Red Echo

June 25, 2015

So much baseball

I had no idea baseball teams played so many games. I’m in SF for the week, and the office I’m working in overlooks the stadium parking lot. Every single day, I’ve watched it fill up, crowds streaming across the bridge to the stadium – in the middle of the afternoon on a work day, at that. Is this normal? Do baseball teams really play games pretty much every day? I had imagined it was like once a week or something.

June 23, 2015

Musing on the development of the web

I learned HTML some twenty years ago and had a good few years of fun with the web, but recoiled from Javascript in horror and CSS in frustration. I eventually gave up on the server side as well, for political reasons: the strength of the Internet was in its gift of decentralized communication, but the web is all about big central servers controlled by singular institutions. I came to feel that investing time in such projects was actually counterproductive, in terms of helping to create the kind of world I want to live in.

That was a long time ago now, over a decade at least, and I am periodically shocked by glimpses into a world that has continued developing broadly and quickly, and which no longer much resembles any of the stuff I used to work with. I suppose the old mainframe hackers must have felt like this, as they watched the microcomputers take over.

The first of today’s jolts was a thread on Hacker News about a new standard for virtualization containers. I understand what virtual machines are and some of the reasons why people use them, and I know a fair bit about the low-level mechanics that make them work, but it’s clear that web people have taken the whole thing far beyond all that because I just can’t wrap my head around containers. I am ignorant of the problem they are designed to solve, and so I can’t really grasp – from the descriptions – what it is they are intended to do, or why that would be useful.

The second was a presentation about a piece of security analysis software, which started with a series of extremely startling claims about the product’s capabilities. I was running ahead with what I know about debuggers and low-level machine operations trying to figure out how they had accomplished these things… but of course the reason they can detect these things is that they’re not analyzing what I would call “applications” at all, but rather web services, and web services written in Java or .NET at that. And suddenly the whole thing seemed trivial, because of course you can analyze anything you want when you can play god with the virtual machine! Which is not to diminish the engineering work they did to make it happen, just to reduce it from the domain of magic. It seemed clear, at that moment, that I must be thinking about software from a sufficiently different perspective to their intended audience that they could reasonably expect people to understand the implied limits on their description as they apply to web programming.

I’m not really unhappy about this state of affairs, since I’m still not interested in working on web software, and I’m still not having trouble finding work in the field of what I still, with increasing quaintness, think of as “normal software development”. But it is clear that the world around me is changing, and I’m not seeing anything like a return to the kind of robust, resilient, democratic distributed architectures I want for the future of the Internet. It makes me wonder how long I can keep on holding out, and how long it will take me to catch up if the day comes that I have to hold my nose and jump in.

Building the ultimate solar system

An exploration of planetary science: working out a design for a system containing the greatest possible number of habitable planets and moons.

Related: what is the largest possible inhabitable world?

June 18, 2015

Chaotic Noise practice session

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They’re just, you know, playin’ away in the back yard, getting ready for Honkfest. Perks of having a bandmember as a housemate.

June 15, 2015

Whistler/Blackcomb is going to try to preserve the Horstman Glacier by feeding it with artificial snow.

Yeehaw, climate change.

In other news, the flotilla of “kayaktivists” has been doing a pretty good job at keeping the Polar Pioneer bottled up in the Puget Sound. The GPS track shows a steady cruise northward but it’s been going in circles off Bainbridge for a few hours now.

June 8, 2015

I bought a new stereo

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I think I need a bigger entertainment center.

June 6, 2015

Ceiling fan in my bedroom

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It got warm, so I decided it was time to install a ceiling fan. It’s a nice way to take advantage of the post-remodel bedroom ceiling height.

June 1, 2015

German Traffic Education: How to Drive Near Tanks.

May 30, 2015

Everything you need to know about ski touring in Patagonia

May 28, 2015

A selection of lift kit options for the Range Rover Classic

May 19, 2015

Now that the woodshed project is done, it might be time to fix my motorcycle.

May 18, 2015

Woodshed / bench for my back deck

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Adam H. came over yesterday and we constructed this shaded storage box for all the firewood that has been cluttering up my yard. Since it abuts the firepit area I thought it would be fun to build in a new bench for more cozy seating; now the fire is ringed on three sides.

May 15, 2015

The Infinite Pixel Screen

A short, clear, and approachable adventure into notions of infinity, using high-resolution monitors as the introductory analogy.

May 9, 2015

We should organize an event called Naked Man where everyone runs around with their clothes on fire.

