Monday, November 28, 2011

5 Reasons why Mad Men is one of the best TV Series Out there

I am not much of a TV watcher. I came across this show by pure chance. My wife was watching it one day and it immediately caught my attention, at first I tried not to watch it, but now I am totally hooked. This show is different from what's out there.

The show itself it's about Don Draper, an advertising agency executive at Manhattan in the early 60s. We see the life of an ad man in his office and his home. We see the glamour and the culture of those days. Beautiful people with an authentic 60s feel, it has the drama you'd expect from a TV series, but, there is more than meets the eye. And not all it's as it seems.

I love this show because it has depth. Every episode resonates with profound issues, but it's not overly done, it's subtly inserted in the dialogue. It's things like the scene when Don and Pete are discussing how to sell more Lucky Strikes Cigarettes you are both appalled and rooting for the Ad agency. It's like a study on human nature. And entertaining at the same time. All the characters have depth, they are real with their imperfections.

1. Bets the desperate housewife

She's attractive, educated, and represents what a lady was supposed to be like in that era. She is also depressed, and she doesn't know how to deal with her cheating husband.

2. Peggy the career woman

She wants to be like the guys in the days were sexual harassment was an everyday thing. She is just as talented but has to work twice as hard to get noticed. She also had an affair with one of the guys at the office.

3. Joan the bitchy secretary who runs the office

She's attractive, and bitchy, but also has a tender side to her.

4. Don the man who started life again '
The main character of the series. Can't decide whether he is a good guy or a bad guy. He is a cheating bastard, seems to have no values, and yet, I can't help but wish him well.

5. Campbell, the man who has it all, and wants to kill himself

Perhaps the mirror image of Don, he has no social grace, unlike Don who is smooth, displays naked ambition just like Don, but he doesn't know how to get his way.

For a TV show, it's not bad at all.

J. V.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Vacation Time!

So here I am, sitting at home relaxing. Work at the office will be there when I get back, so finally I am taking the best kind of vacation, time off, with no plans, no hassles, just me at home, doing nothing in particular. Martha is at Gaby's school volunteering, so I am going to go for a run to the park, I'm running fairly often these days, last couple of times 3.5 miles, today I am shooting for 4 miles.

I am exited to be volunteering as mentor for a high school robotics competition, FIRST with Terra High School, it's my first time doing it, so it should be interesting.

I want to finally start making android and iPhone Apps, but I just don't have the time, every time I do have some spare time I do spend it sharpening my technical skills, there are a few books I want to get trough before I spend time doing projects, I think the best way to become a good engineer is to actually make cool things, like robots, mobile apps, and such, but before I get there, I want to get the fundamentals right, so I am trying to get trough that first.

Anthony is showing interest in robots, but then again, what kid doesn't? I am trying to figure out the best way to show him and teach him the ropes without turning him off of it. He wants to do all these things but he's too impatient, he wants to do everything the first day. I can understand that because I used to be the same way, I need to show him the virtue of patience and perseverance, but not sure exactly how to do that.

Another thing I got planned for this week is to finish reading Don Quijote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, I have noticed that my Spanish has been on a decline lately, and when I think about it, it's a shame that my heritage would be lost in the next generation, my children already refuse to speak my mother tongue even though they can definitely understand most of it. So I think that it's worth the effort to teach them my language. Anyway, I am reading Don Quijote, and it's not as bad as I thought it was going to be, when you know what's going on, it's actually a funny book.

I've read a few really good books lately, I finished Steve Job's biography, Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, and Phil Dick's Minority Report and Do Androids dream of electric sheep. Each of these books is awesome in it's own way.

Steve Jobs taught me the value of good craftsmanship, when making things, (and engineering, in essence is about making things) engineering students are taught to provide functionality. For a product to have quality is must be functional, it must not have defects, it must do what it was designed to do, optimizing the available resources, not wasting materials, time, energy or cost, but for Jobs that's a "stupid" way of looking at it. For him, design is an art, the creator and designer must pay attention to how an artifact makes the user feel, a designer must get to the essence of the product, and make something beautiful, something that will delight the user, we engineers must make something useful, elegant, tasteful and ...yes, beautiful. This combination of technology and art has become cliche lately, with the fame of apple products it seems like a fad, but there is something profound to it, it makes sense, engineers just don't pay attention to beauty and it shows.

There has been a lot said about Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, so I don't want to try to give a complete review, but
this is a psychological story before psychology was invented, in this novel, a crime was committed, but the mystery is not who did it, but why was it done? Was it a feeling of alienation? was it madness? social conditions? lack of god? depending on who you are and your convictions, you will get a different answer, the protagonist Raskolnikov has something that everyone can relate to, and yet, he is the strangest character of any novel I've ever read. Reading this was torture, yet I couldn't stay away from this book I had to read it till it was done.

I read Crime and Punishment and Steve Jobs biography for education and personal growth, to gain some wisdom and what not, Phil Dick's novels are for pure pleasure, after reading The Lord of the Rings and Neal Stephenson's Anathem and being underwhelmed I declared myself, but Phil Dick is changing that, although I can't get over his unfortunate last name. The dystopian worlds he and Asimov created are luring me back to the Sci-Fi realm. Reading Asimov and Phil D. is better than watching any Hollywood movie. A good book is to a movie what sex is to masturbation, movies are ok, but the real thing is way better.

So that's it for now, I am going for a run, I might give another vacation update, or not.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 years later

My life was changed by what happened this day 10 years ago, like everyone else that was here then.

I was 3 weeks into my second semester at FAU. I had a quiz that day, I was going over my notes when my Mother told me that "we're being attacked"

I turned on the news. Saw it. I cried. I felt it coming. I knew it. I knew what was going to happened. And it happened. Less than two months later my reserve unit was activated, less than two years later I was in Iraq.

