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, February 01, 2013

Leviathan III

Why are the Nordic countries doing this? The obvious answer is that they have reached the limits of big government. “The welfare state we have is excellent in most ways,” says Gunnar Viby Mogensen, a Danish historian. “We only have this little problem. We can’t afford it.” The economic storms that shook all the Nordic countries in the early 1990s provided a foretaste of what would happen if they failed to get their affairs in order.

Via Hacker News, Norther lights | The Economist

You know … if the Nordic countries are saying they've reached peak government, do you think we might actually have reached peak government?

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Groundhog Day

Ah, Groundhog Day, the day when a large squirrel pops up and if it sees its shadow, we'll have six more weeks of winter, or, if you are Phil Connors, 34 years of purgatory.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Head in the clouds

Shocked by the way intuition had abandoned him, Crane began to ask questions. For years he got no intelligent answers. Veterans of the military and the airmail service still insisted they could fly "by the seat of the pants," and they thought less of those who could not. Their self-deception now seems all the more profound because the solution to the problem of flying in clouds and darkness—a gyroscope adapted to flying—was already widely available.

One of the earliest cloud flights with a turn indicator was made by William Ocker, an Army pilot, in 1918. Though he, too, spiraled out of overcast, he concluded correctly that his mistake had been to favor sensation over the instrument's indications. During the 1920s a few Post Office pilots began to fly by instruments. When Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic, in 1927, a turn indicator kept him from spiraling into the sea when he met fog. Two years later Jimmy Doolittle made a "blind" landing, after flying a complete circuit around an airport in a special biplane modified with a domed cockpit from which he could not see outside. … More significant were the special devices that made the precisely flown circuit possible. The airplane was equipped with navigational radios, an airspeed indicator, an improved altimeter, a turn indicator, and two new gyroscopic instruments from Elmer Sperry—a gyroscopic compass and an artificial horizon. This combination was so effective that it still forms the core of instrument panels today. Doolittle compared the artificial horizon to cutting a porthole through the fog to look at the real horizon. Devising technology was the easy part. The more stubborn problem of belief remained. As late as 1930 one of the airlines wrote to Sperry complaining about a mysterious problem: the instruments worked fine in clear air, but as soon as they were taken into clouds, they began to indicate turns.

The Turn - 93.12

It's a rare piece of writing that causes an intense bout of self-introspection, but given my past views on the whole “crutch vs. tools” debate, this might be the one thing to possibly change my views.

Or at lest temper them a bit.

My problem with technology like GPS has been the blind trust in the technology, but here is an article about people that have to have blind trust in the technology when in the clouds least they die a horrible and (I assume) painful death. It's also about how our “intuition” can lead us astray. Granted, we don't have thousands of years of expience to guide evolution in honing our “intuition” for flying, which is why our “intuition” leads us astray when flying, and thus, we have to augment our “intuition,” as well as our senses, with tools.

So we can fly.

Safely.

When we can't see.

Because our heads are in the clouds.

Hmm.

Monday, February 04, 2013

What happened to the great Super Bowl ads?

I must say that the this year's Super Bowl ads were not all that great. Not a single one was all that memorable, unlike, say, 1984, or herding cats.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Just wait until I reveal the truth behind the bees

Don't you think it's weird that our children come home from the school cafeteria caring more about poverty than about the real hazards that plague their daily lives? In this case, poverty is, quite literally, the “opiate” of the masses.

Via Hacker News, Verified Facts About Poverty

The people who know me well know that I tend to enjoy the occasional conspriacy theory or two (or twenty-three) and the Verified Facts website is a hoot!

Yes, the “facts” there are made up (probably based off a Markov Chain) but I still find the results entertaining. I mean, how can I not love this?

Do you know about the shocking connection between The Boston Diaries and fluoride? No? Well, your innocence is about to be destroyed.

Gun control advocates use fluoride at rates almost 300% higher than other citizens.

Verified Facts About The Boston Diaries and Flouride


I don't bother with news—I figure, if it's important enough, it'll filter through, and apparently, it does to a rather frightening degree

I don't know if I should be proud of answering all the questions correctly, or horrified that I, someone who does not watch the news nor read any newspapers (except for a very local newspaper from a town I don't even live in) managed to outscore 92% of other people who took the test.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Notes from an overheard conversation at some ungodly hour of the morning (as if there were such a thing as a godly hour)

“… ate!”

“Ug … um … I haven't eaten anything yet!”

“No, I said you are going to be late!

“Um … really?”

“Your alarm clock had been alarming for half an hour.”

“It was?”

“Yes.”

“Oh … so it was.”

“You need to get up!”

“Who knew the iPhone alarm would give up after half an hour?”

“You are going to be late!”

“Ug … five more minutes?”

