mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
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 I (white-red)
Passwords are tricky to deal with. I like to have fairly long, random ones and to not reuse them. With the various accounts I have this means there are rather a lot of passwords to remember, an especial challenge when some must be changed on a regular basis and others ought to be.

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

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

I am not proposing or soliciting answers so much as noting that practical password management is a hard problem. Still, as ever, others' thoughts are most welcome.
mtbc: maze 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 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 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: maze D (yellow-black)
My regular garage sent me a text message by SMS to let me know that my car's MOT test is coming up. The MOT is an annual vehicle test that was originally instituted by the Ministry of Transport, hence the name. One may have the test done a couple of weeks before the due date in order for the approval to be extended for another full year.

It turns out that the garage's computer system lies: the automated message used the date of inspection, not the actual expiry date of the MOT certificate. So, it is coming up to the date when the car last had its MOT test but we are still comfortably away from the actual expiry date. I shall bring the car back next month.
mtbc: maze I (white-red)
A difficulty I have with the desktop environments so pervading the mainstream Linux community is attempting to use some of their components outside those environments. For example, one has to recall that software is associated with KDE or whatever to guess which keystrokes may work for it. I am rarely sufficiently aware of the underlying toolkit.

I have had some success, though, thanks to the configurability offered by applications. For example, the file selection dialogs (for save as and similar) in Firefox and LibreOffice were wholly unusable for me. Fortunately, in LibreOffice I find that the Use LibreOffice dialogs option fixes the issue, and with some prompt help from Mozilla's Firefox Support Forum I now find that its ui.allow_platform_file_picker = false option is equivalently helpful. I wonder if the problem is that GTK3 is expecting more of my desktop environment (currently twm!) than it offers.
mtbc: maze L (green-white)
I have been quieter lately through feeling tired and irritable. I am usually at my desk by 8h or so and, in fasting, I don't take time for lunch, but I don't want to leave too weirdly early so I usually stay until 16h30 or so. Sometimes I stay later, for example on Tuesday I stayed beyond 17h because, as I was wrapping up, a series of three people came to ask me things. This is okay, I like to be helpful, but it did mean a longer workday.

Unfortunately, I awoke rather prematurely on Wednesday. I do not make much use at home of unexpected morning time because I am distracted by knowing that I have to leave the house so I just head to work unusually early. Over the afternoon I had a migraine, though not quite bad enough to prevent me from working, and on the way home I had a detour via the doctor's office which added maybe a half-hour to my trip, so that became a long day indeed. Yesterday I again awoke well before the alarm and started my workday correspondingly early.

An early workday makes sense for me. )

I have wondered if, though I do not eat at lunchtime, I could instead use the time well for some other personal task. I am not sure what that might be, though. Especially, I like to keep my own work separate from my paid work, on different computers, but I do not want to risk routinely bringing my own laptop into work. I do at least sometimes take a brief walk, as I did today to the mailbox.

Recently my work has been difficult. )

I have also been unusually busy at home. For example, last Saturday one of my children needed to be in Dundee all day and tomorrow they both need to be. So, that is basically a day of the weekend rather perturbed. I thus wonder if everything has added up to push me a little over a tipping point lately.

Feeling myself to be much inclined to utter screw this and let chips fall, I skipped exercising for a couple of days and have instead treated myself a little: for instance, after exercising yesterday I took a bath instead of a quick shower. Today I felt somewhat better. Not only did I sleep for longer but I also felt a little more enthusiastic. I did well in my exercising. Perhaps I am returning to a more tolerable state of mind but I will try not to push it too far.
mtbc: maze I (white-red)
I have a simple system for my removable backup volumes which turns out to have a small flaw. I keep one volume attached to a computer, thus easily accessed, one in the fire safe, and one off-site at work. Once I backup to one I plug the others in (modulo some commuting) and update them too.

There is always a volume in the fire safe and a volume off-site. This means that there is a time when a volume is not attached to a computer because it is traveling to be exchanged with the previous off-site one. Those hours with multiple volumes off-site are the small flaw in the system.

Though, if I added another, fourth, removable backup volume then that could require even more rsyncing to keep them all up to date with the latest. (Being up to date does include retaining older backups.) Perhaps that copying would not be necessary, I haven't thought it through. It would also give the system more redundancy: I could fall back to my current system when a volume failed.

