mtbc: maze E (black-cyan)
We spent the evening at a local concert hall to attend the high school's annual prizegiving. The school's orchestra and choir performed. The orchestra was quite entertaining in that they were a little on the ropey side of being good but I suppose that in education one should push gently at one's boundaries. I realized that it has been years since I was close to any kind of orchestra.

The parade of children across the stage receiving their certificates and trophies and whatnot certainly underlined the variety of shapes and sizes in which humans come. Further, there was clothing variation. In my school prefects had a distinct tie but I don't recall much more differentiation. One of our children already has a different school tie than when they first started. The jacket sleeve cuffs appear to come with a variety of colored stripes: many children had none, but some had up to two gold stripes and I think I saw some with as many as a gold stripe and two purple. With my own children I inquired after the command structure; in responding they were somewhat vague. I think that the two-gold are the highest level of prefect and the purple is more about other kinds of helping out.

A further variation was shirt sleeve length. Boys simply had short sleeves or long. One girl appeared to have nothing worthy of being called a sleeve. Some girls had cap sleeves and some had a fifth length, extending only just beyond their elbow. The girl with the intimidating double bass had such half-length sleeves.
mtbc: maze I (white-red)
Passwords are tricky to deal with. I like to have fairly long, random ones and to not reuse them. With the various accounts I have this means there are rather a lot of passwords to remember, an especial challenge when some must be changed on a regular basis and others ought to be.

Further, some authentication like for online banking requires various ancillary information: answers to security questions and the like. I do not like to give correct answers to these, nor reuse the answers, so that is even more to remember.

Some people use mnemonics but it is easy for one's mind to blank out on something well-known. I could keep written records in our safe but one sometimes require a rarely used password exactly at an inconvenient time or place. I certainly do not trust password-keeping apps.

I am not proposing or soliciting answers so much as noting that practical password management is a hard problem. Still, as ever, others' thoughts are most welcome.
mtbc: maze G (black-magenta)
Glastonbury's back, giving me another source of easy live music thanks to the BBC. I don't know the annual festival calendar but I am happy to see them arrive; I guess Reading must still be coming. I think that Muse were my favorite Glastonbury set last year. While eating chicken balti with naan I am enjoying The Pretenders: Chrissie Hynde's still got it and the first several songs have already included my favorites. Like Muse, The Pretenders are one of the few groups to have generated many singles that I rather like. I don't recall catching television coverage of comparable American festivals when I lived there but perhaps I just didn't know where to look.
mtbc: maze B (white-black)
Last weekend I enjoyed a lamb shish kebab from takeout in Perth. This weekend I enjoy döner chicken pizza: neither of the kids seems to like it so all the more for me. I am coming to wonder if I ought to learn more about the herbs and spices that are used. After suspecting that in liking sage and onion stuffing what I actually like is simply the sage, similarly perhaps there is some element of kebab seasoning that is particularly why I enjoy the döner kebab meat.
mtbc: maze J (red-white)
Over a decade ago when I did not exercise my resting heart rate was so high that my doctor ordered blood tests. Nothing showed up so my fast heart remained an unresolved puzzle.

Since I have been exercising my resting heart rate has dropped to more usual levels. Yesterday I caught it down at 43, a surprise indeed as NIH regard 40 to 60 as being for well-trained athletes, though more commonly mine is low-50s. I also miss the occasional beat after exercise but some research suggests that too is fairly normal for people who work out. Still, being cautious I thought I should also check how fast my heart gets during exercise.

I considered working out on Friday. I really ought to have yesterday but I did not feel like it and am trying not to make it an unpleasant experience; besides, I had to head into Dundee for the afternoon. So, I postponed it again and today did not advance to the highest resistance level I have used in the past.

