mtbc: maze I (white-red)
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: photograph of me (Default)
From an engineering point of view (not a social one!) I am attracted to the Britain of decades ago which was rather more tolerant of the unqualified amateur. One of the things that lures me back to rural America is that I would like to retain more freedom to win myself a Darwin Award. I was just reading something suggesting that Lovington, NM, still adheres to the National Electrical Code of 1956 which, if true, is maybe going a bit far given that residual current devices are a lifesaver.

Back in the 1980s I bought a cassette recorder whose manual included a full schematic circuit diagram but now I am ongoingly frustrated by the decreasing potential for user serviceablility. Perhaps I ought to be blaming liability lawyers instead of politicians. Or, dangerous idiots: while my chemistry teacher used to be able to buy potassium cyanide to kill the bees and my father used to enjoy blowing things up, these days we have a spate of disfiguring acid attacks from criminals stealing mopeds from their riders.

Our downstairs electrical outlets lost power while I was at work. It turned out that unplugging a four-way power strip and resetting the breaker solved the issue. The strip now has a scorch mark at one of its outlets and also at the charger that was plugged into the outlet. So, I fetched my multimeter and screwdrivers from the closet and sat down to investigate.

Of course, the charger turns out to have no visible means of entry and the power strip is positively marked, non rewirable socket outlet. Perhaps I must destroy both devices to investigate the fault as I do not want to find an issue with one then simply assume the other is thus okay. It is not that I should simply throw both away because for each of the two items I expect them to have exact twins in use elsewhere in the house and if one failed then I want to consider also replacing its kin or at least inspecting those also. Unfortunately it seems that the hammer or the saw may turn out to be more useful than the screwdrivers.

Update: I just remembered that I had the same issue yesterday with a (no-longer-)lit crochet hook. It still works as a hook but the light does not illuminate. The row of cells in the battery compartment seems to have good electrical connection throughout but there is no way to open the hook to investigate further, no screw nor clip to be seen.

Update: I since noticed that one of our night lights has been very dim. Unplugging it, I see a couple of screws. Pleasantly surprised, I again fetch my tools. Of course, the screws turn out to be of a peculiar kind: there is a groove as if for a flathead screwdriver except for in the center so no normal screwdriver can gain purchase.
mtbc: maze I (white-red)
At work I get plenty of e-mail from people of whom I am but vaguely aware telling me that they are going on vacation but certain other people will cover for them and to just e-mail the role-based mailbox address. I neither know nor care about such details. Indeed, rotation of people among these jobs as people go on sick or maternity leave or whatever appears sufficiently frequent that I doubt I could keep track of them anyway.

If I want whatever these people provide I am content to e-mail the role-based mailbox and whoever's job it is can deal with my issue. If the problem is that people reply to personal addresses and ignore automated vacation responses then perhaps they will learn not to when resolution of their matters is often consequently delayed. I doubt that the solution is to ongoingly broadcast details of what is going on behind the curtain. Perhaps we could instead just expect people to e-mail the appropriate address for their issue.

Update: Gah, of course we get e-mailed reminders of coming vacation too, a forward of the original message telling us who will be monitoring the role-based addresses, as if it matters, because it is a general assumption here that even though we are in professional technical roles we are not able to hold on to an e-mail for long without losing it or, if need be, of simply adding a corresponding note to our institutional online calendar system.
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 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 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 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 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 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.

Birdsong

Mar. 25th, 2017 07:00 pm
mtbc: photograph of me (Default)
The Spring weather appears to have really perked up our village avians. We have the windows cracked open, though I have yet to do my annual frame-spraying of pyrethroid insecticide. I can thus hear the various birdsong.

I try to mindfully appreciate my present experiences: time with my children, the taste of my tea, even the aching of my legs. The birds however sound like we live alongside a junkyard of deranged droids. Perhaps it takes them a while to get back into practice.
mtbc: maze D (yellow-black)
Halfway along Dow Street in Dundee the road is met by the end of another road. Well, not really another road, it seems more pedestrianized; I'm not sure that cars are even intended to be on it. But, although visibility is poor for those emerging from that unnamed road, I sometimes see a bicyclist emerging from it at considerable speed. My courage does not match theirs so as I drive along Dow Street I am careful to be moving slowly with my foot near the brake pedal.

