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Nick Kristof Live Tweets Detention in Bahrain

2011 December 9
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by John Cieslewicz

Update December 14, 2011: Kristof wrote about these events in his column today. See below for a video as well.

I don’t usually spend a lot of time reading my twitter feed, but today I happened to see a tweet from Nick Kristoff of The New York Times stating that he was just pulled into a police car in Bahrain where he was covering a protest. He ended up live tweeting a 45 minute detention.

It’s really amazing how connected the world is, and knowing that, even more amazing that the police officers didn’t take Kristof’s blackberry from him, “…if I were them, I’d take my Blackberry.” The candidness of the officers is interesting, too, as one notes that they “are not supposed to beat protestors but … sometimes they have to, to restore order.”

Here’s the entire forty-five minutes of tweets from detention to release:

Kristof's Tweats from Bahrain

 

Update December 14, 2011: A video from The New York Times by Nick Kristof on the protests in Bahrain.

Roll out the barrel!

2011 October 1
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by John Cieslewicz

I was there for opening day, twenty years ago.

Welcome to October, my favorite sporting month of the year. College and pro football are in full swing, but more importantly October means post-season baseball. And this year I am far more excited than usual, because I am a lifelong Milwaukee Brewers fan. I grew up in Milwaukee and the season after I was born, 1982, was the team’s last division championship. I certainly don’t remember it, though I have a complete, mint condition set of Topp’s baseball cards of that team.

When I was in grade school, my dad split a season ticket package with a few other guys at work, so I attended a significant fraction of Milwaukee Brewer homegames in the early to mid 1990s. You had to be a dedicated fan back them because some most of those seasons were terrible. I remember games where we had an entire seating section to ourselves, a dedicated person could systematically count all those in attendance — the team was clearly inflating the game attendance by automatically counting season ticket holders whether they showed up or not, and the sounds of the venders calling “Beer Here!” and “PeeeeeeeeaNuts!” echoed in the stadium.

I moved away from Milwaukee ten years ago and when I tell people I’m a Brewer’s fan, they usually ask, “Why?” The answer is simple, they were my home team and you always root, root, root for the home team. The Brewers are my permanent home team. When I lived in New York I would root for them against the Mets (at my own peril) at Shea, and now that I live near San Francisco I root for them against the Giants at Pac Bell Park SBC Park  AT&T Park .

Milwaukee was a great place to become a baseball fan. Even if the Brewers weren’t having a winning season, going to a game at old County Stadium was a pure baseball experience. You had to be there for the game because there were no inter-inning activities, no live video on a JumboTron — the stadium had a single black and white scoreboard in centerfield that had the same resolution as a good digital watch. The concession stands offered two types of draft Miller beer and your choice of hot dog, bratwurst, or polish sausage. More types of sausage run a race to home plate at Brewer games today than you could actually eat at the stadium back then. Milwaukee was a unique place for condiments, too — Secret Stadium Sauce, which isn’t quite ketchup, is my favorite addition to a good bratwurst.

The Brewer heroes back then were Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. Yount’s consistency and Molitor’s skill as a lead off batter were fantastic. Yount finished his career with 3142 hits and I remember seeing number 2999. I wasn’t off by one in 1990 when Nolan Ryan came to town and won his 300th game.

Today’s Brewers have new heroes in Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Yovani Gallardo, and John Axford; and even some fun misfits like Nyjer Morgan. The team has become the most fun team to watch this season and unlike Brewer teams of the past, they didn’t fade after the All Star Game, but instead made their case for success in the post season. The new stadium, new ownership, and new attitude have made the Brewers into the team I always hoped they would be.

It’s almost time for the first pitch of what I hope is the best Brewer’s post-season ever, so I’ll leave you with a snippet of Milwaukee’s seventh inning stretch tradition. It’s time to roll out the barrel. Go Brewers!

Roll out the barrel, we’ll have a barrel of fun
Roll out the barrel, we’ve got the blues on the run
Zing boom tararrel, sing out a song of good cheer
Now’s the time to roll the barrel, for the gang’s all here

Jury Duty Observation

2011 June 20
by John Cieslewicz

This is a quick post in the style of Indexed, a blog published daily that features a simple graph on a notecard. Sometimes the observations are rather witty, so I recommend checking it out.

