A Programming Challenge: Fringe Scheduling

userpic=fringeuserpic=toshibaIf you haven’t figured it out yet by reading my blog, we’re in the midst of the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), meaning almost 300 shows and events spread over Hollywood and West Hollywood during the month of June. It is impossible to figure out the best way to schedule the shows you want to see in the time you have.

Or is it.

Now I’m not an actor, director, producer, or anything connected with the theatre industry, other than an audience member. I am, however, a computer scientist. I’m a software engineer, and I know how to draw up specifications for problems to be solved. Scheduling the Fringe is a solvable problem: after all, I had kids at the California State Science Fair doing something similar with school assignments.

So here’s my challenge to you: I’m going to lay out the problem as I see it. Can you develop an app or a web page that can solve the problem in a usable fashion? No pay involved other than the glory of the challenge, but I will pass any good results on to the folks at the Fringe to consider next year.

Here’s the problem:

  • You have a database of shows and events. Each show has webpage link, a title, a venue, a ticket price, a running time, and some set of performance times.
  • You have a database of venues, each with a street address (which you can likely use a Google interface to get GPS coordinates and walk time).
  • You have a list of shows and events that someone is interested in, together with what we’ll call an interest level: 0 – no interest to 3 – must see.  This could be an added parameter on the current Favorites list (go to the website, create a user, and then you can save favorites), or it might be entered in some other way.
  • You have a list of times for which the person is available, including some times marked a “meal breaks”. For example, I might be available weekends between 11am and 11pm, with a 1 hour dinner break after 5pm. You get to determine the most user friendly way to specify this.  Perhaps this could interface with Google Calendar?
  • You have a desired dollar amount they want to spend on tickets.

Given these inputs, produce a best fit schedule, that includes as many of the highest priority shows as possible, then as many of the next priority tier down, and so on for priorities 1-3. You need to take into account walking time between venues, or if the distance between venues exceeds the walking time by 15 minutes, driving and parking time (parking can take up to 15 minutes if you aren’t lucky). You need to take into account meal breaks. Allocate 10 minutes before a show to allow time to check in and get seated. Make sure the total cost does not exceed what the user has indicated.

Ideally, this tool might even connect to the ticketing system (including purchasing Fringe buttons) such that once a schedule is set, it can be ticketed. There might be the need to adjust if a show is sold out of tickets. Ideally, whatever it ticketed could then be saved to Google Calendar or whatever the Mac folks use.

For now, build the databases as you see fit. If you need, I can talk to the Fringe folks and get you information on the JSON/XML API to interface with their site.  Ideally, this should be something usable by folks used to normal websites (i.e., not a complicated interface).

I think this is a solvable problem, and might actually be a good assignment for a class as an example of a real world problem. Feel free to post questions here, and either I’ll answer them based on my experience, or I’ll pass them to the Fringe for resolution.

OK, Go….

[As comments are closed, feel free to mail them to me at faigin -at cahighways.org]


Technology Tricking You

userpic=toshibaTechnology is sometimes straight-forward. Sometimes, however, it befuddles you and doesn’t do what you want. Here’s are some articles about some useful things to know, in advance:

  • The 7-10 Split. You’re on Windows 7. You’re not sure if you want to move to Windows 10. First, you should know  that some updates from Microsoft can bork your Windows 7 installation, especially if you have an ASUS motherboard. Assuming you survive that, next comes the update question: Move to Windows 10 or not. Here’s one way to lock in that free upgrade, and still stay on Windows 7. Of course, it involves moving to Windows 10 and then backing it out. Of course, you might not have a choice. It appears that Microsoft is forcing people to move to Windows 10 by scheduling the updates without telling them. Forewarded is forearmed. Watch closely to see how to avoid it. Further, the article confirms why Microsoft is pushing Windows 10 so hard, and why it is free. The answer: It is that old adage: if you get it for free, you are not the customer, you are the product. From the article: “When Microsoft created Windows 10, it tied in numerous monitoring and data collection tools. The operating system is capable of gathering your search history, web usage, Windows Store usage, details of what applications you use, voice recordings, emails, geographic information and just about anything else that is on your PC. This information is gathered in part for improving Windows-based services, but it is also used for market research and advertising purposes. Because each user on Windows 10 increases the amount of advertising information available to Microsoft, which in turn enables Microsoft to earn more revenue from selling this data, it is not surprising that Microsoft wants everyone to use its new OS.” In a related note, Microsoft is adding more ads to the Windows 10 Start screen that you can’t remove.
  • Booting from USB. If you get hit by malware, you might need to boot from a USB drive. The problem is: it’s not always that easy. Here’s how to boot from a USB drive. It is not as easy as it was in the old days, when you could boot from a floppy (or in some cases, a CD). Today’s PCs come with a lot of protection—which is good—but it can get in the way. Somewhere in your BIOS setup screen, you’ll almost certainly find a Secure Boot option. If you can’t boot from a flash drive, turn it off. UEFI can also be a problem. Finally, most of today’s PCs boot immediately from the internal hard drive or SSD, without looking for bootable external media first. You have to do something special to make them look, and what you have to do depends on your PC.
  • When “Buy Now” Isn’t. When you go to Amazon or iTunes and click “Buy Now”, I bet you think you’re actually buying something. That’s what most people think. The problem is: “Buy Now” sometimes doesn’t buy anything at all. As a recent study shows, when it came to physical goods, the shoppers pretty much knew exactly what they thought they were getting. But when it came to digital goods, there was a violent mismatch between what the customers thought they were buying (something they could resell, lend, or give away) and what the small print said they were getting (an extremely limited copyright license that required them to use their media in conjunction with special restrictive players that prohibited all these activities).  In short: people are buying things because they have mistaken beliefs about what they’re getting, and if they knew better, they wouldn’t buy those things on those terms.