Yesterday was more surprising than usual: a skateboarder shot out then proceeded slowly directly in front of me for some time. I don't think that they noticed my car until rather further along when they moved off to the opposite sidewalk and looked enough sideways to see behind. They were wearing some kind of headphones.

This kind of behavior leaves me at something of a loss. I could understand it from kindergartners but if not for the frequency with which I see it from adults then I would have thought it would take a rare kind of idiocy to be in the habit of emerging so abruptly from blind intersections onto roads.

I didn't mind this incident: I wasn't in a great hurry and it was so bizarre to be slowly following this clueless guy as to be almost amusing. I didn't want to sound my horn lest I surprised the fellow so much that he fell. But I would rather if nobody at that part of the road were to be unpleasantly squashed. Perhaps on Monday I shall take a walk to see what warning signs meet those reaching Dow Street at that point.

Dow Street is on the University of Dundee's city campus, this intersection being just past where the Life Sciences Research Complex takes its larger deliveries. I did learn to hate driving on college campuses in the US: they seemed especially to attract pedestrians who like to wander around with no apparent acknowledgment that roads or cars even exist on their path rather than, for example, upon reaching a road pausing a moment to look around and make eye contact with oncoming drivers.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
Our energy provider e-mailed me to say, We're moving your energy bills online. I replied and asked them not to. Paperless statements do seem to be an increasingly potent attractor. However, it also causes tension with bureaucratic requirements, from banks and governments and whatnot, for sufficient proof of address. For example, [personal profile] mst3kmoxie was not able to open a bank account here in Scotland for some time, for lack of acceptable documents addressed to her; items like her National Health Service card do not count. For [personal profile] mst3kmoxie's family visa we need plenty of evidence that both she and I live at the same address and statements printed by us from the Internet do not count. Additionally, I have doubts about continuing access to online statements after one ceases to be a customer.

I do not know how these competing interests will settle but I try not to be caught badly in between. I have sympathy with those EU citizens who since the referendum have been scrambling to find adequate documentary evidence that they have been resident in the UK for the past five years. I know some people who I would doubt could easily rustle up a year's worth. Paperless billing can thus be a significant inconvenience.
mtbc: maze I (white-red)
I had mentioned how Firefox 51 pops up file chooser dialogs that more than fill my entire screen. This makes it difficult to use some websites. For example, with advertising items on the popular sales website Preloved, I cannot use Firefox for uploading photographs. However, their pull-down-menu multi-select options do not work with Chromium. Using a combination of the two browsers, neither of which is obscure, I can actually post an advertisement. I strongly suspect that were they using simpler HTML, CSS, JavaScript, less ambitiously featureful and themed, then everything would work just fine even on Internet Explorer 6. However, over here in the real world, many interactive websites seem to be essentially unusable in some popular browsers. It is not as if I have a panoply of unusual plugins and add-ons installed.

I perhaps also mentioned how the website of Ecotricity, our energy supplier, wrongly forces Firefox into the mobile version once I log in as a customer, making some aspects of it very difficult to use, for instance by offering no means of scrolling vertically. I had interacted with them about this, provided user agent strings, etc., but to no avail. In contrast, I must offer kudos to Cinema Paradiso, from whom we rent DVDs by mail, who adjusted part of their site to become more mobile-friendly and far less usable for me. They took on board a number of my criticisms, promptly addressed one of the greater ones and another, and are apparently soon to address a further point. While I would prefer to live in a world in which this responsiveness to constructive criticism would not have come as a surprise, it is nonetheless pleasantly agreeable. Excellently, I have also discovered that, at least for the meantime, with a slight manual adjustment to a URL I can get back to the old less-mobile-friendly version of the page.
mtbc: maze K (white-green)
Our Wii is American. We use it for watching television shows streamed over the Internet. This works fine for services like Netflix: after we moved to Scotland I guess that they noticed that our IP address was now in the UK instead of the US and they adjusted the selection of offered shows accordingly.

In having subscribed to Amazon Prime the experience has been disappointing. First, although our IP address remains in the UK, Amazon's app will sync to only a US Amazon account so we now have fast, free shipping for a country we no longer live in. Further, this means that the selection of shows appears to be rather inconvenient: that unavailable shows are instead available from some other American channel is of no use to us.