My wife, Alisa, and I were recently both summoned for jury duty. Last year, San Mateo County called both of us on the same day, which proves the jury pool is taken in order from the DMV — Alisa and I had been in line together when we got our new California drivers licenses three years ago. This year we were called within a few weeks of each other.

When Alisa returned from jury duty, she described the following observation which I present here using a sharpie and graph paper:

I suppose this is true. I really hope to see the judicial process in action from the perspective of a jury member, but unfortunately I have never even made it out of the jury holding room. Oh, well, I guess there’s next year.

Badger Get Your Gun!

2011 June 17
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by John Cieslewicz

My home state of Wisconsin just legalized concealed carry. This is a terrible idea, but at least it isn’t the original bill, which didn’t call for any permitting or training.

If a concealed carry law is really necessary, doesn’t that mean we have failed as a society? A step like this ought to mean that it is so dangerous in and out of our homes that we need to arm ourselves constantly. Our civic institutions have failed to keep us safe and our fellow citizens are all out to kill us. Nothing could be further from the truth. I grew up in Wisconsin. I can’t think of a time when anyone I knew declared that they could have really used a gun to protect themselves. The situations where a gun is useful for self-defense are limited. On the other hand, the situations where a gun can cause an unnecessary escalation or an accident are numerous. Curiously, the pro concealed carry rhetoric is just the opposite – extolling the rare case where a citizen might have been able to defend himself. It is truly foolish to see no risk and only virtue in legislation like this.

Available at Amazon.com and likely to be popular with municipalities across Wisconsin.

Before I go further, let me be clear: I am not against guns. Sporting firearms, for pursuits such as target shooting and hunting are fine things. I personally really enjoy trap shooting. But it is stupid for someone to go around carrying a gun all day.

Here’s my worst nightmare. I’m in line at a bank, and a gun wielding robber bursts through the doors. No, the robbery isn’t my nightmare; my nightmare is that some customer pulls out a gun to confront the robber. This results in the death of the robber and multiple customers including the “Good Samaritan” and myself. A bank robber isn’t there to kill people. He is committing a serious crime, no doubt, but he wants the money. If he wanted to kill a bunch of people, why would he choose a bank given all the online banking these days? I don’t fault the good intent, but let’s be honest — engaging a threat when he has the drop on you is pretty different than target shooting at the gun range.

Today it was reported that Dane county, which includes Madison the state capital, is doing something sensible in light of senseless legislation from the republican state legislature. The county board of supervisors is already moving to exempt key county buildings from the legislation by posting signs prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons. Republican State Senator Pam Galloway responded, “They certainly have the right to post signs, but I would remind them that whenever you create a gun-free zone, they are alerting bad guys that there are people who have no way to defend themselves”. [Source: Wisconsin State Journal] This definitely makes my top ten list for stupid political quotes of the year.

So what are some these Dane county locations where no one will be able to defend themselves with concealed firearms? First up is the airport, where you can’t take the gun past security anyway. Next up: the county zoo. I have a feeling that this one ends with a dead polar bear. Also on the list is the City-County building where the Dane County Executive and Madison Mayor both have their offices. Now, city halls have been the sites of gun violence in the past. To take an example from California, if Harvey Milk had had a gun in his pocket would he be Senator from California and Dianne Feinstein hold the record for longest serving President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors? No, I bet that episode of Golden State history would have ended no differently.

Creating conceal carry free zones is a good start, but if I were Dane County Exec Joe Parisi, I would go a step further. I’d put up big signs on the way into town: “Welcome to Dane County. Please put away your weapons”. Or, for that retro feel, offer to check firearms with the Sherriff.  After all, if you need to conceal carry in Wisconsin, it is more like the Wild West than I remember.