I also have not yet figured out how best to offer the attached-to-a-computer volume's contents to the other computers around the house, I use scp instead. The problem is that the user IDs do not match across systems and I recall that OpenBSD's base nfsd is not the most featureful. Samba might make the ID-mapping easier. I investigated a little and perhaps made notes but, well, it's on the to-do list. Ahead of it is upgrading the OpenBSD machines to 6.1 now that I have given others time to detect and fix its initial issues.
mtbc: maze I (white-red)
The experience of selling items online can be a little disappointing. For instance, I explain why I am offering an indivisible lot and somebody responds wanting only part of it. Or, I say that the price is firm and somebody makes me an offer. I am probably wholly unsuited to buying in, say, a Turkish market: I really don't have the patience for haggling. I do not know if buyers are not reading carefully or if they suspect me of strategically lying. It is certainly so that in the past when I have clearly told another party that they should do me a favor or I will do something that will cost them more than the favor, they have tended not to do me the favor and I have thus acted as promised*, so I suppose that is additional evidence that people do not always take me at my word. It would be nice if there were some unambiguous way I could convey my honest lack of game-playing. Buyers who persist in useless queries tend to have to wait increasingly long for subsequent responses. At least so far when I have replied restating what I originally said, some have paused then assented, so the process may be inefficient but is ultimately productive.

*No, I am not in the business of exaction!
mtbc: maze J (red-white)
Since entering the healthy weight range of the NHS' chart I increased my calorie allowance in transitioning from weight loss to maintenance. NIH's website has a Body Weight Planner which I believe to have a non-trivial somewhat-justified model behind it; I experiment with its online calculator a little to monitor its predictions. The portal to it that they offer answers, let us figure how much you should eat to lose enough weight quickly enough, and I would rather like them to instead present the underlying model more clearly so that I may code it myself then ask different kinds of question of it. As it is their website will let me adjust numbers and try again so I can iterate toward the answers that I actually want, to questions like, at least how much should I eat to avoid becoming underweight over coming years?.

When I was more aggressively trying to lose weight my limit was 12½MCal/week. With my weekday fasting and not having the disposable income to eat out, I am now settled into a pattern in which my current 16Mcal/week limit is easy to sustain: indeed, this week I will end up eating well under 15Mcal. The difficulty isn't hunger so much as the simple hassle of monitoring intake at all. Some experimentation with NIH's model suggests that, even if I reduce my exercise, my current maintenance diet should keep me within the NHS' idea of a healthy weight, enough below the upper boundary that the occasional less-regimented vacation and suchlike ought not present any difficulty.
mtbc: maze K (white-green)
Mostly in the US we had cable television except for a period in rural Ohio when we had satellite television through DirecTV. By the time we were in Rhode Island and Massachusetts we had high-definition cable. On moving to Scotland our house had satellite television from two dishes so I learned about DVB-S2 and figured out from our channel selection at which satellites they pointed. The satellite dish at our present property gets poor reception; there is a shiny antenna in the attic so we instead use the terrestrial television.

I initially bought a cheap Chinese decoder box off eBay to discover if we have usable broadcast signal at all. It turns out that we do; we still use that box to watch live television. Still, its configuration's set of countries does not include the UK and it receives rather few of the official Freeview channel list so I guessed that it is just a bit rubbish. Today I tried plugging an Afatech AF9015 decoder into my laptop's USB and, after providing the required firmware, checked what w_scan could find: it turns out to be even fewer channels though at least those are perfectly watchable through mplayer.

It thus seemed time to learn more about DVB-T2 and Freeview. I learned that there are multiplexes of channels provided by various transmitters. Angus' transmitter provides a rather full service but coverage here is marginal so I expect that our antenna is instead directed toward Perth. The Perth relay, like the Tay Bridge one serving the area near my workplace in Dundee, is listed as providing a limited set of channels from the Angus transmitter: only those from the BBC A, BBC B, D3&4 multiplexes. The AF9015-based decoder misses the high-definition channels provided by BBC B but our cheap decoder box receives them, it is just that some parts of the UK, even cities, are served with but a considerably partial set of the free terrestrial broadcast channels.

A small puzzle is that our box does receive channels from the COM 7 multiplex, also missed by the AF9015. I have no reason to expect those to be relayed from Perth yet we get them somehow.
mtbc: maze I (white-red)
Years ago much discussion took place on newsgroups and mailing lists. Once set up with one's chosen client (mine being Gnus) one could freely discuss many topics both on-list and off. It was easy, convenient and useful. Then, idiots and abusers and shiny-new came along.

