Monday, January 20, 2014

Some unexpected things I've seen in Paris


EDIT: I was going through my blog drafts when I found it.  I wrote this a year and a half ago when Martha and I went to France to celebrate our 10 year anniversary. I couldn't sleep, wrote this and forgot about it.  I thought I put it up anyway.


It's 5:30 AM in France, almost midnight in Florida, can't sleep, can't blame it on the time difference..anyway, This is the list of weird things I've seen in Paris

 1. A group of 10 people dressed like where is Waldo walking around looking at a map

2. 2 little kids almost separated from their parents who were at a sight seeing bus, bus driver did not want to stop, even though the kids were small and the parents were telling the driver to stop. Wtf?

 3. Inside the metro, a group of people dressed like a fruits, they had a whole fruit salad going on, strawberry, banana, and something green, not sure if peas or what.

 4. A police foot chase, near the bridge of locks, the cops were chasing a girl, by foot, car and boat.

5. Not as many Americans as I expected.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

How do you Break the Spell?



I read somewhere, I don't remember where or when, a story about an old lady in 18th century Scotland, (or was it Ireland? England?, doesn't matter where) the thing is this lady's son went out on a fishing boat, and the boat didn't come back, it may have been a storm, pirates, a fire on-board, something happened, bottom line, the ship sailed and it was never heard from again.

After some years, in these situations most people give up on hope on ever seeing their loved ones, but not this lady, she would assert that her son was still alive, she had no reason or evidence that would support her belief, but that didn't stop her. She just knew that her son was out there, alive, somewhere, and it was only a matter of time before she got to see her son again.

I can only imagine what it is not to know what happened to someone you love. I put myself in that lady's shoes and can see where she is coming from. You want to keep the hope alive, you don't want to face the unthinkable, the worst case scenario, the excruciating pain that comes from losing your son.

Perhaps she thought that her son was in some tropical paradise, they wrecked with no way out of it, and settled in with the natives, had 10 kids, and was living a happy life secluded from Civilization. Most likely he drowned in a bad storm, who knows? The question is, which version would you rather believe? The lady, let's call her "Mary" chose to believe the version that made her feel better, not the one most likely to be true. Who can blame her?

As more and more years passed it become more apparent that the son was probably not coming back and Mary would not see her son again. But then, one day, 27 years later, a stranger showed up to Mary's town claiming to be her son.

I can see the commotion, the excitement, he's back! Our Mary was right all along. But then things turned ugly, the guy claiming to be Mary's son, had no resemblance at all to him, the more they town people got to know the guy the more apparent it became that he probably had heard about Mary's story and wanted to take advantage of her.

But Mary saw things differently, she was so happy that her son was back and she thought that the town people were jealous of her happiness she wanted to believe that her son was alive so badly that she ignored any signs that it was not him. He didn't look the same, did not act the same, it was a complete stranger, but she could not see it.

My question is, if you care about Mary, do you make her see the truth or do you let her be happy the way she is?

The answer depends, is she really happy? or does she know, deep down that her son is gone? What if she really believes it? Who are we to interfere? Do we draw the line when she starts to make bad decisions? When others start to take advantage of her faith to gain favors? Do we draw the line when she starts hurting others?

Is it wrong to let her live her life in such delusion? Is it wrong to make her suffer and shatter he hopes?

Some say no, let her be happy. I can relate to that, live and let others live, as long as she is not harming anyone else, that's ok.

But others would say, well, if you care about her, if you really have love, concern and respect for that person, the dignified thing would be to help Mary face reality with courage and strength, help her grieve her loss and move on with her life.

The right answer should be somewhere between those extremes, you can't make a person see reality if they don't want to. You have to let people have the freedom to make their choices as long as they are not harming anyone else. You can provide guidance if they ask for it. But you can't go around telling them how wrong they are.

And that's kind of how I feel about atheism. I see people believing in all kinds of stuff that I see as superstitions, as something slightly above Santa Claus for grown ups. But I can't go around telling people that, especially if they don't want to hear it, if they don't want to question their beliefs. I used to take for granted that since I am always trying to question what I think its true, I thought that others would do the same. But that's not the case, in fact, most people would love to share their beliefs with you, but not the other way around.