“UP!”

Thursday, February 07, 2013

1997 called. They want your F**K YOU! USE THIS BROWSER! site back.

A friend (whom I'm not naming because he had no idea this would happen and I'd rather not drag him into this) sent me this link. I'd like to read the article, but no—what do I get?

[This site is a disk best served on an iPad]

What? No link to the article anyway? Just a large “Go away or we shall taunt you a second time?”

Fine.

But that doesn't mean I won't taunt you a second time.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Sailing the Corporate Seas, Part II

How many people know how the “Disney system” of comics works? When I describe this to some fans when asked about it, they often think I'm kidding them or lying. Or they are outraged. But it's an unfortunate fact that there have never been, and I ultimately realized there never will be, any royalties paid to the people who write or draw or otherwise create all the Disney comics you've ever read. We are paid a flat rate per page by one publisher for whom we work directly. After that, no matter how many times that story is used by other Disney publishers around the world, no matter how many times the story is reprinted in other comics, album series, hardback books, special editions, etc., etc., no matter how well it sells, we never receive another cent for having created that work. That's the system Carl Barks worked in and it's the same system operating today.

How can such an archaic system still be in operation in the 21st Century when royalties have been paid in other creative publishing endeavors for literally centuries? All book authors, musicians, actors, singers, non-Disney cartoonists, even people who act in TV commercials … they all receive royalties if success warrants it. Even Disney pays normal royalties to creators and performers in its own movie and TV and book and music businesses. As near as I can tell, correct me if I'm wrong, but it's only the creators of Disney comics who have no chance to receive a share of the profits of the success of the work they create. And yet Disney comics have never been produced by the Disney company, but have always been created by freelance writers and artists working for licensed independent publishers, like Carl Barks working for Dell Comics, me working for Egmont, and hundreds of others working for numerous other Disney licensees.

Why is this? I don't know.

Via Hacker News, Don Rosa Collection | An Epilogue by Don Rosa

My very first post was about the importance of creator owned IP. This is more of the same, although it's from the other Good Duck Artist™ (the Good Duck Artist™ being Carl Barks).

It's sad that this still happens to this day.

It's also sad that artists still sign their lives away like this too.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Wonderful pulp fiction magazines from a past future that never happened

A subset of my friends will find this incredibly cool:

[Thrilling Tales of Wonder From the RADIO PLANET]

That same subset will also enjoy making their own pulp magazine covers.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

I've been doing this for thirteen years

As I was reading about the expression problem, I couldn't help but think it sounded very familiar. And then it hit me, I wrote about this nine years ago.

This might be another reason why I took some time off—I've already written about a lot of stuff.

Twice this year, I've wanted to write about some topic, only to find I've already written about said topic. For instance, there's this silly series about solving sudoku problems that I've written about before (seriously—I thought this was satire at first, until I realized that this was a serious article by Ron Jeffries, who is a consultant selling this programming methodology).

The second came about because of the alarm clock incident where I was reminded of this weird dream I once had.

It's sometimes hard to come up with new material.

Monday, February 11, 2013

640G … we're up to 640G, right? That should finally be enough, right?

What I am suggesting is that disks came about because of limited RAM. Now that RAM limitations can be of increasing greater size, we should explore new freedoms. What follows may seem a little far-fetched, but may also be just around the corner.

First, we may take it that a one megabyte RAM is not likely to be filled with a BASIC or machine code program of anything near that length. The debugging alone would take too long! This leaves us with other possibilities.

We could fill a lot of the RAM with a wide range of programs, and call up any of the whole suite, instantaneously, from a special menu program.

We could have as many programming aids in our machine as we could conceivably wish for, and barely scratch the surface of our new-found capacity.

We could have a vast range of help screens available for instantaneous recall when in trouble.

We could call in a whole succession of high resolution pictures, which are usually slow to load from disk, so rapidly that even animation would be possible.

We could have split processing in one machine. After all, it is common for two processors to be in one machine, so why not a schizoid machine with each part operating independently?

We could have a really enormous amount of text in our word processor at any one time, and have many different text areas. Our word processor could perhaps interact with our accounting and data base programs in RAM.

Accounting suites of programs could be truly integrated, so that final accounts are updated after every transaction.

Via Flutterby, Guest Commentary: Is RAM Memory A Status Symbol?

Hmm … sounds a lot like Microsoft Windows.

Or a smart phone for that matter.

I should note that this was written in 1983, when 512K went for $550.00 (cheapest price I could find—today that would be anywhere from $1,080.00 to $2,350.00, depending on how you calculate inflation) and there were no personal computers that could hold more than a megabyte of memory (which would shortly change over the next few years).

