mtbc: maze C (black-yellow)
Back in May I had mentioned, More recently in working on extending our server's permissions system and especially in then fixing the performance issues I thus caused, I have not been at all sure how many weeks the work would take nor how possible I would find it at all, which of course is a stressful uncertainty. I now seem to be back in that joyless realm.

The server permissions work that I am doing was meant to have been released long ago. Enforcing a later hard security requirement caused some performance issues that took me some weeks to investigate and fix or at least work around. The release date was pushed to what is now fairly soon and more performance issues have raised their head, thanks in part to tougher testing that I recently suggested. I noted some ideas that may help but, as has been typical, luck has not smiled upon me which may be par for the course when wrestling complex legacy code, based on an equally complex enterprise software stack, so that it can manage current-scale data such as the Image Data Resource. I still have more ideas to try, perhaps even more to have, but I cannot promise to fix the issues on time nor am I sure that it would take less than a fundamental redesign.

On the one hand, my coworkers understand that I am wrestling with difficult issues and will help where they can. Just today one of them took one another task off my plate and has probably finished it off. On the other hand, being ongoingly at the center of delayed code with significant technical risk does not leave me feeling comfortably relaxed.
mtbc: maze B (white-black)
In Michigan I bought some whipped cream for a pumpkin pie. Whipping had the desired effect. I wondered, what if I had whipped double cream instead or even single cream? What is special about whipping cream? As I thought further, I realized that I could not remember how one turns milk to butter. I recalled that churning it is somehow important but where does all the water go? I clearly have not had enough intercourse with milkmaids. Upon asking [personal profile] mst3kmoxie she reminded me of separating curds from whey so I guess something like that is involved. I am losing touch with some basic aspects of the real world: I couldn't help but be reminded of Robert Webb asking David Mitchell, So then how did they turn the cheese back into milk? They needed kilns! Now that I read more about butter production I further wonder if cultured butter is easily bought but I have not even yet managed to find ewes' milk locally.
mtbc: photograph of me (Default)
My flights were from Ontario: Windsor, connecting in Toronto. Windsor is one of these small airports where at the baggage carousel one can see the guy behind putting the baggage onto it and security is sometimes closed and unmanned. It also seems to attract inexperienced travelers: the line ahead of me moved very slowly as people turned up with oversized carry-ons, mismatch of name between ticket and photo ID, etc. The clerk was clearly pleasantly surprised at how easily processed I was. I found myself sharing the airplane with the Toledo Rockets who play college basketball and are generally rather tall. They are now in Rome playing some friendly games with European teams. We once bought a minivan in Toledo but that was far from worth mentioning to them.

In Toronto I discovered an express walkway. These are wonderful: the moving walkway unfolds itself underneath one's feet then one travels rather faster for the bulk of the journey, the reverse happening toward the end. I wondered how far one can push this idea, if some further unfolding is practical for even greater speed. The international departure area I reached for my flight to Glasgow had some Toledo Rockets and I am quite sure that on some previous year my flight to Edinburgh or Heathrow had left from one of the other gates in that same area.

I now find myself somewhat jet lagged; this morning I slept until 11h which is most unlike me.
mtbc: photograph of me (Default)
Three of the four places in which we lived in Ohio were close to a railway line that routinely carries freight. In visiting central Michigan, the house in which I stayed last summer and the apartment this year are close to each other and also to a railway line that I recently viewed from Meridian Township's excellent interurban pathway system. After my first couple of nights I was again becoming used to the sound of the locomotive's horn blowing even in the early hours of the morning. I got to wondering what fraction of people in such states live within earshot of the railways, perhaps many. It could be that my own experience is unrepresentative.

