mtbc: maze D (yellow-black)
2017-07-19 09:55 pm
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Ongoing road construction

On the way into work this morning I again waited at a traffic signal that protects a pit in one lane of a two-lane road. There is usually no activity around this hole in the road and whatever work is being done there by Scottish Water appears to be taking them many days.

I wonder what it costs utility companies to block roads. I imagine that the city council charge them more, the longer the work takes, but how much? I am reminded of living in Massachusetts. There, the police union seems to have wangled some neat deal to get officers paid plenty for watching traffic around road construction. Whatever I think of that, I wonder if the ongoing expense is a sufficiently non-trivial fraction of the project cost to help hurry the work along.
mtbc: maze K (white-green)
2017-07-19 08:06 pm
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BBC on-air salaries

The BBC has published information about how much its top on-air personalities earn. Some of them earn a considerable sum indeed. I can buy that the market for such celebrities is competitive. However, I wonder what the BBC is for.

Many of the current better-paid personalities do not seem to me to be all that uniquely remarkable. Worthwhile, even innovative, entertainment need not be expensively produced, though I am one of those viewers who does not mind if the sets sometimes wobble a bit.

Perhaps it is fine for commercial television and radio to poach away the most popular BBC talent. Those willing to work for rather less than £200k, especially outside London, may not be significantly inferior to those we see now and we could benefit from the BBC being able to afford a larger roster of presenters and hosts. Alternatively, it may be that the best of the BBC presenters bring more outstanding value than I recognize or that many viewers care more about seeing one of a few best-known celebrities than I.
mtbc: maze L (green-white)
2017-07-16 11:59 am
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The appeal of meaning

I am noticing how attractive I find the idea of subscribing to some coherent ideology. That I have not done so may be much more due to an inability to accept such a belief system rather than my reluctance to. The idea of being persuaded of some unambiguous meaning in life, some goal that tells me what to do and what is worth it to get there, especially if somebody else has already done the hard thinking for me and provided like-minded comrades, is very appealing. In this year's elections I had to again research parties and manifestoes and candidates not because I am proudly independent but just because I have a hard time buying others' thinking, certainly as a complex package. I already knew that I am persistently doubtful about everything from theism to capitalism but I do not think that I had properly noticed how much I would have liked more certainty about fundamental beliefs.

A nice thing about having children is that I find I can draw some confidence in action from that I want to serve their interests. That feeling may be an irrational product of natural selection but at least it is guidance that I actually feel able to buy into.
mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
2017-07-14 08:56 pm
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Personal computing projects

Since I am now exercising for an hour on three days per week it occurred to me that I could try setting aside that same hour on other days for the computer programming that I have been wanting to do for a long time. We have a houseguest at the moment but next month once I am back from the US I should give this a try.

I had mentioned that a problem I have had is that it takes me a good while just to get back into such projects so when I do set aside time I make little progress. It occurred to me that if I try more frequently then my startup time may soon be much reduced. Sometimes it takes me a while to think of the obvious.
mtbc: maze G (black-magenta)
2017-07-14 08:42 pm
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Exercising more gently with music

I have settled on three longer workouts per week, never on consecutive days: two on weekdays, one on weekends. They run for a round hour as determined by the duration of BBC Radio's playlists, especially Radio 2's Wednesday Workout and Upbeat. While those feature a good mix of classic and modern tracks it amuses me that the former is such that one is not surprised if something from, say, the soundtrack of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) is played.

I am using Betron B-25 headphones that mostly stay in my ears and do well at blocking the mechanical clanking and squeaking from the cross-trainer so that I can use fairly low volume. The isolation is such that spoken-word audio would also be viable.

My power output is down to around 21½ of the machine's calories per minute but I think that suffices as I still work up a sweat and do not want to overly tax myself. Rather than aiming for particular performance I instead just check the readings every song or so and increase the resistance if I am drifting over 55 RPM, which typically happens a couple of times over the course of the hour.

The lively popular music and lack of performance target certainly help my workouts to pass somewhat pleasantly. If facing another workout requires little willpower then I am more likely to continue with them.
mtbc: maze J (red-white)
2017-07-13 09:37 pm
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Confusing drug naming

I notice that in my past I have been separately prescribed terbinafine and terfenadine. To me this feels ripe for confusion among the overworked, especially in handwriting. I wonder if there is consideration given to maintaining a safe distinctiveness in drug naming.
mtbc: maze M (white-blue)
2017-07-12 07:30 am
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Sermons and popular media

I often pay some attention to church services, not least the brief Daily Service that has been broadcast on BBC Radio for many decades. I am occasionally amused by a surprise perhaps arising from not always paying full attention. A recent example was the minister's sermon apparently slipping into song lyrics until a moment's thought told me that the song that had come to mind had itself been quoting from the Bible.
mtbc: maze L (green-white)
2017-07-11 05:53 pm
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A dream in which I am widowed

My dreams rarely feature much emotion. I often dream of perilous situations but, despite the mortal danger, they are not frightening, just excitingly tense. I had mentioned how I often dream of people who are not part of my real life. For example, I sometimes dream of Anna with whom I have a good romantic relationship. I can be sad when I awaken because I thought that Anna existed and now I am awake I realize that she is fictional so there is a sense of loss but during the actual dream I am doing fine and life is good.

I had a surprise last night in dreaming of a different romantic partner where I experienced great sorrow in the dream itself. She was quite different from Anna: more cheerful and energetic, helpful and encouraging, less intellectual and sophisticated, in looks a little darker and heavier with broader features. She feels familiar but I cannot yet think of anybody on whom she is obviously based. Also, she was quite clearly contemporary, English-speaking and we lived in the West; with Anna it is always in Russian and possibly many decades in the past.

