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Visiting LA recently I recalled a trip to Harbor Kitchen and suggested we go for Chinese food. My father suggested Din Tai Fung which is famous for their soup dumplings. We got there at 4:15 on a Saturday and were just ahead of what by the time we left was a fairly major line. Yes, the soup dumplings are all that, and there are good non-pork and even vegetarian options. But don't neglect the rest of their menu. We also had the excellent Shanghai rice cakes, which had a sauce sort of half way between a brown sauce and a curry+Szechuan peppercorn sauce like you'd find on Singapore noodles. They have some tasty greens as well. Highly recommended.

Din Tai Fung
1108 S. Baldwin Ave (two blocks south of Huntington Dr)
Arcadia, CA 91007
(626) 574-7068
M-F 1100-2130
Sa 1000-2130
Su 1000-2100
other locations worldwide but mostly in east Asia
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Melrose MA
Somerville MA
Boston MA
Gaithersburg MD
Northampton MA
Madison WI
Chicago IL
Hyannis MA
Wellfleet MA
South Burlington VT
Brooklyn NY
Altadena CA
San Francisco CA
Virgin America Flight 358
totient: (bike)
Yesterday I took part of a personal day and went for a nice long bike ride, in summer kit.

Today I commuted to work, and rode home wearing (besides business casual) long underwear, wool socks, a good foul weather coat, helmet cover, cashmere hat, neoprene face mask, and my new winter gloves. And a sweatband, because that's how I roll. This was just about perfect.

The gloves, Specialized Element 1.5s that I picked for the fit and because they'll take liners, aren't really cold-rain gloves, and I have another pair that are. But I wanted to see how they'd do, and the answer is that for 15 or 20 minutes at least they were just fine. This bodes well for how they'll do in real snow, when the rain gloves are out of their depth temperature-wise.


Nov. 8th, 2014 07:35 pm
totient: (bike)
I like to think of myself as a transportation cyclist, but for all that I don't really carry cargo very often. Today made up for that. R and I started out with a trip to Winter Hill to scan a piece of her art with my portable scanner (and computer, of course). Then to Home Depot to fill my other pannier and one of hers with bulbs of the flowering and electrical variety (and a few other electrical bits besides). From there we stopped at Mad Oyster Studios to pick up some art. This was where the clever design of my bucket panniers came in; the hooks are mounted so that the tops of them are exactly flush with the rack, providing a nice large flat surface that we pallet-wrapped a bunch of matted art to the top of. From there we headed out to 13 Forest Gallery to drop off the art, and then to The Shawarma Place for dinner before heading home, where we've installed two of the bulbs so far. Many more, of the other variety, to be installed tomorrow when the weather is supposed to be nice.
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If you're like me, you may be wondering whether to vote for a third party candidate who will almost certainly lose, or for the lesser of two evils. One factor I'm considering for this is the likelihood that mine is the deciding vote. If the chance of this is better than 1/n, where n is the number of voters in the election, then it seems to me that I'm better off voting for the lesser of two evils. If it's worse, then I might as well vote my conscience.

The statistics behind this comes from modeling the behavior of the voters, and from modeling the accuracy of the polls. It turns out that the latter effect is vastly more significant than the former, and roughly speaking if a tie vote is within the 90% error bars for the aggregate polling then your undecided vote carries more than average weight in the head-to-head race, and if it's outside the error bars then it carries less.

I was a little surprised to see that Nate Silver was giving much chance of winning to the particular lesser evil I'm considering. But as long as that's true, I think the chances of a one vote margin are too high to ignore.
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I spent a few minutes just now looking over the MA election candidates' websites and also social media about them. As usual, cos gets it right, and I agree with his endorsements of Berwick, Healey, and Cheung, and his lamentation of the lack of a challenger for Galvin. He calls the Treasurer a tie but I think I prefer Conroy (who has a lot more government experience) to Goldberg (who is a little more idealistic). Now to decide who to write in for Secretary of State. Not that there will be enough of them to be tabulated.
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Which way is this ship ) facing?

Answer in the DW comments (meaning you won't see it by expanding the cut on LJ).

what's this

Apr. 4th, 2014 04:47 pm
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What's this?

Extra credit: specifically, which one is it? I'm looking for a tail number here.

