Armen Chakmakjian

The Last Lecture

In career, Literature, Random on September 21, 2016 at 2:22 am

This book has sat on my nightstand for a few years. Not sure who bought it for me — either one of the boys, or my wife. I thought it would be interesting, but over that time I kept putting it off because the concept was so morose.

Anyway, over the last 8 months I’ve plowed through books that I had on my nightstand or in my small bookcase near my bed that I had put off, and got through many of them. Actually a couple of them were on my kindle also. I read Baudolino, finished Destiny of the Republic (about the murder of McKinley), then I finished a bio on Andrew Carnegie that I had started a few years ago. I worked my way through a book on the constitutional convention of 1787, which was fun. I read the David McCullough’s Wright brother’s book with much interest which I received as a gift just as I finished the Andrew Carnegie book bio. I read a book called the Seventh Sense (on my Kindle), which was all about how networking got us here, and what happens after the social media craze. I was in the making my way through a compendium of knowledge on the Tolkien universe, I was in letter “D” and that’s when I saw this small book again.

A lot of what he said in the book made sense and his description of himself was a familiar person to me. I felt I knew Randy Pausch, or 50 people like him. When he was talking about school, or about programming, or about technology, or about characters involved in those endeavors, I knew exactly what he was referring to. We were about the same age when he delivered his lecture and it went viral, and I was just about to embark on an MBA when he published the book. I knew academics like him on the computer science side of my brain. Unlike him, half of my formal undergraduate training was electrical or computer engineering classes, so I had both – a not-same-but-co-conspiratorial-training and a familiar same logic tribe thing going on.

Several things stuck out in the book that I completely agreed with. The crack about his football coach giving him a hard time because he hadn’t given up on him yet. The comments about how knowledge will never replace hard work are something that I say all the time to my kids.

I kinda felt sorry for him because he achieved a lot of success and did meet his professional goals, only to run out of time with his last dream, his family. I thought his quest to leave a record of himself for his young kids was very admirable, many of us do that for our eventual grand-kids. Upon reflection, I would not have traded his success with starting my family at 26 instead of 37 (like he did), so that I could create some really interesting algorithms in those 11 years…and I certainly don’t think he got karma-ed. It’s all a game of chance…

I think the seminal point that I walked away with from his book was something a bit more mundane. Because I mostly understood his normal thinking process (both in my head and observed in others in my field) I was struck by how many times I also try to view the positive or at least the achievable mitigation in most things. Trained-to-be (or maybe born-to-be ) technical problem solvers have a lot of positive wick and wax burn off before they let the light go out on a problem. What impressed me was that he had turned his demise into a mission to solve another problem…that being preparing his family for his departure and leaving a legacy for them to understand him. He had turned his limited time into a mission that he could control with his capabilities and not succumbing to the fact that there was no solution to his health issue.

When my father was going down with lung cancer 16 years ago, that same logic train sparked something in me as I looked at my kids playing in his yard. They were 5 and 8. They would not see him at their graduations or parties as they achieved their goals. I could see that I could not help him with his struggle, especially the day-to-day things that my sisters and my mother were helping him with being close by (I was living 150 miles away).

So, on one of my trips down in the summer, I said to him bluntly, “Baba, you have all these stories you’ve told us whenever your memory was triggered by some event – but they are a jumble. I need you to tell me everything in order and I will type it as fast as I can. I want the kids to know who you are”. My father and I were not so dissimilar in our thinking patterns, and he could see the logic in what I was saying. So we started, he dictating and I typing.

Over the next few visits that summer, I’d start by re-reading what we had already achieved, he’d add a thing here or there, correct something, and then we’d continue adding to the story until he tired or he needed to deal with his pain. We recorded everything that he knew about his grandfather (who was killed before he was born), his father as an orphan in the middle east, and then things about himself and his family until they arrived in the United States in 1956. It’s only 11 pages, but adding that to the black and white pictures from those days, completes a historical record and a personal vignette for future generations of our family.

So I guess what I am saying is that what I learned (or maybe relearned) by reading this book is that rather than focusing on “things” you can leave for future generations (like money or things purchased with money), leave a record of who you are, how you got here, your thinking and who your motivators and what your motivations were. Randy Pausch did that. His kids will always have the videos and pictures of him playing with them and his book, The Last Lecture.