No Comment

2011 May 3
by John Cieslewicz

Will I be discussing Aster Data technology or the big data market on my blog? I said I would be writing about technology and I certainly know the Aster technology intimately. In some ways that is a problem: I’m not about to divulge IP, so there need to be some ground rules. I will write about my startup experience, software engineering, and other technology topics, but I will err on the side of caution when it comes to specifics about the Aster technology. That content is best left to the “official” channels of corporate communication.

With respect to the big data market, I’ll certainly write about it, but again there are limitations. Because I work for Teradata, I won’t speculate about the business in which I am directly involved. My friend Chris Neumann, however, may speculate without restriction. Chris was employee number one at Aster. He has a new blog, baconwrappeddata.com, that is worth checking out.

Let’s try out the ground rules:

Do I agree with Chris that bacon is wonderful? Yes.

Do I agree with his thoughts on future big data consolidation? No Comment.

Indian Sweets in the Kitchen

2011 April 19
by John Cieslewicz

Shortly after I joined Aster Data, I found an E-mail in my inbox that said simply, “Indian Sweets in the Kitchen”. No body to the E-mail. No description of the sweets. In the next minute I observed most of my new coworkers heading towards the kitchen as they, too, read the email. The main office emptied quickly — in those earlier days there weren’t very many of us and we all worked within fifty feet of each other.

That day I learned that I really like kaju barfi. It’s an Indian sweet that I can best describe as being made from cashews, but having a texture like fudge. It is fantastic. If you have never had kaju barfi, you need to try some. Seriously, the only people who shouldn’t try this are those with nut allergies.

When I think back on my time so far at Aster Data, a lot of events and themes come to mind, but I wanted to share this one first. I expected a lot of things when I joined a startup. Learning about desserts of other cultures was not one of them, but in this experience are two other themes I do want to explore in future posts:

  • Building software is inherently social. Often times, I felt that Aster Data worked more like a large family than a small company. Achieving that sense of shared purpose is not about hiring the smartest people or hiring friends who get along. It is more complicated than that.
  • I work with a lot of people from India. This is great, because it provides many opportunities to sample more kaju barfi and I have learned to play cricket. But on a more serious note, working with people from other countries has also helped me see up close just how broken our immigration system is. The United States needs to make serious changes, and soon, to help maintain any advantage we have in technical and scientific industries.

I haven’t had any kaju barfi in a few weeks. If someone doesn’t go on vacation soon, I might have to try to make it myself. And if I do, I will definitely post the recipe.

An Object Of Beauty [Steve Martin]

2011 April 18
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by John Cieslewicz

You probably know Steve Martin as an actor, a host of Saturday Night Live, or as a world famous jerk. You may be less familiar with his banjo playing for which he recently won a Grammy and even less aware of his rather serious passion for art collecting.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Steve Martin Pt. 1
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Martin’s passion for art is at the heart of his novel, An Object of Beauty, which takes place in New York during the red hot contemporary art market of the 1990s and 2000s. The novel’s protagonist, Lacey Yaeger, starts as a low level employee in the Sotheby’s auction house and rides the irrational exuberance of the contemporary art market to a point from which only she, and the art market, can fall. This is a fun story and well told.

I love art and I am married to an art conservator. It goes without saying that I have been to museums and galleries of all kinds. I appreciate how much of the art world Steve Martin has put into this book. It is is as clever as you would expect of anything by Martin, but he also has a deeper message about objects of beauty: Art is beautiful; but with a price attached, art also becomes an investment. Viewing art as a commodity to be marketed and sold is the genesis of Lacey’s rise and fall. The beauty of art and the value of art are in tension throughout the book, and in that tension is an important lesson.

In today’s society, the scope of things considered “investments” has expanded insidiously. We have more things than ever, but probably enjoy fewer of them. I doubt my grandparents viewed their purchase of a home sixty years ago as an investment — it was, and still is, their home. Treating art, a home, or a commemorative plate as an investment degrades our enjoyment of that thing. A home that is an investment is not painted your favorite color or made truly your own for fear of damaging the ever precious resale value. Art purchased for its value is filed away to be preserved or forgotten among all of the other beautiful investments. Commemorative plates have no value and you should only be purchasing them if you consider them beautiful, which is questionable.