Answer in the comments.
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Melrose, MA
Somerville, MA
Boston, MA
Gaithersburg, MD
Charlestown, NH
Dover, NH
Keflavik, Iceland
Hveragerði, Iceland
Hvolsvöllur, Iceland
Hvítárvatn, Iceland
Hveravellir, Iceland
Akureyri, Iceland
Húsavík, Iceland
Egilsstaðir, Iceland
Höfn, Iceland
Vik, Iceland
Reykjavik, Iceland
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Some years ago, SpaceX came up with an audacious plan to return the first stage of their launcher to the launch site for reuse. They made an amazing looking video featuring, at 0:40-0:50, a first stage turnaround and relight. This was widely dismissed as science fiction and even when they did it on the Cassiope mission in September the belief was that it was only possible because Cassiope was a lightweight mission to an easy orbit. And publicly, SpaceX has been saying they were not going to try this on the SES mission that launched yesterday.

But I don't think they'd be working on this unless it could work for real missions too. And with that in mind I took another look at yesterday's launch video. The first thing I noticed is that all nine first stage engines shut off at once, at 3:10 in that video (or about 2:57 after liftoff). This is a departure from past launches (and common practice on other multi-engined rockets) where they've shut two engines down earlier than the others to prevent acceleration from going too high as the tanks empty. The payload is certainly heavier than last time, but this makes me think there was still fuel in the first stage tanks at separation. The first stage goes out of frame briefly but from 3:29 to 3:34 it can be seen firing turnaround thrusters. Then the ground telescope video cuts out and from there all we get is onboard video from the second stage.

So, did it relight?

It sure looks like they tried.
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Airside at Keflavik. We had seen on the way in how much of a shopping mall the airport was, and also how smoothly operated passport control and customs were. Generally the country only works because of tourism and everything is arranged accordingly. But having passed by a bevy of duty free shops on the way to the gate we were still not quite prepared for the exit from passport control to North American destinations to be literally through yet another duty free shop. Just in case you somehow managed to still have any kronur in your wallet.

(recovered from a post composed yesterday)
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Every convention that uses function space is paying for that function space somehow, even if it doesn't appear in their budget anywhere. They can do this in several ways:

  • Build the cost into the hotel room rates (as Arisia does). Typically 30% of the room rate counts towards function space cost.

  • Build the cost into the catering budget (as most hotel weddings do). Typically 50% of catering expenses count towards function space cost.

  • Build the cost into tax revenue from conventiongoers (as some cultural festivals held in government owned facilities do). Amounts here are a little opaque.

  • Build the cost into associated revenue from attendees and/or payments from captive contractors. Amounts here are completely opaque.

  • Pay cash (as most Worldcons do). The least opaque option.

In the US we tend to prefer the hotel rate solution, because it is effectively sliding scale. Those less well off can share rooms or stay in cheaper offsite lodging that's not supporting the cost of function space. Regionals especially prefer this because so many of their attendees have the option of commuting, so the hotel room is really a convenience tax. In fact we like this answer so much that it's not unusual to raise the rates even more and have the hotel provide a cash payment to the convention. Albacon, for instance, for years got $10 per room night from the hotel. Overseas, smaller hotels and different economic patterns make this less desirable or effective.

Running a convention in function space is a financial risk, both to the convention and to the facility. The convention doesn't know what its income will be and risks falling short, and sometimes doesn't know how much space it will need either and risks overbuying. The facility for its part doesn't know how much associated food-and-beverage, parking, wifi, etc business it will do, or how much hotel-room or sales-tax supporting revenue there will be. The convention and the facility will each want the other to assume the risk. Of course each party has a different view of how much risk there is, which plays into the negotiations. And some negotiators are better at getting their partners to assume risk, or sometimes at hiding how much they are getting their partners to assume.

If you have ever worked in theatre, you will know that Disney's negotiators are *excellent* at getting their contract partners to assume risk. Cue ominous music...

So let's look at the three bids and what their function space is going to cost them.

Helsinki )

Spokane )

Orlando )
totient: euler's totient function 1-1000 (totient)
I've posted here about the relative merits of Orlando and Spokane's function space. That was before Helsinki entered the race. How does Helsinki stack up?

Helsinki is using the convention center, which has an attached hotel, a bunch of small to medium sized meeting rooms, way too much exhibit space, and a couple of nice large auditoriums suitable for the Hugos.

Like most hotels in Europe, the hotel attached to the Helsinki CC is too small -- only 244 rooms. We do have the whole thing, which is nice, at reasonable rates, and as in Glasgow it is an easy transit ride to a lot more hotel rooms. Unlike in Glasgow the transit will be free.