After my workout this morning my heart rate was over 150. If we wave our hands a little and take my maximum heart rate as 175 and my resting heart rate as 55, so my reserve is 120, then by the Mayo Clinic's guidelines this looks as if I am brushing the top end of my training zone for vigorous exercise. The American Heart Association says that, once used to working out, you may be able to exercise comfortably at up to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. This tells me that I am certainly pushing myself enough and ought not increase the intensity any further which is great as it does not feel too bad at this level.
mtbc: maze B (white-black)
I have mixed feelings about alcohol. Now that our population has access to potable water one imagines that on health and safety grounds alcoholic drinks would not be publicly available at all were they not so easily made. However, I do quite enjoy some drinks and they have a long tradition of social acceptance.

I am intrigued to find that in later life I drink less than I once did. Twenty years ago I might have been happy to drink over half a bottle of wine or a few beers over the course of an evening. Drinking was pleasant enough that I would go for the occasional week teetotal just to make sure that I still could.

These days, mostly I don't drink at all and, on those evenings that I do, it feels quite sufficient to have a bottle of beer, a quarter-bottle of wine or a double of whisky. I still rather enjoy the taste of many alcoholic drinks, I just stop sooner. This habitual moderation is not out of any pursuit of virtue, my tastes have simply changed. I do not know why I now drink less but it certainly was not planned.

I can still drink plenty if people kindly ply me with free drinks or there are open bottles of good wine that would otherwise go to waste but those happen rarely and that is just fine. In a big difference arising from moving back from US workplaces to UK workplaces there is often free alcohol available at work but I rarely have any because I could not then drive home. Additionally, British coworkers are more likely to drink together in the pub outside work but I avoid that also for cost reasons.
mtbc: maze B (white-black)
I noticed that in household conversations we give odd names to some of our foods. For instance, today I bought butter. Our butter dish has the outward appearance of a ceramic hedgehog. So, to refer to butter from the block in the dish we speak of hedgehog butter. Or, the connection may be looser: for example, we eat Star Wars cheese: comparevisual styles. ) In their attempts at specificity I wonder what names other families come up with. In that latter case, perhaps the same as we have.
mtbc: photograph of me (Default)
Money is well-known to have a non-linear utility function. For example, from my position I would gladly trade a ⅓ chance of winning $20m for a ⅔ chance of winning $5m. What I have not thought through clearly is the effect on lottery tickets: can it make sense to buy only one ticket or, if it is worth buying any at all, is it likely that buying a few would make even more sense?

On the one hand, if running a lottery is profitable and the utility of money decreases the more I win then that might argue for never buying lottery tickets: the ticket cost is worth too much to me. But, the procedure by which unwon jackpots commonly roll over might make ticket-buying make sense at least for linear utility if the number of tickets purchased does not increase proportionally to the larger jackpot. Can rollovers ever make it rational to buy a bunch of tickets? Perhaps the non-linearity is always enough to scotch even that idea.
mtbc: maze D (yellow-black)
Many American states have the notion of secondary traffic offenses: the police may not pull one over for committing them but if stopped for some primary reason, like speeding, then secondary charges may follow. It depends on the state but secondary offenses are acts such as using a cellphone or not wearing a seatbelt.

I find the concept bizarre. I don't know if the theory is that being pulled over constitutes some kind of seizure under the Fourth Amendment or if the legislature really did not want to pass, say, a seatbelt law so making it difficult to enforce was the only way to get enough votes at all, or what. I am curious to know what the thinking really is and the degree to which it makes sense. I am not aware of an analog in English or Scottish road traffic law.
mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
In The West Wing (1999) the senior White House staffers chronically work very long hours. How does this make sense? Is it good for their cognition to be ongoingly compromised? Can there not be enough staff to take on the workload? Perhaps the problem is that they would not be able to leave notes for each other or that they do not have enough room to put all the people or something. It does seem as if there has to be a more effective way for them to work. Maybe we are supposed to believe that they are so superlatively good at their jobs that even half-asleep they outperform some next-best people who might instead be on duty to catch some acute situation.
mtbc: maze C (black-yellow)
In the School of Life Sciences where I work we produce systems like the Image Data Resource which is full of strange pretty pictures acquired from expensive microscopes and used to justify scientific conclusions. There is also some initial proof-of-principle code for reproducing analyses via the IDR Jupyter Hub. OMERO.figure is also rather neat: turn the raw image files acquired from the microscope into figures ready for Adobe Illustrator to put into your paper; information in the figures like timepoints, scalebars, etc. is derived from the metadata encoded by the microscope as it acquired the images.