Oh, and this comment from Flutterby is priceless:

With modern machines having gigabytes of RAM, one can only assume that debugging has been completely abandoned … and assumption that gets validated every time Scrabble crashes on my Android phone.

Comment

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Head in the clouds

Okay, I received the following email from a friend of mine (not saying who, as I don't want to drag him into this) about cloud storage. It was a bit odd, in that it was addressed to “undisclosed-recipients” but even if he did send this with good intentions, well … given that he knows my views on this, I wonder why he included me in the email.

I'm not given to sending mass-emails, so when I send one out, it's a biggie. And this is a biggie.

I'm a huge proponent of cloud-based storage for convenience and backup. And, joy of joys, an online cloud storage provider, box.com, has teamed up with Dell to give away the deal of the century: 50G of online storage—for life!

As near as I can tell, there's no catch.*

Plus, you can access your files from anywhere: From you Windows PC or Mac, from your iPhone, or iPad, or from your Android phone or tablet. There are sync clients available for all the major platforms—even FTP. I use Box.com myself. It's really easy to use.

This is a tremendously good thing to have, if for no other reason than to store your important pictures. So many times over the course of my career have people come to me with dead hard drives and said: “Please, I don't care about anything else—just save my pictures.” I can tell you from personal experience that the very safest place to store copies of your important files is the cloud. With Box, you will never, ever have to worry about losing your important files again. Plus, you can access your files from anywhere, and collaborate as well.

Click the link below to get started:

https://www.box.com/signup/o/dell_50gb_give_get

* Uh-oh, the dreaded asterisk: There actually is a small catch—the size of any one individual file in your box.com account cannot exceed 250 megabytes (250 megabytes = 250,000,000 bytes, or a quarter of a gigabyte). 250 megabytes is enormous, and is quite literally ten times larger than you are normally allowed to send over most email systems.

I am NOT a proponent of cloud-based storage. First off, there's that bit about “online storage—for life!”. The implication is your life, but more likely the company will die long before you do. And it's not just limited to small companies that go under, even large companies like Yahoo and Google (who now has more money than God and Microsoft) have shutdown “online storage—for life!

No, really—you can lose access to your “cloud-services” for the darndest of reasons and have absolutely no recourse.

Yes, box.com, this time it will be different.

The next item, the 250M file limit. Yes, it's large, but personally, I have about two dozen files that exceed that limit. Okay, they're videos and CD images of various Linux distributions, and one archive (a zip file) of MP3s (the soundtrack to an online game someone made). It's not a horrible limit, but there are legitimate files that exceed that limit. This isn't necessarily a deal breaker, but it does limit what I can backup on this so-called “cloud service.”

The next reason I dislike these “cloud services” will definitely come across as “tin-foil haberdashery” but—you may not have Fourth Amendment protections for data in the clouds. Even if it's served with a warrant, Google may not be able to notify you of the warrant it received to search your email stored there. Even having nothing to hide is no reason to give up your rights to hide the fact you have nothing to hide (told you this was “tin-foil haberdasery”—furthermore, you might want to be careful what you post at GoogleFacePlusBook, I'm just saying).

One last reason I don't like “cloud-services”—I can access all my files here at Chez Boca from anywhere, thanks to the miracle of the Internet. I don't need a third party to manage my own data. Of course, it's a bit of work to do so on the modern Internet (what with dynamic IP addresses and that horrible hack known as NAT, which broke the true peer-to-peer notion of the original Internet, but I digress) but it is possible.

But in the mean time, just be aware of what you can expect from “cloud services” (no privacy) before using it.

And remember this: if you're not paying for the product, you are the product.


1994 called. They want your tag soup site back.

I received a comment from Catherine B. on GoogleFacePlusBook about the iPad-only site with a link to an embroidery trouble shooting guide. Aside from the 1976 design asthetic (red and blue on a white background) the other odd thing about the site is that … well … just scroll down, and keep scrolling down. It's … amusing.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A lot of kids of my generation had a similar dream and all felt that New Zealand was probably the safest place to live.

Missile Command cannot be fully understood without taking into account its historical context. It is a direct product of its time, a cathartic experience dealing with the fears of the Cold War era. To attenuate its bleak tone, unique in video game history, geographical references to the Californian coast were ultimately dropped from the game.

“It was pretty scary. During the project and for 6 months after the project, I'd wake up in a cold sweat because I'd have these dreams where I'd seen the missile streak coming in and I'd see the impact. I would be up on top of a mountain and I'd see the missiles coming in, and I'd know it would be about 30 seconds until the black hit and fried me to a crisp.”

Dave Theurer
Creator of Missile Command

Just before release, the title of the game was changed to Missile Command. It was originally meant to be titled Armageddon.

Retro Sabotage - Missile Command | Docudrama - Flash Game [ver.9.0 req.]

