The Art of the Deal

Wanting to learn more about our new president, I just finished reading The Art of the Deal.

The book recounts stories of several business projects he had worked on from the 1970s into the mid-1980s, ranging from low-income housing in Ohio to extremely-high-income housing in Manhattan, to renovating hotels, to building casinos, to finishing civic projects on the behalf of the city, to running a major sports team. There is little directly actionable advice for would-be business people in this book, but readers can pick up on the author’s attitude of success. Some takeaway points that I got include:

  • You can get help from someone else to finance a business project. It will be easiest if you can make a strong case for why your project will succeed, and what it will give back to the community, in the form of new jobs, increased sales for other area businesses, increased demand for housing, etc. It is best, then, if your project really will improve the community, and not just be a vehicle for you to do something fun. (Although nothing at all wrong with enjoying it too!)
  • You can get help from someone else to plan and to implement a business project. If you have a general idea for something that you think would be worth doing (see first point), but don’t know how to fully plan it, you should learn from experts in that field, or even better, find an expert that you get along with and have them help you plan it. Likewise, don’t feel compelled to do all of the implementation work yourself; hire the best people you can find to do part or all of the work for you.
  • Why seek the best experts and best implementers? One problem that routinely causes business ventures to fail is going exuberantly past budget and schedule. Working with people who have done similar things in the past, and who have done them well, significantly increases the possibility of completing work on budget and on schedule.
  • Don’t waste money. If you’re building a 1000-room hotel and can, without any structural or safety problems, save $10 on a widget that is used in every room, then you can save $10,000.
  • Don’t waste time. There’s nothing wrong with relaxing, but cultivate a lifestyle of productivity. Eating lunch at your desk (or as the author suggests, just a can of tomato juice) instead of going out for lunch can easily save a good chunk of time to be devoted to more useful things.

In light of recent current events, I found the last page or so of the book especially poignant:

I’ve spent the first twenty years of my working life building, accumulating, and accomplishing things that many said could not be done. The biggest challenge I see over the next twenty years is to figure out some creative ways to give back some of what I’ve gotten. 

I don’t just mean money, although that’s part of it. It’s easy to be generous when you’ve got a lot, and anyone who does, should be. But what I admire most are people who put themselves directly on the line. I’ve never been terribly interested in why people give, because their motivation is rarely what it seems to be, and it’s almost never pure altruism. To me, what matters most is the doing, and giving time is far more valuable than just giving money.

In my life, there are two things I’ve found I’m very good at: overcoming obstacles and motivating good people to do their best work. One of the challenges ahead is how to use those skills successfully in the service of others as I’ve done, up to now, on my own behalf.

In the pages of this book, I saw someone extremely motivated to succeed, but not greedy. He seems genuinely interested in the well-being of others, and builds great things not so much for his own personal gain, but to enhance the lives of everyone around him.

First Week with a Fitbit

I have been using a Fitbit Charge 2 over the past week, with the goal being to improve fitness through measurement and digital encouragement. My iPhone already tracks steps walked, though. What else does the Fitbit offer?

Some Fitbit devices, including the Charge 2, track heart rate. This is useful for recording a measurement of intensity of exercise. And in turn, that is useful for weight management. If you enter your weight, height, and age, and if you honestly record calories eaten, the Fitbit tracks your steps and heart rate, and tells you how many calories you should eat in the day, if you want to gain weight, maintain weight, or lose weight. Rather than having a static number of calories for the day, or even a flexible number based on vague notions of “light exercise” or “moderate exercise”, the Fitbit seems to do a decent job tracking how much exercise you actually get and adjusting remaining calories accordingly.

The outboard Fitbit software (on iOS or web or whatever) provides opportunities to connect with other Fitbit users for good-natured competition, alerting you that “Oscar has almost caught up with you!” or “Laura has completed her step goal for today!” and so on. Even when not connected with any other users, you get alerts and electronic “badges” for various fitness achievements. Both of these, while happening entirely in the digital realm, are surprisingly motivational.