Modern academic life is highly competitive and journals are far more keen to publish interesting new discoveries, however lucky, so there is great career pressure report the right kinds of findings. Further, many of them turn out to be difficult to impossible to reproduce. Even despite this, my impression is that the kind of research misconduct I have in mind is, at its core, well-intentioned: the results may be a little doctored, or an unusually significant subsample, or whatever, but the researcher does generally believe the hypothesis that they are trying to prove, they are just exaggerating the evidence for it.

I figure that our work stuff might be useful if it helps to encourage a culture of sharing all the raw data and the procedures by which it was analyzed. But, I wonder if this papers over a more fundamental problem: that the people generating the hypotheses are also those testing them. I am amused to be thinking of this as a conflict of interest.

I can see why it happens. The people who have the idea are probably the more enthusiastic about testing it. Maybe not many labs are used to working with those cell lines or protocols or whatever at all so it is not like any lab could just pick up the work. And, even if we had a system where the people who generate hypotheses are separate from those who test them, one can see that there is still scope for mutual back-scratching and the like. One can imagine the specifics of the experimental design would be something of a negotiation between the hypothesizer and the tester.

So, I am not saying that even this pipedream idea of having researchers' hypotheses tested by third parties is a good one even if it were workable. But, I do wonder if there is some related but realistic way in which scientific research could be restructured to make it more trustworthy.
mtbc: maze I (white-red)
An aspect of European Union membership that I greatly value is their focus on personal data privacy. This has similarly attracted me to the UK's Liberal Democrat party but rather less so: given how very little they bother to mention it in campaigning I would guess that they may not care as much.

I have been struck by how poor the BBC's choice is to soon make login compulsory for viewing content online. I have already mentioned how I would be fine with providing my television license number and how I do not want them to attempt to personalize their content for me. The compulsory login indeed relates to personalization: they want age, gender, postcode. In practice this is not yet a great burden to me because nothing in the process prevents me from simply lying for every login; I am a fan of services like BugMeNot. While the BBC do retain these personal details, their corresponding log of viewing history is indexed via some anonymized viewer identity code.

One facet of this that disappoints me is the BBC's naïveté. Their news archives now carry many years of history of very sensitive databases leaking from various organizations whose data security would have been expected to be good. If there are databases of everybody's details and television viewing habits being held by a well-known organization whose funding is often under political challenge then it will very plausibly leak regardless of prior public assurances made by ill-informed representatives. This risk is not so clearly worth the benefit that it ought to be imposed on all.

I am also intrigued by a contrast in attitudes between the US and the UK regarding how governments and corporations should handle personal privacy. Generally businesses are far more restricted in the UK than the US with regard to collecting, using and sharing our data, though perhaps only because of the EU. However, in the US the government is trusted far less: for example, it would be entirely normal for an American local library to not record my borrowing history but locally I am not even permitted to opt out of such.
mtbc: maze J (red-white)
We are commonly told to spend a half-minute on brushing the teeth of each quarter of our mouth. I imagine that this idea entails having one central incisor in each quarter. Do people really divide their mouth into these even quarters for cleaning their teeth? Personally I divide mine into twenty unequal regions (2 × 2 + 2 × 4 × 2):
Central (incisors and canines),

  • upper jaw, lower jaw (2)

  • faces: front, back (2)

Side (premolars and molars),

  • upper jaw, lower jaw (2)

  • faces: front, back, top, far-end (4)

  • left, right (2)

I wonder how others do it. In interviewing my children I found that they too have their own systems that do not comfortably divide into these mouth-quarters.
mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
I noticed that for a few chores getting them done takes the general form of starting then just keeping on with them. Progress is tangible, consistent and monotonic then they always terminate. This applies to mowing the lawns, wrapping Christmas gifts, exercising on the cross-trainer, ironing a pile of clothes, various kinds of thing. Usually the only thing stopping them from being completed is willpower to maintain the menial activity.