An interesting bit of historical context for Missile Command. The whole Retro Sabotage site is a series of unique takes on a bunch of old video games. In fact, the second Pac-Man game in Mockumentary is actually a really clever twist on the game, and one that took me an embarrassing amount of time to figure out—you control the ghosts, and believe me, it's a lot harder than it appears to trap Pac-Man when you control all four ghosts at the same time with the same controls (you move up, all four ghosts attempt to move up at the same time).

All the games presented all have a weird or odd twist to them.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I have been informed that it is indeed, a holiday today

[Happy Valentine's Day ... Straight from the Heart!]

Friday, February 15, 2013

Heads in the clouds, II

Curious. Three days after I post about my dislike of cloud services, Posterous, one of those “free for life, share anything” type sites is closing down (link via Hacker News).

Why am I not surprised?

Anyway, what I realized is that my previous post did not address possible solutions to the problems that “cloud storage” suposedly solves.

Backup

Easiest solution: an external harddrive. This is literally a “plug-n-play” solution as you plug in the external harddrive and copy your files to it. You don't need much in the way of software—all you need is something that can copy a mass collection of files from one location to another.

This also makes restoring your files easy—just copy them back off the external harddrive.

Disaster recovery

As was pointed out by my first cousin once removed Roger, there's also the concern about the house burning down. And there's an easy solution for that—buy two external harddrives and use both to backup your files.

Of course, what you really want to do is keep one of the harddrives off-site, like at the office, or a friend's house, or a bank deposit box. Just make sure that periodically, you swap the two drives.

An easy scheme—keep one drive at the office, one at home. One day a week (say, Wednesday), take the one at home to the office, and bring the one at the office back home. Keep backing up, and if the house burns down, at most you lose one week's worth of files.

Which is better than nothing.

Which leaves:

Access and collaboration

Admittedly, this isn't quite as easy.

It could be done by running a webserver on your home computer, and forwarding traffic from your router to your PC, but that involves quite a bit of software and if you get it wrong, the wrong people may gain access to stuff you don't want.

Then again, with cloud storage, that could still happen.

But another thought occured to me—more and more people are using laptops so they pretty much have all their files with them. So there's that solution.

But collaboration, and the closely related synchronization, is a very hard problem (it's called “cache invalidation”)—it's one of the two hardest in Computer Science (the other one being naming and off-by-one errors). You might as well use a cloud-service for this, but be aware of security implications as well as accessibility issues.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

There's just enough atmosphere to make it interesting

Bunny sent me this video of landing a rover on Mars. She liked it because the rover reminded her of Wall-E (one of her favorite films). It's also strikes me as silly that NASA would seriously consider covering the rover with beach balls and have to bounce to a landing.

Then again, considering what it takes to land on Mars, maybe it wasn't such a silly idea after all.


This could make for one killer spy computer

The Cotton Candy Computer (link via Wlofie) is an interesting computer in that it's a USB sized computer. Granted, it's a bit more expensive than the Raspberry Pi but the form factor is way smaller and could make (possibly) a decent environment for developing Android applications.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

It's not quite a Prisoner's Dilemma as there was no incentive to defect

The students in Professor Peter Froehlich's “Intermediate Programming” and “Introduction to Programming for Scientists and Engineers” (a Python language class) classes, boycotted their finals last December. The former initially organized the boycott and the latter followed suit.

To avoid the stress of taking their exam, the students decided to capitalize on a loophole in Froehlich's grading system.

“In my courses, all grades are relative to the highest actually achieved score. Thus, if no one showed up and everyone got 0 percent, everyone would be marked as 100 percent,” Froehlich wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

Via Reddit, Computer science students successfully boycott class final | The Johns Hopkins News-Letter

As remarkable as all the students in class deciding not to take the exam, it's even more remarkable that the instructor kept his word and awarded everyone 100 percent on the exam.

And I'm bummed that I never had an instructor in school make such an offer.

Monday, February 18, 2013

It's all a matter of perspective

I feel I have a pretty good spatial sense, and I adore the works of M. C. Escher, but playing a game based on Escherian perceptions of reality?

Yeah, that's a bit much, even for me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Bunny has been having a heel of a time

Since last Monday I've been working from home (ah, gotta love telecommuting) to help Bunny recover from stabalizing her partial talotarsal dislocation in her left foot—effectively, her podiatrist shoved a metal pin into the side of her foot to keep her arches from collapsing (ouch).

Even though it's an outpatient procedure, she has very limited mobility (enough to avoid the dreaded bedpan) and she has to wear this freakishly large boot to keep her ankle mostly immobile. And I've been working from home to help tend to Bunny, as well as chauffeur her to the podiatrist for her checkup visits.

