20140814

Is this America?

I'm really not sure what's happening down in Ferguson right now.  Last night, my twitter feed exploded, which is really weird because it was all coming from people I follow for technology info, not politics.

I expected that the lead story in today's Washington Post would be about one of their reporters getting threatened, and nearly arrested, for the crime of being in a McDonald's last night.  Weirdly, a story that that reporter contributed to (wrote?  Dunno, there were two others in the by-line) did get on the front page, but below the fold, and without a picture.

The pictures (and video) I was seeing were pretty horrific.  It was de facto martial law, with militarized police firing on unarmed citizens.

It's probably inevitable that this sort of thing would happen, given how much military equipment is being given (well, free plus the cost of shipping, I believe) from the military to the police.  Once you've got a tank in your inventory, you need to justify its existence by using it.

Regardless of that, it's a terrible sight, and I hope most of the St Louis County police down there are fired with extreme prejudice.  A lot of people were recording what was happening, and it did not look good for the police.  It looked like the police were trying to escalate a peaceful demonstration into an armed conflict with live rounds (only "rubber bullets" were fired).

A lot of people standing around and chanting, many with their (empty) hands in the air, being fired on and gassed.  Many were apparently at the end of a cul-de-sac, with the police blocking the open end and demanding that people leave.  Somehow.

And the police are demanding that reporters leave, or at least stop reporting.  What the hell are we coming to?

The President said, a couple years ago, to the Egyptian leadership, that the US would be there to prevent this sort of thing from happening in other countries.  Well, what are we doing at home?

I know the President can't just move troops in, and I don't think he should.  But I'd really like to see him go down there and talk to the protesters.  Maybe force the police, 1-on-1, to explain what the hell they're doing.  That would get some shit done.

20140813

Back to biking

I can't say as I've biked nearly as much as I would like, but I have done a bit more biking over the last couple weeks.  Cyclemeter is very cool, and I like the additional (and more precise) data coming from the heart rate and speed/cadence meters.  I wish power meters weren't so freakin' expensive, though; I read an article this morning on why they're so expensive, and I believe all the reasons, but it's still as much as a decent bike.  I'd love to have the data, but it isn't worth nearly that much to me.

I still haven't done anything over four miles, though, and most bikers would barely consider that a warm-up (it's mostly been due to time constraints that I haven't done more).

I should get a much longer ride in tomorrow, and will probably start looking at bikes soon.  I'd like to get an actual road bike; I think that'll help quite a bit.  But it probably won't be for a month or two.  I've done a lot of research, and am ready to start test-riding.  I probably won't buy anything until the end of the season, however; I'll spend a pretty penny on it, but I'd like the additional value.

Plus, I think I want to get a display for the bike that will continuously show speed and cadence; I might go with the Wahoo RFLKT+.  I was trying to avoid something like that, but I don't like the phone display turning off.  And I don't think I'd like the battery effects of having that screen stay on.

We'll see, maybe I'll try the phone display, and see how much it chews the battery.  I'm pretty sure it's a lot, though.

I "Like" it

I just read Mat Honan's article about liking everything he saw on facebook for a couple of days (h/t Marco, and it confirms a lot of awful things I'd suspected. In particular, it's very easy to stop seeing human beings.

At the end of it, though, is the kicker:
By liking everything, I turned Facebook into a place where there was nothing I liked.


It sounds like Facebook has decided that its customers are its advertisers, not its users. Perhaps not a surprise, but not something of which I want any part. It might take an act of Congress to get me to create an account now. Yuck.

Engineering status

I just read an interesting article about engineers and status, and while some of it felt like, "duh", there was some eye-opening stuff.

The part that felt like "duh" had to do with (my take) attitude in interviews.
They [executives] won’t negotiate against themselves by being “passionate”, either. They want to be seen as supremely competent, but not sacrificial.


But there was some interesting stuff about MBAs in Silicon Valley, and how they've been pushing out technical people.

This part, the author certainly knows more than I do, although I've certainly gotten the impression that big companies (at least) are largely useless, in terms of innovation, because they only look at the loss side of the equation.

That is, they (yes, I'm slightly, though I think only slightly, exaggerating) focus entirely on eliminating costs, rather than looking at expanding revenue.

And that makes everything into a zero-sum game that can't actually be won.

The engineer's approach, on the other hand, is to look at possibilities for entirely new products that expand the market. That makes things into a positive-sum game where everyone can win.

The economy as a whole needs more of the latter, and currently has far too much of the former.

Anyway, part of the article talks about keeping the MBAs out of the loop, and every engineer should read that and think about it.

There's also a lot there about the status of software engineers, and that makes a lot of sense. I must admit that I hadn't given it a lot of thought.