When the Army gave 2 weeks to go home in December of 2003 I bought plane tickets to go with my wife to NYC, it was the first time back to the city since it had happened. I saw the hollowed ground. I cried again.

When I finally got back from that long deployment and decided to become a full time civilian, I made myself a promise that I will move on, that I will not let these horrible moments define who I am. I have failed and succeeded at the same time.

I failed because my involvement in the war has defined my identity. I am, and always will be a veteran of Iraq, that cannot change. I still think about it, some things I cannot forget, it happens less and less often now, but every once in a while I find myself scanning the roofs, looking around for suspicious looking stuff out in the streets as if I was driving in Ramadi. I fail because I can't help myself and I bring it up. But anyway, I promised that I would move on, acknowledge what happened, and then move to a new phase of my life.

That's the part I like, I came back and did what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a computer engineer. I wanted to have a normal family, own a house, have a career that didn't involve putting up with B.S. I did all that. For that I am thankful.

So that's what we need to do. Acknowledge what happened 10 years ago and move on, do the next thing. Continue making the U.S. the best country in the world to live in. Life goes on. Live free, prosper, persevere, be industrious, create, do remember, but don't live in the past, there's no need to scan the roof, the boogie man is gone.


Monday, September 05, 2011

The Art of Parenting, an Introduction to the Fundamentals

I was reading a blog post from a friend of mine that I met in the Army. He's about to become a father and he's writing about things he has to do from now on, it reminded me of the days right before Anthony came to the world. I was so scared, I knew that I didn't know what was coming, I was worried about being a good parent, about doing it right, it was exciting times, stressful, so many uncertainties...I know exactly what you are going trough Eddy, you want to do it right.

So do I. I don't want to say that I got it all figured out. It has been six years, (well, it will be six at the end of September) and I must confess I still worry about whether I am doing it right. But I got a few principles that I think will help.

The #1 thing is your kid has to know that he/she is loved.

That's it. That should be easy for most people, but somehow that point gets mixed up or forgotten. If you love your kids unconditionally, no strings attached, if you can do that, that's half the battle. Be there, give em lots of love.

There has been a bunch of psychological studies

Teach the kids how to think for themselves

Critical thinking is tough, it's easier to just tell your kid what to do, but not why he's supposed to do it. Why be polite? Why wash your hands? Why go to bed early? Why pick up after yourself? It can get tiring, but a person who is used to reasoning will be able to make wise decisions later.

Instill a sense of wonder in your kids

That one is easy, kids are naturally curious creatures. I love it when they asked me questions like, how did the earth get here? How come we have eyes? (they have seriously asked me that) In many ways, reality is so much stranger than fiction. I love to tell them that there are many things that we don't know yet, and maybe when you get old enough you can get the answer for the rest of us. It would be a crime to kill their curiosity with a bunch of easy answers to stuff we honestly don't know.

Show good character

This is a tough one, I would like my kids to show integrity, courage, compassion and all of that, but the only way to do that without lecturing, is for them to see it in yourself. Kids are acutely aware of what you parents are doing. They may not get everything yet, but they can pick up when there are discrepancies between what you say and what you do. Make sure that you practice what you preach, or else you will be teaching hypocrisy.

That's it. Not a lot of rules to remember. It's not easy, but if you keep those in mind, you'll be ok.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Is paying Taxes Patriotic?

The other day at the lunch table somebody was making fun of Vice-President Joe Biden for saying that paying taxes was patriotic. [1] This sparked one of our famous lunch time debates, I agreed with Biden, I think that paying taxes is a patriotic act. There was a this guy at the table a big Ron Paul Fan Boy [RPFB] his head almost exploded when I said that paying taxes is patriotic.

So, I am going to go a bit deeper into whether paying more taxes is patriotic or not.

First, I'd like to begin by stating explicitly what I did NOT say:

1. I didn't say, and I don't believe that everyone has to pay more taxes. I think that people should pay in their proportion to their ability to pay.

2. I didn't say that the more patriotic you are, the more taxes you pay, or that the less taxes you pay, the less patriotic you are.

3. I do not agree with blindly giving more money to the government.

What I did say is that I think that paying taxes is a patriotic act, just like voting, volunteering, or serving in the military.

So later, my friend the RPFB asked: if paying taxes is patriotic, then was Obama being un-patriotic when he increased the budget deficit?

My first reaction to this was to question the intention of RPFB, why ask such a dumb question? but then, I remembered that a long time ago there was a greek philosopher who went around asking questions like that, and he made a lot of people angry as well, his name: Socrates.

Now, I am not saying by any means our RPFB is in the same league as Socrates, but I think his question addresses deeper concepts and deserves an answer.

Well, first we have to understand what does it mean to be patriotic, right? I looked it up[2] and Patriotism means devotion to a country. So it means being dedicated, devoted, loyal.

Now, I'd would like to point out my personal opinion when it comes to loyalty and patriotism, I think it's OK to love one's country, and it's ok to serve. But one must be wary of those who invoke patriotism, and loyalty in oder to ask you to do something, you may or may not want to be taken advantage of.

Take your patriotic person Joe, he's a patriot, he loves his country, he wants the US to win the war on terrorism, he enlists in the Marines, he goes to Afghanistan, he dies in the war, was he patriotic? A lot of people will agree that he was a fine fellow, a patriotic, brave young man that deserves the highest honor you can give a person by making the ultimate sacrifice for the nation. Now, what about the leaders who decided to send him to war, are they patriotic for making him die?

Now, Suppose we have two Generals, Gen A and Gen. B. we have General A on the ground, and he makes a blunder during a battle that costs his Divisions to get decimated, thousands of troops die as a consequence of his decisions. Is he more patriotic or less patriotic than General B, who planned out a clear strategy to win without heavy losses in human life?
I think you'd agree that General B is no less or no more Patriotic than General A. Although willing to fight and die for the US maybe considered patriotic, sending marines to their death is not necessarily a patriotic act in itself.

