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User Journal

Journal Journal: Thoughts on 007 - Spectre 2

No spoilers, just some quick comments.

It isn't bad, but it isn't great, either. Good enough is where I'd put it. Of the Daniel Craig Bond moves, I'd rank this one as #4 (of 4).

A couple of things that stick out at me were the early car chase scene. WTF people? Who wrote this? It wasn't so much a car chase as "lets watch expensive cars tool around Rome". No shooting, nothing exciting. Just what looked like an orange Lamborghini chasing whatever custom car Bond was driving. (Okay, it was a custom Jaguar C-X75 chasing a custom Aston-Martin DB10.)

See, Bond was driving a bullet-proof, armored car. WTF was he fleeing from? The bad guy couldn't get to him. He could've come to a complete stop, let the guy roll up, wave, and ask him to do his window and it wouldn't have mattered.

The second scene that bothered me was the train fight scene. Holy fuck! Are there no other people on the train? The bash their way through like 4 or 5 cars on a 7 car train and there aren't people scrambling to get out of the way. No staff, no passengers, nothing. It was like a ghost train. Then they get off at the next stop looking freshly showered and pressed, not like both protagonists just got their asses kicked and should be covered in bruises and welts and walking with severe limps.

The final scene that irked me was where Bond was chasing the cars in Austria with the plane. The plane loses its wings and a strut, then slides down the mountain only to bash through a barn and smash into one of the bad guys cars. And NO ONE IS OUTSIDE TO SEE IT! It is like they found the only Austrian ski resort village that IS TOTALLY DEVOID OF PEOPLE.

I guess they smashed up so many cars they had to save money somewhere, and skimped on the extras (except for the opening scene in Mexico City).

A little long, and a little disjoint. It really helped that I was at an Alamo Draft House and ordered a couple of beers while watching it.

All in all it really reminded me of a Roger Moore Bond as opposed to a Daniel Craig Bond. Not Moonraker bad, but still...

User Journal

Journal Journal: Ubuntu 15.10 Miscellaneous

A couple of other notes on Ubuntu 15.10 on my hacked-up HP ProBoox 6475b.

1. The fingerprint sensor is a Validity VFS491, 138a:003d. Validity Sensors was bought by Synaptec back in 2013, but regardless those sensors have never been well supported under Linux. I did get this one working by digging out the old driver patch that HP supplied for SuSE Linux 11 back in 2012. I applied that to libfprint-0.0.6 and compiled everything from source. Ugly, but it works. I forwarded the patch over to the fingerprint-gui guys to see if they are interested in adding it in. Every little bit helps.

2. Playing with my Yubikey Neo I found that the pam-u2f package in the PPA (v1.0.2) segfaults on the pamu2fcfg command. I filed a bug report, provided debug and core data, and the developers patched the git HEAD source in a few hours. I rebuilt the utility and supporting libraries from scratch to test and all is working! Score one for open source software! Expect it to be released on the PPA next week.

That was really the last little nit. Everything went much smoother than I expected, and I'm quite happy with the setup. Every last feature on the machine works without a hiccup -- except the WiFI scanner, but that isn't part of the machine.

I'm actually fairly impressed with the open source AMD video drivers (Radeon 7660G, which comes with the A-10 processor), but don't play games on the machine other than WarZone 2100 so I don't really stress it.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Ubuntu 15.10 and Epson / Seiko Scanner Driver

I've tried everything, but can't connect to the scanner over WiFi. I can connect over USB, but the scanner is on the other side of the room and that defeats the purpose of the WiFi.

I have installed Epson's iscan, iscan-data and iscan-network-nt packages -- the latter being the one supposed to allow Epkowa devices connect over the network. Yes, I modified the epkowa.conf file in /etc/sane.d/ using both IP address and DNS name, but to no avail.

The printer works, the scanning port (1865) is active, but no joy on using simplescan, xsane, or iscan. Drat!

User Journal

Journal Journal: Ubuntu 15.10 and Epson / Seiko Printer Driver

Ubuntu 15.10 automatically found my Epson XP-610 wireless printer / scanner and tried to install the proper printer driver, but failed miserably.