Again, all engineers should read it, and think about it.

Fighting over books

I recently read Christopher Wright's take on Hachette v Amazon fight over ebook prices, and agree with just about everything he says (there are a few things I have no opinion on, because, for instance, I've never used, or even heard of, ClearSpace).

One thing that bothers me, though, is a qualification on his central thesis (emphasis his):
For those of you unwilling to go through 18 years of comic archives, here’s the short version: every company in the computer industry behaves like a sociopath. They will do good things for you for as long as there’s profit in it, but as soon as it reaches the point where they don’t have to, they immediately flip to abusing you, relentlessly, all the while telling you there’s nothing they can do about it, and it’s probably all your fault.


The qualifier is "in the computer industry". It's all companies (or at least all publicly-traded ones). Take a look, in particular, at the telecomm industry, for some other examples. Or the insurance industry, particularly before the ACA forced them to clean up a few of the more egregiously sociopathic behaviors they exhibited (not to get too sidelined, but while I don't think the ACA is great, it's an important step in the right direction). Or the banking industry, with how they tried to crash the entire global economy. It's a widespread problem, and the DoJ antitrust division should be doing more about it. And that definitely fills in my opinion on AT&T trying to buy DirectTV and Comcast buying Time-Warner Cable.

Anyway, to get back to the specifics, Amazon's monopoly-seeking practices are why I thought the DoJ was completely barking up the wrong tree in going after Apple under anti-trust law for its Most Favored Nation (MFN) contractual requirements.

And why I refuse to buy non-free Kindle books; they're not only proprietary formats, but also protected by DRM. Those are both monopolistic practices that I refuse to endorse. The DRM also means that you never actually own an e-book. Amazon can (and has, in at least two cases) revoked access to books that people had "bought".

Also, I have a small defense of Microsoft; their file formats were just straight memory dumps of what the program used. This made disk access very fast for reading and writing, but also made for a very f-ed up "file format". So the format changed whenever MS's internal data structures changed. So it wasn't always a matter of trying to throw off competitors. Maybe even never, although I'm disinclined to get MS the benefit of the doubt.

Robin Williams, 63, RIP

[NB: I wrote this yesterday morning, but didn't get a chance to post it until now.]

I just heard that Robin Williams passed away, and it's suspected to be a suicide. In a way, that's not a huge surprise; I don't know much about Robin personally, but depression is very common for comedians (ironic, huh?).  I know, too, that he had some drug problems, but I don't really know any details about them.  That certainly doesn't help with mental stability.

I'm pretty sad, because even if he hasn't done much lately (or maybe I just haven't heard about it), and he did have a few dogs, he was a fantastic comedian. Really, one of the very best at improv. I think I'm going to seek out some Mork and Mindy (which, I'm told, was largely filmed with Robin improvising), and maybe watch the genie's opening sequence from Aladdin (which was also Robin improvising, I've heard). I wish I could listen to the half-inning of commentary of a Mets game that I've heard Williams and his friend Billy Crystal did when asked, cold, by a producer who saw them in an adjacent box.

I don't know if I can stand to watch one of his most beautiful and touching ones, though, What Dreams May Come [It's well worth getting in HD, although it appears not to've been released on blu-ray yet.  If you still have HD-DVD, seek that out]. It just might touch too close to home, with his apparent suicide. It's one of the most visually stunning movies I've ever seen, beautifully melding painting and real life. But it was about a man who died, went to heaven, then watched his wife go to hell for suicide. And, like Orpheus, he chased after his Eurydice to save her. Not sure if I can take it. I'd recommend watching it, though.

Mrs Doubtfire was another fairly serious movie of his, though one that I never really liked.

I saw Dead Poet's Society when it came out. Williams played an iconoclastic firebrand of a poetry teacher in a New England boarding school, who tries to bring more emotion than analysis to his classes. When I saw it, I had just read the Post's review, and immediately realized that the reviewer had missed the point of the ending. He saw Williams' firing as a depressing loss, missing that the kids' "O Captain, My Captain" was his victory. Very good movie, though not one I've ever wanted to re-watch.

Good Will Hunting was another of his that I liked a lot. Mostly it was driven by Damon's "unrecognized genius", but Williams was a more-than-capable life teacher for Will.

Most of the rest of what I've seen from his was more outrageous comedy, perhaps with a serious side thrown in.

Toys, despite the protestations of Joe Posnanski, is one of my favorites. Like Totoro, it explores some of the wonder of childhood, but does have some seriousness to it. I must admit it's been a while, though; I didn't know who Donald O'Connor was, last time I saw it.

Aladdin also wasn't deep, but is a lot of fun to watch. I'm told that Williams refused anything more than SAG wages for that one, because he wanted to do it for his kids (after seeing its success, Disney supposedly gave him a Picasso or something similar).

