Foo fighters

2017-09-24 05:57 pm
mtbc: photograph of me (Default)
[personal profile] mtbc
On yesterday evening BBC television showed the band Foo Fighters performing in London and I got to thinking about the original foo fighters: lights seeming to exhibit fast movement and direction changes, named before the term flying saucer was coined, though I am not aware that foo fighters' shape was discerned. Nonetheless, they were seen by many wartime pilots from countries on both sides of WWII.

I had been expecting to now be able to search the web and find some reasonably widely accepted explanation for these lights. With the Bermuda Triangle we have a theory about methane release from the ocean floor making the seawater less dense and so on. However, even an article last year in Air & Space Magazine does not give the impression that anything convincing was ever figured out about foo fighters though some ideas were circulated. I wonder what caused them to be seen.

Quality of ready-made glasses

2017-09-24 07:54 am
mtbc: maze J (red-white)
[personal profile] mtbc
Now I have been told that I could find cheap +1.00 glasses helpful I find that the next step is not as simple as I naively hoped: consumer research indicates that some ready-made pairs of glasses are not carefully made, optical issues including positioning of the centers and accurate lens strength. In the UK it seems that those from Boots and from Superdrug's Foster Grant range get good reviews consistently, albeit from a rather small sample size.

Wrestling Linux video drivers

2017-09-24 07:05 am
mtbc: maze I (white-red)
[personal profile] mtbc
These days I no longer have to do remote system administration professionally but I still occasionally help out on a personal basis. With modern Linux systems I find it most awkward to help with font issues; perhaps I do not understand enough of GTK+ and whatnot for me to detect what is happening and why.

I have been working on a different longstanding display issue with a decade-old Nvidia graphics card: X.Org was persistently setting only a 1024×768 display mode and my various adjustments failed to change that. Of course, trying to fix display problems from a distance is rarely easy.

Yesterday I finally hit upon the culprit: in /etc/default/grub I found included among GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX the option vga=791. This seems to cause the direct rendering manager to complain, KMS not enabled. I guess that the VGA mode directive somehow gets in the way of the later mode-setting. I am afraid that it is all rather unobvious to me but at least this problem is now fixed.

Food in England

2017-09-23 09:22 pm
mtbc: maze B (white-black)
[personal profile] mtbc
From Oxfam I am pleased to have obtained an old hardback in good condition of Dorothy Hartley's Food in England. From her writing she seems a positively interesting person. I have been curious about what English cuisine was like before the changes in society wrought by the twentieth century and she does a very good job of providing a detailed picture of what people ate and how they made it, especially in rural communities; clearly she has been a curious traveler. While the book does have organization, it is also delightfully random: one never knows quite what the next section will bring. I appreciate how she keenly relates so much about ways that are now largely forgotten, at least in the world I know.

Tabs and links in web browsers

2017-09-23 08:23 am
mtbc: maze C (black-yellow)
[personal profile] mtbc
The current iteration of our website at work is well-received but some of its a tags for the hyperlinks use a target="_blank" attribute which means that a new tab or window is always opened when one clicks on the link. That this persistently irritates me makes me suspect that I may be an atypical visitor to the website.

For the most part I think of browser tabs as to-dos. For mouse-like peripherals I use input devices that offer me at least three buttons. For hyperlinks I expect one of the buttons to replace the content in the current tab and another to open the content in a new tab. So, I always have effortless means at hand to select one behavior or the other and this manual target override feels like that choice is removed to no good end.

I hypothesize that we may have gone with this website design because it works better for people with more normal setups and that mine is abnormally useful by default. Alternatively, I may be unusual in being mindful of the choice of where to open the new content as I click around.

Tolerating golliwog toys

2017-09-22 07:42 pm
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
[personal profile] mtbc
Via [personal profile] andrewducker I found a recent YouGov poll revealing that a majority of the British public does not consider it unacceptable or racist to sell or display a golliwog doll. Liberal Democrats tend to be among the minority but they are used to that. Regarding golliwogs I am in the majority so I felt obliged to reflect on this. For me it is not just about if things are in fun because I would have a problem with, for example, somebody using a Ku Klux Klan costume for fancy dress at Hallowe'en. So, why the difference in my instincts?

