10,000 Hours

I picked up Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” for a plane ride last month, and it was a fun read. About 25% of it I had read before, as he gets double duty out of much of his writing by serializing bits of it into the New Yorker.

Anyways, he has a new one coming out, “Outliers”, a study of exceptional people, and one of the theses is:

This idea - that excellence at a complex task requires a critical, minimum level of practice - surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is a magic number for true expertise: 10,000 hours.

Which got me thinking – what skill did I hone enough before the age of 20 to become world class? I did a fair amount of music, but not anything close to 10,000 hours. Then I remembered.

I have all the makings of a world class reader. So, if you want a book read, send it along, I’ve got the mad chops to get it read for you.

Fake Issue

IT bureaucracies have a way of ginning up all kinds of contradictory reasons to keep people from doing things that, while not really impossible, are inconvenient to IT. Take, for example, the issue of providing e-mail service to the Most Powerful Man on Earth:

In addition to concerns about e-mail security, [Obama] faces the Presidential Records Act, which puts his correspondence in the official record and ultimately up for public review, and the threat of subpoenas. A decision has not been made on whether he could become the first e-mailing president, but aides said that seemed doubtful.

So, on the one hand there’s the problem of maintaining security, and on the other hand there’s the problem that everything said will be on the public record. Hey, wait a minute, those are contradictory objections! Taken together, they are meaningless.

Take them separately then.

Security. Does the Director of Central Intelligence have e-mail. How about his subordinate? How about the subordinate’s subordinate. At some point, someone dealing in highly sensitive national secrets has e-mail already, and is probably using it to transmit those secrets to other people dealing in highly sensitive national secrets. E-mail security in the government is a “solved problem”.

Publicity. Simply attach a .sig to every outgoing Obama e-mail, “Please remember, all messages sent to me are, or will become, part of the public record of the United States.”

Kennedy (and famously, Nixon) recorded his Oval Office meetings, including some pretty blunt discussion. Presidents make pretty blunt notations on the margins of memos they are reading. It all ends up in the public record.

Unless they are saying they think President Obama doesn’t have the self-control to realize that his e-mail is going to be public at some point, I really fail to see how e-mail is a medium so radically different from all preceding that the President has to actually stop using it.

Heck, the most effective argument against email in the New York Times article came near the end. Says Diana Owen, of the Georgetown American Studies program:

It’s a time burner. It might be easier for him to say, “I can’t be on e-mail. “

Truer words were never spoken. Could be worse though, he could be blogger.

What is OSGeo becoming?

From James Fee:

[Open Street Map] comes off very “hacker” to many of my clients and they can’t get beyond that. I hope it doesn’t fall into what OSGeo is becoming.


Update: Clarification from James:

Why does OSGeo seem more concerned with creating new logos than creating case studies? To me that sums up its existence. Almost three years into OSGeo, what has it really done besides confederate some open source projects? Does this really help me sell open source projects? Email threads, are you kidding me?


If people put half the effort they do into logos and open source job lists that they do into case studies, maybe companies would look more at their products. I know Paul that you aren’t the president or director or whatever the head of OSGeo is, but this logo nonsense has got to stop and OSGeo has to embrace the real world.

Update 2: Almost as if to answer James (or at least to demonstrate that there are many, many minds about what OSGeo should “become”), Howard Butler posts to the OSGeo board list:

Marketing doesn’t write software, it doesn’t improve documentation, and it doesn’t streamline project communication…. I guess I’ve always had a bit of a problem with the marketing aspect of OSGeo, especially when its not at all clear to me who we’re marketing to other than the general GIS ether and for what purpose. IMO, the people using Open Source software are the ones who market it, not the people who make the software. [italics added] Could the OSGeo marketing proponents please set me straight on how I see this all wrong?

PostgreSQL 8.3.5 - Important Upgrade

Normally, minor releases just sail by… the bugs fixed are tiny things that don’t apply to your neck of the woods, but for 8.3.5 you will find this entry in the release notes:

Fix GiST index corruption due to marking the wrong index entry "dead" after a deletion (Teodor) This would result in index searches failing to find rows they should have found.

The PostGIS spatial index is built on top of GiST, so for any production table where entries are being deleted or updated, this bug could actually cause errors to crop up. Data would not be lost, but it would occasionally not be found in index-enabled searches.

If you are using PostGIS on PostgreSQL 8.3, upgrade to 8.3.5 as soon as possible. This bug has been seen in the wild, one of my clients just ran into it, it could affect you too.

Update: From Mark Cave-Ayland, the bug was only introduced during the last set of point releases, and was backpatched all the way to 8.1. So the complete list of affected PostgreSQL releases is: 8.1.14, 8.2.10 and 8.3.4. If your version is not one of those, you’re safe.

Local Color

One of the stranger rituals you will come across in Victoria is the annual fish stencil that the staff at the Goldstream Provincial Park put on for the kids every year during the salmon run. This is no ordinary fish stencil, because at Goldstream they use real dead salmon as the template.

Picture from Aaron Racicot on his recent Victoria trip.

Paint your fish, press a sheet of paper onto it, and voila, instant fish keepsake. If you come to Victoria in the late-October to early-November period, make sure Goldstream (just 20 minutes outside town) is on your agenda.