In Massachusetts the railway line near our apartment also carried passenger rail: I briefly used it to commute to Concord. However, I am more used to the long, slow freight trains. Given their dominance away from the coastal states, I also wondered if a lack of passenger rail is enabling for freight: if fast commuter rail and long freight trains get in each other's way rather.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
In recent times nationalism seems to have been synonymous with an authoritarian xenophobia but I was looking at flags and wondering if there is also a good side. In wandering central Michigan I see the American flag flown from everywhere from baseball fields to highway-side truck scales. I had previously observed that in the US I more strongly feel a pervasive sense of where I am. One example might be that, rather than having A roads and B roads and whatnot, there are US routes and state routes (named for each state: Ohio, Michigan, whatever), with the location thus being part of the name. It occurred to me that the flags might also relate to that strong sense of locality, whether as cause or effect, and that they may foster a positive sense of community in which those flags remind people that in some sense these sites are all communal assets. The baseball field and whatnot certainly seemed to be in good repair.
mtbc: photograph of me (Default)
I was looking at a couple of empty storefronts in an indoor mall here in central Michigan and thinking back to Northland Mall in central Ohio. It lasted for a few decades but competing malls at Easton and Polaris were the final nails in its coffin: the last I saw, they were the kind of malls at which the affluent young people hang out, entertainment mixed in with the shops; we used to go to a gym at Easton. One can now read about the Northland Mall on

While I like much about the Midwest, the decline of some malls is an exception to that. I don't notice it happen in the same way in Britain; perhaps charity shops with lower business rates fill the gap. I don't know if the Northland Mall was just out of date. I don't think it was located in too poor an area, one from out of which the economic bottom had dropped so badly that even a mall could not be supported. I suppose the story is indeed simply that an adequate mall was supplanted by new shiny ones. In other cases malls may have to compete with comprehensive cheap stores like Walmart, though I note that some Kmarts have closed in this part of Michigan.

Wikipedia tells me that the Northland Mall's central concourse is now Kroger, a grocery store. One of the previous anchor stores is now state tax offices. I am sad that the mall became unsustainable. I expect that economists well understand why; I wonder how simple that story is. Especially, maybe once a mall is on the decline, perhaps that is hard to reverse.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
I have been curious about the debate over the post-Brexit land border between the UK and Ireland. If Ireland is in the EU and the UK is controlling immigration from the EU and is outside the single market then I do not see how one can avoid having border controls. I am reminded of the Scottish independence campaign where the SNP included among their implausible claims that they could define a separate immigration policy for Scotland yet retain an open border with England.

I guess I can see that Northern Ireland could allow less reliable immigration control than mainland Britain; there could be another series of checks for entering the rest of the UK. Perhaps there could even be some special way to distinguish goods for customs so that containers can transit from Ireland through the UK to mainland Europe without having left the EU in any strong sense.

Still, for any meaningful Brexit how travel and commerce between Ireland and the UK could avoid being impeded I find it hard to imagine, however anxious Ireland might be for routine intercourse to remain unchanged. I wonder what realistic solution the EU would accept.
mtbc: maze B (white-black)
I was arranging beefburgers of two different kinds on a baking tray and I chose to use a sort of nested arrow shape to make it easy to determine which burgers were of which kind even after rotating the tray. Our oven heats unevenly so it helps if the information encoded in the cunning arrangement of the food survives reorientations.

It occurred to me that there must be some mathematical theory that applies well to arranging beefburgers on baking trays. Relevant factors would include how many burgers wide and deep the tray is, or perhaps the theory generalizes to non-rectangular trays with different degrees of rotational symmetry that lend themselves to different patterns of arranging the burgers: for instance, three kinds of burgers on a pentagonal tray. Maybe there is some standard library of patterns of burgers comprising a toolkit that can be employed for every situation.

Of course, bakers of pies may avail themselves of the more straightforward approach of scoring the pastry lids differently according to kind of pie. I am not aware of an easy comparable approach with burgers, especially if they begin frozen and may be flipped once or twice during baking.

I once developed a sensor fusion system that, given inputs from radars and cameras, could bootstrap from some knowns to determine where in space the remaining targets and sensors were. The algorithm could make use of detected features for disambiguation; perhaps sometimes one cannot tell which kind of burger is which but can tell which burgers are of the same kind. Anyhow, the sensor fusion code would not be a great solution but it occurred to me that it could be used to verify arrangements of burgers: only a good arrangement should leave the system able to confidently determine the orientation of a camera that has the burgers in view.