May 8, 2015

“SJWs” are imaginary but prejudiced jerks show up everywhere

I’ve been watching the spread of this “social justice warrior” meme with some bemusement, because it is clearly just another fantasy bogeyman for racist and/or sexist bigots – what kind of troglodyte thinks social justice is a bad thing, and how deeply enmeshed in entitlement fantasyland do you have to be in order to say so in public without embarrassment? – but the term “SJW” turns out to be very useful despite its lack of real-world referent, since it offers the “gamergate” assholes and their ilk a clear warning signal they seem happy to tattoo on their own foreheads. Nobody admits to being a racist or a sexist, but these folks don’t seem to have realized yet that ranting on about “SJWs” sends the same signal loud and clear.

May 2, 2015

Quadratic voting

This sounds a lot like an idea I was toying with for the governance structure of an LLC which would manage a piece of land serving as a community gathering space. I was using a log function rather than a quadratic, but I didn’t go to this level of rigor, either. Neat to see someone actually work out a proof.

Quadratic voting is a procedure that a group of people can use to jointly choose a collective good for themselves. Each person can buy votes for or against a proposal by paying into a fund the square of the number of votes that he or she buys. The money is then returned to voters on a per capita basis. Weyl and Lalley prove that the collective decision rapidly approximates efficiency as the number of voters increases.

April 29, 2015

Category Theory for Programmers

Bartosz Milewski has been writing a helpful series of articles explaining category theory using language intended to be familiar for computer programmers. He has recently begun Part II, which discusses declarative programming.

April 28, 2015

Used ThinkPad Buyers’ Guide, with prices, key specs, and suggestions of the best models to look for.

Antarctica from the air

Kalle Ljung filmed his Antarctica sailing trip with a drone-mounted video camera. The result is a slow, crisp, stark, beautiful eight-minute video, best viewed late in the evening with a tumbler of whiskey and a warm blanket tucked around your ears.

April 26, 2015

Light art hacking

It’s a fine grey Seattle spring afternoon and I’m sprawled out on my bed with a laptop making an array of LEDs jump through some specific hoops. The math is pouring out of my head, stuff from the previous iteration of the previous bloom lights project mixing up with old familiar tools I’ve been using since I worked on Starfish. I don’t exactly know what to call this, but it feels like my most comfortable artistic medium, and it’s really nice to be back.

April 25, 2015

Me and AJ at SEAF

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Thanks to Ruben Ortega for the photo.

April 22, 2015

High-mobility vehicles

An Indiana company called Startracks Trucks offers 6×6 conversions – all six wheels drive and steer. There is a tantalizing photo of the suspension layout though I don’t think that example shows steerable axles.

People have apparently converted their Land Rovers to 6-wheel drive, too.

Lockheed prototyped an 8×8 vehicle where the entire frontend operated as a separate 4-wheel walking beam suspension module. I love the photo showing a Twister prototype climbing over a wall which appears to be at least 80% of the height of its tires, but I’m linking it here because of the interesting diagrams of its suspension and drivetrain.

April 20, 2015

Remodeling finished

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April 19, 2015

Looks like fun. My turn?

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April 6, 2015

Remodelling my house

I don’t know how it is that I have so far neglected to mention the single largest project I am likely to undertake in this calendar year, but it’s finally drawing to a close, so I feel like giving you all an update.

In a nutshell: I tore my bedroom down to the plaster and subflooring, ripped out the drop ceiling, and rebuilt it all again.

Somebody, at some point, for reasons I can only guess at, decided that the bedrooms in my house were just too spacious, and would look a lot better if their ceilings were sixteen inches lower. Various other people, at other times, have applied their opinions about the desirability of thick texturing on the plaster. The most recent owner clearly believed that cheap beige carpet was a good thing. And nobody, in the entire history of this house’s existence, appears to have taken issue with the manifest insufficiency of this bedroom’s single, solitary power outlet.

I had one month – February – between the departure of one tenant and the arrival of another, in which to move all my possessions out, tear my bedroom apart, and rebuild it in a manner more in keeping with my aesthetic priorities. I just barely accomplished this, but of course the last 10% of any project takes the other 90% of the time and so I have been living in a mostly-but-not-quite finished bedroom all month.