I suppose that I regard golliwogs as being of a more ambiguous character and I do not wish racist people success in defining things according to their favored interpretation. The significance of a KKK costume is unambiguous but many have used golliwog toys without ill meaning. My feeling is usually that it is worth the risk of reminding people of bad things if it allows other interpretations to prevail through still being used, or at least not to die into obsolescence without a fight.

This is why I have been irritated by the acceptance of words like oriental as being offensive. That a once fine word has been used offensively does not require that as a community we should accept that it now entails intent to demean. Offensive meanings gain power and they occupy increasingly many symbols if innocent uses are denied currency.

Naturally I am open to being persuaded that I am wrong to want to preserve an innocent view of golliwogs but I suspect that whatever insulting baggage they bring is rather more a symptom than a cause of the societal issues that need fixing.

Managing project backlog

2017-09-21 07:14 pm
mtbc: maze C (black-yellow)
[personal profile] mtbc
At work we seem good at accumulating to-do items. Our Trac has many open tickets. Back when our workload was lighter, from Trac I would pick off the occasional longstanding bug and fix it. We since moved to Trello where we already have many labeled cards spread across many long lists on many boards. Trello is a virtual version of how I used to array post-it notes on my cabinets and walls. I have some thoughts about how this large backlog of Trello cards can be organized but in general there is an interesting management problem to be solved that our move from Trac to Trello does not much address.

I wonder how other large projects manage. Our increasingly many backlogged Trello cards do capture a lot of useful ideas, knowhow, investigation, etc. even if they must presently lie dormant. It is difficult to maintain enough awareness of them to know which to promote when to a more active board. We have other non-backlog boards for specific versions and products that reflect intent to act on their cards. Personally I fear that, as with Trac, we are already approaching a point where whole regions of our Trello space are largely neglected and forgotten, though by no means worthless.

I find Trello far from ideal but, assuming that we keep using it, I wonder what approach is best. Personally I favor dividing the backlog among our team, handing items around as best fits what we know. The idea is that we would each spend just a little time each week organizing our part and cycling a little further through it. Many of the to-do's in our brief review should be quickly handled as it still not being their time or accepting that they will never happen. Then, management need only consider those that members of our team put forward as candidates for acting on.

Presbyopic decline

2017-09-20 05:41 pm
mtbc: maze J (red-white)
[personal profile] mtbc
With the general encouragement of [personal profile] doug today I went along to see Andrew Bolton who practices as an optician on Perth Road in Dundee. My first eye examination since moving from Ohio turned out to be pleasant, thorough and efficient. My eyes are healthy and indeed beginning to gently warrant correction. I do not notice any difficulty when I read normal books but apparently my prescription is rather close to a simple over-the-counter +1.00 pair of reading glasses so I shall probably give such a try, especially as I was advised that after a couple more years I should expect to perceive further decline.

Groups vs systems

2017-09-20 10:13 am
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[personal profile] dpolicar
I am so very tired of the narrative of "We shouldn't condemn a whole group because of some bad individuals. There are good people and bad people in that group."

Here's the thing: there's a difference between a group of people and a system of people. The difference is that a system of people comprises not only the individuals, but also the social constructs that guide the behavior of those individuals... in other words, the system itself.

For example, a company isn't just a bunch of people who coincidentally happen to work on the same projects in distributed ways. A school system isn't a bunch of teachers and administrators who independently happen to work the same way. A police precinct isn't a bunch of officers who just happen to follow the same rules.

In each of these cases there are policies and guidelines and hierarchies and informal structures and so forth that shape behavior. There's a system.