I see paying taxes to a lesser extent the same as willingness to die. Just like we need patriot Joes to defend the country, we need taxpayer's dollars to run the country. The difference is that paying taxes is a not a voluntary act, also, paying taxes may not get you killed by an IED.

Is willingness to give more money patriotic? Yes. Does that mean that a policy where you ask for more taxes is a more patriotic policy? Hell no. Well, it depends on the details, but as a general statement, not necessarily so.

Now, back to the Obama question. is he not being patriotic? Maybe, maybe not, his sense of patriotism is a value, a sentiment, just like Generals A and B, they may both be patriotic but one made a mistake and one didn't. Is General A less patriotic if he didn't win the war? Or because he failed at his task?

Suppose, that Obama made a huge mistake with the deficit thing (I don't know if he did or not, both Republicans with Bush and the Democrats with Obama doubled the budget deficit, why? I don't know, there must have been some kind of a good reason for doing so, I just can't comprehend it) does that make him less patriotic? Nope, I don't think so, unless he did it purposely to harm the country, nope I don't think so.

So in conclusion, willing to make sacrifices is a patriotic sentiment. Asking people to make sacrifices not necessarily. Causing people to make sacrifices because of a mistake, not necessarily related to patriotism.

That is all.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

I hate my last post

But I am leaving it there, I hate it because it makes it sound as if I know how to deal with people, like I am better than anyone else at doing that. I don't like it because to me it comes across as preachy and I am better than thou, etc, etc. And the look for the best bit sounds corny and cliche.

I'll be honest, I do strive for that, I do try to use a positive filter to figure out what others actually care about, and to try to see what's good about the other person. I do that to overcome my natural tendency to notice the opposite. It's too easy for me to find faults in others, it's easy for me not to care about what others do, and in a sense, that's the way we all are, it's the natural state of things. However, I like to be conscious and tuned to what's going on around me. Not because I am paranoid or not satisfied with myself, it's just that it's one more way to better myself, I know that my social skills could be better, so I try to work on them.

I do think that when you only notice the bad things about people and when all you do is point out other people's shortcomings, it makes you a more miserable person, not because others would want to be around you (although that's also true) but because on the inside you'll always have bitterness. I think that life is way too short to concentrate in all the crappy things, for what? Is good to live with your eyes, ears and mind open. To perceive everything and not live in self-denial, but concentrating on the negative makes you ...unhappy.

I felt like I needed to clarify that.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Secret to dealing with others

"Hell is other people" -Jean Paul Satre

It's simple, other people are just like you!...except when they are not. You see, people can appear complicated, unpredictable, irrational, sometimes moody, cruel, and sometimes, just plain assholes. But guess what, it's all your fault. Yeah, it's your fault you're mad and frustrated, because nobody but you can really determine how you will react to other people. You see, you can't control what others will do, but you can control how you react to what other people do.

When I said that other people are just like you, I meant that everyone is just worried about their life, their problems, their issues, their hobbies, their habits, their friends, their family....just. like. you. What does that mean? They are not noticing that thing you care about, because they are too busy caring about their own business.

(Wow, this posts is starting to sound like a Self Help, Dr. Phil kind of thing....I am sorry, that's really not my style)

Let me shift gears a bit, change the tone, and finally get to the point.

There's this trick I've been trying to do that works wonders when dealing with others. It does not create miracles, but it makes a huge difference when applied correctly.

Put yourself in the other person's shoes.

You've probably heard it before, it's cliche even. However, it works, when you think about it, it only makes sense when trying to communicate you must think of the message, the receiver, transmitter, and the context. If you don't understand why your boss is a bit flustered when he replied to your email, or why your kid is in a bad mood, or why your wife is mad because you didn't take out the trash, then, you are not paying attention. That can cost you.

But I've added a little twist to that rule, I've noticed something about the people I admire the most, they never complain about others. I notices that real leaders always bring out the best in people. So it brings me to my second rule:

Look for the best in people.

That one is easy to say, hard to do, if you are like me, it's easier to notice other people's defects than your own defects, it's much easier to know your own virtues than to see other people's.

You se, everyone is good at something, everyone has something that they care about. Looking for the good instead of the bad puts me in a better frame of mind, I get less annoyed with people, when I try to see things from their point of view, assuming the best.

Now, I know how this may sound, it may sound too optimistic, too naive to assume the best in people. But it's a better way to live, you have to know how to not get hurt by others, but if you are paying attention you'll never have a problem.

If you know me at all, you'll notice that my social skills could be better, but compared to how it used to be, I have improved a lot, I am naturally self-conscious, and I was raised to mistrust the whole world outside your own family.

Anyway, I have to cut this short, gotta go take Anthony to get a haircut...he starts school Monday.


Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Leadership the Marine Corps Way

Note: I was thinking about this as I was getting ready to go to work, instead of putting it off for later, I decided to write this all down now before completely forgetting about it. I noticed that when I get an idea for a blog post, it's never the same if I write it a day or two later than when I write "when it comes to me" Anyway.

The other day I was going trough my stuff looking for an old book, when I stumbled across my old notebook from the War, in it, I found minutia that's completely irrelevant now, checklists, packing lists, contact numbers for my guys, plans for raids an other combat ops. But one thing that got my attention was what I wrote on the first page right after the cover:

It's Titled "Principles of Leadership"

As you may or may not know, I had some sort of transformation as far as the way I look at the world and life in general, what it comes down to is that I must be one of those true to the core bleeding heart liberals down underneath, not because I can't pull a trigger, that's pure non sense, I am still a marine, and always will be, I know what I can do, and I know what I did out there, but one thing that nobody can stop me from doing is noticing the level of injustice in this world. That changed things for me, the truth is, there are people who go trough life feeling immense suffering, some of it their own doing, but not all, the thing that got to me was seeing children in the mess, the only fault of their own was not having the common sense to be born in a country like ours. How could they have been so dumb? oh that's right, you can't choose that. So seeing the whole spectrum of suffering made me change the way I see everything, a paradigm shift, so to speak. If you know me, you know what I think about religion, politics and that whole mess.