The meeting rooms are on three levels, which is good as it cuts down on walking, and they're a mix: some rooms that split up (which is handy) and some that don't (which makes for better sound isolation), some that are right on a central foyer and some that are more hidden, some little ones and some big ones. The entrance to the hotel is also right on the foyer rather than off to one side, which means those rooms are right there. The particular sizes of the rooms are an unusually good fit for a SF convention. The arrangement of rooms and the different sizes available mean this is true for conventions ranging from 2000 attendees up to 5000. The airwall vs non-airwall room configurations (and resulting room sizes) are similar to those of the Westin Waterfront in Boston, which is happily home to both 1200-person Boskones and 3800-person Arisias, without either con finding the space terribly inappropriate.

Behind the meeting rooms are some big exhibit halls. Too big, as usual, but the convention center will rent us any fraction of one we like and charge us only for what we use. Unlike many other convention centers the exhibit halls are *not* stacked with the program rooms, so the exhibits aren't isolated from the rest of the convention. A convention with a lot of exhibits would entail a lot of walking in this convention center but because we'd only use a little bit of exhibit space, we won't have that problem.

One thing you will often hear me complaining about is the unsuitability of many facilities for hosting the Hugos. These days 60% of the attendees go to the Hugo ceremony so you need a great big room. But the Hugos are the only thing that fills the room, and it takes a long time to set up and tear down and rehearse for, so many Worldcons wind up with a big dark spot in the middle of the convention that everyone has to walk past to get from one program room to another. The room itself is expensive and mostly a wasted resource even or perhaps even especially if you put the Masquerade in there too. Helsinki addresses this in several ways. Unusually, we only pay for the nights we're actually using the room. Also unusually, although we pay for tech from the CC, we *don't* pay for the time it takes to set up and tear down the tech, which means we save money compared to some fan-run tech setups. There are two possible rooms, both located where their darkness will go unnoticed during the rest of the con, and if the con is big enough to need the larger one for the Hugos but the smaller one still fits the Masquerade we can do that without paying extra.

Convention centers are expensive and this one is no exception. The fact that we only pay for the space we use means that the facilities cost per attendee is much more predictable even though we don't know how big the convention will be. I put together a spreadsheet and it looks like the cost of function space and tech comes out to between $80 and $90 per member, which is a little on the high side for a Worldcon but not completely off the scale. What's unusual is that this number holds whether the con is 2000 people or 5000. Above 5500 or so things stop fitting so neatly (as they would in the Westin Waterfront, too) and it gets more expensive to fit the con in to the space. It's hard to imagine that Helsinki could really be bigger than Noreascon 4. If it is, though, there are probably enough other amortized fixed expenses that we can afford to spend $100 per member on space instead of $85.
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I am turning 43! Help me celebrate this coming Sunday by joining me on a 43 mile bike ride from my house in Davis Square to Concord and Carlisle. Meet at 10:00; if you RSVP we'll wait for you (or stop along the route to meet you).

The ride goes past several bike shops and at least three ice cream parlors. We'll be going slowly and making plenty of stops -- this should be a good ride for those who have never gone as far before. It's impossible to completely avoid hills in New England but this ride won't have any monsters on it.
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It's been a while, hasn't it?

Anyway, I thought this was a fun one. To be clear, I am looking for the identity of the object located at the center of the map, not the name of the location.

Answer (and an extra credit question) in the comments.
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Last Thursday NASA and SpaceX held a joint news conference about SpaceX's recent mission to the ISS. They covered things you'd expect, like whether SpaceX had solved the power issues for the onboard deep freezer upon splashdown (yes) or whether the thruster problem was a hardware or a software issue (hardware, and not expected to recur). Of course since Elon Musk was on the call reporters asked him a lot of unrelated questions and as usual he served up some pretty wild answers.

The press has covered the stuff about Dragon 2.0, which will contain the integrated launch escape system and which Musk expects to unveil late this summer and perform a pad abort test with shortly after that. Some news outlets are even reporting what Musk said about working towards recovering Falcon 9 first stages (Space Shuttle SRBs were recovered at sea by parachute, so this is not a first). But lost in the noise is that the very next launch of Falcon 9 will include two additional burns by the first stage post separation. I can't wait to see how the reignition goes and what shape the stage is in after it hits the water.
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a little history )

the problem )

a good solution )

Last night was the DOT hearing for the Beacon Street Reconstruction Project. I strongly prefer the alternate proposal but from a cyclists' and overall safety perspective rather than because of the parking. Pat Jehlen encouraged me to prepare some remarks not just because she is also primarily concerned with safety but also because she wants to blow a hole in the cyclists-vs-nimbys narrative.