Beyond my beefburger placement problem, which may already be well-known by some entirely different name, the sensor fusion system offered two interesting mathematical digressions. One is how the geometry of each situation affects the number of solutions for how a camera is located and oriented according to what it sees of targets whose location has now been determined by other sensors. The other is the heuristic of guessing which targets may correspond to which as viewed by different sensors: there may be intractably many combinations but, for example, a simple trick may be to guess that targets close together in one sensor's view are also close together in another's. More certainly, an object in between two others from one perspective will also be so from another.
mtbc: maze L (green-white)
In these modern times the in-flight movie now appears to be delivered via an app that one downloads to one's tablet before the cabin doors close, though I instead spent the flight chatting to a retired elementary school teacher.

I am certainly appreciating my current summer vacation in central Michigan. There are trails for walking or bicycling through woodland, hot sunny days punctuated by thunderstorms, affordable detached homes, a wire mesh screen over the sliding door so I can have breeze without insects. I am speedily and comprehensively reminded of why I intend to return to the US once my children are grown and making lives of their own: I feel very pleasantly at home here.

Update: It may seem trivial but I am also enjoying soft drinks not containing artificial sweeteners.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
From my distant view as an outsider it seems that nationalist, authoritarian forces appear to hold sway in Poland. There are enough emigrants from Poland in Britain and perhaps elsewhere that I wondered if Polish domestic politics somewhat disproportionately reflects the kind of Pole who does not tend to emigrate. I would guess that our British Poles may still vote but perhaps it is more inconvenient for them to do so from afar; indeed, perhaps some feel less morally inclined to if they have become distant from their country of origin. Especially in the case of British citizens it is rather more awkward to register as an overseas voter than as a domestic one. If a few percent of Poles live outside their native country then such a difference may well have some significant effect on Polish politics, though perhaps not enough to have much changed the outcome of their latest parliamentary election.
mtbc: photograph of me (Default)
When taking a shower I have multiple bottles of soap or shampoo that I use for different purposes. Having applied one, my hands are now slippery, yet I have to handle and open further bottles. I am thus inconvenienced by that they all seem to be made in a convex rounded shape with no hint of help for human digits' grip. Conversely, my laundry detergent bottle is of a useful shape that appears to anticipate wielding. I wonder why the bottles that I use in cleaning myself are not more helpfully designed.
mtbc: photograph of me (Default)
From an engineering point of view (not a social one!) I am attracted to the Britain of decades ago which was rather more tolerant of the unqualified amateur. One of the things that lures me back to rural America is that I would like to retain more freedom to win myself a Darwin Award. I was just reading something suggesting that Lovington, NM, still adheres to the National Electrical Code of 1956 which, if true, is maybe going a bit far given that residual current devices are a lifesaver.

Back in the 1980s I bought a cassette recorder whose manual included a full schematic circuit diagram but now I am ongoingly frustrated by the decreasing potential for user serviceablility. Perhaps I ought to be blaming liability lawyers instead of politicians. Or, dangerous idiots: while my chemistry teacher used to be able to buy potassium cyanide to kill the bees and my father used to enjoy blowing things up, these days we have a spate of disfiguring acid attacks from criminals stealing mopeds from their riders.

Our downstairs electrical outlets lost power while I was at work. It turned out that unplugging a four-way power strip and resetting the breaker solved the issue. The strip now has a scorch mark at one of its outlets and also at the charger that was plugged into the outlet. So, I fetched my multimeter and screwdrivers from the closet and sat down to investigate.

Of course, the charger turns out to have no visible means of entry and the power strip is positively marked, non rewirable socket outlet. Perhaps I must destroy both devices to investigate the fault as I do not want to find an issue with one then simply assume the other is thus okay. It is not that I should simply throw both away because for each of the two items I expect them to have exact twins in use elsewhere in the house and if one failed then I want to consider also replacing its kin or at least inspecting those also. Unfortunately it seems that the hammer or the saw may turn out to be more useful than the screwdrivers.

Update: I just remembered that I had the same issue yesterday with a (no-longer-)lit crochet hook. It still works as a hook but the light does not illuminate. The row of cells in the battery compartment seems to have good electrical connection throughout but there is no way to open the hook to investigate further, no screw nor clip to be seen.