However, someone asked me, if I still buy into the whole "Honor Stuff" from the marines, for some reason, the question got to me, the answer is yes, I do, why wouldn't I? but the way it was asked rubbed me the wrong way or something, I don't think it was ill-intentioned, and the person that asked does not know me personally. So it's ok, I forgive any actual or imagined transgression. It's no big deal, really. But I do want to list out the thing that will never change, and I want to point out what I think it's the best thing about the Marine Infantry. Their training philosophy, which I am grateful for, and the reason why they say you are always a marine, because the values they teach can stay with you forever.

The Marines invests in their people

Besides the obvious physical conditioning and outstanding rifle marksmanship, the most important measure of a marine in the grunts, is his character. They of course do not phrase it that way, they like to call it "leadership". What it means, is that every marine is responsible for his own character development. Every month there is an evaluation done by his supervisor in which all the leadership traits are individually scored, but the thing is, leadership is built in the culture.

I just want to point out that the page in my journal represent my take away from my time in the infantry. This guidebook applies to everyone. So I thought I'd share it here. **edit: Just realized that this comes from an Army manual, but the marine corps version is pretty much the same**


(a) Technically and tactically proficient, can accomplish all task to standards
(b) Posses professional character traits, Courage, Candor, Competence and Integrity


(a) Four major factors of leadership and how they affect each other. The led, the leader, the situation and communications.
(b) yourself and seek self-improvement. Strengths and weakness of your character, knowledge and skills. Continually develop your strengths and work on overcoming your weakness.
(c) your soldiers and lookout for their well being, train them for the rigors of combat, take care of them.


(a) Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions
(b) Make sound and timely decisions
(c) Set the example
(d) Keep your people informed
(e) Develop a sense of responsibility
(f) Ensure the task is understood, supervised and accomplished
(g) Build the team
(h) employ your unit in accordance with its capabilities

The point is that these skills are transferable to all aspects of life. It's up to the individual to work on these though, some people go trough 4 years in the grunts without "getting it" but, it is part of the environment. Something that I strive for. It comes from the there. For that, I am thankful. I am proud of the Marine Corps and the Army as well, for that reason. The work ethic they posses is unparalleled.

That is all.


Sunday, July 31, 2011

Finished Reading Code Complete!

If there was a book that every programmer must read, it's this one. I heard about it back in the day, I bought it 5 years ago, and I managed to finally finish it last night right around midnight. It took me a while because some parts were tedious, and because I wanted to take my time to absorb the content. This books talks all about the craft of software construction, everything from how to write requirements to how to lay out blank space...seriously! there's a great section about the pitfalls of using pointers, how to debug, but my favorite parts were the philosophical dialog about commenting that included what good Socrates would say if programming was around in ancient Athens. The part about programmer's character was also an splendid expose of what a good programmer must act like. It should be mandatory reading for everyone in the industry.

This link to stackoverflow shows the list of books that every programmer should read, not surprisingly it's a the top of the list.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I live my life in a quiet , constant struggle deciding what to do.

There are 4 things that I want to spend most of my "free" time doing.

1. Quality time with family

2. Read books for pleasure

3. Read technical books to "sharpen my saw" and improve technically

4. Do my own projects, work on the things that are interesting to me.

I spend most of my time doing #1 and #2. #3 and #4 suffering, lagging behind. I want to do something about it. It's tough because I can basically always sit back and do 1, and 2. (No, not that #1 and #2, jeez) 3 and 4 require a higher degree of concentration and a large amount of time. I can't just write code in 15 minute intervals. I need to figure out a way to do squeeze technical improvements into my schedule.

The importance of a sense of purpose

Since graduation, I've been reading a lot of good books just for the fun of it. However, I am starting to feel like I need something else, like a big project. A few months ago, (actually, now that I think about it, it was more like a couple of years ago) I was thinking of a startup, after taking that entrepreneurship course at UF, I prefer to do project that won't consume my whole life. Something like doing apps or creating a nice web page. Learn a few programming languages a year, write a serious, interesting tool or application. That kind of stuff that requires some effort, but can be put down in case something else comes up.

I enjoy myself more when I have a sense of purpose in my day to day routine. For me is simple, yet not easy. I live in constant struggle to better myself. I understand that I have limitations, but I strive to get past them. How do I better myself? By working on my character, by working on being a more decent human being, specially to those that are close to me. I attempt to understand what makes a good husband, to be a good parent, and a good friend, this is difficult, yet it's important. In fact, I consider this The Most Important Thing.

The other personal challenge I have is that I want to become number one in my field, that's also a difficult task, being an engineer is hard enough, being a great engineer requires constant effort, it's not enough to do one's job right, one must also push the boundary.

So that is the reason for my inner struggle, on one hand I have this engulfing desire to better myself, on the other hand, there are pleasurable things that I can be doing that don't necessarily help me improve but that are just as important. Spending time with my family doing nice things is super important to me. Watching movies, enjoying a quiet dinner with Martha. Curling up with a good novel. Playing soccer with friends, all these things sum up to what I call "the good life"

That's all I have.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

What I've been Reading Lately

After graduating last April I promised myself that I would blog, write android and iPhone apps, read a bunch of technical books, contribute to the next Linux Kernel release and to GNU Radio, create a startup business, publish some papers on cognitive radio, perhaps invent and patent some new Signal Processing Algorithms, find a cure for Cancer, etc. Instead, I've been consumed by the pleasure of reading with my kindle. That thing is too sweet, it's easy to carry, and I have a plethora of books to choose from. I feel super guilty for not doing the other things I promised myself to do. I still want to do all those things, but, I have been spending more time with just the family, but I can see how I can fall in that pattern forever without doing anything else, which is not bad, I really love how I've gotten to actually have a social life, but, anyway, I am getting off the subject, here's a list of books that have been consuming my time lately. When I am not working, or being a parent or husband, I have been reading these:

Christopher Hitches's Memoirs Hitch-22.

