The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Friday, October 02, 2015

With infinite resources one can even make pigs fly. It's still not a good idea.

Well the good news is that the test scores of New York City public-school students are up this year from last. The bad news is that still barely a third of them passed math or reading tests.

And that’s despite the fact that a number of teachers have been accused of tampering with test scores.

So what should we do? Teach everyone computer science!

Via Instapundit, The folly of teaching computer science to high school kids | New York Post

Strange as it may appear, I agree that teaching computer science to high school students is folly. Computers are (still) expensive (compared to books, paper, pens and pencils) and fragile. There's too much to fully understand (even I, who have been using computers for something like thirty years, still can't troubleshoot a Microsoft Windows issue, much to the dismay of my father who occasionally asks) and much of what is hot now goes out of fashion in a few years (over the past thirty years, I've seen the rise and fall of both Java and Perl, and Microsoft go from a juggernaut controlling the industry to a now mostly irrelevant bank with a quaint hobby in software, for example).

While I was in college, I saw the the first programming language taught in the computer science department change no less than three times! Back in high school, I took the a programming course in Pascal (which is pretty much a dead language these days) on an obsolete computer (the Apple II back in the late 80s) and I was lucky in that I was able to use the only computer with two floppy drives! (which meant I could compile my code nearly twice as fast as other people in the class). And I can count on one finger the number of people who went on in life as a programmer.

And the sad thing is, computer science doesn't need computers to be taught. It's mostly math-centric theory. It's software engineering that requires the use of computers. Teaching “programming” is going to be expensive if you want to include all students. And I'm not alone in this view (link via Reddit).

Thursday, October 01, 2015

I get to deal with Transport Layer Security and email! Oh boy!

“Sean! Could you come look at this email?”

“Sure. Hmmm … ”

"Your XXXX Internet Customer Care Team " <customersupport@XXXXXXX>
"XXXX Internet Service Customer" <members@XXXXXXX>
Service Alert: Update your XXXXXXX computer email server settings before 10/14/15
September 30, 2015 5:29:24 PM EDT

Service Alert: Update your XXXXXXX computer email server settings before 10/14/15

Dear XXXX Internet Service Customer,

Our records indicate that you are using an email application such as Microsoft® Outlook® or Apple® Mail to send or receive email using your XXXXXXX account. You'll need to update your XXXXXXX computer email server settings before 10/14/15 to continue accessing your email.

What Are Email Server Settings?

Your email server settings are used to connect Microsoft® Outlook® or Apple® Mail to your XXXXXXX mailbox. You are currently using outdated server settings to make this connection, and XXXX is discontinuing support of these on 10/14/15.

Why Should I Update My Email Server Settings before 10/14/15?

Your current email server settings will expire 10/14/15 and will no longer be supported by XXXX You’ll avoid service interruptions that will prevent you from sending and receiving email Updating to the new server settings increases both reliability and security

“Do you think this is a valid email?”

“Let me check the headers … ”

After a few minutes of scaning the raw headers, and doing a few whois checks on some IP addresses I was able to conclude the email was real.

And annoying.

Not because we had to spend the next five minutes reconfiguring Bunny's email server settings, but becauase that means I have until October 14th to work around this new twist in email when posting to my blog, as odd as that may seem.

My workflow for posting is to use my preferred editor to write the post, then email it to my server where it will be posted via mod_blog. Now, because I'm running Postfix (on Linux) here at Chez Boca (just for updating the blog—I read email directly on my server using mutt … yeah, I'm weird that way) it handles the delivery of email by queueing it locally, then forwarding it through our ISP's email servers (because our ISP disallows direct email from home computers to arbitrary email servers due to spammer abuse). So it appears I have about two weeks to figure out how to get Postfix at Chez Boca to connect via SMTPS instead of SMTP.

How hard can that be?

Um … yeah … looks like it'll take a while to get things configured

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Hey FaceGoogleMyBookPlusTwitterSpace, you're feaking me out!

“Hey, Bunny! Come take a look at this!”

[It's actually nicer and cheaper than the map I linked to originally!]

“That's MyFaceGoogleBookPlusSpaceTwitter, isn't it?”


“Hey! Didn't you just write a post about maps?”


That's why I don't have a GoogleMyTwitterFaceSpaceBookPlus page!”

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

No, it's the Muppets

Bunny and I watched the second epside of “The Muppets” (and not “The Muppet Show” as I related last week) and this time, it actually elicited a few chuckles from the both of us, giving the show another one episode chance. But they really do need to work on the Fozzie subplots. Fozzie as a souvenir taker-cum-kleptomaniac just didn't work—it had a rather painful ending.

But Miss Piggy and Josh Groban dating? That plotline was amusing.

