mtbc: maze J (red-white)
2017-09-20 05:41 pm

Presbyopic decline

With the general encouragement of [personal profile] doug today I went along to see Andrew Bolton who practices as an optician on Perth Road in Dundee. My first eye examination since moving from Ohio turned out to be pleasant, thorough and efficient. My eyes are healthy and indeed beginning to gently warrant correction. I do not notice any difficulty when I read normal books but apparently my prescription is rather close to a simple over-the-counter +1.00 pair of reading glasses so I shall probably give such a try, especially as I was advised that after a couple more years I should expect to perceive further decline.
mtbc: maze I (white-red)
2017-09-16 11:12 pm
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Diagrams, a postscript

Having mentioned considering Cairo for diagram generation I thought that it may be usefully illustrative to share a couple of past diagrams representing those I have previously generated via PostScript® code:

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

magnetic field map
shows an undersea map where the marked regions have a specific magnetic field strength: the meandering black lines are an isopleth. Both diagrams were generated from data structures from my software: for the field map the grayscale is achieved by shaded fills of a mesh of triangles whose vertices are sample points. I did Delaunay triangulation in Haskell which output shfill commands for the rendering.
mtbc: maze I (white-red)
2017-09-16 08:27 am
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Lottery information; jackpot fixation

For a specific lottery I can often find where they quote the odds of winning the different levels of prizes. However, I do not see a convenient cross-lottery database of these. Instead, as far as I can tell, people seem obsessed with the jackpots.

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

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

Maybe there is a lack of demand for such a calculation. Perhaps the kind of people who do like lotteries much enjoy the excitement of thinking enormous wins remotely plausible or they enjoy occasionally winning trivial amounts or they focus on trying to pick winning numbers or something instead of on adjusting for nonlinear utility.
mtbc: maze I (white-red)
2017-09-15 08:53 pm
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Video sharing: social media; contributed content

It seems that the kinds of website that carry a range of material contributed by the general public are increasingly carrying video. At one time we had text, things like newspaper story extracts, then plenty of still photographs, and now it seems video is the new norm. I find this a little inconvenient: I can rapidly glance through much static content for worthy nuggets but I am not about to spend some seconds on each of many items because lightly curated content is unlikely to be worth that much of my time. I also prefer not to wear headphones for prolonged periods and I am normally in company or listening to something unrelated. I sense that this may be yet another instance of my unprogressively becoming better suited for the Internet of yesteryear.
mtbc: photograph of me (Default)
2017-09-15 07:48 am

My prior ignorance of Saturn's hexagon

It turns out that Saturn's North pole bears a cloud pattern that is strikingly hexagonal and so large that the Earth would easily fit inside. I watch a lot of science and space documentaries, I have read and watched much science fiction that included travel within our planetary system, I was awarded an A grade for GCSE Astronomy, so how is it only this week that I learned of Saturn's hexagon? Was it only me who didn't know or was it not widely considered to be remarkable? I can hardly imagine a better advertisement for why it might be interesting to study fluid dynamics. Now I come to try to learn more of the phenomenon I read that the effect has been recreated both in simulation and in the laboratory.
mtbc: maze D (yellow-black)
2017-09-15 06:46 am
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Leaky valve cover gasket

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

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

In Ohio we routinely drove cars until they, sometimes literally, fell apart. It is odd now to live in Britain knowing that our cars will probably never get that bad given the annual inspections: it is the inspection failure that typically dooms them rather than the actual physical collapse. For at least a couple of our American cars their state was such that oil thickener was a routine additive for us.
mtbc: maze L (green-white)
2017-09-14 10:00 pm
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Attractive accents

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

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

I suppose that these observations come with obligatory caveats that I invite people to take as read. For instance, I do not suggest that there is any rational value judgement here; after all, the Republic of Ireland has no special place in my heart and I wish I could see more of those people from Northern Ireland whom I know best.
mtbc: maze I (white-red)
2017-09-13 02:42 pm
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Heuristic for color vileness

I notice that text like this looks vile but text like this looks okay. In RGB the color combination of the former is F0F on 0A0 and the latter is FF0 on 00A. This innocent transposition of digits has a marked effect.