By "miserably" I mean it got stuck halfway through installing the package file and gummed up their software installation utility. I had to "kill -9" the appropriate, defunct dpkg instance. A reboot will do it as well.

The problem seems to be the proprietary Epson driver relies on LSB (Linux Standard Base), which is no longer installed by default in Ubuntu. The fix is to download the appropriate .deb package from the Epson site. Install the driver with sudo dpkg -i epson-inkjet-printer-201308w_1.0.0-1lsb3.2_amd64.deb, which will install but not configure because of missing LSB as a dependency. Finally, do a sudo apt-get install -f to handle the missing dependencies and you can go into the Printers app and add the printer, as the drivers will now be available.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Brother P-Touch QL-500 on Linux 1

Just a quick entry because I couldn't find a fix for this issue anywhere online.

Under Linux, using Ubuntu 15.04 and 15.10, my USB-connected Brother QL-500 label printer is detected automatically and available out-of-the-box, no driver install necessary. Very nice.

I tried printing under Glabels and all I got was a flashing LED on the printer. The Brother website has a similar error under Windows, claiming this is caused by a mismatch between the label actually loaded in the printer and the setting in the driver. This was not the issue. I have DK-1201 address labels loaded, and the driver is set to 29 x 90 mm, which is also the template I'm using in Glabels.

In the driver (Printers app, Properties, Printer Options), there is a button labeled "Label Preamble". This is on by default and is the culprit. Un-check that box and the printer should now print properly.

User Journal

Journal Journal: CuBox Wifi Streaming Solved

I believe I have mentioned before that every bit of media I purchase I digitize and store the files on a central server. That includes over 300 movies and over 100 television episodes, plush a few hundred audio tracks. Everything is available anywhere in my home via wireless streaming, however I had been having problems with reliably streaming 1080p HD video over WiFi to my main television units.

My back end device is simply a Buffalo AirStation AC 1750 running DD-WRT build 27456. It is configured for WiFi AC-only in the 5.8 GHz band, and G/N/AC in the 2.4 GHz band to accommodate some older devices.

A Western Digital My Passport Ultra 2 Tb USB 3.0 drive is plugged into the back of the wireless router, which acts as a NAS and makes media available via SAMBA shares.

Over all I like this set-up, though after several months of use I can't really recommend the Buffalo AirStation for the simple reason that it doesn't have any external antennas. It really suffers in coverage area because of this. DD-WRT is great, as is the little 2 Tb WD drive, but I'll never again get a wireless gizmo that doesn't use an external antenna.

The front end to my televisions scattered throughout the house is a CuBox i4-Pro running OpenELEC. This is a fantastic combination that has been almost -- but not quite -- perfect for me. It is also easy to use for my non-technical wife and future geek 7-year old child.

The one issue has been reliably streaming 1080p HD videos to a CuBox. Even with the unit less than 10 meters away from the access point, with no obstructions, it would routinely have such a poor connection as to not be able to keep up with the playback. Watching the dashboard of DD-WRT showed me it had less than 30% signal strength and constantly would drop to 5.5 Mbps connection rates.

To eliminate interference I got up in the middle of the night and shut off everything that used wifi except the CuBox and it still performed poorly.

The short answer is the built-in wireless on the CuBox is abysmal. Again, no external antenna and 2.4 GHz only. Further investigation showed it would not work with channel bonding, thus not use 40 MHz channels in 802.11n. I don't know if it is a chipset limitation or a driver issue. Either way, it sucks.

My answer was to buy a USB wifi adapter with an external antenna. This one is tiny, totally plug-and-play, and absolutely does the trick. And for $12.99, including Prime shipping, a bargain. It is marketed towards the Raspberry Pi, which is what I bought it for. It uses the Realtek RT5370 chipset and is supported at the kernel level (no extra drivers needed) in Android, OpenELEC, Raspbian and lots of other Linux flavors.

It support 802.11n and bonded, 40 MHz channels and, more importantly, handles HD streams without breaking a sweat. I just ordered 2 more to outfit my 2 other CuBox devices so I can stream everything to the TVs in bedrooms without running wires.

(Note: I'm in a fairly low-population subdivision and not a lot of 2.4 GHz wireless around. I'm not stepping on any of my neighbors with my signal.)