So far, her foot is healing fine, but she won't be really mobile until late this week or early next week.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

“Just sell public information,” they said …

If we're offering advice from the peanut gallery (and I'm no smartphone developer, so I'm way up in the peanut gallery), why not spend that time on a program that can generate trivial apps.

Extract data [legally, now!] from some source (eg wikipedia), and skin it with some boilerplate and some generated UI elements. I think it'd be a more interesting project to implement the more general version, and once it's nailed down it's probably a better source of revenue too.

If we're offering advice from the peanut gallery (and I'm no smartphone develope… | Hacker News

This reminds me of a job I had years ago.

And given that it was probably over ten years since I did this job, I think I'm now safe enough to talk about the job, which involved scraping public information from a website so my employer could sell the information.

It was a freelance job. The gentleman who hired me was a lawyer specializing in the financial industry. The idea was to download public information, package it up as a book to sell it to financial market insiders. All I needed to do was to scrape the public information from a website.

The Public Disclosure Program discloses the following information on firms:

Easy stuff. Just submit a form, get the output. Pass it along to the lawyer. And when I found out how much he was going to charge (around $1,200 a copy) I was kicking myself for not thinking of this on my own.

But there were problems. First off, the site in question took a dim view of my scraping (even though I wasn't hitting the site all that hard—maybe a request every few minutes) that they changed how the results were returned. Now I had to set up email accounts to accept the results.

Then I had to learn how to manage emails with attachments.

They then changed the sumbmission form multiple times.

In all of this, I was told that the information is public and that there is no question of legality involved with this. Remember, my employer was a lawyer and well … okay, it's public information about securities firms.

So I kept up with all the changes and kept handing over the files to my employer.

Then I received a call from their lawyers.

Oh.

I immediately told them I was just a hired gun and that the person they really wanted to talk to was my employer. Thankfully, I never did hear back from them, and I never had to appear in court nor did I receive a summons. At least my employer kept those lawyers off my back and bore the brunt of a lawsuit against him for selling “public information” (he ultimately lost).

In hindsite, I was mighty glad I didn't have the idea to do that. Not only would I have had trouble selling such a book, given that I knew absolutely nothing about the industry, nor did I know anyone in the industry, but I was shielded from a lawsuit.

Yes, the idea is nice in theory, but in practice, you had an organization that wasn't thrilled with someone actually trying to use the “public information” and made their intentions known.

This is just something to keep in mind if you ever get a similar idea.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Peanut butter and chocolate? Wonderful. Raspberry and chocolate? Divine. All three?

“Noooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” I yelled.

“What happened?”

“I dropped the mint chocolate truffles on the floor,” I said, scrambling as fast as I could, but alas, I exceeded the alloted five seconds and all but one lone truffle still sitting cleanly in its paper cup were truly contaminated.

“What about the five—”

“Alas, I exceeded the time,” I said. “Besides, this is the garage floor we're talking about.” I kept the mint chocolate truffles in the freezer out in the garage. They were a Christmas gift and I was slowly working my way through the box; I still had over half the box left.

“Oh,” said Bunny. “You could try one of these,” Bunny said, limping slowly into the garage. She then handed me a Trader Joe's PB & J Milk Chocolate Bar. The bar was part of a care package her brother sent from Seattle. “I was going to have it, but it sounds like you could use it.”

“A peanut butter and jelly chocolate bar,” I said, somewhat skeptically. “I'll try it if you try it.”

“Okay,” said Bunny.

We headed back to the family room. Bunny opened the bar and broke off two pieces. She handed one piece to me and ate the other one. I then ate the piece I had. And well … it was interesting. Now, I like peanut butter and chocolate (Bunny knows better than to buy Reese's Peanut Butter Cups™ else I gorge myself) so it's got that going for it. I also like raspberry and chocolate (the jelly here is raspberry jelly) so it's got that going for it. But all three? I don't think that worked.

Oh, it was edible, don't get me wrong; no spit-takes here. But it just didn't work for me (or for Bunny). I think it actually was the peanut butter and raspberry that failed in this case. It wasn't bad enough not to finish, but we wouldn't go out of our way to get another one (and we have two more of the bars to go through).

Friday, February 22, 2013

Aliens the Musical. Enough said

What more can I say? Aliens the Musical (via Twenty Sided).


This is one of those “hard” problems, isn't it?

Depending on how you want to think about it, it was funny or inevitable or symbolic that the robotic takeover did not start at MIT, NASA, Microsoft or Ford. It started at a Burger-G restaurant in Cary, NC on May 17. It seemed like such a simple thing at the time, but May 17 marked a pivotal moment in human history.

