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: maze J (red-white)
Over the past couple of weeks my weight actually went up a bit to 164lb as of this morning. I have had unusually many days off-diet lately, for our annual users' meeting at work, with houseguests, a couple of birthdays, etc. and yesterday evening I ate over one-and-a-half pizzas. Still, I would guess that the gain is a sign that with my usual behavior my weight might stabilize at around 160lb (or 11½ stone) which is fine. When I am on-diet, in total each week I am eating 15-16Mcal and my exercise is now down to 3,000 of the cross-trainer's calories, which feels quite sustainable.
mtbc: maze C (black-yellow)
For a few years I led technical hiring in a small business. Within reason I had the freedom to run that hiring largely as I wished. Seeing as Americans tend to have detailed college transcripts I typically wanted to see some coding examples and their transcripts for a first interview and by the seat of my pants I would let these and the applicant's answers to questions lead the course of the interview in a very personalized way. For different candidates I had correspondingly different concerns and often some latitude to tailor the position to them after hiring. For some applicants who seemed to be doing passably but without any dazzle I would sometimes extend the interview to give them a few more questions to see if they could manage a late jump above the bar. With one candidate, whom I became very glad to have hired, during their first interview they made a dumb mistake halfway through and seemed to fall apart afterward: I risked offering them a second interview in which they did fine.

Colleagues would tell me that I give tough interviews; they felt sorry for the candidates. This is partly because I wanted to know how far the applicant could go and how well they can still dance a little way out into new territory so I would typically ask enough to find if they knew a bit more or could guess intelligently. It was a good sign if they couldn't answer all of my questions confidently because it meant I was interested enough in them to find what the extent of their ability was. Further, I wanted to know that what was listed for them on paper was actually still somewhat also in their head: if they cram for an examination then forget the material then that is of no use to anybody.

This is not to say that I was perfect at hiring: one time I managed to hire somebody with A grades in a three-course undergraduate series in analog electronics. In later needing to construct some interface hardware for high-speed data acquisition I was alarmed to apparently be introducing them to the concept of an operational amplifier. I also managed to hire a software developer who was clever but unfortunately confidently thought themself to be cleverer than they were. Mostly I did well though.

Last week I was on an interview panel for a position at the university. It was interesting and odd to be working within a formal process imposed by those above me. Especially, each candidate is to receive the same interview, very much down to duration and questions. While it is not how I would run my own business, I can certainly understand the organization's desire to ensure fairness and as their employee I play by their rules. Still, it makes for new challenges: for example, noting what I would have liked to ask each of the diverse candidates then trying to generalize that to questions also useful or applicable with the others. So, we asked what we needed while indeed doing our best to interview the applicants identically. It was a very odd experience for somebody with my recruitment background but I think that it worked well enough.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
Of our constituency's candidates, the incumbent Pete Wishart, Scottish National Party, beat the MEP Ian Duncan, Scottish Conservative and Unionist, by only 21 votes out of 51,525 cast, and our constituency wasn't the closest. As usual, Labour were barely on the radar and the Liberal Democrats worse still. Around Perthshire we have plenty of landowners; in the two Dundee city constituencies Labour usually do better than here and the Conservatives worse though the SNP hold those seats comfortably.

After this latest election there seems to be a deepening rift between the Scottish Conservatives who gained seats and the ones down south who lost seats. I find it interesting how the parties up here, even the Greens, typically have their own organization and separate manifesto.
mtbc: maze L (green-white)
I have been feeling better over this week. I developed the theory that I perhaps had some low-grade infection that was dragging me down for a while. In recent days I may have had more mild headaches but I have generally been back to usual levels of alertness and enthusiasm.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
The general election was interesting. I have not much followed news yet to follow details but I figured that I should record my initial impressions and then I can see how the picture looks different to me in due course.

Here in Scotland it seems as if the Conservatives gained votes from the SNP. I suspect that it was due more to a second independence referendum being a poor choice of headline policy for the SNP rather than because many Scots were keen for hard Brexit. In some constituencies the margin of victory was wafer-thin.

In England I guess that UKIP votes went to the Conservatives who lost more votes to Labour and the Liberal Democrats. It makes sense that this could reflect a higher turnout of young people who have woken up to Brexit and do not want it.

Theresa May came out poorly and her days are thus numbered. ) During the campaign she did not come across well in the media but Jeremy Corbyn and company hardly outshone her in that regard. I suspect that the Conservatives lost votes to Labour partly because their manifesto was less appealing. )

Personally I have some concern over how things will now go. I fear that ) the UK will end up with a soft Brexit that leaves it with the worst of both worlds.

On a personal basis, closer EU ties are better. )
mtbc: photograph of me (Default)
For Pentecost the BBC covered the Archbishop of Canterbury at a trendy service at what they say is Holy Trinity Church, Folkestone. On television it looks lovely inside so as usual I thought I would go to Wikipedia to learn about it. While the church does seem to have a brief website at I unusually can't find much trace of it on Wikipedia so for now I do not have much more to read about the church beyond the architectural background available through Historic England's website.

I have never visited that area of England though some of our possessions have as I think it was at Folkestone they first arrived from the US.

In the televised service the church's version of the creed wasn't quite what I am used to but it may have been a long time since I visited an Anglican church, except for stopping in to our local Scottish Episcopal Church for conveniently timed Christmas carols.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
It has been interesting to observe democracy in action in recent times. After the local elections the Conservatives were the largest party in Cornwall with well over a third of the council seats but they appear not to be working with any other large party so the result is a council whose leadership is split evenly among the independents and the Liberal Democrats: a coalition of the second and third largest groups get to run things. The council's new deputy leader used to be in my class at school. The nationalists Mebyon Kernow got a few seats too, only one less than Labour who are also minor in the county.

I am still getting used to being back in Europe with its multi-party politics and I don't recall previously noting independents usefully forming a group in their own right.
mtbc: maze J (red-white)
I have receding gums. Apparently there is not much to be done, it is one of the many joys of becoming elderly. During my latest checkup my dentist held the mirror so as to show me the exposed roots of my teeth. Given how they are not protected by enamel he prescribed me some special kind of toothpaste and bade me switch to using an electric toothbrush.

At first the electric toothbrush seemed distractingly tickly but that has been easy to get used to. One discovery is that my usual brushing routine must last over four minutes as the electric toothbrush claims to cut out after two by which point I am barely halfway. It also cuts out if I apply too much pressure which is one feature my dentist was favoring. After I am done my teeth do feel a little cleaner than they did with a manual toothbrush.

The electric toothbrush's manual is an entertaining mix of actual attempts at usage instructions whose English feels unnatural combined with lawyerly exhortations not to do this nor that. There are the usual warnings like not to use the toothbrush if it is not working properly, while sleeping, etc. In this case the legal parts sit awkwardly next to the regular usage instructions. For example, for usage,
To keep the battery fully charged, we recommend that you keep the toothbrush in the charger when not in use.
Do not leave appliance when plugged in.


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

July 2017

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