I saw Hook once, around when it came out... I didn't think much of it, although I liked the idea of revisiting Peter Pan, years later. I'm tempted to watch it again, just to try to figure out why I didn't like it.

Good Morning Vietnam had Williams in Vietnam, during the war, as a forerunner of modern shock-jocks. I haven't seen it since it came out; I remember it being hilarious (and again, I wouldn't be surprised if much of it wasn't Williams improvising), but not much more than that. I do remember reading that the original Cronauer said that he'd have never gotten away with half of what Williams' character did in the movie, and I believe that.

He was in Happy Feet, where he was a hilariously over-the-top wannabe womanizer named Ramon and a funny pretend guru named Lovelace. They were both supporting parts, but both managed to completely steal scenes. There was a sequel, which I have yet to watch.

He also had some pretty good scenes in the Night at the Museum movies, where he played the supporting role of a statue of Teddy Roosevelt.

And he had a significant role (I can't remember whether it was lead or supporting) in the "board game alters reality" film of Jumanji. I didn't see that one until years after it came out, but it was pretty funny.

And now that I'm looking at his filmography, I see that there are a hell of a lot of things he's done that I haven't seen. I'd especially like to find some of the improv shows he did with Whoopi and and Crystal.

Resquiescat in pace, Robin, as you were unable to do in life.

20140731

More tiring than expected...

Teaching my daughter to ride has gotten me back into biking a bit (or at least got me interested; it is a bit early to say that I am or am not "into it", I guess).

My front derailleur cable was recently almost pulled out of the shifter when it fell off of most of the hangar it was on, and was caught completely by that cable.  Luckily, that was the extent of the damage.  And thank goodness it was caught, because it was hanging above my car, so the car would have been damaged as well.

Anyway, after getting a bicycle repair book, which was actually an impulse purchase when getting my daughter a new helmet, I managed to mostly fix it.  It's a three-crank device, and now goes from inner to middle to outer, but only back down from outer to inner.  One of these days I'll get the two adjustment screws right for that, but it's workable, so I'm leaving it for now.  It's easy to work around.

Having that fixed, I decided to take my first (semi)serious ride today, and figured I'd just loop around several of the local roads.  I must admit that I hadn't appreciated just how hilly the roads are; I got an app which tracks, among other things, altitude, and the altitude graph is a lot rougher than I'd've guessed.

I ended up going 3.57 miles over 15:36, which is roughly half what I'd planned, although at a higher average speed (that's 13.7mph; I'd've guessed I'd be closer to half that).  I didn't expect to be pretty near wiped out at that point, but I was.  And I'd've definitely guessed that that was more than 150 calories.

Be that as it may, I'm glad I finally got out, and I'm looking forward to getting a heart-rate monitor and speed/pedaling monitor for more accurate data (I looked into getting something like a Garmin bike computer, but I think these, along with Cyclemeter (or maybe Wahoo's own app) will do a better job, cheaper.  And hopefully give me fewer batteries to keep track of.

Most importantly, hopefully I can keep with this.  The Quick4 is a pretty decent exercise (and short enough that I've been able to keep up with it almost six days a week over the last several months), but does about nothing for aerobic fitness.

20140725

What does accessibility mean?

I was listening to the latest Debug podcast, which was talking about Swift.  There were a number of interesting technical bits in there, but they made a detour into accessibility, and there were several eye-opening things for me when they talked about that.

The first was thinking of accessibility a little differently; thinking of it as just "inclusiveness".  And one of the guests, Ms Natalia Berdys, after bringing that up, also brought up an pretty amazing Vimeo video by Robin Christopherson, that showed a lot of what Apple's accessibility enabled.

I'd heard of adding accessibility before, of course, but never thought a whole lot about it.  It was just incredible to see how it all worked, and how fast he could manipulate his iPhone, despite being blind.

It's fairly lengthy, but even the first ten minutes is enough to give you quite a feel for how it works.

20140724

Power weirdness

The county is putting a sidewalk in front of my house and needed to move the utility pole in front.  No, they couldn't take the opportunity to run power lines underground (which might not be cheap, but is a lot cheaper than it used to be), instead they'll move the pole a foot or two.

Turns out doing this not only took my power out (which they kindly warned me about, giving me time to fix my UPS configuration), but also took out my FiOS connection.  They didn't interrupt the line, as far as I can tell, but it seems to've taken out the Verizon distribution box (though I talked to them a few minutes before that, and they assured me that wouldn't be the case).

When the power was put back on, everything came back, including the connection, and I didn't even lose my IP reservation.  Which spared me having to call Verizon, and made me somewhat happy.