Burger-G was a fast food chain that had come out of nowhere starting with its first restaurant in Cary. The Burger-G chain had an attitude and a style that said “hip” and “fun” to a wide swath of the American middle class. The chain was able to grow with surprising speed based on its popularity and the public persona of the young founder, Joe Garcia. Over time, Burger-G grew to 1,000 outlets in the U.S. and showed no signs of slowing down. If the trend continued, Burger-G would soon be one of the “Top 5” fast food restaurants in the U.S.

The “robot” installed at this first Burger-G restaurant looked nothing like the robots of popular culture. It was not hominid like C-3PO or futuristic like R2-D2 or industrial like an assembly line robot. Instead it was simply a PC sitting in the back corner of the restaurant running a piece of software. The software was called “Manna”, version 1.0*.

Manna's job was to manage the store, and it did this in a most interesting way.

Via a comment at Hacker News, Manna, Chapter 1, by Marshall Brain

It's an interesting piece of fiction, and certainly timely as there's a fear of computers taking over our jobs. Even I'm not immune as I've felt for quite some time that there are simply not enough jobs for everyone, and that most jobs are “fluff” or “make busy” jobs just to keep people employed. And then I imagine the productivity gains if computers were really used to their potential instead of playing solitare and posting cat videos—unemployment would probably be worse than it is now.

And then I come across stuff like this (granted, this was nearly twenty years ago, but still):

Making a work schedule in a place like this is a fiendishly difficult task. Each employee has a schedule of availability that is unique to them. Alice can only work weeknights before nine. Bob can only work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and can't work after dark because he still has a junior license which prohibits nighttime driving. Carl can't work on Sundays, won't work before three in the afternoon, and his mother doesn't want him to work more than ten hours a week. Dave and Ellen can't work at the same time, since they're living together and one of them needs to be home with the baby. Furthermore, some employees are not suited to some tasks. Fred is too dumb and rude to work the register. Gretchen can work the register but hasn't yet been trained on preparing food. Additionally, you must make sure to give all of the employees the right number of hours for the week. You can't let the full-timers drop below forty hours or they won't be able to pay their bills. You can't make any of the minors work above a certain limit or it's a federal offense. You have to give everyone at least a few hours or they'll quit. Above all, you can't give anyone more than forty hours or corporate will mete out harsh judgement on you for allowing people to earn overtime pay.

Using this list of restrictions, exceptions, and limitations, you have to fit these employees into a schedule that gives you exactly as many people as you'll need at any given time of the day. This task ends up being an hours-long puzzle where there isn't guaranteed to be a solution.

At McDonald's this was done by hand. Here at Taco Bell, the schedule is first done by a computer, and then a manager has to come along and completely re-build it. The computer can't generate a usable schedule because the rules of each individual employee are so complex that there's no way to explain them to the computer.

Autoblography Part 34: The Systems Analyst - Twenty Sided

(It gets worse from there with upper management trusting the computer models over reality.)

And I don't know what to think. Are we doomed to live our lives under our robotic overlords? Or are we simply doomed to corporate dysfunction (“We put the ‘fun’ in dysfunction!”) and the collapse of civilization?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

But it still doesn't help when the DSL goes down

The Corporation has been reorganizing the network again (which seems to coincide with corporate reorganizations but I'm sure they're not related at all) so I thought I would help my fellow cow-orkers figure out if it's down for everybody or just them.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Musical links

I have a few links for Bunny. The first is an alternative piano keyboard layout (link via Microclesia) that to me, would seem to make piano playing easier, as each scale is played in an identical manner, instead of having to learn a dozen different fingerings.

The second one is this unique musical visualization of jazz music (link also via Microclesia). I personally have a hard time “hearing” music when looking at its printed representation, so I find these visualizations helping in “seeing” music.

It's actually quite amusing—I saved a link to the laptop orchestra that my dad sent me over four years ago (yes, I have quite the backlog) that now, I just don't find all that interesting (and I don't think Bunny would find interesting either) but the following posts from that blog I found extremely interesting.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Something you never want to hear from an airline pilot

Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them going again. I trust you are not in too much distress.

British Airways Flight 9

And this reminds me of the following quote: “Superior pilots will use their superior judgement to avoid sitations that require their superior skills.”


Some impressions about LuaRocks

I've gone off against “control panels” (and “package managers”) a few times so it's odd that I find myself playing around with LuaRocks, a package manager for installing Lua-based software (Perl has CPAN, Ruby has RubyGems, so it's not uncommon for package management to exist for languages).