It is only in recent times that I have much noticed this class of chores which makes me wonder if now I do more of them. It seems as if there ought to be a name for it.

Whereas, say, some of my computer programming at work is not of this form. I may see a large task ahead of me and make myself buckle down and start chewing off the next parts of it. However, clear thinking and decision-making much affect the outcome. Technical risk can make progress unpredictably uneven and completion uncertain. Programming is thus in a different class of activity. Indeed, one of my tasks over recent weeks felt like it was over 80% done for over 80% of the time that I worked on it; the ongoing sense of now being nearly finished kept me from shelving it.
mtbc: maze A (black-white)
The development of news story of the fire that gutted Grenfell Tower has been an ongoing surprise to me.

Initially I somewhat dismissed the wall-to-wall news coverage. The BBC in particular seem keen to let a large news story wholly dominate live news for many hours even when new information comes at a low rate. I often wish they would give a summary and update on the half-hour but cover other stories too in between. Also, the fire was in London and I suspected that having the main news coverage decision-makers also in London elevated the fire's apparent signifiance. Further, initial official reports of the death toll were not high.

I had failed to quickly apprehend that the real death toll is probably high indeed: that there were initially many missing people who probably mostly range from unrecovered to unidentifiable.

Additionally, the preventability of the tragedy is a significant news story in its own right. Do government building regulations, whether national or local, really tolerate such devastating firetraps, even despite previous related fires and expert testimony that clearly warned of the risk? Maybe so, in which case some public officials may be truly culpable and people in other tower blocks may now be living in some peril. It is all the more surprising given how tight UK building regulations typically are and have been for many years.

A further surprise to me has been the public anger focusing on Teresa May of all people even after the government announced a public inquiry. I find it hard to imagine that she is high on the list of those truly responsible for the fire or for the immediate aftermath. I did not feel bad for her after the general election but in this case I do. Perhaps I am again wrong and she does somehow warrant being the focus of the current protests. I wonder if her crime is not one of material actions but instead of failure to obviously emote in the expected manner.
mtbc: maze C (black-yellow)
At work we have a number of server-side unit tests. I find some of these annoying. Server-side we offer various services which to some extent use each other internally. For unit tests there is not a real server running so when a test tries executing some server-side code there must be mock objects that fake appropriate responses from the other parts of the server that they attempt to use.

On the one hand, such unit tests typically run quickly and easily enough that they can be placed quite early in our code quality checks: a problematically failing test can be discovered long before the culprit is merged into a running server and the integration test suite run against it. (The integration tests use a real running server.)

On the other hand, not only are these fake appropriate responses an inferior substitute for the real thing, meaning that the unit tests are perhaps not testing a server that properly corresponds to reality, but as somebody who works on the server internals I find these unit tests a maintenance headache: if I change something about how the server works then I must fix the affected unit tests to fake new values in a new way. That is, I effectively have to correspondingly adjust the sequences of behavior from the fake server.

Times may be changing in relevant ways. Perhaps the computing cost of running integration tests was much larger. )

At my last job we had a less manual approach to providing data for tests. )

I should clarify that I am fine with unit tests in general: I have written various new ones into our codebase but mine do not exercise internal server dependencies enough to require many return values from mock objects to be faked.