User Journal

Journal Journal: Magnetic Cell Phone Docks 6

Just a short note. I picked up an Air Dock back when their Indigogo campaign was under way. I have now had this thing for a little over a year.

In general it works fine and does exactly what it says. I use the CD-mount, which has a nice picture down on this page.

The one flaw with that mount is the bolt and nut used to tighten it are fairly large, and extend beneath the mount. On DIN I sized radios, with the CD slot on top of the unit, the nut blocks the view of the display.

The one other thing I have discovered is that after a year of use, it has magnetized my phone! The Nexus 5 comes with small metal plates built in to the back to allow for the native use of devices like this. After all this time they have become magnetized, and that totally screws up the internal compass.

Now any time I start the compass app it complains the magnetic field strength is way too strong and it doesn't give accurate readings.

To be clear, this happens when the device is undocked and I'm walking around.

My next dock will be non-magnetic, as I do sometimes use the compass.

User Journal

Journal Journal: These are the things in my head at night 7

Then-PFC, now-SGT Bergdahl may in fact have deserted his post. There are certainly credible accusations to that effect, and if so, then he should be tried and convicted for the crime. But it's a whole lot easier to investigate those charges with him here, and we don't let the Taliban mete out justice for us.

The military idea of "taking care of your own" has a lot of different aspects. Holding the line and leaving no one behind are obvious; less obvious, perhaps, is that our people are ours. Loon or no, deserter or no, even traitor or no, whatever else Bowe Bergdahl may be he is someone who raised his right hand and took the oath, and that means that whatever reward or punishment he receives is ours and ours alone to give.

It astonishes me sometimes, having at this point been out of the service several more years than I was in it, how strong and pure those ideas still are in my head: how much "us" the profession of arms still is to me, and I suppose always will be. I'm a civilian and happy to be one now, but both the infantryman and the medic are still very close to the surface. The latter is concerned mainly with bringing back the wounded--and the former is ready, willing, and perhaps even eager to kill anyone who stands in the way of that mission.

Whatever else we did, whatever else we may do, we had to bring him home.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Lies, damned lies, and ... oh no, you're going there. 1

[cranky rant warning]

"Lies, damned lies, and statistics." It's coming up again with depressing frequency, being used as an argument instead of a snide observation.

Okay, here's the thing. Can you lie with statistics? Sure. Statistics is a branch of mathematics*, and math is a language; you can lie in that language as easily as in any other. Does this mean all statistics are lies? No more than all statements in any language are lies--and if you believe that, you've gone so far down the rabbit hole of anti-intellectual mysticism that you'll probably never find your way out.

Meanwhile, in the real world, and in the ever-expanding torrent of data we have about that world, statistics as a discipline is pretty much the only hope we have of understanding anything. The low-hanging fruit has been picked. The equations we learn in Physics 101 are as valid as they ever were, but they're not nearly enough. No matter how certain you think you are, no matter how many times you repeat your experiment and get the same result, if you don't do the statistical tests you don't actually know whatever it is you think you know. And if you do the tests--well, you may still be wrong, but you can at least quantify your uncertainty. And you have to do that, because you can always be wrong.

None of this is meant to defend the misuse of statistics, any more than as a writer I'd defend the misuse of natural language. People can and do wilfully misinterpret statistics, or cherry-pick them, or just outright make them up, and those are bad things. Guess what? They do that with every other kind of statement too. At least half of statisticians' job is fact-checking, and it's a charge we gladly accept.

So the next time you're tempted to say "lies, damned lies, and statistics," or "figures don't lie but liars figure," or "correlation does not imply causation" or any of its variants, or post the umpteen-thousandth link to "How To Lie With Statistics," and think you're being clever--please, just stop. Because one thing I am so sure of that I don't even need to put a p-value on it is that if you feel the need to resort to any of those lazy, thought-free responses, you don't know enough about the issue at hand to have an informed opinion, and the best thing you can possibly do for yourself and everyone else is to keep quiet.

*Opinions vary on this issue, but if statistics isn't exactly a branch of mathematics, we can at least say that math is the language in which it's written.