When using the iPhone to track my steps, I would make sure to grab it before going on what I knew to be a long-ish walk, but I would routinely leave it charging at the computer when going on shorter excursions. The Fitbit is more conveniently always with me, taking the place of a wristwatch.

So far, the step counter seems reasonably accurate to me. Extreme arm movements can trigger a false step, but apparently I don’t do much of that when not actually walking (or at least exercising). It does, however, record arm movement when playing the piano as steps; a few days ago, it recorded about 2000 false steps before I took it off and put it in my pocket. Now I know to just take it off before playing the piano.

Curiously, there is no way to turn it off, and no easy way to get it to pause in recording steps. A simple on-device click for that would be a preferred solution, if I were about to engage in activity for which I knew it would record false steps.

A week in, I am finding the Fitbit a great tool for tracking and improving fitness. Now I would like a similar tool for tracking and improving at other things too!

Inside of a Dog

I just finished reading Alexandra Horowitz’s book, Inside of a Dog, an easy-going look at what behavioral and cognitive psychology can tell us about how dogs perceive the world. Many questions I had about the behavior of my own dog — including some that I hadn’t bothered to form very precisely because I wasn’t really expecting to ever find out — are answered here as convincingly as I could hope for.

Do dogs see in color? Despite longstanding myth to the contrary, dogs do see in color, but while humans generally see across a spectrum of red, green, and blue (with colors in between), dogs only see across green and blue. Different shades of red (or orange or yellow or other reddish colors) may appear distinct to them, but not as blatantly distinct as they do to us. Asking your dog to distinguish between an orange ball and a yellow ball could be more challenging than you might expect!

Can dogs see television? They can, but they probably aren’t very interested in it. While dog vision is in some ways less precise than ours (such as with color spectrum), they can perceive movement at a higher frame rate, if you will. We are convinced of seeing movement on a television or film projector if the pictures are changing at 30 frames per second, or even a little slower. Dogs, though, aren’t fooled, and instead can see the lack of continuous motion. It would take something more like 60 frames per second to look believable to a dog, so they would still be unimpressed even with some recent movies

But while we tend to be predominantly dependent upon vision to perceive the world around us, dogs predominantly exercise their sense of smell, which is vastly more advanced than our own. Dogs can smell where you’ve been; what you’ve eaten; who you’ve been with. They can perceive the intensity of odors such that if you were in the room five minutes ago, that smells different to them than if you were in the room an hour ago, or are in the room right now.

With our eyes, we see what is happening right now; with their nose, dogs smell what is happening right now, what has happened in the past, and, to a degree, what is about to happen in the future. When taking your dog on a walk, the author admonishes, don’t presume to drag him away from smelling something irrelevant to you. Those smells communicate knowledge to your dog! [I admit that I have been guilty of doing exactly that, but am lingering to let my dog smell more on walks now.]

(Their reliance on smelling probably also comes into play if they express disinterest at watching television; no smells are projected on the screen to accompany what they are supposed to believe they are seeing!)

It is well-known that dogs can hear much higher pitches than we can; ergo, the inaudible-to-humans dog whistle. Considering the sonic world from the perspective of a dog requires us to take into account this wide spectrum of high pitches. Some common machines, even common lighting fixtures, make sounds which we are blissfully unaware of, but which dogs are constantly enduring. [I have wondered myself if my dog’s aversion to being photographed has any connection to the ultrasonic focusing mechanism in modern camera lenses?]

Dogs are believed to be unusually intelligent. The author shows disappointing intelligence test results, but suggests that dogs convey great intelligence in one regard in particular:

Dogs … see us as fine general-purpose tools, … useful for protection, acquiring food, providing companionship. We solve the puzzles of closed doors and empty water dishes. In the folk psychology of dogs, we humans are brilliant enough to extract hopelessly tangled leashes from around trees; we can magically transport them to higher or lower heights as needed; we can conjure up an endless bounty of foodstuffs and things to chew. How savvy we are in dogs’ eyes! It’s a clever strategy to turn to us after all. The question of the cognitive abilities of dogs is thereby transformed: dogs are terrific at using humans to solve problems, but not as good at solving problems when we’re not around.

