered from this effect I wouldn’t be able to recognize and change anyway. WIN.

Am I Achieving My 2010 Goals?

Ouch. I just looked up my goals for 2010 and I am NOT doing well. Here’s my progress so far.

1. Read 12 Books – Easily completed this already. A few I listened to using and I read the Purple Cow on my iPhone with the Kindle app.

So far I’ve read
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Ed Tufte
Priceless by William Poundstone
Anathem by Neal Stephenson
Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
Daemon by Daniel Suarez
The Purple Cow by Seth Godin
Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Start with No by Jim Camp
Born to Run by Chris McDougall
The Road by Corman McCarthy
The Long Tail by Chris Anderson
The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki

I’m still working on Under the Dome by Stephen King and Envisioning Information by Ed Tufte. Under the Dome is so big I can’t bring it with me when traveling. I’m about halfway through Ghost War, but I don’t know if I’ll finish it. It’s great, but it will take me forever.

2. Run a sub 23 minute 5K – There is no way this is happening this year. I ran one last month and my time was 25:14. I think I can get down to 24:30 in a month and I’m ok with that.

3. Write 5 Songs – Total failure. I really thought I’d be able to do this, but song writing has escaped me this year. I haven’t written a single new song. In fact, I’ve probably only written 2 in the last three years. Sad. I’ve been getting the bug to start playing more, though.

5. Finish my House – Well, I sold it so does that count? It sold in two days, which was awesome.

6. 6 batches of beer – Fail. I have a batch brewing now, but it’s my only 2010 batch.

So I’ve completed 2/6, but really failed at 4. Better luck next year!,

Tufte Course Review and Notes

Yesterday I attended Ed Tufte’s one day course on Presenting Data and Information. His book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, completely changed the way I think about data. If you love his book, I highly recommend his course. He doesn’t cover a lot of new ground, but he puts emphasis on a few things I didn’t pick up on before.

Books by Ed Tufte
His 4 books came with the cost of the course

Key points:

  1. Show causality
  2. Don’t pre-specify the medium of the presentation. Use whatever it takes to show causality.
  3. Annotate linking lines.
  4. Be inspired by maps.
  5. Web design is too influenced by internal hierarchies and ends up being a turf war. Make the interface flat and filled with content.
  6. Your presentations should strive to be as data dense as the sports page.
  7. No zebra stripes in tables.
  8. Most interesting data is multivariate. Supergraphics like Minard’s Napoleon’s March show 6 or more variables.
  9. Progress in most fields is measured by information resolution and throughput. Why are our power point slides limited to 4 or 5 bullets?
  10. Put important analysis and comparison in a common eyespan (no flipping or scrolling)
  11. Be wary of focus groups. Good design is not a democracy.
  12. Start every software project with the interface.
  13. Make the data the interface.
  14. Instead of trickling in data during a presentation, dump a ton of data in their lap, have them read it, and have them cross examine you.

I got to talk to ET himself for a few minutes before the course started about his work on the stimulus bill. I mentioned some work I’ve been doing on making sparklines in HTML 5 and he said to make sure I paid attention to the length and width proportions. I got to meet a lot of interesting people and even convinced PMMI to send Jorge and Paula. So glad I went!

HOWTO: Give a Best Man Toast

So your brother / best friend / college buddy asked you to be his best man and you’ve planned the bachelor party, got measured for your tux, held on to the rings, and watched the groom get married.

Now it’s your turn to give the toast.

It’s by far the most nerve racking part of being the best man, so don’t screw it up! I’m not the best speaker in the world, but I’ve been a best man three times and have come up with three rules to follow.

1. Make fun of the groom: Don’t worry too much about your jokes about the groom. You will never have a more receptive audience in your life. They are well on their way to getting drunk at this point and want to laugh. Leave the raunchy stories for the bachelor party and stick to making fun of the groom for his hobbies or how much of a dork he was in high school.

2. Flatter the bride: After you’ve made fun of the groom, move on to the bride and talk about how beautiful/smart/amazing she is. Don’t be tempted to make fun of her! Leave that to the maid of honor.

3. Keep it Short: This is where most of the speeches I’ve seen falter. It starts out great and everyone is enamored with what you’re saying, but by the 12th minute and the 4th slide on the powerpoint, 30% of the people have slipped away to the bar, bathroom, or outside to smoke. Leave them wanting more and if you keep it under 3 minutes you should be able to memorize it and really look like a pro. Don’t forget to actually raise your glass and make it a toast.

Here’s the text from my 3rd best man speech.

Large Hadron Collider… COUNTDOWN

Only a couple weeks until they fire up the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Never heard of it?? From wikipedia:

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a particle accelerator complex intended to collide opposing beams of 7 TeV protons. Its main purpose is to explore the validity and limitations of the standard model, the current theoretical picture for particle physics. This model is known to break down at a certain high energy level.

When activated, it is theorized that the collider will produce the elusive Higgs boson, the observation of which could confirm the predictions and “missing links” in the Standard Model of physics and could explain how other elementary particles acquire properties such as mass.[3][1] The verification of the existence of the Higgs boson would be a significant step in the search for a Grand Unified Theory, which seeks to unify three of the four known fundamental forces: electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force, leaving out only gravity. The Higgs boson may also help to explain why gravitation is so weak compared to the other three forces. In addition to the Higgs boson, other theorized novel particles that might be produced, and for which searches[4] are planned, include strangelets, micro black holes, magnetic monopoles and supersymmetric particles.[5]

If that doesn’t get you pumped up, then maybe this picture of it will.? And it’s 17 miles long!

Getting Things Done

I heard about David Allen’s Getting Things Done a long time ago and I procrastinated in getting it.? It sounded like a system I could use, since my day usually consists of handling (and keeping track of!) a thousand tiny tasks.? I got the book for Christmas and according to my wife it’s the best $10.00 she ever spent.? From time to time I might comment on how my system is working, so here is the gist of it:

You can’t trust your brain, so everything you need to do must be kept in a system outside your brain.
Some of these things you need to do may take more than one step.? These are projects.
Put every project in a list and from there, generate? a list of next actions for each project.? A next action is something that can be done right now or in a given context (an @hardware store list or an @phone list).
Mercilessly complete the next actions.

The revelation of how powerful this is for me came when I? realized my previous to-do lists failed because I’d have projects mixed up with next actions and single tasks.? “Make dinner reservation” would be right next to “Redesign website.”? Instead, making dinner reservations should be next to something like, “choose font for redesign.”

I still get stuck on some actions and in those cases I usually break it out to as tiny a task as possible.? Ridiculously so.

Software helps, so I’ve been using ta-da list.? Originally I used iGoogle, but their to-do lists looked bad on my phone.