Art is beautiful. Art is valuable because it is beautiful. It is not beautiful because it is valuable. This is the message I am reminded of in Martin’s novel, which he sums up perfectly in a note sent by one character to the narrator, a writer of art criticism: “It was so lovely to finally read an essay about art that did not mention money.”

Long Time Gone

2011 April 10
by John Cieslewicz

I started writing a “book blog” in 2005 while working a summer internship at Sandia National Laboratory. I was living in Albuquerque and had no car, but there was a book store within walking distance so I spent most of my weekends reading outside in the shade where it was only 90 degrees. Fast forward to 2008 and the book blog dies. Interestingly, the last book I wrote about having read was by Elizabeth Warren who has risen to some prominence since then, first as a vocal consumer advocate during the financial crisis and lately as President Obama’s pick to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

But back to the “end” of the book blog 2008 — what happened? Did I fall into a coma? Lose the password to my blog? Stop reading entirely? No, none of these things happened. But that summer I did join a startup, Aster Data, and, as I expected, startups require a lot of work. Initially, I put the book blog on hiatus because I was working full-time at Aster Data and writing my dissertation in the evenings. After I finished the dissertation, I found myself working equally long days, but now just on R&D for Aster. Though I kept reading as much as possible, I just didn’t have time to write anything about them. This is unfortunate because nothing helps you remember and think critically about what you are reading than composing your thoughts in writing.

After two and a half years of hard work, Aster Data was acquired by Teradata in a transaction that completed last week. Helping build a successful technology company is one of the most exciting things I have done in my life and I plan to write a few posts in the near future about my experience at an enterprise software startup. I am excited about what I will be able to continue to do with the Aster Data technology as part of Teradata, which reminds me of the classic lyrics from The Who: “Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss.” Though very little is changing in my technological life, I see this as a good chance to start some new things and restart some old ones, like this blog, that have been on hiatus.

Therefore, this is a reboot of my blog. I plan to expand its content from just writing about books to broader topics of technology, the media (including books), and politics. At its worst, I always feared that a book blog would devolve into mere book reports. For some books, writing a post was little more than a placeholder to help me remember that I had read it; possibly weakly encouraging others to do the same or warning them off before they, too, invested an unrecoverable weekend in unrecommendable prose. That’s likely of little interest to a reader, so in expanding the topics up for grabs on this blog, I hope that it more often has content that I am interested in generating and you are interested in reading.

Love it? Hate it? Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment. I welcome the conversation.

A New Address

2011 April 5
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by John Cieslewicz

If del.icio.us and bit.ly can do it, so can I. Welcome to my new website, cieslewi.cz.

Registering a Czech website was slightly more challenging than registering a .com or a .net address, but not so complicated that I couldn’t do it from my iPhone while waiting for a flight at the airport. Also, cieslewicz.com was already taken by a Polish photographer. I suppose I am at the mercy of the Czech government for my domain registration, but they seem pretty stable; unlike Libya, which has control of the popular .ly domain.

You can still find my old Columbia University website at www.cs.columbia.edu/~johnc/ and my soon to be deprecated site at www.johncieslewicz.com, where the earlier posts initially appeared.

I plan on adding more blog posts soon, as well as explain where I disappeared to for almost three years.

The Two-Income Trap [Elizabeth Warren & Amelia Warren Tyagi]

2008 July 1
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by John Cieslewicz

At first Warrens’ thesis seems counter-intuitive: two income households today are less financially secure than comparable single income households a generation ago. This actually makes sense for a simple reason: if a household plans for two incomes, loosing either income is more dangerous because there is no safety net. In single income households, if the main income earner loses his or her job, the spouse can enter the job force to fill a gap in household income. But in a dual income household that requires both incomes to make mortgage payments and pay for other living expenses, the loss or reduction of one of those incomes can be devastating. The book goes on to explain other ways in which the middle class is being squeezed.

I first saw Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor, in the documentary film Maxed Out about the growing credit card problem in America. She is brilliant at explaining the fundamental problems with credit cards from the point of view of consumers. She also discussed the credit card industry on NPR’s Fresh Air program on March 27, 2007.