CyberChum: Selected Technological Links of Interest

userpic=cyborgOver lunch, let’s continue the clearing of the accumulated links. This collection of links all relates to technology in some way:

  • Safe Exchanges. Have you ever purchased something over Craigslist, but then been worried about meeting the other person in a safe place to exchange the items. If so, did you know that many cities have established safe exchange zones, where the exchanges can take place under a security camera in a public place.  You can find the safe exchange location near you by clicking here.
  • Google Keyboard Updates. Google is updating its Android keyboard again. For example, one of the most useful changes is a fine cursor control: just tap and hold on the space bar and you can slide the cursor to where you want it to go. Suggestions are also smarter, as you can touch and drag away one that you don’t like to the trash. This can cut down on those typos that got saved into Google’s memory. There’s a one handed mode, and a 9-key layout for entering numbers.
  • Extending Gmail. Another Google related article: 5 Chrome extensions that enhance Gmail.
  • Cables: Keep or Toss. Here’s a good explanation of all those cables you find around the house. I disagree a bit with his recommendations on what to keep or toss. For example, I’ll keep 30-pin Apple connection cables, but that’s simply because we have 3 iPod Classics in this house. I also would tend to keep VGA, but that’s simply because the ACSAC projectors use VGA. We also still tend to use RCA/Composite cables, but that’s because we haven’t gone to digital TVs.
  • Hacking Airplanes. The aviation industry is waking up to the need for cybersecurity. About damn time.
  • Ransomware. Ransomware is now the biggest cybersecurity threat. It certainly is a large worry for me, especially when I see a lot of disk activity or a file goes missing. Here are some good tips to stop ransomware in its tracks. I particularly like the advice to backup to an external drive that does not remain connected to your system. That’s what I’ve been doing of late.



For Your Seder Discussion: Kosher L’Pesach News Chum

Observation StewFirst and foremost: to those who observe: May you have a happy Pesach (Passover). May your seder move you in ways that matzah never will. Here’s some accumulated news chum for the week for your Pesach discussions. I promise you they’ve only been thickened with potato starch:

  • Seders for Christians. If you are like me, you probably we brought up on the belief that Jesus’ Last Supper was a Passover seder. After all, it was a meal with a large group, and Passover occurs around the time of Easter, right? But then again, I’m Jewish. What do I know? But we all should have been suspicious of the “Take this bread” comment.  But as a result of this misbelief, Christian groups have been holding their own seders to remember the Last Supper, and Jews have often invited Christian friends to their seders. The Coffee Shop Rabbi has a nice informative piece that sets the record straight: To Christian Friends Coming to Seder. Well worth reading.
  • Expect to See This on “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me”: Do you ever read an article online and go: “We’ll see this on Wait Wait?” Here’s an article destined for the show; I could easily see this in the “Bluff the Listener Game”. It is a story about the next advance in the Internet of Things. Here’s the quote describing the item from Slashdot: “Do you worry that your significant other is having mid-day romps in your bedroom while you’re stuck at work banging out TPS reports? There’s an app for that, and a smart mattress with built-in sensors to detect when between-the-sheet activities are taking place, with or without your participation. It’s part of what a mattress company in Spain is calling its “lover detection system.” You can’t make this stuff up. Or maybe you can. You might seriously question whether or not the so-called Smarttress from Durmet is a real thing or an attempt at a viral marketing stunt. By all accounts, it certainly looks real. There are two dozen ultrasonic sensors embedded in the springs of the mattress. These tell-all sensors detect the speed and intensity of motion, how long the mattress has been active, and the history of encounters. That data is used to create a 3D map in real time, which you can view on your mobile device with an app for either iOS or Android devices.
  • Expect to See This on “Planet Money”: Then again, there are those articles that you know will show up on Planet Money from NPR, especially after they have already done a podcast on the subject. Hot on the heels of that podcast, which was about how Argentina racked up great debt, and then refused to pay it leaving bondholders in the lurch. Most eventually settled for pennies on the dollar (or whatever the Argentinian equivalent is). Today brings news that, in order to get the black mark of bond default off their record, Argentina is paying off the remaining bondholders in full. So, two questions: (1) If you were a bondholder who settled for bubkis, how would you feel? (2) Given this history, would you lend this money country, or invest in a pension fund that does?
  • Diversity and Hollywood. In the recent past, I’ve highlighted some very interesting podcasts that have increase my understanding of diversity, including some excellent episodes of both Startup and of Reply All. Here’s another interesting question on diversity: Why does Hollywood keep casting whites in Asian roles? Performance art (theatre, movies, TV) clearly has a diversity problem: both on-stage/before-the-camera and in the unseen creative and production roles. If this country is truly a melting pot, then our creative results should reflect that. But here’s a question as a result: As a result of this, one culture’s expression may become popular with all. How does one balance broad acceptance with cultural approbation? For example, I saw a friend posting about a Color Vibe run. I saw it, and instantly thought of the Holi Hindu color festival. Think about the first item in this chum, about Christians picking up the Seder custom. Cultural approbation? It even occurs at the Seder: look how the idea of the Orange on the Seder Plate was adopted and changed by the male majority.
  • Cybersecurity Chum. Here are a few cybersecurity items to scare you:
  • Development Chum. Two development related articles: Boyle Heights — a community in Los Angeles that was home to the first synagogue and has a vibrant hispanic life — is battling the attempts to gentrify the community and change its nature. If it happened to DTLA (excuse me, Downtown Los Angeles), it can happen to you. Up in the Bay Area, there has been more success: although the area around the original Mel’s Drive In is being converted to housing, Mel’s will remain.
  • Behind the Scenes. Two interesting articles that take us behind the scenes. The first looks at the dying life of the film projectionist in the UK. The second takes us behind the scenes of Medieval Times, the faux knights-and-damsels pageant. Both are extremely interesting reads.
  • Drugs and Brains. Our last article is something I’ve reported on before: how common allergy drugs can create problems for the brain. This is of particular concern: I”m a regular user of benedryl, and have other drugs that affect the head but help the migraines.



Saturday #NewsChum Stew: Risk, Radio, Drugs, Discounts, DNA, and Darwin

Observation StewIt’s Saturday, and you know what that means: Time to clean out the accumulating links and see what sort of stew it makes:

  • Risks of the Internet of Things. Working in cybersecurity, I’m well aware of the risks of the IOT: that these untrusted unprotected devices could be a stepping stone into a private network for attacks. But there’s an even larger functionality risk, demonstrated this week by Nest’s announcement that they will no longer support the Revolv hub: The manufacturer can render your expensive connected appliance useless by simply shutting down the server.  Just imagine it: refrigerators and HVAC equipment that no longer works because they can’t check in to their home bases. TVs and audio equipment that fail because they can’t sync. Cars that become doorstops when their underlying site goes down.
  • Expressing Your Love. Steve Julian is a long time host on public radio here in Los Angeles. He’s been fighting a losing battle — on his terms — with brain tumors. LA Observed had an interesting article on how the digital community is coming out to support Steve and keep his spirits up. We often don’t realize the value of the community we build on places like Facebook, Livejournal, Dreamwidth, and other such social sites.
  • Drug Schedules. With all the talk of new rules for Hydrocodone and Oxy, I’ve been worried about impacts on the T3 I use for migraines. As such, I found this description of what the Federal Drug Schedule is and how it is determined fascinating. I was relieved to see that Oxy was in a different category than T3. Of course, most people are reading it about pot, but I’m not most people.
  • The New Costco Card. Costco will be changing our credit cards from Amex to CitiVisa. In the process, they are moving to a card with outstanding deals. This might entice me to use the card at gas stations, although I’m sure that the gas rebate is less than the discount I get for the private gas company cards (which are charged like cash).
  • Yiddish Roots of Hollywood/Angel’s Flying. With my daughter’s love of Yiddish, article on the subject catch my eye. Here’s an exploration of Hollywood’s Yiddish roots. If that doesn’t interest you, read about how the Angels flew to Anaheim.
  • Celiac Disease and DNA. It appears they are finding more and more information about the root causes of Celiac Disease. This time, they’ve identified more of the trigger DNA sequences.
  • Darwin and Drives. Thumb drives, that is. It appears that surveys show that a majority of people, when they find a thumb drive lying in the street, will plug it into their computer to find out who owns it. They do, and — blam — they are pwned. Leave the investigation of drives to the trained professionals.
  • Porn Economics. Here’s a detailed article exploring the economics of porn, including the fact that most porn sites are run by one company, and that the search terms they choose insidiously propagate particular attitudes and preferences designed to denigrate. It is a fascinating read if only for that access: the tremendous amount of data these sites collect from you. Our society and our electronics used to be somewhat anonymous: your iPod didn’t report your music preference to Apple, that clerk in the adult store didn’t collect names and preferences when cash was used, payphones weren’t tied to individuals. Welcome to the world of big data, and all hail our ubiquitious all-knowing all-collecting overlords.
  • Moving to Encryption. WordPress has moved to encryption by default of all wordpress.com websites. They’ve also moved to encrypting all domain names they host. This is something I need to do one of these days (once I figure out how), both for tasnorthridge-motas.org (which is homed at enomcentral but really on wordpress.com) and cahighways.org (which is homed on enomcentral, but hosted on Westhost).

If you didn’t see the earlier chum this week, they were on food and controversial subjects.


CyberStew: Security, Safety, and More

userpic=cardboard-safeIn advance of the silliness tomorrow, here’s some serious cyber-related news chum:



News Chum – In No Particular Order

Observation StewBefore I work on the writeup from last night’s show, I want to clear out the accumulated news chum links. I don’t have the time to put them in any particular theme or order, but I’ll try to give some idea why I thought they were of interest.



News Chum Stew: This and That

Observation StewIt’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve made some news chum stew, and I’m hungry for a nice heaping bowl. Please join me, and let’s discuss some of these:

  • Inclusion and Integration. Let’s start with an article I chose just for the graphic, which is appropriate for the Oscars tonight and #OscarsSoWhite . I had seen others use this graphic before with respect to diversity discussions, and I realized that it is also wonderful to explain security system engineering, and how security truly needs to be included in the engineering discussion, not just considered in a separate area.
  • Food and Health. Here are two articles related to food and health.The first explores how the proton-pump inhibator heartburn meds (such as omeprazole, which I take) may be associated with a higher dementia risk. This is of concern to me; it is why I’m trying to wean down on the meds (I’m at every other day). Specifically, a new study links the widely used PPIs — which include Nexium, Prevacid and Prilosec — to an increased risk for cognitive decline, though researchers caution the study has limitations, and does not show a definite cause. PPIs have recently been linked to kidney disease, heart disease, and deficiencies of B12 and other vitamins. While patients have reported side effects of the drugs, not taking them often results in stomach pains and worse heartburn as the drug leaves their systems.

    The second highlights a fascinating finding about pasta: Reheating your pasta makes it healthier for you. When pasta is cooled down, your body digests it differently, causing fewer calories to be absorbed and a smaller blood glucose peak. And reheating it is even better – it reduces the rise in blood glucose levels by a whopping 50 percent.