Hitch talks about his life, he's quite a complex person, you might know him from his articles in or Vanity Fair, no matter who you are, he goes out of his way to make sure you disagree with him on something. he was a staunch communist in his youth who later has been leaning more and more to the right, he was a supporter of the invasion of Iraq, thinks that Ms Thatcher was sexy, and is one of the new-atheists four horsemen. I am halfway trough this book, I like it, it's entertaining and all, but it's not one of those books that leave you with anything other than good entertaining. I feel like I've been having a long conversation with the author. I want to finish the book so I can get to other books, Christopher Hitches was diagnosed with stage 4 Cancer late last year, so he probably doesn't have that many books left in him. I will miss him.

Cooking for Geeks.

O'Reilly books published a how to cook books for people like me, I am geek not because I am a computer-oriented person, but because when I get into something I like to go a bit deeper into the subject than the regular person, a geek is never satisfied with knowing that steak is done when its internal temperature reaches135 degrees, he has to know why 135 is important, he has to know what happens down at the molecule level, he wants to know the technical name, the hows and the whys, that way, once he reaches a fundamental understanding of the physics and chemistry of the process of converting raw ingredients into a tasty and nutritious meal, he can get conformable in the kitchen, this book is meant for the geek in us. It tells you the science behind all the crucial steps in cooking.
One of the things that the books spells out from the beginning is the distinction between the different types of cooks, you've got your Giving cooks, you know, the people who love to cook at thanksgiving, so they can share with the whole family, they usually stick to known good recipes, and like to please everyone. Then you've got your Healthy cooks, who know the nutritional value of everything, and who will sacrifice on taste in order to eat healthy. Then there's the methodical cook, who will follow the recipes to the letter, and who will never deviate or experiment, there's the Innovative who will make up stuff as he goes and the Competitive who will cook to impress. Most people who cook will have some of these traits, but one usually dominates. Personally I am outside my environment in the kitchen, but when I think of how I would like to be, I think I'd be a mix between the healthy and the innovative, but in reality I'm more like the methodical, whenever I do get into the kitchen, I just follow the recipe word for word, I would have no idea what to do if I was missing an ingredient in the middle of making something. Martha, in the other hand, is a true natural, she just knows what to do, she almost never makes a mistake, and everything she makes comes out the way it's supposed to. I, on the other hand, can never make two pancakes that look or taste the same.
I'm hoping to change that, if anything I want to prove that I can do it.

The Age of Wonder

I was in the middle of reading this book when I was preempted with Hitch22 as a father's day present, actually, It was Infinite Jest that interrupted this wonderful book, but I am getting ahead of myself. This is a colorful and utterly absorbing history of the the men and women who gave birth to the Romantic Age of science. This book was featured in the New York Times best books of 2009. So it caught my attention, it seems like such an obscure topic, so I decided that it must have been superbly written if it caught the attention of the ny times. So far, it's very good, the author did his homework, researching the stories to the last available details, it tells us about Joseph Banks in Tahiti, Herschel's discovery of neptune, the first planet discovered in modern era, the rise of the balloon era, that's what I've read so far, it swallows you and takes you back to the times when we started to push the limits of our knowledge of the world, if you think about it, we went from flying biplanes to flying to the moon in less than 60 years. The scientific method has been that powerful in shaping our world for the last couple of centuries, this book covers a piece of that tale.

Infinite Jest

The first time I heard about David Foster Wallace was when he killed himself back in 2008. I read the article in the new york times and moved on, I read about how he got famous after writing Infinite Jest, how it was one of those "masterpieces" and "magnum opus" and all of that. It wasn't until last December when I read "A supposedly Fun Thing that I will never do again" that understood the magnitude of his genius. This man went on a cruise, wrote about it, and made me laugh and depressed at the same time! How he does it is amazing, he gets to the bottom of things and analyzes and dissects, exposes people's behavior in a way that makes you rethink the way you see the world.

Infinite Jest took some effort to get trough in some parts, but, it was worth it. There were some passages in there that just gripped me and shook me, and made me want to put the book down, and just digest what I just read. He put a lot of stuff in there that by itself would have been enough to make it a great novel, but all together, it was too much, an overload, so brilliant one needs sunglasses to read it.

There's stuff in there about what it feels like to be chronically depressed, he describes it as nausea of the mind. Just like your picture how your stomach feels when you want to throw up, that's how your mind feels. I don't want to butcher his words, I just want to say that knowing how he took his life after his depression drugs stopped working, when he writes about a character being depressed, he knows what he is talking about. The stuff about drug addiction, depression just take your breath away, then you have his humor, his irony and wit. I don't recommend this book to everyone, but for me, it was worth the thousand pages.

Code Complete

This is another one of those books that are very long and hard to get trough, it's not because its badly written, but it because technical books require complete concentration for me, and that's hard to get, this book is essential reading for every software developer out there. I am two thirds of the way done, but, I started reading this book a long time ago. I have all these technical books queued up to read, but I can't read them until I finish this. This is a great book, it talks in great detail about every relevant aspect of software construction, it hits every stage in the process and gives awesome insight. The main reason why it has taken me so long, I have this book in pdf in my PC, it's not in my kindle, and I don't have a hard copy of the last edition, so the only times I get to read this is when I make the conscious effort to allocate time for it. I want to finish this book soon so I can get to other tech books that I've been meaning to read. I want to make myself an expert in assembly, processors, DSP, and languages. That's about it.