Following on from my previous comments about contemporary code quality, surprise test failures suggest the code was not thought through well. )
mtbc: maze I (white-red)
When I was starting out in computing hardware and software was often a joy to behold. )

Coincident with the rise of Microsoft Windows I have seen software quality go down. Now it is entirely normal to run into bugs. It is also normal for software to frustrate me: it insists on doing something I don't want or I can't get it to do something it clearly ought to be able to. Mostly things went downhill … )

It isn't all bad. … there are some pleasing exceptions. )

It feels like most software developers now care about little more than getting things working well enough so that their employers can sell them comfortably. The developers wanting to use their mathematical gifts to create systems that are both solid and flexible are largely dwarfed or otherwise out-competed by the many who just want to deliver something that appears to work sufficiently well that everybody gets paid and management either do not appreciate or do not care about the difference.

Maybe the change is partly in the user community: they increasingly find poor quality acceptable. )

I don't have any answers, I think it's just how the world works. I would look at retreating to high-assurance systems but look at the Department of Defense's move away from Ada or Ericsson's from Erlang: I think the only refuges are in the past. I could be frustrated to know that modern computer systems are typically no longer built anywhere near as well as they could be but I instead find myself grateful to be able to recall a time when it was normal for them to be both useful and reliable.
mtbc: photograph of me (Default)
I mentioned toward the end of last month that the drive belt snapped in our small electric lawnmower. Our large gasoline-fueled mower in Ohio had a mighty belt that wound around various things. This one has just a small belt with grooves on one side.

In Ohio I had many tools and space to work but here I have little of either. I am also not the most practical person but I can learn and experiment. For our incapacitated mower here I obtained a replacement drive belt and was then stymied because it appeared that to gain access to the pulleys I had to remove the mower blade which our adjustable wrenches weren't loosening.

Today I now have decent offset ring wrenches in hand. It took some effort but I did finally loosen the blade. (I believe that it is meant to be tightened to 25Nm. I find it weird that torque is in units of energy.) I gained access to the pulleys but a further challenge was in getting the replacement belt on: some sideways pushing while firmly holding the belt and turning the pulleys worked in the end.

I reassembled the mower and mowed the front lawn as a dark cloud passed overhead and did not rain on me. Afterward I checked the blade and I think it may have loosened slightly so I retightened it and will keep an eye on it.

I let the supplier of the non-OEM replacement drive belt know that it fit my mower fine and they have kindly replied with a discount code for me to use on a subsequent purchase.

In celebration I baked myself tortilla chips with fresh tomato and grated cheese on them and for dessert I have plain yogurt mixed with frozen berries.
mtbc: photograph of me (Default)
In Boston I used to bicycle to work and also a little around the area for exercise. I enjoyed it: I felt quite safe mixing with the traffic in my area. We had limited funds for our move to Scotland and our bicycles got left behind.

The cross-trainer does not offer much of a view. Lately I have wondered if on some of my days off from my exercise schedule I could usefully bicycle around here. Our village is so small that only walking makes sense and in the vicinity I am not much of a fan of,

  • the steep gradients, of which Dundee in particular has many, but also the Sidlaws

  • the A90, the main road locally, which has a sidewalk and high-speed traffic

  • winding country roads, with fairly fast cars and poor visibility around bends.

Perhaps I could avoid paying for a campus parking pass: find a fairly flat route to work from somewhere in Dundee where I can easily park the car for free. More likely, maybe there are pleasant trails hereabouts the carse near the firth which are not much challenging for the casual rider. I am not hopeful but I am again starting to think about how bicycling could make sense despite how I feel about the local roads.

I freely admit that I am probably inaccurate in my sense of the risks: National Cycle Route 77 runs along these roads to which I am averse. I am content to claim such misjudgment as my prerogative. I am greatly cautious because my family rely on my ability to work.
mtbc: maze B (white-black)
For me a pleasant easy dessert is canned fruit. I do not have much of a sweet tooth so I prefer the fruit to be in juice rather than syrup. Asda sell some canned fruit cheaply but the labeling of their own-brand cans is annoying: they tend to give nutrition information only for the drained contents. I do not know why I would be expected to buy the fruit in juice then pour the juice away down the sink. Is that what people normally do or is it just a cheap tactic to make the numbers smaller? I submitted a comment through their website about this and heard nothing back.


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

June 2017

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