  • Cruz and Gluten Free. It seems society just wants to hate and bully. We’ve all seen various people, shapes, and trends become scapegoats for society’s extended mockery. Recently, Ted Cruz marched into the frey by declaring the military shouldn’t provide gluten-free meals. This promped a lovely editorial in HuffPost asking people to stop making fun of the gluten-free diet (which was the real article that prompted this item). Yes, I know there are many folks doing it because the diet is trendy and they believe it will help them. The problem is that if people start feeling that folks only do it for trendy reasons, then they won’t be careful in making things truly gluten free. That can create significant health problems for those that are Celiac and truly must eat gluten free.
  • Kitchens and Shopping. If you’re a cook, you’ve probably gone shopping at those high end kitchen supply stores. Have you gone to a restaurant supply store. It’s quite fun. We’ve gotten a few things there that we use every day. Here’s a good article on what you should be buying at a restaurant supply store. I particularly recommend the cutting board advice: get a really large one you can sit over your sink. You can then rinse and cut without the water going over your counters, and scrape the cuttings right into the disposal. They also have colored boards, so you can segregate vegetable from meat boards.
  • Humor and Jews. This article got an incredible amount of shares when I posted it on FB: Mad’s Al Jaffe explaining how Mad helped make American Humor Jewish, bringing in Yiddish along the way.
  • Calculators and Caller ID. Recently, an app on my Android Phone informed me it was using Caller ID, and I needed to go into its settings if I didn’t want that. The app, PowerCalc, and yes — it is integrating CallerID to make money for its authors. Needless to say, I want to find a different calculator app now.
  • Cars and Satellites. Here’s a real interesting one. I work in El Segundo, and regularly drive now Nash Street. I’ve never thought about why it was named what it was. However, a posting in an LA History group on Facebook provided some fascinating history. Evidently, what is now the Boeing Satellite Facility at Imperial Highways and Hughes Way used to be the Nash-Kelvinator Assembly Plant. Thus: Nash Street.
  • Names and Processors. A number of years ago, picking a processor was easy. You went for the latest x86 and clock speed. Then came Pentium and Celeron and Atom, and now there are Cores and iX and more. Here’s the first cogent explanation I’ve found of Intel Processor naming. This will be a big help next time I go processor shopping. I wonder how they differ architecture-wise, in particular in memory mapping and privilege rings — things us cybersecurity folks care about.
  • Tuna and Pianos. Get it? Piano Tuna? Nevermind, I’m here all week. You may have seen the recent Android commercial where they play one song on a regular piano, and one song on a piano where every key makes the same note. You might have wondered whether they made a square piano to do it, in order to have all the strings the same length (remember: a piano has the same number of strings as a harp; it is just that they are buried in a box and hit with a hammer). Here’s a Scientific American article on what they did, and exploring if you could make all strings sound the same just through tuning.
  • A, B, C, D, E, and F. If you are old enough, you remember the days before “forever” stamps, when postage changed so frequently they issued lettered stamps worth make up postage between the old rate and the new rate. One wonders if they would issue negative postage stamps now, given that stamp prices are set to go down 2c in April. That’s right. Down. From 49c to 47c. I’d wait to buy that “forever” postage.
  • Maps and Places. We’ve all heard about it, but is it really done? Atlas Obscura explores the legend of fictitious place names on maps. Can they really be used to copyright a map?
  • Restaurants and the San Fernando Valley. A couple of articles on restaurants and the valley. The first explores 118 Degrees, a new raw vegan GF restaurant. The second is supposedly the essential valley restaurants, although I find some a bit trendy for my taste (and as usual, then tend to think only of the Boulevard, instead of the Northern valley). This becomes clear when they mention Lum Ka Naad’s outpost on the boulevard, instead of mentioning the original location near CSUN (which is about a mile from where I live). PS. While we’re talking about the valley, here’s an obit of interest: Rabbi Gordon of Chabad in the Valley has passed away. Z”L.
  • Malls and ShoppingTowns . In the news recently was an article noting how the Beverly Center mall near Cedars Sinai is getting a makeover. I remember this area well: I remember when the mall was built in the 1970s (drove by it on the way to WBT). It replaced the beloved Beverly Playland. The redevelopment is part of a trend of mall redesign, where developers take what were indoor malls and make them outdoor strolling areas. Think “the Grove” or “Americana at Brand”. What goes around, comes around, I guess. I remember when this was done at places like Fallbrook; I also remember when outdoor malls were turned into indoor malls (Panorama Mall; Sherman Oaks Fashion Center). They are about to do a similar transformation on the Westside Pavillion (which folks remember used to be a little lovely outdoor shopping center with a Vons and May Company). Should be interesting to watch.

Lastly, I’d like to highlight a few “GoFundMe”s of interest, related to folks I know. Orlando de la Paz was the scenic painter at the Colony; he recently had a stroke and is raising support funds. Jolie Mason worked with me at SDC; she’s now running the LA Radio Reading Service, a group that is raising funds for studio upgrades. Bruce Kimmel, a producer out here in LA, is raising money for an LA Themed Musical, which will premiere at LACC around May 13 for two weeks.  The family of one of my counselors from camp days is raising funds for his care; he’s dealing with a brain tumor and the prognosis isn’t good. The LA Theatre Community is raising funds for its legal fight against Actors Equity; they’ve already raised 75K. Lastly, the Men of TAS are raising funds to improve the Social Hall Kitchen; we’d love it if you could help.