Quick Update on all the Apple “OS” updates today

In apple, technology on September 14, 2016 at 4:23 am

So I’ve been running the iOS 10 and MacOS Sierra beta’s for a while, so those features were no longer a mystery to me. Having Siri on my desktop is somewhat useful. I can have it actuate Chrome by just saying “Chrome”. I can ask “What year was George Washington born?” and I get back a Wikipedia article and Siri tells me the MDY of George Washington’s birth. It’s ok, I still don’t get Siri to understand me all the time, so it’s just extending my normal annoyance with it to my MacBook and Mac Mini.

Anyway, I did update my Apple TV to tvOS 10, and I enabled Dark Mode. That was nice, Thank you. I was even able to ask Siri to do it. Many Thanks, indeed. Other than that, I couldn’t tell anything had changed. The Home app wasn’t visible and since SSO isn’t enabled yet, yawn.

I did also update my Watch to WatchOS 3. Now I got me some nice features. and some yawns.

  1. Reminders App! got myself excited. then Yawn. Reminders could already be added by using Siri, so since you can’t do anything but complete an item in the app (and show completed items with a 3D push) it’s kind of yawn.  I might use it.
  2. Find my friends on the iPhone looks good.
  3. Swiping faces, useful, but kinda yawn.
  4. The new weather app (which I have as a complication on my watch face) now forces you to 3D touch to switch between temp, precip, and forecast.  and tapping now brings up the 10 day forecast. sort of yawn to more complex interaction than needed.  The old one was better.
  5. Heartbeat app was nice and now accessible both in the dock and as a separate app…
  6. Breath. I tested it and it will remind me tomorrow. I suppose this could be useful to force me to meditate once in a while.
  7. The camera app seems to have some more controls added to it, seems ok. control flash and other things…or maybe that was already there using a 3D touch and I never tried it. Anyway being able to reverse the camera from the watch is good.
  8. I enabled watch to unlock my MacBook, but I can’t tell if it is working or not since every time I come back, it appears unlocked already…I’ll see in the morning.
  9. The dock itself might be useful.  Getting to it using the side button is good.  I’ve already forgotten how the old thing worked.  I think it was a swipe up or something. Never found it really useful.

There are a bunch of other things to try in the coming days…apple’s version of graffiti on the watch should be interesting or useless.

I hear that apple pay is supported in the Starbucks app on the 6s.  At the moment you can use the Starbucks card in wallet (on the watch) as a bar code OR you can use apple pay, but not both…so I default to the Starbucks card in (watch) wallet so I get my frequent drink rewards.   In the iOS app on my 6S+ it tells me that apple pay is enabled, but it doesn’t seem to do anything to tie ApplePay to the starbucks card.  I poked around the web to figure this out and got only articles from 2015 and the iTunes store.  So I gave up.

Looks useful overall and the watch does seem a bit snappier, so I’d say for those who don’t like to change  things, this you should do.

Escalation in Karabagh…why now?

In Random on April 2, 2016 at 8:08 pm

So with a nuclear summit happening, Azerbaijan launches a concerted series of attacks on the Nagorno-Karabagh region. This action escalates an already thorny issue in the area. Oddly, all the interested parties including the leadership of the EU, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan are all in washington sitting across the table from each other. Another interesting concurrent fact is that Putin did not come and demurred by saying that they believed that this whole nuclear summit is a contrivance for the US to influence the issue outside of the UN AEA (see this article) although they announced they were not coming in 2014!

Armenia itself relies on its good relations with Russia for protection. This relationship does have a negative side in that Armenia has to follow Russia’s lead on many issues and cannot stray too far westward in comity.

So one of two things are happening. The first possibility, Azerbaijan and their Turkey thought it a good idea to escalate the situation coincident with the summit so that the ongoing situation would be addressed in Washington outside the Russian diplomatic influence. The US has not been on Armenia’s side on the issue of Karabagh. The other possibility is Russia itself is behind it. hmm….

The latter sounds odd except to the extent that Armenia continues to do outreach to Europe and the US through diplomatic channels as well as through its diaspora. If president Sargysan was told to stay home from the summit and did not…this would be an excellent time to remind him who his sponsor is.

So either Erdogan is smacking Armenia through its proxy Azerbaijan, or Russia is allowing Armenia to get smacked a little to stay in line.

Who knows?  Realpolitik is alive and well in the region. And Armenia finds itself being jostled by the large powers.