Monday, January 30, 2017

Military Misconceptions

I had two misconceptions about military retirement when I was a young buck, probably because I’m not a military retiree.

My first misconception was that my four years attending a federal Service Academy (Annapolis, West Point, Air Force Academy) would be applied to my retirement when I reached 20 years of active service. It turns out that’s not the case. However, my four years on active duty at Annapolis would apply to retirement from a civilian federal job.

My second misconception was that I could retire at 20 years. Although retiring at 20 years (or a lesser amount for medical reasons) is effectively how it works for nearly all veterans, there’s a small nuance that’s often overlooked. The military (especially the Navy and USMC) technically calls “retirement” a paid retainer for a period of time, which means that they can still call you back to active duty, involuntarily. What happens if you don’t return to active duty for the call up? Well… the federal government knows where you live since they’re sending you a “retirement” check so they can simply stop paying you.

As we used to joke at Annapolis, NAVY stands for Never Again Volunteer Yourself.

The Beauty of Binary

Boolean algebra was invented by George Boole in the mid-1800s, long before binary numbers had any practical purpose. While binary, which is base 2, is not the simplest numeral system for humans, it's ideal for computers. It's a simple way to store and transfer information. As a matter of fact, you can think of DNA as binary since it only has two combinations (CG or AT) that store all the genetic information of our makeup.

(The simplest and oldest numeral system for humans is unary, which is base 1. Think: tallying numbers with four ones, 1111, while the fifth tally is a diagonal line striking through the four tallies to make one group of five. Actually, traditional tallying seems more like a cross between base 1 and base 5, but I digress.)

There is an elegant simplicity in binary in that each digit is either a one or a zero. On or off. No room for any gray area, even though fractions and negative numbers can still be represented in binary. Additionally, some numbers that can't truly be expressed in one base, for example, 1/3 in base 10, can be simply written in, say, base 3 as 0.13.

Since computers use binary, some integers operations are child's play to a computer, especially bit shifting. As humans, we can't easily figure out multiplication of large numbers in our head. For example, what is 123 x 45? That will require a pencil and paper or calculator. But, we can easily figure out the answer to 12345 x 100, even though the latter deals with much larger numbers because we simply shift the digits three places. But, for humans, this calculation only works for powers of 10, since we think in base 10. Computers, however, get this luxury when they're multiplying by integers that are a multiple of the base. Multiplying a base 2 number by 2, 4, 8 is as simple as shifting the bits by one, two, three, or four places. For a computer, like a human, this is a much simpler task than working through the traditional arithmetic.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Simple Influences

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
– Leonardo da Vinci

The Marines and Apple have been the biggest influences in my professional life... my way of thinking... my work philosophy.

At the end of the day, they both respect and seek simplicity. Simplicity of design in products. Simplicity of design in tactics. While both organizations are well respected leaders in their fields, they go about solving problems in different ways. One's procedural and the other's artistic. One creates and the other destroys.

But, there's nothing wrong with creating good and destroying bad.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Mental Health in America

How does someone end up on the streets? There are many different reasons such as abuse, drugs, loss of a job, and mental health issues. Over the past few months, I've watched the mental health of a  friend and former coworker from Apple, decline until he ended up living in his office, car, and then ended up on the streets. Help and love from family, friends, his church, and coworkers did no good since he wouldn't accept any aid.

Last time this happened to him, he ended up being arrested and committed. Unfortunately, until someone exhibits some harmful behavior – what authorities refer to as "fitting the profile" – there's not much that can be done by others. Sure, we tried talking to him, in good faith, but when one's brain can't accept reality, logic does no good. From his point of view, the entire world doesn't understand his genius and he things we're all squelching his creativity.

Today, a few of us, including his wife and mother, had to pack up his office, which he had been squatting at, for a couple of months, until his sympathetic landlord had no other choice. We wondered what street he was living on as we boxed up his computers, routers, books, marketing collateral, and training materials.

But, that's life in America. We're free until we harm.