Which is not to say that dogs do not also express aptitude for intelligence on their own, for they do. Even more remarkably, they exhibit, at least in measure, a theory of mind. They look at both humans and at other dogs as individuals with their own minds and their own intentions and behaviors. They express surprise when they witness things which appear to defy their sense of logical expectations. When they play with other dogs, they communicate with them that play is about to commence (and thus any nipping should be taken in fun, not as an attack), and more powerful dogs deliberately handicap themselves when roughhousing with less powerful dogs, so as to level the playing field of their game.

After reading this book, I see my own dog differently now. I am more conscious of how she must see me, and how she must see other people, and other dogs, and the world around her. The author shows us that dogs are, among all animals, those best suited to be with humans: to live with us, to be companions with us, and that they and us both are better off for it.

Apple iOS 10 Voicemail Transcription

Like most people, I don’t actually use my phone a whole lot for placing telephone calls. After getting an iPhone 7 about a month ago, this morning I received my first voicemail message on iOS 10. I was surprised to find the voicemail message audio auto-transcribed to text, and transcribed very well at that.

While an obviously useful technology, I presumed that the voicemail had been processed by Apple remotely at some server farm, as most current hip artificial intelligence applications run on servers rather than on clients or local computers, and that this was yet another affront to individual privacy.

Happily, I was mistaken. According to an Apple support article on using iOS 10 voicemail transcription, all transcription is done local on the iPhone device itself. If the transcription was done poorly, you can optionally send it to Apple for the purpose of them improving the transcription system, but otherwise, it appears that the transcribed text is in fact private to your phone!

Real-World Learning with a Little Help over the Internet

The New Yorker has a short article expressing the benefits of tying modern technology into real life childhood development. Out for a walk and your child wants to know how, exactly, bees make honey? You can whip out your mobile phone for a quick overview, and then head back home to watch more in-depth videos on a desktop computer.

Portrayed like this, highly functional mobile internet access sounds like we can walk around in a perpetual museum. Anything we encounter that we want to learn more about, we can instantly have a multimedia placard for whatever we see.

This was how the internet was presented, and television before that: a wondrous source of nonstop learning and education! Want to hear the greatest lectures from Harvard? You can simply turn on your television set! Want to study the latest research from the physicists at CERN? You are but mouse clicks away.

The resources are certainly available and growing to use the internet as a marvelous educational resource. More and more people seem to use it for perhaps less productive things, but the story of Alison and Augie in the New Yorker is inspiring. Instead of being sucked into the world of the internet itself, focus on using it to learn (and to teach) about our own.

Replacing Water Softener Resin Beads

Having traced unusually low water pressure in the house to the water softener, this weekend we replaced the softener’s resin beads. Things learned:
  • Emptying the old resin beads involves moving around a fairly lightweight water softener made very heavy loaded with water and old resin. It’s probably best done as a two-person job.
  • There may be water pressure built up between the softener and the pipes. Be careful unhooking the unit!
  • The top of the softener unit might be screwed on very tight. A large wrench may be helpful.
  • Spilled resin beads make the floor / driveway surprisingly slippery. Try to avoid spills! Alternately, if you have to move a large, heavy object, sliding it along a trail of resin beads might be a plausible option…

I couldn’t find any local stores that sold resin beads, so I ordered both the resin beads and filter gravel online. With shipping charges, the total came to $200; a local plumber bid $350 to do the job for me. Not a huge savings, but if you feel up to the task, replacing resin beads can certainly be done yourself.

CS Courses Counting Towards Math and Science

Legislators in Pennsylvania have decided that computer science courses can count toward fulfilling either math or science credit requirements for high school students. The reason is implied to be that, counting only as electives, enrollment in computer science courses has been low; offering the added benefit of counting toward non-elective graduation requirements might entice more students to sign up.

As a high school student, I took my first computer science course at a local college because it was going to count toward non-elective graduation requirements at the university I planned to attend. I ended up enjoying the course so much that I decided to major in computer science.

This change sounds to me like a good move on the part of Pennsylvania schools, but I also wonder what other typically-elective subjects we should similarly encourage students to take?