Anyhow, in the dream my wife had died quite suddenly, maybe in her late thirties, and I was thus widowed. I was visiting her family and in the course of that visit I was arranging and cleaning something for her grandmother. The grandmother remarked on how my late wife had always kept that item of her grandmother's so clean and nice and this comment felt very much like her, that she would be doing thoughtful but practical things for her family, so that caused me considerable upset in vividly reminding me of how she used to be and how lucky we had been to have her as a positive force in our lives.

As it is, that she had been such a joy to share life with turns out to be entirely fictional; I do not even remember her name. This journal entry becomes her only memorial. How strange our brains are. I did have a headache arrive yesterday evening and mostly depart this morning so perhaps that pain somehow became an emotional discomfort in the dream.

Update: Fortunately the night after I am back to dreams about non-scary peril. The following morning when I awoke, in my dream I had reached my laboratory and was turning my attention to barricading the door after sending one of my students for bottled water in anticipation of having to hold out against the sudden spread of aggressive zombies.
mtbc: maze B (white-black)
2017-07-05 10:20 pm
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Luck on Independence Day

July 4th started out fairly gray and damp. It was still cool and overcast later on but was at least dry after I got home from work so I was able to barbecue steaks and hot dogs; afterward the children toasted marshmallows. It was a good rehearsal for doing likewise with [personal profile] mst3kmoxie's mother who is presently en route from the Midwest to visit us here in Scotland.
mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
2017-07-02 09:38 pm

Minimal movement on personal projects

I realized a little of why I do not make much progress on the projects I want to get on with on computers at home. I am comparing with my productivity at work but there I get to focus for a few hours at a time on a task. The kinds of projects I want to pursue at home take enough thought, and use rusty enough skills, that it takes me an hour's work just to properly get back into them and gain some momentum. By that time it is pretty much time for me to wrap up and come do something with my family, with whom I do want to get to spend time.

This is why I still manage to do jobs like posting entries to this journal: it is the kind of thing I can switch right into with little preparation and handle in a shorter span of time. Yesterday [personal profile] mst3kmoxie kindly handled the children's afternoon visit to Dundee which gave me time at home that mostly went into upgrading our OpenBSD machines to v6.1, a slightly fiddly process. I manage to keep on top of these maintenance tasks, I just don't get to make the additional time around job and family and sleep to really push forward on anything. I do need to do something because my present job is not secure and by this point is not really advancing my own career, though I am likely to soon be learning about Vert.x and at least my paid work helps scientists.

On reflection, there are a couple of solutions. I do not make the progress even with smaller-scale easier-to-start tasks that I should, even if I enjoy them, so there is something to address there; maybe I could better notice what it is that I am doing instead though that may often simply be feeling tired. I also waste time in being available to my family at times when none of them feel interactive: perhaps I need to actually plan family time a bit better and remind of my interruptibility at other times. Further, I might need to more firmly set aside a long solid chunk of some weekend day toward useful ends so that the getting-started time does not dominate.
mtbc: maze B (white-black)
2017-07-01 07:45 am
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In appreciation of insulated mugs

I have Thermos® desk mugs and find them to be a most welcome boon. An exception to that praise: while green tea seems fine, I find that black tea tastes odd from them even though I would not have expected a reaction with the stainless steel. For variety I thus have to hand bags for making various infusions such as rooibos and peppermint.

There are some advantages to having insulated mugs to hand. One is that I can make two cups of tea for myself in one bout of effort. I make one cup in a normal ceramic mug, the other in an insulated mug, take the bags out and bring the mugs to my place of work or repose, then I have one ready to drink and another still quite warm later when I want another. Of course, the ceramic mug gets the black tea.

Another advantage is that I can have a cup of tea waiting for me after a meeting. I make it in the insulated mug a few minutes before I go to the conference room then it is ready to be picked up on the way back to my desk and drunk.

An insulated mug also helps to cause me to take more brief breaks from being seated at the computer. For some drinks where the bag can simply stay in the mug for a long time I get to take two walks from my desk: one to add the bag to the hot water when I anticipate wanting a drink, the other to retrieve my mug and dispose of the bag when the time of my want arrives.

Finally, my work comes with many distracting interruptions: if I forget about my tea halfway through drinking it then in the insulated mug it is less likely to be cold by the time I remember and finish it. This works best if on being called away from my desk I replace the mug's lid.
mtbc: maze L (green-white)
2017-06-28 07:41 pm
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Handedness and mirror tasks

I am very left-handed: I am not one of these people who does a couple of things right-handed because that's how they were taught to me, it's more like if I try to use my right hand for long for something then it can make me start to feel peculiarly agitated. Except, I've noticed, for trimming my facial hair: my moustache, around the top of my ears, whatever, I am looking in the mirror and using my right hand. It's a fairly brief use, of course. Still, I wonder if others also use their nondominant hand for such.
mtbc: maze E (black-cyan)
2017-06-27 10:14 pm
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High school prizegiving

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)
2017-06-26 09:40 pm
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Storing passwords

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)
2017-06-25 03:32 pm
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Music festivals; The Pretenders

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)
2017-06-25 02:41 pm
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Tasty kebab meat

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)
2017-06-25 11:26 am
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Heart rate for exercise

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)
2017-06-25 09:45 am
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Drinking less alcohol, unintentionally

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)
2017-06-24 03:40 pm
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Coining strange names for foods

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)
2017-06-24 02:18 pm
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The value of money

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.