I got there good and early and sat in a spot that would ensure I could speak at the beginning. We were asked to limit ourselves to 2-3 minutes and the first speaker rambled on about parking for 5 minutes, never really touching on any of the specific problems with the city's proposal. I went next and also took 5 minutes to give all of my remarks, knowing that I was going over but also knowing that there had not been an admonishment to the speakers on time and also that such an admonishment coming after my speech would help the points I was making rather than hurting them (other cogent speakers who went over time were cheered for doing so). Speaking before any of the other cyclists seemed to take the wind out of a lot of "cycle tracks are good so this cycle track is good" speeches, and generally I feel like I set the tone by focusing on safety. I hope it works.

I had to leave after about an hour of comment and there was still quite a line, though some people had had time to get through it twice. As I was leaving several people asked me for copies of the speech, for more information (I had some studies with me), or for my email address. I also made sure that the project folks and the reporter from the Somerville Journal had copies of my remarks. You all should have them too, so here they are. )
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As many people who have ever stood still for five minutes within my earshot know, I believe that organizations pass through phase transitions as they grow, with the major inflection points being at 10, 50, 250, 1250, and I speculate 2x5^n for any integer n. The two major ways that I model this are organizational fanout, wherein the maximum number of reports is 10 and the best achievable indirect reporting efficiency is 50%; and communications modes, which relate to Dunbar's number and the limits of human comprehension. Communications mode shifts each have a different description and there is enough material that I will probably eventually write a book about them, so I won't describe them here.

A consequence of this, as again many of my readers will have heard me say already, is that as organizations approach one of these inflection points from below, they begin to adapt to keep their communications and control structures working. They optimize for output from individual contributors at the expense of encouraging teamwork and delegation to keep their headcount from rising. They put infrastructure in place to smooth the existing, but fraying, means of communication. There are countless such knobs and I'm sure my book will include descriptions of many of them.

But for the organization to successfully pass through a transition point, all of these knobs, having been turned all the way up, will have to be turned all the way in the other direction. The organization suddenly needs entirely new communications infrastructure. Organizational cohesion will have to be replaced by unit cohesion. Delegation and teamwork suddenly takes priority over individual output. Schedules and timelines will suddenly be driven from different points as communications modes shift1. And so on.

Note, importantly, that it is not enough to recognize an optimization as being specific to the lower approach to the phase transition. To turn the knobs the other way, you have to know what the other way is. You can't just rip the knob off.

Big Ops is a knob. We use it in volunteer organizations of 249 people to keep the singly-indirected, centralized communications flowing. When the organization reaches 251 people it begins to drop information -- sometimes critical information.

Boskone recognized this as a problem and tried to solve it by ripping the knob off, with predictable results. Arisia seems to have found the other end of the knob, because the Ops desk at Arisia 2013 was positively boring. Information was flowing around it, and getting where it needed to go. We threw so many replacement options at the problem that it is hard to say which one is the other end of the knob, but I think one thing that really helped was having so many people still reading their email at con, so that information could reach, for instance, hotel liaisons directly from the departments that needed to reach them, without Ops having to get involved.

We do still need an Ops desk. They will still need to be prepared to deal with the kinds of big-Ops activities that used to happen there. But if this year is indicative, Big Ops is withering away.

1. more on this in another post, because it is a brand new discovery for me.
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Arisia has now run thirteen cons of more than 2000 attendees.
NESFA and MCFI between them have run nine.

We're still not ready to run a Worldcon. But I'm not worried about the comparison to Boskone 24. We're growing slowly enough to take the problems one at a time instead of all at once. And we've pretty much solved all the problems we've seen so far -- including some that were probably there but which NESFA didn't even perceive back in 1987.
totient: (blur)
Melrose, MA
Somerville, MA
Boston, MA
Gaithersburg, MD
St Pete's Beach, FL
Madison, WI
Barre, VT
Burlington, MA
South Charlestown, NH
Enfield, CT
Chicago, IL

Relatedly, I put 73% fewer miles on my bike last year than the year before.
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