Update: I since noticed that one of our night lights has been very dim. Unplugging it, I see a couple of screws. Pleasantly surprised, I again fetch my tools. Of course, the screws turn out to be of a peculiar kind: there is a groove as if for a flathead screwdriver except for in the center so no normal screwdriver can gain purchase.
mtbc: photograph of me (Default)
It is natural to suspect some causative dependence among events: for example, when listening to clicks from one's Geiger counter one is tempted to think that if there has been a long silence then another click is bound to be imminent. On the other hand, it is easy to get into the habit of risking a very low probability event as it agreeably keeps on not occurring.

I thus wonder if the Geiger counter fallacy is useful: if we have some sense of a cosmic book-balancing that resists being pushed far either way then, even if the trials in the latter example are as independent as in the former, perhaps we are nonetheless appropriately disinclined to push our luck unduly. Our poor judgment in one wise may help to counter our poor judgment in another.
mtbc: maze I (white-red)
I have been curious about sewing patterns. Humans are an awkward shape but somehow tailors measure people and figure how to cut pieces of material so as to assemble them garments that fit well. Naturally I wondered what the challenges are in producing software that, given one's measurements, provides one the patterns.

One issue that people face is the limited selection available off-the-peg in stores. I do okay but I know some people who just don't seem to be the typical shape so even after finding some desirable garment in apparently the correct size, it turns out that some part of it is too tight even though the rest is fine. Personally I suppose I have seen a similar issue with my feet: they are not very unusually shaped but sufficiently so that I cannot just assume that a random's shoes standard fit will work.

It is thus with some pleasant surprise that I now discover the Freesewing platform: free sewing patterns drafted to your measurements:
All our patterns are free of charge. We provide detailed instructions to make them into garments, and can help when you get stuck.
It appears to be a bunch of GPL-licensed PHP5 mainly from one guy; I have yet to peruse it with any care. Still, kudos to him for creating and sharing software to provide customized sewing patterns.

I figure that perhaps sewing such clothing may be within my ability. [personal profile] mst3kmoxie owns an adequate sewing machine. Tailoring intimidates me but perhaps if we clear off the dining table then that will provide enough room for me to learn how to cut, line and assemble panels from given patterns.

Next week I plan to make use of a visit to the US to do some more clothes shopping for myself in a consignment store rather than, say, Kmart or Target. Some of our children's better clothes comes from charity shops but I miss the large American ones that are more sure to have something worthwhile and findable. The exciting possibility of custom tailoring at home does mean that I should first check if material is even available affordably or if the clothing in cheaper stores is sold for even less than it would cost me to buy the material to make it.
mtbc: maze B (white-black)
Television shows about how to cheaply feed one's family are currently popular. I notice that they seem to rely heavily on use of refrigerator and freezer space. A consequence of our being short of money since moving to Scotland is that we do not have a large kitchen with much storage space, cooled or otherwise. It is typically not possible for us to employ cunning strategies that involve buying near-expiry perishable items, using only part and preserving the remainder, nor can we usefully buy in bulk or make multiple day's meals in large batches. It seems that these shows are more suited for those who were somehow able to buy a nice house with generous fittings despite British property prices and only now find themselves having to budget carefully.
mtbc: maze E (black-cyan)
One show I miss from the television of my childhood is the Open University's lectures for distance learners. I have a hazy memory of an interesting sequence of increasing positive integers where it looked as if it was going to be one thing and it turned out to be another. I vaguely recall that for the first six numbers or so the sequence looked arithmetically obvious, like powers of two, but was in fact something else arising from geometry.

Somebody on a helpful online community managed to offer a good hypothesis for what I was trying to remember: from The On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences we have sequence A000127: Maximal number of regions obtained by joining n points around a circle by straight lines. Also number of regions in 4-space formed by n-1 hyperplanes.

I ought to get around to finding myself some free online streaming that replaces those televised lectures that I welcomed.
mtbc: maze D (yellow-black)
I often think about how I could live more cheaply. I had suspected that we could have been rather further along with practical electric cars and associated infrastructure given a little more government support over the years. Oddly, I had never thought about electric motorcycles. After all, motorcycles are generally cheaper to buy and run than cars.

It turns out that electric motorcycles do exist. Models like the Zero SR already look agreeably far along and I expect the state of the market to improve further. It seems like buying a laser printer: running costs make it well worth it overall. I like the idea of being able to travel to Dundee more cheaply then park in a smaller space.