So far, it hasn't been that horrible. One neat aspect of LuaRocks is that the specification for a “rock” can exist outside the source code that comprises a “rock.” For instance, the following “rockspec:”

package = "OrgConman"
version = "1.0.0-1"

source =
{
  url    = "git://github.com/spc476/lua-conmanorg.git",
  branch = "master",
}

description =
{
  homepage   = "https://github.com/spc476/lua-conmanorg",
  maintainer = "Sean Conner",
  license    = "LGPL",
  summary    = "Useful modules.  A lot of useful modules",

  detailed = [[ 
	A lot of useful routines to manipulate tables.  Yes, I should write
	more text here.  But I'm still playing aorund with this stuff.
  ]],
}

supported_platforms =
{
  "linux",
  "macosx",
  "freebsd",
  "unix"
}

dependencies =
{
  "lua ~> 5.1"
}

external_dependencies =
{
  TCC     = { header  = "libtcc.h" },
  OPENSSH = { library = "crypto"   },
  MAGIC   = { header  = "magic.h"  },
  RT      = { library = "rt"       },
}

build =
{
  type = "make",
  copy_directories = {},
  variables =
  { 
	CC     = "$(CC) -std=c99", 
	CFLAGS = "$(CFLAGS)",
	LFLAGS = "$(LIBFLAG)",
	LUALUA = "$(LUADIR)",
	LUALIB = "$(LIBDIR)",
  },
}

can be used, as is, to install the package, even though no existing “rock” exists, nor has it been published anywhere. All it takes is saving it in a file called orgconman-1.0.0-1.rockspec, and running luarocks build orgconman-1.0.0-1.rockspec—it will then download the code from github, build it and install it (assuming you meet the dependencies listed).

And once published, it will be a simple luarocks install orgconman to install the code (this will check the “rock servers” listed in the configuration file for the named “rock”, download the “rockspec” and then build and install it).

Even nicer, you can specify different locations to install the resulting “rocks” beside the default /usr/local/lib/lua/ (such locations can be specified in the configuration file, or on the command line).

So far, the only problematic aspect of LuaRocks I've encountered is actually making a “rock.” luarocks pack rockspec doesn't quite work out of the box:

[spc]lucy:/tmp>luarocks pack orgconman-1.0.0-1.rockspec
Initialized empty Git repository in /tmp/luarocks_orgconman-1.0.0-1-7168/lua-conmanorg/.git/
remote: Counting objects: 41, done.
remote: Compressing objects: 100% (37/37), done.
remote: Total 41 (delta 11), reused 11 (delta 2)
Receiving objects: 100% (41/41), 60.55 KiB, done.
Resolving deltas: 100% (11/11), done.
sh: line 0: cd: lua-conmanorg: No such file or directory
Packed: /tmp/orgconman-1.0.0-1.src.rock

It seems like it's not switching into the temporary build directory when trying to make the “rock.” I can work around it (by checking out the code at the same level as the “rockspec”), but I still find that bug annoying.

Another issue—there is no easy way to specify the language level (C89 or C99) in a platform independent way. Here, I have to assume the given platforms I do support use gcc, but not all platforms I currently use Lua on have gcc (Solaris comes to mind). Again, I'm working around the issue, but I feel it is something that should be addressed somehow.

This is also having me rethink how I develop the modules I have developed. Right now, they all exist in a single repository, but all the modules are mostly independent. But there isn't a simple way to checkout specific files using git, so I may have to make sepearate repositories for each module (so far, 22 existing modules, two additional ones I could add).

Update on Tuesday, February 25th, 2013

The issue wasn't with LuaRocks

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

PEBKAC, of course

This issue with LuaRocks:

[spc]lucy:/tmp>luarocks pack orgconman-1.0.0-1.rockspec
Initialized empty Git repository in /tmp/luarocks_orgconman-1.0.0-1-7168/lua-conmanorg/.git/
remote: Counting objects: 41, done.
remote: Compressing objects: 100% (37/37), done.
remote: Total 41 (delta 11), reused 11 (delta 2)
Receiving objects: 100% (41/41), 60.55 KiB, done.
Resolving deltas: 100% (11/11), done.
sh: line 0: cd: lua-conmanorg: No such file or directory
Packed: /tmp/orgconman-1.0.0-1.src.rock

Yeah, that one. Totally my fault and nothing at all to do with LuaRocks. Between help from Ignacio Burgueño (via email) and Hisham Muhammad (via a bug report) I was able to isolate the issue to a Lua module I installed 3½ years ago that LuaRocks will use if it's installed.

The only problem—the module in question was compiled with some … um … let's say “questionable compiler options” (specified by yours truly).

Ugh.

Anyway, that issue has been resolved.

Sheesh.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Who needs critics with publishers like this?

An independent bookseller I know landed a major bestselling author for a rare in-store signing. He got the word out, took advance phone and internet orders for signed copies, and called his sales rep at the publisher to make sure the books would reach him in plenty of time.

“You’ve ordered 450 copies,” the rep told him. “I’m afraid we can only ship you 200.”

Why, for God’s sake? Hadn’t they printed enough?