User Journal

Journal Journal: beta beta beta 2

To whom it may concern:

A while back, I was invited to take a look at the Slashdot beta. I looked at it and quickly decided that it was too painful to use, and hoped (vainly, I knew) that it would die a quiet death. Today, when logging into Slashdot, I was greeted with this cheery message:

MOVIN' ON UP. You are on Slashdot Classic. We are starting to move into new digs in February by automatically redirecting greater numbers of you. The new site is a work in progress so Classic Slashdot will be available from the footer for several more months. As we migrate our audience, we want to hear from you to make sure that the redesigned page has all the features you expect. Find out more.

In other words, we have here all the signs of a corporate "beta" site that will be rolled out regardless of user reaction. Let me be quite clear: "all the features I expect" are already on Slashdot (what you're adorably calling "Classic"). It works. It's not broken. Don't try to "fix" it, because the proposed "fix" irrevocably breaks the entire Slashdot look and feel.

When the beta becomes the only option (and I know it's almost certainly "when" at this point, not "if") Slashdot will become a ghost town. You will have killed what was once one of the most lively, interesting, and important sites on the web. I've loved this site for fifteen years now, but I'm not going to make myself suffer for the zombie wreck of something that used to be great.

Daniel Dvorkin
UID 106857

User Journal

Journal Journal: beta beta beta 4

To whom it may concern:

A while back, I was invited to take a look at the Slashdot beta. I looked at it and quickly decided that it was too painful to use, and hoped (vainly, I knew) that it would die a quiet death. Today, when logging into Slashdot, I was greeted with this cheery message:

MOVIN' ON UP. You are on Slashdot Classic. We are starting to move into new digs in February by automatically redirecting greater numbers of you. The new site is a work in progress so Classic Slashdot will be available from the footer for several more months. As we migrate our audience, we want to hear from you to make sure that the redesigned page has all the features you expect. Find out more.

In other words, we have here all the signs of a corporate "beta" site that will be rolled out regardless of user reaction. Let me be quite clear: "all the features I expect" are already on Slashdot (what you're adorably calling "Classic"). It works. It's not broken. Don't try to "fix" it, because the proposed "fix" irrevocably breaks the entire Slashdot look and feel.

When the beta becomes the only option (and I know it's almost certainly "when" at this point, not "if") Slashdot will become a ghost town. You will have killed what was once one of the most lively, interesting, and important sites on the web. I've loved this site for fifteen years now, but I'm not going to make myself suffer for the zombie wreck of something that used to be great.

Daniel Dvorkin
UID 106857


Journal Journal: Six Months with a Chromebook

About six months ago my main PC died and I needed a new one. Not having a lot of cash, and not really having a lot of free time to spend on the computer, I decided to get an Acer C7 Chromebook to hold me over.

Refurbished units are available on Acer's official refurb store, over on E-Bay. I paid $149 at the time. Now the base 2 Gb unit with a 320 Gb HD is available for $139.

These are Intel Celeron-based systems with 2 SO-DIMM RAM sockets and a mini-PCIe slot that holds the a/b/g/n/Bluetooth adapter. With only one RAM socket populated, it was easy to pop in a 4 Gb module for a total of 6 Gb of RAM. Adding more RAM allows the system to operate better with multiple tabs open. Other than that, you won't notice much of a difference.

Now that I've been using this as my primary machine for the last 6 months I can render an informed opinion.

I'm amazed at how much of what I do now is thru a web browser. After adding an SSH app, there is very little I couldn't do with the Chromebook. Still, there are some critical limitations that have driven me to get a "real" computer.

One of the big ones is the lack of network file system support. There is no way to access SMB/CIFS or NFS shares on the Chromebook. It also doesn't have FTP support, though there is a commercial app available for FTP. It is only $1.99, but needs to phone home to make sure you've paid, so requires connectivity to function.

If you can live with accessing files only through Google Drive, everything is fine. But, if you have -- like me -- a few terabytes of data on local shares, you're stuck. No, uploading every movie, television show, educational video and audio file I've every ripped to Google Drive is not an option.

Speaking of uploading music, that is another limitation. If you use Google Music, you can play everything fine, but will need a "real" computer to upload any files.

