mtbc: maze K (white-green)
I was listening to Gary Numan on the radio and he sounded remarkably like Noel Fielding. I mentioned this to [personal profile] mst3kmoxie and it turned out that she had been thinking the same.

Looking at Wikipedia, Gary Numan (then Webb) was born in Hammersmith and Noel Fielding was born in Westminster and lived in Pollards Hill. These places, well within the London Orbital, are not many miles apart. I wonder if they would have sounded more dissimilar had Gary grown up around Romford or Watford or suchlike, or if one has to be out in Reading or Chelmsford before there is an obvious difference.
mtbc: maze K (white-green)
Not satisfied with maximizing the horror of Google's Groups interface they have now been taking a hatchet to News. I am already used to Google News having issues like not being able to maintain profiles for multiple countries' editions for the same user but recently search options (at least those easily found) have been deteriorating and the interface for managing news sources became dreadful, a significant issue given the default inclusion of niche sources that I would gladly avoid. I have thus been considering other news aggregation websites.

So far I have not been thrilled by the alternatives. I am mostly interested in mainstream non-tabloid news sources that cover the US and the UK, though the occasional item from anything from Haaretz to the Times of India is of interest. I tried World News Network for a while but their UK edition seems insufficiently curated. Some sites have gone rather mobile-tastic but at least Newslookup.com allows plenty of text in the viewable screen area. An alternative to aggregators would be to maintain a list of decent news websites, such as the Christian Science Monitor, and follow just those.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
I have my doubts about the typical status of corporations. Glossing over the difference between civil and criminal offenses, it unnerves me to protect people from being fully punished for their bad acts. Sure, perhaps most employees and owners ought not be jointly liable. However, often some of them should. )

People also come together via marriage to form another kind of entity which again can receive various favorable tax benefits, which often has some legal notion of community property within it, joint liability for debt, etc., though to various degrees and with varying flexibility depending on the jurisdiction. My inclination is to regard the spiritual and emotional dimensions of marriage as being outside the law: let the churches or others have whatever unofficial ceremonies they like for whomever they like, even call it marriage, leaving the less-loaded civil partnership term for the legal state wherein by mutual agreement people become next of kin, somewhat able to act on each other's behalf and jointly face the consequences, be considered together for means testing, etc.

I do not see any particular reason to limit this legal change of status, what I am calling civil partnership, by sex or even group size. Worrying cases may be few. )

Of course, how things now seem to have settled is that same-sex marriage is becoming another kind of marriage but among only two people, which at least makes many happy; those wanting recognized polygamy must yet wait. )

Speculating wildly: If I am thinking that the corporate veil ought not to have such great power and that the legal side of marriage could be generalized then I wonder if I can workably stretch corporations and marriage enough to become technically the same in law. For example, with the above visa issue, in some circumstances corporations can apply for visas for employees given evidence of adequate support and similar; workers on H-1B visas are permitted even intent to immigrate.
mtbc: maze J (red-white)
I had mentioned having been prescribed some special toothpaste. Upon comparison with my previous over-the-counter product I discover that the difference appears to be that it contains rather more fluoride. Apparently this helps minerals to be deposited where my tooth enamel is lacking.

Despite this change in toothpaste, after my latest uncomfortable session with the dental hygienist my teeth again remain unpleasantly sensitive a couple of days later. It is not quite as bad as last time so I would guess that they will soon be back to normal. Attending further tooth scaling requires quite some willpower from me to overcome the aversion caused by pain having arisen from previous occasions; the tooth pain somehow feels very bothersome despite not being strong.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
I generally buy the modern variety of Keynesian economics that allows for stimulus spending when wages are stagnant and many prime-age workers are unemployed or underemployed. A poor economy causes real present suffering and inflicts long-term damage: better to incur the debt now and have tax revenues rise sooner for paying it off. Conversely, when the economy is doing well, the national debt must be aggressively paid down.

Generous welfare benefits fit well for stimulus spending: those who receive them tend to spend the money to help keep others in jobs. While the goverment can incur long-term debt cheaply, economic downturns are also an excellent time for infrastructure investment, anything that is of lasting benefit such as education, transportation and communications. In the service of keeping the economy moving, I am fine with a few percentage points of inflation, focusing specifically on the non-commodity items: if oil is more expensive but wages are not rising then I doubt we are about to turn into the Weimar Republic.