Political Science from the Yale Department features course material that's open to the public, I just finished reading all the transcripts for Moral Foundations of Political Science and now I am working on Capitalism: Success, Crisis and Reform. Like the geek that I am, I want to get to the bottom of politics, I am trying my best to approach politics with a scientific and objective mind, and to get to know the whole spectrum of political ideology, that way, when I listen to a liberal, I know what the main points behind that side is, same with conservatives, and everything in between. I want to understand our government, our economy, and what's relevant and what isn't. It's a big thing, but everyone should have some understanding of what's going on in the country.

That's all

So that's about it, I have not even touched on what I have pending in by books to read list. This post covers what I am currently working on. Now I can see why I have not had time to do any of the other things in my list to do's. Anyway, I am going to bed, I am feeling super buzzed because I tried this new Florida IPA called Swamp Ape, this thing packs a punch, and my light weight body can't handle it. So, that's it for now. Be good to each other people.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Book Review: The Happiness Hypothesis

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to know how to have a meaningful life that leads to happiness. Of course, this is a subject that has been approached by many great thinkers in the past, what the author did was go over the teachings of different cultures, and back it up with the results obtained using modern science.

I find that the text was well written, and useful for everyone, it's not a self-help book, but it could be used as one.

I was moved by his argument in favor of religion, even though the author himself is not religious, it explains that the appreciation of divinity is part of human nature, he recommends for everyone to understand both sides of the spectrum. It's true that I spent a lot of time in the conservative school of thought, but I am better informed with by the liberal point of view, in other words, I've read a lot about the individual rights, liberals are expert thinkers in the issues of victimization, equality, autonomy particularly when it comes to minorities and the oppressed. Conservatives, in the other hand, are experts thinkers about loyalty to a group, respect for authority and tradition and sacredness. The sweet spot lies in between.
Any society that lies too much in either direction will develop different problems.
So I've decided to jump in and study the tenets of conservative thinking, I want to understand what the smart guys in over in the right have to say, particularly when it comes to economic policy, so that means, that no, I will not be reading Palin's book.
Well, maybe I will. I can see that this is going to take a lot of work.

My favorite chapter was the one about Virtue. A good life is one where we seek a purpose, whether it's spiritual or secular in nature, I've always believed that's the way to go. By continuously seeking to be better we achieve the conditions necessary to live happily.

So happiness comes from both the inside and the outside, seeking personal excellence, having good relationships and being involved in something bigger than oneself does the trick.

Check it out for yourself, and no, I am not getting any money from the book author, I just really liked the book. :)

Link to book's site

That is all.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

On Politics

For some reason, I always find myself discussing politics with co-worker friends at the lunch table, with family members, and with people online. It's often wise to avoid such things if one doesn't know the person(s) well enough to engage in a meaningful debate. Some people cannot accept disagreement, or criticism, or they can get offended and resentful over political opinions. The root of the problem comes down to our psychology, we have certain convictions that are not based on rationality, instead, convictions are deeply emotional and are central to people's identity. Nobody says "I agree with Conservative thinking" they say, "I AM a Conservative" if you criticize a conservative idea to a person, she might think you are attacking her personally, not the idea.

Need proof? Consider the following story: (Warning, this is a disgusting story, read at your own risk)

Julie and Mark are sister and brother. They are traveling together in France on summer vacation from college. One night they are staying alone in a cabin near the beach. They decide that it would be interesting and fun if they tried making love. At the very least it would be a new experience for each of them. Julie is already taking birth control pills, but Mark uses a condom, too, just to be safe. They both enjoy making love, but decide not to do it again. They keep that night a special secret, which makes them feel closer to each other.

Do you think it's acceptable for two consenting adults who happen to be related to do this? If you are like most people, the answer is no. (Myself included, btw)

But, how do you justify it? Most people would point out that incest breeding produces child defects, but they are using birth control, does it make it OK? Most people still say no, maybe it will harm their relationship, but in this case it makes them feel closer, so people have a hard time justifying it, but they just do.

The point of all this is that moral judgement is like beauty judgement, just like when you look at a good painting and you know you like it, the same thing goes for this sort of things.

Which brings me back to politics. At the root of the conservative vs liberal thought, it comes down which right do you value more, freedom or justice? There should be a balance but at the end of the day, these two goals conflict with each other.

At this point, I'd like to clarify my stands and how it came to be.

When we fist moved to the United States, my family identified themselves with the Evangelical Christian movement in Latin America, they were big fans of Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush. The year I moved here Bill Clinton was elected and all I heard was outrage at the liberals this, and the liberals that, they want to destroy America, their loose morals are enraging God, California is a cesspool of perdition, etc, etc. One thing that stood out, was that there was a group of people that felt that the Election of a liberal into office would speed up the Apocalipse, the end of times! and I always wondered, isn't that a good thing? aren't we waiting for Jesus to come back? All Christians should then vote Democrat to speed up HIS return? But anyway, I truly felt that liberals were Evil, and that Republicans were the good guys because they were righteous in the eyes of the Lord. Not only that, but they stood for self-reliance and hard work, something I still admire, they don't expect the government to hand them out anything. The protestant industrious work ethic really struck a chord with me, it still does. Man should strive to carve his own path, if you work hard, you too can get the American dream. That was my idea.

I voted for George W. Bush. I wasn't a US Citizen the first time around, I was in the Marine Corps, and it was a given, true marines are conservatives, because the republican party is the only one that cares about the military. Liberals want to shut down bases, and republicans want to raise pay and buy the best toys.

Then 9/11 happened, less than two years later I found myself in the middle of a real war, when I came back from Iraq It was tough for me to justify our involvement over there, I was disillusioned at the fact that the pretense that was used to get us there turned out to be fabricated, and I held the administration responsible for that mistake. As a result, I wanted a change in the administration, I felt that the way they responded to criticism was inappropriate, it felt like their message to the world was that if you disagree with the administration, you are not a true patriot. Suddenly I found the party I identified myself with disagreeing with my conscience.