Printing, too. There is no direct printing support. The system only supports "Google Cloud Print", which means you either buy a new printer that supports GCP or leave a PC running with the printer driver configured, and logged in to Chrome (browser). You also have to be comfortable with everything you print going up to Google and back down. Meh.

It is impressive what can be accomplished through the Chrome browser, an SSH app and an FTP app. There are numerous web IDEs such as Shift Edit that are actually very good for development of HTML, CSS, Javascript and other script-based languages.

Of course, Chrome doesn't do Java. There are still some things on the web that require Java.

The lack of network file system support is a show stopper for me. I'm also taking some online classes including a couple in Java development, which means I can't use the Chromebook.

Not that I'm getting rid of it. I have given it to my wife. My young son also has one.

For $139 plus $20 or so for extra RAM it makes a wonderful backup system. Or one to grab and take with if you aren't going to be doing heavy development.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Continuation on education 13

Ok, I need to expand a bit on my excessively long post on education some time back.

The first thing I am going to clarify is streaming. This is not merely distinction by speed, which is the normal (and therefore wrong) approach. You have to distinguish by the nature of the flows. In practice, this means distinguishing by creativity (since creative people learn differently than uncreative people).

It is also not sufficient to divide by fast/medium/slow. The idea is that differences in mind create turbulence (a very useful thing to have in contexts other than the classroom). For speed, this is easy - normal +/- 0.25 standard deviations for the central band (ie: everyone essentially average), plus two additional bands on either side, making five in total.

Classes should hold around 10 students, so you have lots of different classes for average, fewer for the band's either side, and perhaps only one for the outer bands. This solves a lot of timetabling issues, as classes in the same band are going to be interchangeable as far as subject matter is concerned. (This means you can weave in and out of the creative streams as needed.)

Creativity can be ranked, but not quantified. I'd simply create three pools of students, with the most creative in one pool and the least in a second. It's about the best you can do. The size of the pools? Well, you can't obtain zero gradient, and variations in thinking style can be very useful in the classroom. 50% in the middle group, 25% in each of the outliers.

So you've 15 different streams in total. Assume creativity and speed are normally distributed and that the outermost speed streams contain one class of 10 each. Start with speed for simplicity I'll forgo the calculations and guess that the upper/lower middle bands would then have nine classes of 10 each and that the central band will hold 180 classes of 10.

That means you've 2000 students, of whom the assumption is 1000 are averagely creative, 500 are exceptional and 500 are, well, not really. Ok, because creativity and speed are independent variables, we have to have more classes in the outermost band - in fact, we'd need four of them, which means we have to go to 8000 students.

These students get placed in one of 808 possible classes per subject per year. Yes, 808 distinct classes. Assuming 6 teaching hours per day x 5 days, making 30 available hours, which means you can have no fewer than 27 simultaneous classes per year. That's 513 classrooms in total, fully occupied in every timeslot, and we're looking at just one subject. Assuming 8 subjects per year on average, that goes up to 4104. Rooms need maintenance and you also need spares in case of problems. So, triple it, giving 12312 rooms required. We're now looking at serious real estate, but there are larger schools than that today. This isn't impossible.

The 8000 students is per year, as noted earlier. And since years won't align, you're going to need to go from first year of pre/playschool to final year of an undergraduate degree. That's a whole lotta years. 19 of them, including industrial placement. 152,000 students in total. About a quarter of the total student population in the Greater Manchester area.

The design would be a nightmare with a layout from hell to minimize conflict due to intellectual peers not always being age peers, and neither necessarily being perceptual peers, and yet the layout also has to minimize the distance walked. Due to the lack of wormholes and non-simply-connected topologies, this isn't trivial. A person at one extreme corner of the two dimensional spectrum in one subject might be at the other extreme corner in another. From each class, there will be 15 vectors to the next one.

But you can't minimize per journey. Because there will be multiple interchangeable classes, each of which will produce 15 further vectors, you have to minimize per day, per student. Certain changes impact other vectors, certain vector values will be impossible, and so on. Multivariable systems with permutation constraints. That is hellish optimization, but it is possible.

It might actually be necessary to make the university a full research/teaching university of the sort found a lot in England. There is no possible way such a school could finance itself off fees, but research/development, publishing and other long-term income might help. Ideally, the productivity would pay for the school. The bigger multinationals post profits in excess of 2 billion a year, which is how much this school would cost.