And when we praise or condemn the public school system, or the police, or Microsoft, or etc. we mostly aren't praising or condemning a whole group because of some good or bad individuals. I mean, sure, those individuals exist, but they aren't the reason. We are praising/condemning a whole group because of the system that organizes it. And the larger the system we're talking about, the more true that is: when we say that democracies are more just than totalitarian states, or that capitalism is more efficient than communism, or that communism is more humane than capitalism, or various other claims along those lines, we're basically not saying anything at all about any individual.

Or at least, that's how it should be. I mean, sure, sometimes we praise or condemn a group of people just because we're applying aggregate-level stereotypes to all the individuals in that group. And in those cases the "We shouldn't condemn a whole group because of some bad individuals. There are good people and bad people in that group." narrative makes sense: we really shouldn't! Or at least, we're overwhelmingly likely to be mistaken when we do; we can draw our own ethical conclusions from there.

(I am reminded now of a friendship I broke some time back by expressing both the idea that condemning individuals because of their group affiliations is bad, and the idea that analyzing the common behaviors of individuals is the only way we can identify pathological systems, in ways that struck them as infuriatingly and relationship-endingly hypocritical.)

And sure, sometimes we make analysis errors in this space. Sometimes there's a system operating we're unaware of. Sometimes we infer the presence of systems that don't actually operate, or aren't relevant to what we're talking about. It's easy to talk about the behavior of people while ignoring the systems that shape us, and it's easy to handwave about notional systems without actually making any concrete or testable claims about whether they exist.

I'm not saying I expect us to be perfectly accurate when we describe groups and systems. But I want us to be better about acknowledging that they are two different things.

When someone condemns racism as a systemic attribute of a society, for example, there are folks who reply that no, racism is a property of individuals, end-of-story.

And in principle that can be a legitimate disagreement; if someone wants to argue that there really aren't any social systems underlying/guiding/constraining/coordinating the racist behavior of individuals, for example, that's a totally relevant argument. (Mind you, I think it's obviously false, but that's another matter.)

But usually they aren't arguing that; rather, they are simply insisting that we can only talk about individuals, because when we say that racism is also demonstrated through the systems that essentially all white people in this country participate in, we're talking about a whole group, and (all together now) "we shouldn't condemn a whole group because of some bad individuals. There are good people and bad people in that group."

And I don't know how to say all of this, or any of it, in ways that are at all useful within the conversation itself. And I watch other people trying to do it, and not getting very far either.

And I understand that often that's because other people just don't want to hear it, and in general I don't believe that there's a way to say everything that will be accepted by the person I'm talking to and that it's my job to find it. But still, I try to express myself clearly and compellingly.

So, anyway. I am so very tired of the narrative of "We shouldn't condemn a whole group because of some bad individuals. There are good people and bad people in that group."
[personal profile] dpolicar
(A comment from another discussion)

I acknowledge, of course, that we are all imperfect humans, and what an individual officer does in a specfic situation is always the result of a million variables that are impossible to predict and often impossible to determine after the fact.

That's why I tend to focus more on training and evaluation protocols than on specific events. It's unjust to expect officers to do X in a sitution if they've been trained to do Y, but it's perfectly reasonable to expect officers to be trained to do X if we prefer that they do X in a situation.

I would prefer that police be trained and evaluated as peacekeepers rather than killers. So I would prefer, for example, they be trained and expected to identify situations that don't require a death, and to act so as to not create a death where none is required.

That said, how police are trained and evaluated is a collective decision, and if we collectively prefer police to choose deaths that aren't required -- for example, if we prefer to train and equip police as military officers who happen to deploy among civilian populations -- then that's how we should train and evaluate them, regardless of my preferences. That's part of the price I pay for living in a collective.

If police _are_ trained to choose unnecessary deaths, we should (individually and collectively) treat calling the police, permitting them into our homes, and otherwise making use of their services as a use of deadly force. Consequently, if we don't individually endorse the use of deadly force in those situations, we should not call the police, any more than we would fire a gun.

Those are individual decisions, not collective ones, and it's perfectly reasonable to hold one another as individuals accountable for them.