My impression is that a significant factor in the injury rate of motorcyclists is the kind of person who is attracted to motorcycles in the first place: I am guessing that I am something of an outlier in that profile. However, I concede that my latest road collision, now more than a decade ago, might have been interesting on a motorcycle: while the other driver's insurer folded immediately given that I had done nothing worse than proceed ahead at a low speed within my lane only to be hit hard sideways as the other driver turned across the road without seeing me, not being the one technically at fault does not ameliorate physical injury. The risks thus give me pause but I am nonetheless somewhat attracted by the prospect of cheaper travel.
mtbc: maze I (white-red)
At work I get plenty of e-mail from people of whom I am but vaguely aware telling me that they are going on vacation but certain other people will cover for them and to just e-mail the role-based mailbox address. I neither know nor care about such details. Indeed, rotation of people among these jobs as people go on sick or maternity leave or whatever appears sufficiently frequent that I doubt I could keep track of them anyway.

If I want whatever these people provide I am content to e-mail the role-based mailbox and whoever's job it is can deal with my issue. If the problem is that people reply to personal addresses and ignore automated vacation responses then perhaps they will learn not to when resolution of their matters is often consequently delayed. I doubt that the solution is to ongoingly broadcast details of what is going on behind the curtain. Perhaps we could instead just expect people to e-mail the appropriate address for their issue.

Update: Gah, of course we get e-mailed reminders of coming vacation too, a forward of the original message telling us who will be monitoring the role-based addresses, as if it matters, because it is a general assumption here that even though we are in professional technical roles we are not able to hold on to an e-mail for long without losing it or, if need be, of simply adding a corresponding note to our institutional online calendar system.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
I like to choose what I share with others. When I do share, I typically share openly. )

I do however instinctively value my ability to act privately: I have liked being able to do so. )

From a computer security point of view, I expect even a government-held database that contains much significant information, to leak like a colander. )

The targeted advertising folks have been making great strides in privacy-breaking technology. People who think that incognito browser windows stop Google knowing what pornography they like are deluding themselves. The ultrasonic signals embedded in commercial advertising were a surprise even to me.

I have a good knowledge of how computers work and I routinely adopt some security measures but even I cannot easily secure my data with confidence. )

Further, if I want to act in the real world then what I do leaves so many small traces: financial, shipping and logistics, etc. Even without the subsequent work from the well-funded targeted advertising community, I know from my own previous work in the defense industry that bulk assembly of those disparate observations into coherent narrative is plausible, at least enough that its value would outweigh its fallibility.

It is not that I have anything to hide so much as even innocent people are easily made to look bad. )

With the combined forces of private profit in characterizing consumers and the public political need to be seen to be countering terrorism, personal privacy may become a thing of the past. )

We have motive on multiple fronts to penetrate individual privacy, ongoing progress in technological means of doing so, increasing acceptance of sharing one's data, and a social and intellectual climate that got Donald Trump elected President against even my pessimistic expectations. What could possibly go wrong?

I do not need to act covertly but I always drew comfort from knowing that I probably could if necessary and that my business was mostly nobody else's. Further, I do not want to enable what I see as organizations' immoral beliefs about my own privacy. Now I wonder if I will find myself wistfully looking back to a time when I did not have to carefully consider the possible optics of my every move.
mtbc: maze G (black-magenta)
I had commented that on the cross-trainer my headphones mostly stay in my ears. It would be less distracting if I could do better than that while exercising. I don't want headphones that clip around my ears, that would be bothersome, but the usual band over the top of my head or whatever would be fine. What I want is much like some over-the-head in-the-ear headphones I had as a teenager, except for having ends with more isolation as my current earbuds do.

Those over-head in-ear headphones I once had held themselves in quite well and with the close fit of my current isolating ones I suspect would do well indeed. However, I am surprised to find that at first glance I cannot find for sale headphones with both properties. The ones with a band over the top all seem to be over-ear rather than in-ear. There also seem to be ones with a band at the back of the neck, which might work. I guess I will just keep looking. It always feels odd when I can clearly imagine the product I want but the combination is not easily found. I am reminded of when a car salesman suggested I buy a particular car model but I observed to them that it comes as either all-wheel-drive or stick-shift but not, as I then required, both.


mtbc: photograph of me (Default)
Mark T. B. Carroll

August 2017

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