So, while being fine for Amazon original series such as The Man in the High Castle (2015), our Prime subscription is turning out to be rather less use for shows available via UK Amazon accounts such as The Americans (2013), Le Bureau des Légendes (2015) and Mr. Robot (2015).

I find it rather absurd that Amazon are basing the television show selection on that our Wii is American. People move around, some of us rather more frequently than we replace all our electronics and media. We already have to manage stupid region-coding restrictions for everything from movies on DVD to Nintendo 3DS games. In the US we had various UK hardware* and fortunately our electrical transformers work both ways around so I now have 110V US power strips both upstairs and downstairs and, for instance, our television at home is our decade-old American one.

*incidentally, in pre-HDMI days SCART cables were difficult to buy in the US; at least I no longer need my PAL↔NTSC converter
mtbc: maze J (red-white)
My children are for the most part healthy, happy, considerate, polite and doing fine in school. I enjoy spending time with them and will be sad to miss them when they move on and out into life as adults. While I appreciate my good fortune and my children seem to be doing well so far, I also understand that they may well not turn out to be wonderful contributions to the world at large. They may even turn out to be not quite perfect. Whatever their flaws, I will continue to love and appreciate them, but for what they are rather than for what I might have hoped they could be.

I accept that I have my own flaws after all. I might have started promisingly: I graduated from King's College, Cambridge, I scored a perfect 800/800 in the quantitative and analytical sections of the Graduate Record Examination, and within a few years was charging a high hourly rate for doing interesting research and development projects, gaining enough management experience to become a Chartered IT Professional. Now I am rather less distinguished: today I wrestle poorly documented, buggy software (Hibernate) and I shall consider this weekend a provisional success if I get as far as checking the cars' tire pressures and we get some overflow recycling to a council waste site. We start out with hopes and dreams but we need to be realistic about how life goes. Even if my children achieve as highly as I did (until I didn't) my main hope for them is just more that they are happy in life. I do not spend much of my own time reflecting regretfully on my mistakes: even if I remain outwardly mediocre I still have faith that I yet have many worthwhile experiences to look forward to.

[personal profile] mst3kmoxie, our children and I are all left-handed. It is thought that one cause of the condition is brain injury. It is certainly correlated with shorter life expectancy. So, we have some possible flaws there. This is okay: it is just how things are so one best just roll with that: the point is not to be threatened and horrified but just to accept it and find the silver lining.

With my thinking that we are all flawed and we are mostly not all that objectively special but that we have value nonetheless, it is thus with sadness that I belatedly discover the indigo children movement. Goodness, what nonsense, ideas like that learning-disabled children are the manifestation of some spiritual evolutionary next step for humanity. (Indigo because of their auras, apparently.) I can understand that parents may want their children not to be flawed and suffering but the tragedy of this need for comforting delusion is matched by the evil of those who profit from peddling the bullshit.
mtbc: maze F (cyan-black)
I mostly do not like living at higher latitudes. On weekdays I am never at home in the daylight and summer is little recompense because it is then daylight at times I don't care, like when I am asleep. Agreeably it is now far enough from the winter solstice that I am getting to enjoy some daylight on my normal commute. At least having the sunlight back helps me to remember to appreciate it. I just have to also remember next time I move home or job to arrange not to live west of my workplace.
mtbc: photograph of me (Default)
I am not much of a fan of birds. Small ones that tweet are not too bad but then there are the larger ones that are more like squawking, flying rats, having babies in inconvenient places that they then aggressively defend when they are not instead aggressively stealing our food or carelessly raining their fecal matter down on us and on statues of us and on all manner of other things. I doubt their general necessity. Foxes might like to eat chickens and hedgehogs eat eggs but overall birds do not at all endear me toward them. I am certainly fine with efforts to prevent their suffering but I care less that they exist at all: that any gulls in any jurisdiction are a protected species makes me wonder who might care to arrest any decline in their numbers.