I do not know much about color spaces but I suspect that the explanation is the difference in the relative luminance of the two colors. As far as I can tell from online calculators that difference is very small for the first pair of colors and rather high for the second pair. Relative luminance does not seem trivial to calculate; there are various guides that helpfully offer algorithms but unhelpfully offer different algorithms from one another. I appear to have accidentally found a rabbit hole.
mtbc: maze J (red-white)
2017-09-13 08:02 am
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Aging; declining vision

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

While I now forget the details of past visits to optometrists and similar, I do recall that many years ago my vision was measured at 20/12 and later seemed to have degraded to 20/15 or so. I am due for another eye check which I bother with more for eye health than visual acuity but I now wonder how much further my vision has degraded and how many years away eye correction yet is.
mtbc: maze G (black-magenta)
2017-09-11 09:08 pm
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Workout music; ABBA

I was using a BBC Radio upbeat playlist for today's workout and Abba's Gimme Gimme Gimme came on. I do not usually pay much attention to lyrics but now I wonder if they explain why a man before midnight would not be satisfactory. Perhaps he would just have to wait around. Anyhow, what surprised me was noticing that these soundtracks, full of disco classics and whatnot, have not included more ABBA songs. Though, some have appeared more indirectly: for instance one playlist included Steps' Story of a Heart which surprised me enough in not being at all bad that I investigated and discovered that it was written by Benny and Björn.
mtbc: maze I (white-red)
2017-09-10 07:17 am
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Increasingly unreliable computing

From day to day I live with all manner of computer-related irritations. For example, in logging into Dreamwidth just now with Firefox 55 the autocomplete popup appears over the text field so that it just slows my typing or makes it impossible for me to see what I have typed or occasionally grabs the focus so I altogether miss a letter. My work laptop hangs on every shutdown because SysVinit support already means so little to Debian that for months now this is simply how it interacts with one's also using eCryptfs. (I am tempted to switch distribution to something less assimilated by the RedHat-Borg but I do try to keep my work machine fairly mainstream.) I now have badblocks failing on a within-warranty brand-name drive and I am still determining if it really is because of the drive or the kernel's USB driver code given that the latter has shown other imperfections on my Intel hardware. This is all despite my not making decisions before carefully reading many reviews, not filling systems with random needless cruft, trying to avoid unusual configurations, etc.

I feel as if my time is increasingly wasted by computers simply not doing what they are supposed to. If the trend continues then my personal computing will eventually be held together by so much that smells suspiciously like glue and string that it will become untenable. What particularly irks me is that I know that things were different twenty to thirty years ago: I had previously mentioned how software bugs were once rather more surprising and less obvious, also hardware kept trucking on for years. It is not that I was inexperienced: as an undergraduate I was already invoicing businesses for various IT consultancy. I know that things have since become more complex, more featureful, cheaper to produce; I just doubt that it was worth it. I shall someday become a crazy old man who bores his grandchildren with his hazy recollection of an ancient golden age in which computers actually used to work correctly and comprehensibly, at least until they stop visiting me.
mtbc: maze I (white-red)
2017-09-09 10:29 am
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Graphics libraries for mathematical diagrams

For many years PostScript® was my go-to means of generating mathematical diagrams. I used to live near the American Mathematical Society and daydreamed of having a job coding illustrations for them. One should not be deceived by the machine-readable horror generated by PostScript printer drivers: it is a nice language. For example, in creating the simple logo,

corporate logo
my underlying PostScript code introspects into the outline of the letters defined by the font to nestle the a and e together perfectly. Similarly, for charts I would write the raw data into arrays and have layout code running in the printer to render them according to the current page width and suchlike, rather like one might now do in JavaScript using jqPlot. Printing documents that embed such code can take a while as the printer thinks but it is not like it was otherwise doing anything better with the time. These days I must resort to cheaper printers so I end up embedding fonts and converting such documents into PCL6 before printing.

PostScript is becoming increasingly obsolete: if nothing else it makes Unicode awkward. I am thus thinking that perhaps I ought to move to using a vector graphics library from some general-purpose programming language, one that allows me to easily create precise diagrams just as PostScript does. (The hand-placed arrows I see in people's PowerPoint slides appall me.) Years ago I would have opted for Cairo which outputs into PNG and PDF but does that remain a good choice or is it starting to rot as all the cool kids move to a shinier new world?
mtbc: maze E (black-cyan)
2017-09-07 08:39 am

Paying for college

Yesterday on the radio I heard Louise Richardson, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, defending her handsome salary, making the point that competition for vice-chancellors occurs in a global marketplace and she would be paid rather more in the US. This morning, somewhat in response, we had Jo Johnson MP, the Minister for Universities and Science, defending funding arrangements for universities. Now I receive an broadcast e-mail from the Vice-Chancellor here, the University of Dundee, expressing pleasure at our being shortlisted as University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards which I would guess helps to validate his salary.