I acknowledge that this means that individuals who eschew deadly force in a situation may find themselves in conflict with any police who may arrive. I don't like this, and I don't endorse it, but I acknowledge it.

Diagrams, a postscript

2017-09-16 11:12 pm
mtbc: maze I (white-red)
[personal profile] mtbc
Having mentioned considering Cairo for diagram generation I thought that it may be usefully illustrative to share a couple of past diagrams representing those I have previously generated via PostScript® code:

sensor view arrangement
shows a simple arrangement of some sensors and their view of some targets.

magnetic field map
shows an undersea map where the marked regions have a specific magnetic field strength: the meandering black lines are an isopleth. Both diagrams were generated from data structures from my software: for the field map the grayscale is achieved by shaded fills of a mesh of triangles whose vertices are sample points. I did Delaunay triangulation in Haskell which output shfill commands for the rendering.
[personal profile] mtbc
For a specific lottery I can often find where they quote the odds of winning the different levels of prizes. However, I do not see a convenient cross-lottery database of these. Instead, as far as I can tell, people seem obsessed with the jackpots.

I hear of EuroMillions jackpots exceeding £100M and react by thinking that I do not want to play that lottery: even after the IRS take tax from it, £10M would make quite enough difference to me that if I were to play lotteries at all then I would much rather play one that instead paid out rather more £10M prizes but nothing much higher, probably also not so many £sub-10k prizes either: after all, I recently discovered that I have wholly forgotten about one week's holiday in North Carolina that I probably much enjoyed at the time. That is, I would want to maximize my chances of a personally meaningful win.

The odds information does seem to be out there and it would be trivial to write software such that one can supply a meaningful win range and it tells one which lottery to play. Does this exist and I am simply missing it? It feels so feasible.

Maybe there is a lack of demand for such a calculation. Perhaps the kind of people who do like lotteries much enjoy the excitement of thinking enormous wins remotely plausible or they enjoy occasionally winning trivial amounts or they focus on trying to pick winning numbers or something instead of on adjusting for nonlinear utility.
[personal profile] mtbc
It seems that the kinds of website that carry a range of material contributed by the general public are increasingly carrying video. At one time we had text, things like newspaper story extracts, then plenty of still photographs, and now it seems video is the new norm. I find this a little inconvenient: I can rapidly glance through much static content for worthy nuggets but I am not about to spend some seconds on each of many items because lightly curated content is unlikely to be worth that much of my time. I also prefer not to wear headphones for prolonged periods and I am normally in company or listening to something unrelated. I sense that this may be yet another instance of my unprogressively becoming better suited for the Internet of yesteryear.
[personal profile] mtbc
It turns out that Saturn's North pole bears a cloud pattern that is strikingly hexagonal and so large that the Earth would easily fit inside. I watch a lot of science and space documentaries, I have read and watched much science fiction that included travel within our planetary system, I was awarded an A grade for GCSE Astronomy, so how is it only this week that I learned of Saturn's hexagon? Was it only me who didn't know or was it not widely considered to be remarkable? I can hardly imagine a better advertisement for why it might be interesting to study fluid dynamics. Now I come to try to learn more of the phenomenon I read that the effect has been recreated both in simulation and in the laboratory.

Leaky valve cover gasket

2017-09-15 06:46 am
mtbc: maze D (yellow-black)
[personal profile] mtbc
The engine in our venerable Peugeot developed an oil leak that took a couple of visits to the garage to get fixed. Yesterday I had the relative pleasure of driving the car back home from work without smoke pouring from under the hood whenever I was stopped in traffic. The smell of burning oil would also come in through the vents. Of course, commuting at somewhat normal hours means that I routinely see somewhat heavy traffic which, queuing around me, must have wondered about the smoke. Though, I suppose that others must have wondered about the oil slick accumulating around my car when parked in lots.