More speculatively, I am all for trying to keep things simple. For instance, I wonder if it would be practical to tax investment and employment income the same and, rather than means-testing benefits and fussing about percentage increases, simply give everybody a sufficient universal basic income as the Finns have been trying, especially if government also guarantees the provision of affordable basic food and shelter for those who ask. If neither the food nor shelter are generously lovely then I suspect that both the US and the UK are wealthy enough to meet citizens' basic needs, the real problems being challenges like mental health provision that require well-qualified staff. These thoughts feel to me like I am moving too far into foolish amateurism, like when I play an unusual chess opening and in the coming moves my opponent then illustrates that my opening is unusual because it is a bad idea.
mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
Here at the University of Dundee the hourly workers, those up to grade 6, typically work 36¼ hours per week. Up at grade 8 my contract is vaguer: as a salaried employee I am expected to put enough time in to get my work done. Still, I was surprised to realize that I am probably averaging over 43 hours per week which is perhaps more than I ought and could help to explain why I have difficulty also getting as much done outside work as I used to.

For much of my working life I was on Federal cost-plus contracts from the Department of Defense that most easily expect an average of 40-hour weeks which worked fine for me. At my previous job the arrangement was instead a minimum of 40-hour weeks that, given the occasional need to work rather more and their reluctance to count times when their computers stopped working or whatever as work time, felt mean enough to me that I considered it a victory to have averaged under 41 hours over the course of my employment there.

I am not sure what is appropriate in my present position but my sense is that I still ought not average much over 40 hours. I get into work at 8h to snag a parking space and so that my workday better corresponds to when my children are also out of the house; I routinely fast so I need not take lunch; I also do not want to leave my desk before 16h because many of my colleagues arrive after 9h, take lunch and work correspondingly later. I figure that I should thus feel okay about doing some personal things over my workday such as making journal entries here and I should also try harder to not stay well after 16h.
mtbc: maze B (white-black)
I have mentioned how I enjoy the tart flavors from flowering plants. On Saturday we stopped at Tesco and I bought my standard treat of a pair of fools: gooseberry and rhubarb. I like lemon too but more easily get that flavor otherwise. Excellently these Tesco-brand fools' pots are made of card, for disposal that is more friendly to the environment.
mtbc: maze K (white-green)
I was watching Rick and Morty (2013) and began thinking about how many of the shows that I have enjoyed have been American cartoons, quite separate from the Japanese anime like Kino's Journey (2003) that I previously mentioned liking.

It was probably Daria (1997) or South Park (1997) that first got me taking notice of this kind of show. I enjoy the gentle sarcastic wit of Daria and, while being rather more variable, South Park sometimes targets sacred cows that well deserve mockery. Once we had children then other shows like Invader Zim (2001) entertained in a rather more family-friendly manner.

Also Harvey Birdman (2000) and early Archer (2009) deserve an honorable mention; I hear that Archer has now improved so perhaps I should take another look. Though, I have not yet got around to watching any of Mike Tyson Mysteries (2014) and not even figuring on my list is BoJack Horseman (2014) whose fourth season is imminent.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
Following the elections in recent times I thought it a good time to summarize my own politics. I do not pretend that everything is thought-through and defensible; I freely admit that what follows includes much instinctive leaning. I thus do not suggest that others should think as I. Expressing my opinions here explicitly leaves them usefully open to constructive disagreement (or helping you decide not to read after all).

On the topic of disagreement, there is so much of it that many of us must be very wrong for at least some of the time. Especially, when referencing kinds of people in political judgments I think it important to engage with them: it is far better to mix with people than to make confident assertions about those one does not even know. Exposure to sincerely held contrary views also helps to hone one's critical thinking skills.

Encouraging engagement with others has policy implications. I do not want different communities to live and go to school separately. )

Integration neatly segues to immigration. Whether via a points-based system or otherwise I generally think the immigration of skilled workers to be good both financially and culturally. )

On the other hand, while I favor permissive immigration rules, my welcome quickly wanes when those rules are violated. When people break the rules then they ought not express surprise at the consequences. )

As for people being able to follow their own culture and religion, I largely do not care what they do in private or within view of others but not everybody thinks as they: ) finding one's place in society involves compromise on both sides.