The ceiling is back up to its original height, and after scraping off years of texture and wallpaper, I smoothed the walls back up with a fresh coat of finishing plaster. The carpet is gone, with a new layer of sound-dampening felt under a sturdy sheet of engineered hardwood in its place. I’ve installed new door, closet, and window trim, and now the baseboards as well. Yesterday I finished painting all this new trim, and it’s starting to look almost respectable in here.

I’ve slimmed down my furniture as well, passing a couple of shelving units along to new owners after making better use of the vertical space in my closet – so there’s more open space horizontally and not just vertically.

There’s still a fair bit of work left but I am definitely easing down the home stretch. The ceiling needs crown moulding, I have a ceiling fan/light unit to install in place of the bare bulb currently illuminating the room, and my wall-mounted nightstands need to be reinstalled after I’ve finished painting the wall they live on. I should probably come up with a new closet door, too.

It’s been a ton of work, but I’m really happy with the way it’s coming together. It’s my bedroom, in my house; I’ve never had so much freedom to customize a space before, and it’s been great to take things as far as I wanted to make them go.

March 27, 2015

Antarctic heat wave

63.5°F in Antarctica: Possible Continental Record

The warmest temperature ever recorded on the continent of Antarctica may have occurred on Tuesday, March 24, 2015, when the mercury shot up to 63.5°F (17.5°C) at Argentina’s Esperanza Base on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. According to weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera, the previous hottest temperature recorded in Antarctica was 63.3°F (17.4°C) set just one day previously at Argentina’s Marambio Base, on a small islet just off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Prior to this week’s remarkable heat wave, the hottest known temperature in Antarctica was the 62.8°F (17.1°C) recorded at Esperanza Base on April 24, 1961.

Why is the “Internet of Things” supposed to be a good idea?

It was easy to understand why the Internet was awesome, right from the beginning, because you could use it for something really useful: communicating with other people. This is something every human being wants to do.

I still don’t understand how this internet of things is going to provide a service that human beings actually want. I can see why the economics of chip manufacture have made it possible to add a microcontroller to every electronic device, and a network interface to every microcontroller, but then what? Why would we want to do that?

March 24, 2015

Fixing a Chromebook Pixel

How to turn the Chromebook Pixel into a proper developer laptop and get rid of that crazy control-key-on-boot nonsense normally required if you want to run linux on a chromebook.

March 10, 2015

Self-driving cars: not for me, please

My feelings about the so-far-still-pretty-much-speculative self-driving car future range from “meh” to “please stop already”, which is odd for such a blatantly sexy application of robotics. Aside from the obvious privacy/tracking problems, which are increasingly moot given the proliferation of license plate scanners and toll pass sensors, I think the real problem is that it just sounds boring. If I’m driving, at least I have something to do with my brain. Handing the controls over to a robot leaves nothing but the tedium of sitting around waiting to arrive.

I can imagine self-driving cars as a replacement for human drivers in a service like Lyft or Uber much more easily than I can imagine individuals purchasing their own. I use Lyft a fair amount, actually – though I usually chat with the driver, and getting acquainted with somebody new is a nice way to circumvent boredom. Riding alone in a silent, empty car with nothing to do sounds… much less pleasant. It’d still be nicer than taking the bus, which is neither silent nor empty nor comfortable nor rapid, and offers little in the way of stimulation for a hungry brain.

At least there will always be motorcycles.

March 8, 2015

I want one of these for my birthday

You are all hereby notified that this is simultaneously adorable and awesome and I want one. Or maybe two.

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February 26, 2015

Renaming lindi

I wrote a little code editor some twenty-odd years ago which I named “lindi”, a partial acronym for some series of words I can no longer recall. I’ve long since lost track of the code as well as the meaning, but decided to reuse the name for my new retro-style terminal-mode IDE partly from nostalgia and partly because names are hard.

After a few months of steady use, however, I’ve noticed an unfortunate consequence of this particular name: it doesn’t autocomplete well, because there are too many other programs already named “lin*”. “lind”-tab is no shorter than “lindi”, so I end up typing the program’s full name every time I want to use it – which I do many times a day.

Being a fundamentally lazy person, I have therefore decided to rename my editor. I listed out all the unused two-letter prefixes on my system, then searched for various words beginning with those letters on github and the web to make sure they weren’t already used by other projects, and the winner is “ozette”, after the lake out on the Olympic Peninsula.

And now I’ve written a long blog post about an inconsequential design decision affecting a piece of software LITERALLY ZERO PEOPLE IN THE WORLD other than me have ever used! But I am amusing myself, and this is my blog, so I guess you know what you’re getting if you read it.

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