Naturally, at times when I was certain the problem persisted I drove our Vauxhall instead as the Peugeot hardly leaked when cold. I resisted adding thickener to the Peugeot's oil because I wanted the problem to remain easily perceived and diagnosed by the mechanic. I always more greatly enjoy driving after I have been living with some issue that is now fixed.

In Ohio we routinely drove cars until they, sometimes literally, fell apart. It is odd now to live in Britain knowing that our cars will probably never get that bad given the annual inspections: it is the inspection failure that typically dooms them rather than the actual physical collapse. For at least a couple of our American cars their state was such that oil thickener was a routine additive for us.

Attractive accents

2017-09-14 10:00 pm
mtbc: maze L (green-white)
[personal profile] mtbc
I am not at all good with accents: I cannot mimic any and I am bad at recognizing them. Indeed, if they are accents that I am used to hearing then I am even bad at recognizing if they are incongruous for where I am: for example in Dundee I can talk to Americans without realizing that they are not Scottish. I have noticed that I find many foreign accents attractive in women, I suspect because I am somewhat novelty-seeking and like the idea of learning of many new things through them. Still, I wonder if this perception of attractiveness is somewhat random and irrational, especially as I rather like some American accents from the South, not something I can easily explain.

Since returning to Britain one surprise for me has been Irish accents. I notice that some Irish women have an accent that is attractive to me and some do not. The surprise is that when I discover exactly where they are from, it is always that the attractive-sounding ones are from the Republic of Ireland and the remainder are from Northern Ireland. I appear to be able to tell from which side of the border women hail but only by how attracted I am by their voice as I cannot directly perceive the difference consciously.

I suppose that these observations come with obligatory caveats that I invite people to take as read. For instance, I do not suggest that there is any rational value judgement here; after all, the Republic of Ireland has no special place in my heart and I wish I could see more of those people from Northern Ireland whom I know best.

Heuristic for color vileness

2017-09-13 02:42 pm
mtbc: maze I (white-red)
[personal profile] mtbc
I notice that text like this looks vile but text like this looks okay. In RGB the color combination of the former is F0F on 0A0 and the latter is FF0 on 00A. This innocent transposition of digits has a marked effect.

I do not know much about color spaces but I suspect that the explanation is the difference in the relative luminance of the two colors. As far as I can tell from online calculators that difference is very small for the first pair of colors and rather high for the second pair. Relative luminance does not seem trivial to calculate; there are various guides that helpfully offer algorithms but unhelpfully offer different algorithms from one another. I appear to have accidentally found a rabbit hole.

Aging; declining vision

2017-09-13 08:02 am
mtbc: maze J (red-white)
[personal profile] mtbc
This morning I received You want hot sex? e-mail spam and my first thought was, My goodness, that sounds tiring. Perhaps I am no longer a youth. In particular, in trying to read tiny print off a failing solid-state drive I found that, wearing their glasses, [personal profile] mst3kmoxie and our daughter could read it more easily than I. Indeed, I had opted to put the drive in a flatbed scanner and read from the scanned image. My distance vision certainly remains very good.

While I now forget the details of past visits to optometrists and similar, I do recall that many years ago my vision was measured at 20/12 and later seemed to have degraded to 20/15 or so. I am due for another eye check which I bother with more for eye health than visual acuity but I now wonder how much further my vision has degraded and how many years away eye correction yet is.

Workout music; ABBA

2017-09-11 09:08 pm
mtbc: maze G (black-magenta)
[personal profile] mtbc
I was using a BBC Radio upbeat playlist for today's workout and Abba's Gimme Gimme Gimme came on. I do not usually pay much attention to lyrics but now I wonder if they explain why a man before midnight would not be satisfactory. Perhaps he would just have to wait around. Anyhow, what surprised me was noticing that these soundtracks, full of disco classics and whatnot, have not included more ABBA songs. Though, some have appeared more indirectly: for instance one playlist included Steps' Story of a Heart which surprised me enough in not being at all bad that I investigated and discovered that it was written by Benny and Björn.
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