These days discussion appears spread over myriad semi-usable web fora. I noticed that this causes me to leech useful information from threads without seeding any myself. For example, through searching the web I find somebody struggling with a problem that I am also seeing then, later on when I solve it, I look at if I can somehow provide them the answer, but find that I cannot determine an e-mail address for them and to reply via the forum then I would have to sign up for it myself, figure out how to stop it sending me e-mail, etc.

It thus feels like more than double the effort for a useful interaction that is of little profit to me so I just don't bother. It is sometimes with a touch of wistful sadness that I remember how easy it once was to casually participate. At least with some systems, like bug trackers for major projects, I have a fair idea that I may already have an account, though associated with which e-mail address from which workplace is another matter. The increase in bugs being auto-closed makes me bother less there too though: after all, it takes some effort to file a good bug report.
mtbc: maze A (black-white)
I am sorry to learn of Toshiba's financial predicament. I have generally thought well of them: for example, I liked the Toshiba Satellite Pro laptop computer that I owned and I am presently watching Later… With Jools Holland (1992) on our old Toshiba REGZA television; I do not look forward to someday trying to find a replacement television at least as satisfactory. I know less of Toshiba's more recent offerings but it is always a shame when one of the few companies whose products I have liked looks to be continuing their good work no longer.
mtbc: maze K (white-green)
I am not the kind of computer user who does everything in a web browser. Indeed, on my personal computers I often do not have one open at all. It was a sad day when my local library dropped their telnet interface to the online catalog. I also get quite irritated with suppliers of content who insist on controlling the experience by hiding it all within their own interface and branding (BBC, I'm looking at you). Also, more of my electronic billing seems to be turning into that they no longer e-mail a PDF, I must instead log into their website to get each bill, thus giving me a reminder each month that perhaps I would like to switch supplier.

Therefore, kudos to Radio France who have anticipated that I may wish to use mon player favori: if vous préférez utiliser votre logiciel d'écoute préféré then they helpfully link to a handy PDF that lists many URLs like http://direct.franceinter.fr/live/franceinter-midfi.mp3, les adresses des flux. How nice not to have to dig each one out of a forest of JavaScript. When I found that the links work, I actually smiled, glad to receive the content so simply and directly.
mtbc: maze B (white-black)
In driving around Cardiff we stumbled upon an excellent small diner, Luvly Grub. Their fare may be basic but the staff are nice and the menu offers a good range of freshly made food in decent portions and at low prices. I wish there were more eateries like this.

In navigating South Wales I have enjoyed hearing [personal profile] mst3kmoxie's English-voiced Google Maps app butcher Welsh place names so badly that even my American-voiced maps lady does a better job but I might have hoped that some metadata with the names would have caused alternative pronunciation rules to be applied; now I wonder how it copes with Spanish place names in the US.

In conversation the question was raised of why no banknotes are issued by a Welsh bank and I imagined that the Welsh think that quite a fair question. Perhaps it is simply that they have been less resistant to annexation.
mtbc: maze G (black-magenta)
BBC Four shows a good variety of documentaries. Earlier this month they showed The Secret Science of Pop from which my impression now is that from the past few decades of popular music in the UK they were somewhat successful in doing some kind of feature extraction and weighting then using that data to derive a statistically predictive measure of success in the sales charts. They however failed to extend this to be able to adjust a given song to make it more likely to succeed commercially.

One discovery was that in terms of the extracted features the more successful songs tend to be those closest to the current mainstream. Today it occurred to me that the algorithmic research could be monetized without being able to adjust a given song to increase its likelihood of success. Instead, select songs that were not much successful and were some considerable distance from the mainstream at the time that they were released, but that are close to the current mainstream, then rerelease some version of them. After all, it is hardly unprecedented for an artist to have a hit with a song that had been released years earlier to considerably less fanfare.
mtbc: maze C (black-yellow)
Here in the European Union the clocks went forward an hour last night; now we are back at our usual difference from much of the United States. At work our team is rather distributed and we have many online meetings so in advance e-mails we remind participants of the applicable state of affairs. For my own part, for very many years now my .xinitrc has started up an xclock for each of TZ=EST5EDT and TZ=GB. After Brexit I hope that the UK at least continues to match Western European (Summer) Time.

This morning I awoke, saw the clock, and was pleased that I had managed to sleep for a long time, before [personal profile] mst3kmoxie reminded me that the clocks had changed. I like to own clocks that listen for the radio signal so I never have the fuss of manual adjustments. Though, even better would be clocks on wifi given that I have my home router's dhcpd.conf include option ntp-servers … for its responses though I suppose that carries no zone information.

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Mark T. B. Carroll

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