People do care about gulls and that makes me curious. Perhaps birds are far more important than I realize, especially to people's happiness. Do some of the larger common birds actually look cute to some people? Are people simply more tolerant than I? At best I concede that in terms of vomit and feces around our property it is the neighborhood cats that are the largest culprits and I bet those cats are not even doing anything useful like depleting the local bird population. I suppose that I can see the attraction of bird feeder table apparatus that is designed to attract and support the smaller birds so long as they are well away from where I park my car or might choose to linger. I do seem to be missing some bird-liking capacity that many others have.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
Various services such as library membership and registration with one's doctor in Britain tend to somehow be predicated on one's home address. However, my work address (in a different council area and a different city) is often rather more relevant for me given that I am more likely to be at work during these services' opening hours. Otherwise I end up trying to get everything done on a Saturday morning before places close.

For example, it would be very nice if the fact that my doctor's medical practice is but a ten-minute drive from work would make registration with them easy; I usually give them plenty of freedom in scheduling appointments and so far they have always been during my working hours. I don't need out-of-hours coverage, I just need them to consider me a local if I am in their area for most of the time that they are open.

My home address is almost an irrelevance for many such purposes as being the place where I am when the relevant service is probably not available anyway.

Unfortunately I do not now recall how the inter-city and inter-school-district dual-taxation agreements would tend to work in Ohio for years when I was living in one city and district but working in another, but at least there was some understanding that both locations somehow matter.
mtbc: maze I (white-red)
I just had an interesting chat with a polite fellow from Ecotricity. I had expressed surprise that a couple of weeks after submitting meter readings to them I was telephoned by somebody asking me to go and read my meters right then. It turns out that they are obligated to have some third party check the meters from time to time and that they ask them to telephone if they couldn't read the meters in person, which is fair enough, but it turns out that they are not able to make available to this third party the fact that I had recently submitted a reading so that asking for another customer reading is rather pointless.

It was rather irritating that the Ecotricity fellow gave the impression that it would be somewhere between expensive and impossible to have this third party call for customer readings only if there isn't already a recent one on file, especially when he offered the amusing notion that it would be unfair to call only the customers who hadn't already submitted such readings. I got him to agree that it might be good to provide feedback up the chain that this kind of data integration would be welcome but I suspect that this agreement was just to placate me rather than with the intent of actually acting on it. It was also irritating that this was one of the instances of an initial it's a legal requirement collapsing under detailed inquiry that seem annoyingly common in Britain, especially with banks. (Physical meter inspections may be required but that is a red herring.)

Though, Ecotricity is the only business I deal with that still can't manage to get their website to give my Firefox the non-mobile version of their customer portal. I didn't mention to them that part of why I left my previous energy supplier was their dreadful IT system: it regressed so significantly after Oracle stepped in to help that their CEO e-mailed us to apologize; later we received a small compensation payment.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
I was thinking about how I might perceive reality differently from many Republicans. For example, on the threat from terrorism there seems to be a piece of the picture missing: considering American relations with countries like Saudi Arabia it seems that politicians talk plenty about the threat from radical Islam but not about issues like the US maintaining military bases in the region and, presumably with strategic issues in mind, helping to support authoritarian regimes there despite our talk of democracy. Maybe that's since the Carter Doctrine, though I guess that the events like the 1953 coup in Iran precede even that. Anyhow, we do have a history of concrete acts in the region that seem to have been in our own interest and to the cost of the ordinary citizens in those countries, together with our overlooking our allies' apparent war crimes and atrocities. However unjustifiable their retaliation, I suspect that one side of the extremists' attitude to us, and success in recruitment, is related to our own tangible foreign policy in that region but such is rarely discussed in mainstream public discourse: it is a popular fiction that terrorists' fixation on the US is simply about culture clash or religion.

I was likewise considering the Republican perception that the country's been going in the wrong direction. It occurred to me that there may be some bait and switch going on, encouraged by the Republican leadership. If the lower and middle classes aren't so prosperous in recent decades then, on the one hand, it could be due to reducing taxes on the rich (e.g., on investment income), weakening labor laws, letting inflation outstrip the social safety net, failing to regulate markets such as healthcare and telecommunications so that they remain competitive, etc. Or, it could be due to trade agreements and immigrants and suchlike. Readers can probably guess what I think. Still, I couldn't help but reminded of the church telling the peasants that their woes are nothing to do with governance by the established order, they instead arise from their own sins and especially the witches in their midst, so let's go and burn some innocent people: which will be of no help at all but will allow the powers that be to continue to abuse their position.

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

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