“No, it’s policy,” he was told. “Two hundred books is our maximum order. We can’t take the chance of huge returns, or credit problems.”

“But the copies are sold,” the store owner said. “I’ve got prepaid orders for them, and I’ll pay in advance myself, and take them from you on a non-returnable basis. There’s no risk, and there won’t be any returns, and that’s 450 copies of a $30 book at the usual 40% off, which makes it an $8100 cash order. So what’s the problem?”

He got nowhere.

Via InstaPundit, Great Moments in Contemporary Publishing | LB's BLOG

You know, twenty years ago forgoing a publisher for the “self-publisher” route was a sign of vanity on the part of the writer. But these days?

These days, I'm thinking your better off avoiding the traditional publishers, as they seem to be tripping themselves into oblivion.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The scary cuisine of Japan

From
Mark Grosberg <XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX>
To
sean@conman.org
Subject
Japanese food
Date
Thu, 28 Feb 2013 09:39:40 -0500 (EST)

Hey Sean,

I know you've never liked Japanese food because it's out there. But I recently stumbled upon a Japanese cooking show on YouTube. Search for username runnyrunny999. He tries to dispell the myth about Japanese food. His food is cooked and some of it looks good although I suspect if you try any of his recipes you'll have to find an Asian market for some of the ingridients.

The show is also funny. It's probably worth your time checking out a few episodes.

-MYG

It's been twenty years, but the experience I had of a “traditional Japanese lunch” is still seared into my brain. I was invited along by the Japanese Language Department at FAU (I was friends with about half the department, which wasn't hard considering it consisted of about six people) to attend “lunch” at a nearby Japanese restaurant.

Now, I've always been a bit leary of Japanese food because of sushi (“Squid eyeballs, people! Squid eyeballs!”) but I was assured that sushi would not be served. What was served, however …

I've blocked most of the food from that “lunch,” but there are still a few items that still strike out in my nightmares from time to time. There was the “soup,” which consisted of a small bowl with about a ½ inch of liquid and … cubes … of … stuff … sitting in the liquid. The liquid wasn't deep enough for “floating.” And yes, these were perfectly cut cubes. Of what, I have no idea. Vegetable matter most likely.

I hope.

Anyway, the only non-cube item in the bowl was a bit of deep fried tofu. Extremely crunchy on the outside, totally liquid on the inside, and gag-inducing in me. Most unpleasant.

Then again, I'm not the most adventuresome of eaters.

Okay, with the “soup” out of the way, the next nightmare item I remember was some form of egg dish. Only, it wasn't in a dish but a desert glass (a cross between a Sundae and a champagne glass). The eggs were … scrambled, I guess. With … stuff. That's the thing—most of the food that day was “stuff.” What? I have no idea. Just … supposedly edible things with off-putting textures and flavors.

I remember a dish with some chicken that was okay (the chicken; not the rest of the dish) but otherwise, the entire “lunch” was a horror show of horrible textures and questionable flavors.

I was lucy to make it out alive.

So it was with trepidation that I viewed runnyrunny999's cooking videos. The curry soba noodles were—oh sweet Jesus that's what those cold slimy dark colored noodles with the questionable white “sauce” at that “lunch” were—soba noodles!

Aaaaaaaaaaaaah!

Oh, wait … sorry about that. Flashbacks. Where was I? Oh yes, the curry soba noodles were (I can get through this) interesting (I didn't realize that curry paste was a curry spiced roux) but I'm not sure if I would eat the resulting dish. Shudder.

The tonkatsu looked edible and I might actually make beef bento lunch box. So far so good. So let's see what's involved with a Japanized-Korean style pizza? I mean, it can't be that bad bad, can—WTF? Did runnyrunny999 just say “bait?” Yes! He said “bait!” He said “whitebait.”

And what exactly is this shirako stuff? It's … um … I just lost my appetite. Yea, I definitely lost my appetite.

Obligatory Picture

[Here I am, enjoying my vacaton in a rain forest.]

Obligatory Links

Obligatory Miscellaneous

You have my permission to link freely to any entry here. Go ahead, I won't bite. I promise.

The dates are the permanent links to that day's entries (or entry, if there is only one entry). The titles are the permanent links to that entry only. The format for the links are simple: Start with the base link for this site: http://boston.conman.org/, then add the date you are interested in, say 2000/08/01, so that would make the final URL:

http://boston.conman.org/2000/08/01

You can also specify the entire month by leaving off the day portion. You can even select an arbitrary portion of time.

You may also note subtle shading of the links and that's intentional: the “closer” the link is (relative to the page) the “brighter” it appears. It's an experiment in using color shading to denote the distance a link is from here. If you don't notice it, don't worry; it's not all that important.

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