I was lucky to be born early enough that my own university education in England was paid for rather more by grant than by student loans and what loan I did have had a low interest rate. Now England has moved to a system that is dominated by loans at a higher interest rate. Especially, as a student I had the sense that the taxpayer, not me, was paying for my education and that probably affected my attitude to it.

One concern I have is the idea of having to pay competitive market rates for university staff. It may be a mistake to consider money as the principal attractor to positions in English public universities. )

Another concern I have is the change in mindset that comes from students feeling that they are paying for their own education. Pleasing the student customers is not the same as requiring worthwhile academic success of them. )
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
2017-09-06 07:25 pm
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Views (cont'd): Housing supply

Housing is very expensive in the UK; we still rent because incurring debt many times my annual income alarms me. Perhaps inequality keeps many from becoming homeowners. )

Some parts of the country cannot easily support many more people: anybody trying to commute into London other than by air can testify to that. If more houses need be built elsewhere then I am inclined to support the creation of more cities with mixed-use neighborhoods. )

In contrast to the design of Milton Keynes I would like Britain to depend less on cars, in part for environmental and safety reasons. Sufficiently dense cities make it entirely workable to depend on foot, bicycle or public transport for most journeys and on car clubs and rental agencies for obtaining an appropriate car for one's occasional true need. Government can help to make this viable: for example, in regulating car insurance. )

Many other social changes are needed to enable less car travel. For instance, in not always having to visit doctors, colleges and workplaces in person. )

Trying to reduce travel and increase telepresence raises the specter of globalization: competing in a worldwide labor market. I suspect that there is some inevitability here that is best faced. Nonetheless, with the general liberalization of international trade, such agreements remind me that I favor significantly shortening the duration of intellectual property protections. )

I think that these seven recent entries on my political views have now covered a good range of policy areas. It may have been useful for me to articulate these opinions publicly, at least to throw more light on my other entries on politics, but I do not claim that these views are all sincerely held and well-justified. I am used to differing with friends and sometimes being wrong.
mtbc: maze J (red-white)
2017-09-05 07:09 pm
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Exercise accoutrements

I have continued to experiment with earphones: while working out I now wear a wholly wireless pair of X1Ts. I had never before used Bluetooth® yet, with the help of instructions written in an approximation of English, I was able to pair them with each other and my cellphone far more easily than I had expected. They do still fall out but I can live with it. )

I had extended my workout time to a round hour. However, the front half of my left foot is beginning to numb after forty minutes. Wider shoes did not help so now I stop sooner. )

I am working out more gently though I believe it still to count as being adequately vigorous given that it significantly elevates my heart rate. I reach the above calorie goal within fifty minutes but around five minutes later than I used to and no longer needing a few minutes afterward to properly catch my breath. I still listen to upbeat popular music but I wonder what else I might listen to over that time, perhaps some sufficiently engaging spoken-word material.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
2017-09-05 05:11 pm
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Views (cont'd): Electing the UK Parliament

Considering that I am fairly progressive in some respects, I am perhaps unusually conservative when it comes to the Palace of Westminster. People often observe that a government may enjoy a significant majority with but a minority of the popular vote but that may not be so bad. )

I do consider it a significant problem that many people may consider that their vote counts for less. Some elections may not seem worth voting in. )

I am against encouraging absentee voting. People who actually turn up to vote are more likely to have also bothered to find out something about the candidates and parties. When people vote in person the secrecy of their ballots is more greatly assured and the incidence of voter fraud very low. Encouraging in-person voting does require making it easy. )

I wonder about reform of the House of Lords. I like the idea of it retaining some power to counterbalance immoderate populism from the House of Commons. From that point of view, inasmuch as the House of Lords is unrepresentative then I like the idea of its members tending to be educated and conservative: they tend to detect and retard extreme legislation while still supporting progress like the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act. I also like that they have much freedom to vote according to conscience. )

I am open to that the House of Lords may do its job at least as well through being selected very differently. For example, from aggregating the votes for members of the House of Commons we know how the nationwide popular vote stands and I wonder if it may be best to somehow select new members of the House of Lords so as to more proportionally balance the legislature in accordance with that vote.
mtbc: photograph of me (Default)
2017-09-04 08:23 am

Accommodating cats; their colors

Nearly a year ago I was commenting here on the divisive issue of keeping pet cats indoors or allowing them to roam outdoors. The norm in the US is toward the former, in the UK the latter. In some cases simply not having a cat might be best but the perfect is the enemy of the good: I do think it behooves one not to be dogmatic about these issues: there is a veritable surplus of cats and a high fraction of likely homes are probably an improvement over being caged for many months in a shelter and possibly euthanized.