But, sometimes, faith can have its consequences, when it goes to extremes, let the law take care of it, otherwise, education will solve the problem, since religion has evolved a lot since the elighqment, I think that it will eventually go away on its own now that we live in the age of information, thanks to the internet, curious minds will have access to other people with the same questions, and ignorance while it may never go away, it will be mitigated effectively.

How is that for a self-delusion?


J.V.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A tale of two robots



It was the best of teams, it was the worst of teams.

One robotics high school team had all the resources it needed, it had an excellent teaching staff, involved parents, a bunch of smart kids, and adequate funding to go to three Regionals. Let's call this school "A.

Another high school robotics team had enough funding for only one tournament, it had a handful of kids, one teacher, and no parents, not a lot of support, not a lot of evident motivation. Just some kids and a volunteer. This team started building their robot only days before the competition (As opposed to weeks before, which is what A did) Let's call this school "B"

Both robotics team were sponsored by my employer. A few of my co-workers and I spent some time helping out these schools.

One school finished last place in the tournament, while the other ranked 14 out of 63 and played in the quarter finals in the Regional competition. Guess which one won and which one didn't?

If you guessed school A. Guess again. School B made it to the second round. While school A, with all the great kids and staff didn't make it.

I've been trying to figure out why for the past couple of days.


Is it talent? School A had a bunch of smart kids, some of which will probably be accepted to Ivy League schools, a big chunk of them will go to the University of Florida's college of Engineering. So what happened. Was it the way the team was managed? Was there some kind of systematic problem with school A? Was it luck? God? The Liberals?

Although winning is not the most important thing in these Robotics competitions, it does raise an important question. How do you put together a winning robot? How do you get these teams to win?

First let me explain what happened.

Rebound Rumble is this years Robotics Game. In order to win,two competing Alliances compete to score as many basketballs into their hoops as they can during a 2 minute and 15 second match. Each alliance consists of three robots. The higher the hoop in which the basketball is scored, the more points the Alliance receives. The match begins with a 15-second Autonomous period where the robots operate independently of driver input. Baskets scored during this period are worth extra points.




The match ends with robots attempting to balance on bridges located at the middle of the field. In Qualification Matches a team scores extra points if they try to balance in the center bridge with a robot from the opposing Alliance.

Robot A was designed and built to do all the tasks in the game, it had a camera that talked to the processor in order to perform computer vision. It would scan the image it was fed for targets, then it would determine the distance to the target and figure out how much current it needs to send to the rollers that will make the basketball shoot.

Robot A also had an arm controlled with pneumatics that was going to bring the bridge down in order be able to get on the ramp.

Robot B could only do two things, it could move, and it could shoot, there was no time spent trying to get a camera vision thing, it spent no time trying to have a ramp mechanism.

Robot B however, had one thing that Robot A didn't have, it had a student that could drive that robot like it was nobody's business. Not to say that the drivers for Robot A sucked or anything, they were adequate, but Robot B's driver was good, it made no mistakes, and it had a sense of where to put the robot. It knew how to use what it had to get the most out of the game. Robot B had strategy, it could do a couple of things well, and it stuck to it. The team knew strategy, the team was able to build a shooting motion that was repeatable enough that it could land a ball in the basket time after time once it found the sweet spot. Robot B also got lucky, but I'd say that it manufactured its luck.

Did Robot A make any mistakes? perhaps it did. A lot of effort was put on making a mechanism to lower the bridge that was never used and was not crucial to winning the game. As a result, no time was spent on perfecting the shooter. The pit for Robot A was full of well -intentioned, talented people, but, nobody brought up this fact until it was too late.

Lack of vision? foresight? perhaps lack of leadership?

Probably a bit of everything. You need both, you need the talent and the leadership to set direction. You can have a bunch of talent but if nobody knows where to go, you will not get anywhere.

Well, that's all I have for now. I got other stuff going on but remember, be good to each other ya'll.

J.V.

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 Not.A.Sci.Fi.fan, 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.

J.V.

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.

J.V.

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.

J.V.