Tutti Frutti Ice Cream at Eddie’s Sweet Shop

A couple of years ago, I was contacted by the owner of Eddie’s Sweet Shop in Queens, New York. He had seen my article on searching for tutti frutti ice cream, and wanted to let me know that his shop in Queens has been selling tutti frutti ice cream for decades.

Eddies Sweet Shop

Last month, I was staying in Manhattan, and made the trip over to Queens to visit Eddie’s. Lo and behold, right there on the menu, and even spelled correctly, was tutti frutti ice cream.

I ordered a cone of it, and tried to both relish the long-awaited experience, and analyze what exactly I was tasting. It seemed like a plain ice cream base; I did not detect any vanilla, so I presume just plain ice cream.

It went too fast, and I wasn’t done relishing and analyzing. So, to the surprise of the clerk behind the counter, I ordered second cone. He asked me how long it had been since I last had tutti frutti ice cream. “This is it, right here. I’ve never had it before today. I’ve been looking for it for nearly thirty years.”


There were bits of fruit; I would guess glacé fruit. The flavor of the fruit melded lightly with the flavor of the plain ice cream. The ice cream was pink in color; I do not believe that much pink color came from the fruit, so I suppose that some food coloring was added.

And that’s about it. Tutti frutti, Italian for “all fruit”, seems to literally be ice cream with bits of fruit in it. I feel confident that I could make something at home with a consumer ice cream machine that would be similar.

(If you wanted to buy ice cream off the shelf that tastes like what I had at Eddie’s, I think the closest commonly-found option might be Breyers Cherry Vanilla. Obviously not an exact match.)

I know of at least two other shops in the United States which make tutti frutti ice cream. I hope to someday try their offerings as well, but given the history of Eddie’s Sweet Shop, I feel confident that this was authentic tutti frutti. If the other shops have something different called tutti frutti, then that may well be authentic also.

Tutti Frutti Ice Cream

In the 1990s I learned how to make web pages, and my first web page was to write up what I had learned searching for tutti frutti ice cream. My personal web page has taken on various forms since then, but I have always kept that content around, and added to it from time to time. I have corresponded with people across the planet, many either searching themselves, and some offering help on what they remembered tutti frutti ice cream to be like.

I really don’t even like ice cream that much, and if I ate anything of the sort, which is infrequent, I’d prefer something like a turtle sundae with frozen custard, or maybe frozen yogurt with bits of chocolate candy. But thanks to Eddie’s Sweet Shop, my search for tutti frutti ice cream has come to a successful close. It is good ice cream. Should I visit Queens again, I would certainly want to go back for another cone. And maybe try another flavor too.

Canon EF 16-35/4 IS

For about a decade, Canon offer SLR camera users two high-quality ultra-wide zoom lenses: the 17-40/4 and the 16-35/2.8. The 16-35/2.8 is a full stop wider in aperture, and also about twice the price. I used the 17-40 for years, which worked great outdoors in adequate light, but, with the f4 aperture, was limited for indoor use, such as for museum exhibits and indoor architecture. The wider f2.8 aperture would help, but what I thought would really be great was image stabilization on the f4 lens.

I must not have been alone in thinking such a lens would be useful, as in 2014 they introduced 16-35/4 ultra-wide zoom lens with image stabilization, for just a couple hundred dollars more than the 17-40/4.

At 16mm


At 35mm


Image Stabilization

The image stabilization works well for moderately dim interiors, like typical museum exhibits:



When the interior lighting is extremely dim, the lens’s image stabilization might not be enough to attain a blur-free handheld photo, but it’s still better than nothing:


Of course, image stabilization only helps motion blur introduced on the photographer’s side. If your subject is moving, having the f2.8 aperture would be more helpful. But for reasonably static scenes, Canon purports that the image stabilization unit compensates for up to four stops worth of aperture, far exceeding what the f2.8 lens offers without image stabilization.


One typically does not reach for an ultra-wide lens for portraits, but sometimes the focal length works out, both at the 35mm end:


and at the 16mm end:


I do think that the extra 5mm on the 17-40 lens is more useful than the extra 1mm on the 16-35 lens, but the image stabilization more than makes up for than in overall value.