Then came Obama, I found his story inspiring, in contrast, McCain, a man I admired, picked Palin, which was an insult to our intelligence, I was turned off by the way Republicans went to the extreme right. So I voted for Obama.

It's much easier to see the faults in others than to see my own faults. I retrospect, I know my decision was based on emotional reaction first, then I rationalized it.

From now on instead of making political preference part of my identity, I choose instead to make an effort to understand the whole spectrum of ideas, I choose to acknowledge my bias and my emotion when I evaluate the policies that our lawmakers create. It's easy to just pick a side and then agree with everything that party puts out, easy to then dismiss what the other side has to say just because they do not think the same way you do. It's much tougher to understand the big picture, without emotion. It's easier to read what you already agree with. Much tougher to read what don't. I'm going to be making an effort.

From now on, I want to declare myself free of labels, I am not a liberal, I am not a conservative, I am a person, I read a study the ideas both sides bring, and I am evaluating. I will not choose sides, I will do my best to set my bias aside when exercising my civil duty to vote.

That is all.


I finished! Now What?

A month ago I finished the Master's degree after 3 years of hard work, that's finally done, that was good, lot of work, but worth it for sure.

The question is, now that I have finished, what to do now?

The answer is easy: Live my Life.

Don't get me wrong, I have a bunch of goals and projects I want to complete, too many, actually. But the focus is going to be living well. By living well I don't mean focus on wealth, instead focus on happiness. I want to make sure I get this parenting thing right. I want to work on all the things I had neglected, and continue to do the things I enjoy doing.

That is all.


Saturday, January 29, 2011


So, this is it. After 3 years of hard work, the Master's degree is coming to an end. I am going to finish! I'm so glad, I got a lot of help, I really couldn't have done it without Martha, my sister and my friends. I am not done yet, it's a little early to break out the champagne.

I signed up for Entrepreneurship for Engineers, as my last elective. I knew I wanted to take it as soon as they started offering it about 3 semesters ago. They probably had it, but it's been available to Distance Learning since last year. The thing is, I've been thinking about that for quite a while. I have all these long term goals and one of them has been to start my own company. The only thing, well, not the only thing, but the main thing is that I don't have a vision, an idea that I feel will change the world. I want to make the money but that's not my main motivation. I want to make meaning. I want to do something that will make the world a better place. However, I have no freaking clue what that idea is. If one day I come up with an idea that I know is good I might jump on it, this class is giving me some knowledge about the process, sadly, I was more motivated to start something before I started the class, now that I see how much work it is to do it in pretend life, I can imagine how tough it is to do it in real life. So, should you start your own company? I say yes if you know what you are doing and you are smart, energetic and can handle pressure. I have more than one person that depend on me so I have to be a bit more careful when it comes to taking risks.

The Kindle

Martha in her awesome ways bought me a new Amazon Kindle. That thing is freaking awesome, I can now read all my pdf books, I have free access to a bunch of classics, and I can get new books instantly in their store, I can see myself using this from now on, which saddens me because I still have a lot of "real" books unread. I have like 200 pages left in "Anna Kerennina" I'd finish it quicker if I didn't have to do school work, work, sleep and eat, but it is what it is. I bought two new books with that Amazon special they had last week, I ordered Logicomix: An Epic search for the Truth a comic book about Russel, philosophy and math. I recommend it to all the geeks I know. It's my first comic book since I was 13, so we'll see how that goes. The other book is called "how to cheat your friends at poker" I am tired of being the sucker at the poker table every. damn. time. You are going down Ekoko! You know who you are. I have all these good books that I've had for ever, I don't know how I am going to finish them all, my intake rate is greater than my consumption rate. Who cares, it will work out someway. The thing is, I've got an e-reader, and now I'll be able to read all the important books I've been meaning to read, but can't because they were in a laptop. Most notably, I have SICP, code complete 2, and the red dragon compiler book, that I want to finish this year. I swear that if I do that, I'll put it in my PM record at work, all those technical books should count towards a promotion, dammit.

The Monkeys

Kids are amazing, they are a big pain in the rear a lot of times, I'm not going to pretend that it isn't. However, they make life so good. I can't imagine what life would be like without walking in from work and have both of them running full speed towards me, I know that's not Martha's favorite part of the day, when I get back home, because I make them hyper, I don't think it's me that makes them like that, I think that 5:30 PM is the gremling hour anyway, they turn to little monsters no matter what's going on.

I love it when they tell me their dreams, their concerns. I love it when I hear them talking. Anthony is a bossy older brother, who swears that he has everything figured out, Gaby looks up to her brother like, well, an older brother. I get upset with Anthony because he acts like a big jerk with his sister sometimes, I can now understand how much grief I gave my parents always fighting with my sister. She used to be such an easy target back then, now days she fights back, so it's not as fun. Anyway, that's neither here nor there.

The kids are at that age where they are the most perceptive, they notice all kinds of things that adults don't pay attention too. They also happen to think I am the coolest person in the planet. That fact must be related to that perceptive stage thing. I know that won't last though. It's funny how Anthony and I are so alike and how Gaby imitates her Mom. Anthony and I wake up in a good mood, we're morning people, we make breakfast together everyday and he just loves to help. He likes to be in his own world, he doesn't mind being by himself. Gaby wakes up in a bad mood but cheers up after breakfast, just like her Mom. Gaby is a social butterfly, Anthony is anti-social, just like I was at that age. I remember back in K-garten I didn't like adults that much. That pretty much sums up Anthony.

Anyway, I've been writing for too long. I have to get some reading in before everyone starts waking up. So I am cutting it short.