Pumping all the profits into a school in the hope that the 10 uber creative geniuses you produce each year, every year, can produce enough new products and enough new patents to guarantee the system can be sustained... It would be a huge gamble, it would probably fail, but what a wild ride it would be!

User Journal

Journal Journal: Yeah, about that ...

Okay, so there's this quote that never seems to die. It's often attributed to Morgan Freeman, although I believe it actually comes from Henry Rollins; in any case, it doesn't much matter who said it. It just gets posted and reposted as a bit of snarky wisdom. Snarky it certainly is, but wise it's not.

First, the quote: "I hate the word homophobia. It's not a phobia. You are not scared. You are an asshole." There it is. Read it, enjoy it, revel in the snark.

Now, here's what's wrong with it. First, "phobia" is widely understood to mean "aversion" as well as "fear." Spare me the etymological arguments, please. Language evolves, and this is one of the ways in which it's evolved.

Second, yes, homophobes are afraid. Pretty much any time one large group of people hates another large group of people, fear is at the root of it. They're afraid, in some ill-defined but vehement way, that if gay people are allowed to be gay the way straight people are allowed to be straight, everything will fall apart. The foundations of their world will crack. The earth itself will turn to quicksand beneath their feet. Things Will Not Be As They Have Been, And Should Always Be. In the case of male homophobes who have a particular aversion to male homosexuality, they're afraid--in the words of another meme that is both snarky and wise--that gay men will treat them the way they treat women. And they're afraid, in a startlingly large number of cases, of the way they just can't ... stop ... thinking ... about ... gay ... sex ... and ... how ... terrible ... it ... is ... can't ... stop ...

Third, and perhaps most important, homophobes themselves deny they're afraid, and run away from the word "homophobia" at every opportunity. Try it: identify a homophobe as such, and there's a good bet you'll get an invective-laced tirade about how it's not about fear but about the disgust that every decent person should feel when thinking about such acts (... can't ... stop ...) and how it is the patriotic duty of every red-blooded patriot who knows right from wrong to stand up against the Gay Agenda ... etc. This is particularly acute, again, when male homophobes who have a particular aversion to male homosexuality (sorry, I can't come up with a good acronym here) are confronted with their homophobia, because, you see, fear is for girls. And fags, who might as well be girls. Because girls are icky. Not like us big, strong, healthy, muscular men with our strong arms and bulging pecs and ... can't ... stop ... where was I? Oh, right. Fear is unmanly.

So yeah. No one hates (and fears!) the word "homophobia" more than homophobes do, and for that reason if no other, it needs to stay in the language. Never stop shaming them. Never stop reminding them what cowards they are. Know their fears and exploit them mercilessly, crush them and see them driven before you, chase them back under their rocks where they belong.

User Journal

Journal Journal: "America needs a white Republican President." 3

Opposition to Obama has nothing to do with race. ÂNope, nothing at all.


Okay, Republicans. ÂLook, I believe that most of you are not racist. ÂYou oppose Obama because you disagree with his policies, not his skin color. ÂYou'd rather have a Republican President because you're Republicans, and you're Republicans because you largely agree with Republican Party policies rather than out of a sense of tribal identity (I extend you that courtesy; please do the same) and you don't care what color this hypothetical Republican President, with whom you would agree far more than you do with Obama, might be.

I believe that, not least because the alternative -- that a majority of members of a political party that represents about a third of the American electorate is actively, maliciously racist -- is too grotesque to contemplate.

But there is, at the least, a substantial minority of your party that is actively, maliciously racist, that puts its racism on display as proudly as ever did the KKK wing of the Democratic Party of old. ÂFrom where I'm sitting, and where many Democrats are sitting, it looks an awful lot like this minority (I have to keep believing that) is steering the agenda of your entire party. ÂYou have to deal with these people. ÂYou have to exile them, shame them, chase them back under their rocks where they belong. ÂWe can't do it. ÂThey won't listen to us. ÂThey're your people, and that makes them your problem.

Or we can all keep going down the path we're on. ÂBecause, you know, that's working so well.

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