The map that does not end

I like maps (and I have a large collection of road maps I've collected over the years), but I really like maps that are unusual or that have a unique projection, like the Dymaxion map (which can be folded up into an icosahedron) or the Upside Down World Map where north is at the bottom (north at the top appears to be a Western convention; maps of Japan by the Japanese tend to put east at the top, because that's where the sun rises).

But this linear map of Lake Michigan (link via Jason Kottke) is something I've never seen before. It's also continuous in that you can wrap the top edge to the bottom edge. Very neat.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Good for Oregon

On a recent afternoon, Ms. Walton was at a free legal clinic here in Oregon’s largest city, filling out paperwork to have that infraction forever sealed. Once the process is complete, she will be able to legally say to an employer, landlord or anybody else who asks that she has never been convicted or cited for any drug crime at all.

“It’s taken away a lot of my life,” Ms. Walton said as she inked out her fingerprints, which Oregon requires applicants for sealing to file.

Many states in the past few years have begun to rethink the implications of harsh drug or mandatory sentencing laws that led to high incarceration rates and costs, revising rules so people who have righted their lives can escape the stigma of a criminal record.

Ms. Walton used a state law, not restricted to drug offenses, that allows anyone with a lowest-level felony, misdemeanor or nontraffic violation to wipe the slate clean if 10 years or longer has gone by without another conviction. Starting next year, more serious felony marijuana convictions of the past, like manufacturing, will be eligible for record sealing as well.

Via Hacker News, Oregon’s Legal Sale of Marijuana Comes With Reprieve - The New York Times

I like to think that I do not have a “myoptic worldview” as some people have said. If I did, I don't think I would link to the above article about Oregon's experiment with legalizing marijuana and say that I applaud what Oregon is doing. I've held the belief that all drugs should be legal, just taxed at an insane rate. But otherwise, treat it as we do alcohol (although I'm not sure how I feel about drunks on horseback being arrested—I mean, doesn't the horse know the way home? The “drivers” aren't exactly “driving” the horse, are they? I don't think they should be arrested, or even stopped unless the horse is causing an issue. They're being more reponsible taking a sober animal home than in driving a heavy metal cage down the highway at speed. And how will this play out with self-driving cars? My, we live in interesting times indeed!).

“But Sean,” you say, “what about that post from the other day, about marijuana causing paranoia? How does that jibe with you wanting all drugs legalized?”

As with alcohol, there are benefits both good and bad to all drugs. In the case of that post from a few days ago, I was trying to point out (not very successfully I'll admit) that marijuana can change your world view, in potentially good or potentially bad ways. And maybe, just maybe, take it a bit more moderately.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine

A perfect storm of religious prophecy, astronomical phenomena, global conflict, financial instability and natural disaster is conspiring to make this month’s “blood moon apocalypse” the most dreaded doomsday ever.

On Sept. 28, God and science will collide in spectacular fashion with the fourth lunar eclipse in just two years — a series known as a “tetrad” — each coinciding with a Jewish holy day.

The current tetrad of blood moons has fallen on April 14, 2014 (Passover), Oct. 8, 2014 (Feast of the Tabernacle), April 4, 2015 (Passover), and Sept. 28, which marks the first day of this year’s Feast of the Tabernacle.

According to the mongers of doom, this tetrad — the ninth to coincide with Jewish holy days since Jesus Christ — bears the signs of Old Testament prophecy heralding the end of times.

And the fourth and final of the lunar eclipses will also be a Super Moon, making it appear larger than usual and probably even more frightening to those convinced they’re about to meet their maker.

Via Instapundit, Doomsday prophets: Don’t buy green bananas with blood moon coming | New York Post

Ooh! It's the end of the world as we know it … again! Or … well, if not the immediate end of the world then the start of a long and painful process … maybe. Actually, if history is anything to go on, sit back, relax, have a Mai Tai, and enjoy the super blood moon.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The fight for the smallest chess program is intense

Why would someone someone obsess over writing the world’s smallest chess program? Poudade has a complicated answer, involving paying his respects to a long-ago programming genius, drawing attention to his own coding group, and proving a thing or two to young-whippersnapper coders. That’s what motivated him to devote hundreds of hours to code what is ultimately a tiny black-and-white grid of text and numbers. Poudade’s chasing something like the Platonic ideal of computer chess programs.

He did something that mattered; he had the record. But, as they say, records are made to be broken.

Via Reddit, The bitter rivalry behind the world’s smallest chess program

Poudade's chess game is only 487 bytes in size, yet it's not the shortest chess program anymore, having an extraneous six bytes! And Poudade is not happy about that.

I didn't know the world of smallest chess programs was so cutthroat.

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[Don't hate me for my sock monkey headphones.]

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