Be good to each other.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

New Year

This year seems to have started well, it was a bit bumpy at first, but overall it looks promising. I am supposed to graduate in the Spring and that makes me happy.

My New Schedule

This Master's degree has been a challenge for me, I get home from work so tired, and with so many things on my mind, that all I want to do is relax for a while, but no, the kids are hyper, the wife is also tired, and I would get stressed out trying to deal with the house and with the school work, it was easier three years ago when Gaby was just a baby and Anthony was still a Toddler, back then Anthony would fall sleep early and Martha dealt with Gaby, so the evenings were free for me to do school work. Last fall semester I found a way to take my evenings back. I still get home tired, but I do not worry about school, I concentrate all my efforts on just being home, the trick? I wake up two hours earlier, at 4:00 AM the house is nice and quiet, I get out of bed fully rested, and I can devote more quality time to the family, and to the books. It takes some getting used to at first, but I don't mind. This reminds me of a quote I read somewhere.

I feel sorry for morning people because their day just keeps getting worse

COP 5555

OK, I've been meaning to talk about this experience for a long time, I think I did a while back, but this is a course that I am never going to forget, just like I'll never forget those 12 weeks of Marine Corp Boot Camp at Parris Island, I'll never forget COP5555, it's one of those classes where can be summarized as "drinking water from the fire hose" I want to get a few things off my chest about it.

So, it's relevant to point out that at the University of Florida, a Computer Engineer has a choice to make when it comes to Graduate School, I was admitted to both the Computer Science Department (CISE)and the Electrical Engineering Department (ECE) they both have Computer Engineering degrees, but both have different emphasis. Initially I went for CISE because deep down I think I lack programming skills, so I want to get better at it. I also didn't think an Electrical Degree would help me so much at work, since my title is Software Engineering. However, I noticed that they had a Communications track, which had courses related to Radio Communications, since I am in the business of making Radios, I thought that would be good. I was undecided but I went for CISE my first semester. My first course in UF was "Distributed Operating Systems" and it was clear from the beginning that this was no easy A. There were crazy assignments every two weeks, tons of material, and difficult tests, I was used to getting A's in my undergrad, when I received my final grade of B+, I said, f*ck that and went to ECE.

ECE turned out to be tougher than CISE, that's the funny part, at ECE I took all this courses that required me to know Linear Algebra, Calculus and Probability in order to just grasp what they were talking about. After two years I became comfortable enough with the field to say that I had Mastered it, but it wasn't easy. Last summer all I had was elective courses to choose from. I was reading Steve Yegger's blog a lot, thanks to him I was interested in the subject of computer languages, specifically functional languages like Lisp and Clojure. I remembered back that a co-worker once asking me if I was going to take COP5555, I told her I was in ECE, and she said, "good, because this class was impossible", so, influenced by the internet, I found myself a challenge.

At first glance, COP5555 with Dr. Bermudez didn't seem that much different from other classes in grad school, there was a midterm, a final, a class project, and weekly homework. All the slides are available from the start.

The first lecture Dr. Bermudez was philosophical, he kept emphasizing that the goal of the class was for us to do a paradigm shift in the way we think about programming languages. I was glad I enrolled, I love it when teachers talk about the big, big picture. So I congratulated myself for having enrolled in this fruitful course.

The class was about Languages, computer programming languages, how computers understand it, how to design one, how to describe a new language in a non-ambiguous way. He starts the class with Parsing, Abstract Syntax Trees, Context Free Grammars, BNF notation, and a nifty little language called RPAL, so far, well, I thought I was good, but there were things that I wasn't completely clear. The slides were full of information, but upon going back to them after class, it was clear that the meat of the class was in what was said during the lecture. So in order to know what's going on, I had to pay close attention during the class.

Then came the project, holy cow, a parser! I had to write a parser, a program that read a file, one word a time, and was to decide whether it fit the syntax of the language. The output was an AST, (abstract Syntax Tree) which went to an interpreter that converts the AST to standardized the tree and computed the instructions. This is where the class lost me. I spent hours and hours trying to get this to work. I spent the whole 4th of July weekend in front of a computer getting this program to work. In the meantime, the midterm was coming up. I failed the midterm, but got a 95 on the project. I thought that if I did well on the final I still had a chance to pass.

The material that came after the midterm made parsing look like learning the ABCs. We were introduced to lambda calculus, we learned about how machines evaluate expressions, and then we studied Attribute Grammars and Denotational Grammars. Needless to say, I didn't make it.

Last summer for the first time in my life, I gave all my heart to something, and failed.

Failing for not trying is one thing, failing after giving it your best effort, while it sounds honorable, it feels crappy.

The day of the final my proctor didn't come to work, it was a Friday so I had an extra weekend to prepare, but because I turned in my test after the deadline, I was told my grade was going to be an "I" until after the break, which I was ok with it. I went to Key West for a little vacation with the family, then I found out about my C-.

A C- means that the class doesn't count towards graduation, that I had to either take it again, or take another class. I called Dr. Bermudez, we talked for a long time. We went over a bunch of options, and at the end, I re-took the class, well, since my grade was an I, he told me he can always change it. So I watched the lectures again, took the midterm and the final again. I passed, but I got a 75 and a 70 in the tests, and this is after a lot of studying and asking questions. In other words, I got my ass kicked. Plain and simple. My grade got changed to a B, I will graduate this semester, but damn, that was hard.

The takeaway?

-Personally, I am not as smart as I thought I was, and I didn't think I was that smart to start with.

-In General, don't give up. Perseverance wins. If you really want to achieve a goal, it pays to keep going. I can think of a lot cases where this doesn't apply, but for life, it's better to stick to your goals.

Wow, I wanted to write about my current class, but this post is getting way too long.
If I start proof reading I am probably going to delete most of it, so I am just going to hit the "Publish Post" button and submit this sucker.

That's all I have for now folks. Be good to each other please.