I recognize that there is some tension between my respect of citizenship and immigration boundaries and my generally welcoming foreign people and cultures. This is likely to come up again when I summarize my thoughts on other topics and may reveal inconsistent thinking. However, the above is already quite enough for one journal entry.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
Following on from my recent journal entry about increased divisions between Republicans and Democrats I continued investigating and stumbled upon discussion of Edward Luce's The Retreat of Western Liberalism. One of many things I enjoyed about living in the US is well-stocked libraries but since returning to Britain I am back to being surprised if the local library does stock a book rather than if it does not. I certainly do not have the money to be buying them myself: the book I read on the airplane back from Ontario was a creased, yellowed paperback that I had picked up in a charity shop. (An annoying thing about book clubs is that they typically choose recent books available only as new hardbacks rather than used paperbacks.) I have four library systems within reach: our local one in Perth and Kinross, the Dundee city one with branches within an easy walk of work, then the Angus one to the north-east and the Kingdom of Fife's south of the Firth of Tay: none of them appear to offer Luce's book.

Now I hear of Jon Snow (not of Westeros, but available on YouTube nonetheless), in delivering yesterday's James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture in Edinburgh, speaking of an increasingly fractured Britain and a terrible divide as one can easily be disconnected from the lives of others; he also spoke of fake news stories (i.e. lies) posing a vast threat to democracy. I do not think that here in Britain we yet have such a deep division among mainstream sources of news but it is nonetheless interesting to compare these local themes with my thoughts on American politics and there may be lessons to be learned.
mtbc: maze B (white-black)
I rather enjoy The Taste of Tea (2004) but I have in mind the more generic topic of the taste of black tea. I have a memory of sometimes drinking really tasty tea. I have occasionally tasted a strong hint of this particular desirable flavor in good tea loaf (and its Celtic cousins). However, despite some effort in my own tea-making over recent years, I appear to not be recapturing it at all, let alone reproducing it reliably.

Perhaps there is some systematic reason I am failing to make such tasty tea. I could be using the wrong kind of tea; generally I favor Assam. I do not usually add milk or sugar but perhaps either or both are important for the taste I have in mind. Maybe I need harder water or even the correct kind of metal teapot rather than brewing in a ceramic mug. My memory could even be faulty: I may be pursuing a ghost though would be happy to try a range of tea loaf to render it again corporeal. Whichever is so, for the meantime the puzzle continues to linger unresolved.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
Even beyond the current administration there appear to be various objective indications that over recent decades the American populace has become increasingly divided politically, especially in terms of negative opinions of the other party, and Congress has similarly become very partisan. There are plausible theories about what happened and why: increasingly gerrymandered districts increasing the significance of primaries, distortions due to large campaign donations, the segmentation of news media markets, etc. It is frustrating living outside the US for a while and not now seeing much first-hand; my decade in Ohio was much more illuminating.

I wonder about the future: how stable the current strong divide is, how it improves or worsens. I do not see how it improves while people favor their echo chambers' demonization over constructive outreach; I cannot help but be thus reminded of Ozymandias' plan in Watchmen. I also do not see that it can get much worse although history does offer various examples of unpleasant social shifts that are both severe and surprising. Demography may favor the liberal progressives in the medium term but it is not as if conservatism has a monopoly on the narrow-minded.

It is not clear to me what will happen over coming years nor how. It may all be in the hands of a few, such as the Supreme Court, or perhaps the small acts of enough appalled individuals can still change the flow of the tides though I wonder how difficult it is to know which actions cause more good than harm. I have no more intuition on that last point beyond a vague, even trite, inclination toward substantively engaging with others, about concrete issues rather than abstract principles, while being slow to think ill of them.
mtbc: photograph of me (Default)
I have a good general science background that has served me well in my favored activity of learning about technical problems then devising software solutions. My biology background is probably the patchiest: while I worked in computational genomics, then was principal investigator on a half-million-dollar biophysics project, and now work in a computational biology division, my highest formal biology qualification is my B at GCSE so there is much I do not know.

I got to thinking about the different ways in which organisms respire. Cows and grass respire rather differently and some of the microorganisms breaking down the grass inside the cow do something different again. Yeast has multiple tricks which is how we can use it both in beer-making and in making our bread rise. I got to wondering, are there more ways of respiring? Further, could a single hypothetical organism practically employ all of them? I cannot recall anything real that can both photosynthesize and respire aerobically. I also do not know how universal the basic reactions are: I would guess that strange organisms like ctenophores still use ATP and similar.

Still, as usual with learning anything relevant to microbiology, it turns out to be more complex than I had hoped. To get a good handle on how these kinds of respiration may usefully coexist, even synergize, I now find that I would need a rather large blackboard for piecing the story together, to include the Krebs cycle and Calvin cycle and all manner of things, beyond the scope of what I can easily fit in to when I am both unpaid and neither tired nor asleep. Separately I wonder why Americans have not turned aerobic into erobic.
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 deadmalls.com.

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.

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

September 2017

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