The Daily Parker

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Lotus 1-2-3 epoch day weirdness

The ancient spreadsheet package Lotus 1-2-3 set "0 January 1900" as its day zero. Whenever you entered a date into a Lotus spreadsheet, the program actually stored the number of days before or since that mythical date. Microsoft Excel needed to maintain compatability with Lotus early on, so it set 30 December 1899 as its day zero, which worked very well except for dates between 30 December 1899 and 1 January 1900, and it added the other mythical date 29 February 1900 because Lotus had that bug as well.

Flash forward a few decades, and today brings us a little bit of weirdness that only shows up in the American Month-Day-Year format.

Today is 4/21/15 in the U.S., and also day 42115 in Excel.

This bit of nerdiness brought to you by the Daily Water Cooler and one of The Daily Parker's readers.

Out in the wild

The Inner Drive Extensible Architecture (IDEA) is now on NuGet.org. This means anyone, anywhere can download it and install it into their own .NET project.

I'll publish the Inner Drive Azure Tools at some point after I figure out a cool acronym.

This was actually forced on me by a new requirement to share the code with overseas partners. They would be unable to use the software I wrote for work if I hadn't done this.

Conducting intro programming classes

...sort of. But that's not important right now. I'm just spiking some articles to read later:

OK, time for a vendor phone call...

Surfacing

One of the biggest perks of being a CTO is that I get to roll out really fun initiatives every so often. Our CEO has a Microsoft Surface 2, and he's had such success with it that we decided to make it our official laptop replacement.

I made one moderately-annoying error in rolling out Surface Pro 3 tablets to seven people who were waiting for laptops: I failed to give the less-technical users guidance on how to set up user accounts. We're fixing it, but we still have some confusion around the idea that multiple authentication providers can use the same account name. Think about it: Microsoft and Google will both allow you to set up accounts with a gmail.com email address, and even let you use that address as the user name; but they're separate accounts, and Microsoft has no way of knowing if you've changed your Google password. But users who always set up the same account name and password (please do not do this! Get a password manager instead) get into the habit of logging in to things the same way, and don't have the mental model of the difference between a username-password combination and an actual authenticated identity.

Despite the hiccup rolling them out, they've been a success. They have about a quarter the mass of a laptop but most of the power. For most users, who rarely create 50 MB presentations and who have never tried to debug a 50,000-line MVC application, even the entry-level Surface Pro 3 is more power than they'll ever use.

After having mine a little more than a week, I have to say it's my favorite tablet so far. First, it runs Windows 8 (and in July I'm upgrading to Windows 10). So it behaves exactly like my laptop. In fact, since I use my Microsoft ID to log into both my main laptop and my Surface, all my preferences and settings are synchronized (including WiFi passwords, I was surprised to discover), making it even easier to switch between them.

Second, the keyboard and stylus work better than I was expecting. I have an ASUS 700 with a keyboard attachment that I never use, principally because the keyboard, which functions as an extension battery, weighs almost as much as the tablet. But the Surface keyboard is light and makes sense as a cover. The stylus also gives me more control over routine point-and-click tasks than I've been able to achieve on my ASUS. I'm still not as proficient with it as I am with an ordinary mouse, but I'm getting there. I'd probably like it even more if I were a graphic artist.

I've got a couple of annoyances with the device, but nothing that's a deal-breaker. I may catalog them later. For now, I'm pretty satisfied with the thing, and I'm even happier that it lets me leave my laptop at my office most of the time. If only it could drive a pair of 24-inch monitors through DVI...then I could actually develop software on it.

I have a break at 6:30, at least

With meetings and a new developer on the team occupying almost all my time today, I've put these things aside for the half-hour I have at 6:30 to read them:

Now to jot down some policies on our new Microsoft Surface setups...

Genetics of the blue dress

Retail genetic-research company 23 And Me analyzed the genetics of the blue dress phenomenon:

For one, there was no clear genetic association with seeing either a blue and black dress versus seeing white and gold one, according to Fah Sathirapongsasuti, PhD, a computational biologist here at 23andMe.

That doesn’t mean there is no association, it just means that we didn’t find one that met our threshold for a strong association. We did see a small effect size for a genetic variant in the gene ANO6. While this may or may not be significant, it’s interesting because ANO6 is in the anoctamins gene family, which includes the gene ANO2. The gene ANO2 is involved in light perception, so this might be something that warrants further study. But as we said, the association we saw did not show a big effect. Others who’ve looked at the possible genetic influence of how people perceive the color of the dress also did not find a strong genetic association, finding, for instance, that identical twins also reported seeing different colors.

According to 23andMe’s data at around 20 years of age, customers were split evenly between those who saw a white and gold dress versus those who saw blue and black. But as customers get older the proportion of those who see white and gold increased up until the age of 60 when more than three quarters of those surveyed said they see a white and gold striped dress instead of blue and black one. This effect is more dramatic in men where the proportion of men seeing white and gold increases by almost 15% around the age of 40.

Their more detailed conclusions—or lack of conclusions—are pretty interesting.

Also, for those keeping score at home, the dress is really blue no matter what you perceive.

The behavioral economics of a Fitbit

Paul Krugman explains:

[W]hat fitness devices do, at least for me, is make it harder to lie to myself. And that’s crucial. It’s all too easy to convince yourself that you’ve done enough walking, that shuffling around filing books is a pretty good workout, that you only miss exercise once a week or so — OK, maybe twice. But there’s your Fitbit telling you that you only walked 6000 steps and burned 1800 calories yesterday, that you only did serious exercise three days last week.

You might say that the truth will show up on the scale and your waistline eventually; yes, but that’s too future oriented. You need to guilt-trip yourself in the here and now.

Yes. And since I've started counting steps every day, and making decisions that result in even more steps, I've lost 7½ kilos—one stone two, to my UK friends—and brought my resting heart rate down to 60-65. I've also been able to correlate sleep quality with mental performance and diet, which doesn't mean I always sleep well or long enough, but it at least helps me plan my days better.

Oh, and I bought the Fitbit Surge, which is even cooler than the Flex I've been using.

Visualizing algorithms

Via Jeff Atwood, this is very cool:

Algorithms are a fascinating use case for visualization. To visualize an algorithm, we don’t merely fit data to a chart; there is no primary dataset. Instead there are logical rules that describe behavior. This may be why algorithm visualizations are so unusual, as designers experiment with novel forms to better communicate. This is reason enough to study them.

But algorithms are also a reminder that visualization is more than a tool for finding patterns in data. Visualization leverages the human visual system to augment human intellect: we can use it to better understand these important abstract processes, and perhaps other things, too.