Recently I was reading that black cats, also black and white cats, are less popular than more colorful cats. This surprised me: though our cat Pippin is a tabby I find black cats adequately nice relative to others; I suppose that I differ from the mainstream but I have little idea why. However, I had been thinking that black cats might be more difficult to dye: it occurred to me that for the safety of outdoor cats among road traffic it may be responsible to dye them bright colors even if that impedes their hunting and raises eyebrows among the neighbors. Needless to say, I may differ substantially from the mainstream in imagining that dyeing cats could ever be a good idea as I do not notice dyes being advertised as being safe for cats to lick.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
2017-09-04 06:12 am
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Views (cont'd): Independence referendums

I have mentioned being doubtful about independence referendums; this entry probably merely summarizes previous ones. The Scottish National Party's portrait of an independent thriving Scotland in which little changes in terms of the relationship with the rest of the UK sounded most unlikely. There may be some more plausible story whereby Scotland leaves the UK, adopts its own currency that falls enough to make remote services like call centers by skilled English-speaking staff a useful kind of export, but with an aging population and finite oil the SNP's story seemed to me like a short-sighted pipedream and I feel that Scotland has enough in common with the rest of the UK that breaking away would be an overreaction.

The UK's breaking from the European Union I am less clear on. I like the idea of the EU and I often appreciate regulations that it imposes upon the UK: I think those laws, for example on food quality or how corporations may use our personal data, are a good idea and I greatly doubt that a wholly independent UK would have acted similarly. More personally, it is sad to see EU citizens feeling unwelcome and leaving the UK as I think we benefit both economically and culturally from their being with us.

However, I do agree that there is a democratic deficit wherein cloth-eared EU governance overestimates its own competence: at least those who lead the decision-making are more arrogant than they are correct. Brexit may harm the UK but perhaps it can help push the EU to improve. )

Even excepting the UK, national or regional politics too greatly affect EU governance. I hope that at least the core of the EU can find its way toward something more like the US where there is more central willingness to redistribute funds among the states by need, becoming more cohesive while still offering diversity. )
mtbc: maze F (cyan-black)
2017-09-03 11:33 am
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Feeling warm or cold

Fall does seem to be coming: lately the mornings have been quite cool. The days have been pleasantly sunny though with occasional rainshowers. I was talking with an American who lives locally and recently got back from Greece: they mentioned how nice it had been to experience hot weather. I was reminded of how much I had enjoyed arriving in Michigan a month ago and experiencing that warmth.

At work the air conditioning keeps me feeling cold enough that I positively enjoy taking my time to wash my hands in the restroom because I savor the feeling of real warmth on my skin from the water from the automatic faucet. I have noticed that I feel colder since losing over a quarter of my weight: I mentioned it to somebody else who had lost plenty of weight and they told me that the same happened to them but they adjusted eventually.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
2017-09-03 09:27 am
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Views (cont'd): Nuclear; military

Controversial though it is, I am in favor of Trident, the UK's submarine-based nuclear deterrent. Perhaps I am colored by my years of working for the US Department of Defense because I am in favor of military spending in general, though perhaps of a more Iranian-style self-sufficient form. I do not trust alliances to last and I expect climate change and other coming stresses to make it a bad idea to reduce military capability. )

I consider disarmament a fantasy: nobody will be giving up their nuclear weapons. ) This is one reason why I favor space exploration: it may be imprudent for our species to rely on advanced civilization being sustainable on Earth.

Trident is expensive and in general I am in favor of self-sufficiency not only for strategic reasons but to help retain money and expertise within the national economy. As with the American focus on dual-use technologies, perhaps benefits to related industries can make self-sufficiency affordable. ) Further, I fear that austerity in UK military spending may unconscionably underresource the armed forces given that so much is and may need to be asked of them.

I have little idea how well these supposed indirect benefits would appreciably assist the domestic economy. I would hope that they go quite some way because I am largely against selling weapons systems to other countries. )

In terms of dual-use technologies, while renewable energy is to be encouraged, certainly more than the present Conservative government has, my guess is that the UK needs nuclear power for decades yet. That is another reason to develop domestic capability in nuclear engineering. I thus object to the Hinkley Point C project in which foreign businesses play key roles in the domestic construction of a nuclear power plant of a rather old design.