Review: Philip K. Dick Is Dead, Alas

Philip K. Dick Is Dead, Alas
Philip K. Dick Is Dead, Alas by Michael Bishop
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An excellent Dickian story in the irreverence that he would appreciate. The current fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the current environment made this a compelling read. The parallels between the Richard Nixon character and US politics reminded me of the fears about where we are headed to day.

Also, the inclusion of so many places in Georgia amused me.

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Tinkering

Another Rands In Repose gem.

Tinkering is a deceptively high-value activity. You don’t usually allocate much time to tinkering because the obvious value of tinkering is low. You don’t start tinkering with a goal in mind; you start with pure curiosity. I’ve heard about this thing, but I’ve never used it. How does this thing work? I’ve always wanted to know about more about X. Downtime is an easy time to tinker. Nothing is pressing, so these acts of mental wandering are acceptable.

This is how things get done. This is my life.

I think Dopamine is related to why I tinker. There is a definite expectation to getting something out of it. And that is all the motivation I need.

The dopamine from the ventral tegmental area… usually sends dopamine into the brain when animals (including people) expect or receive a reward. That reward might be a delicious slice of pizza or a favorite song. This dopamine release tells the brain that whatever it just experienced is worth getting more of. And that helps animals (including people) change their behaviors in ways that will help them attain more of the rewarding item or experience.

My reward is learning something about a gadget. Similar to how reading rewards me with learning about science, history, motivations, or behavior.

 

If in doubt; then delete

The title is a joke. I hate deleting things. A digital packrat, it takes knowing that deleting something will likely fix an actual problem to delete it. And my delete is to move it out of the way not actually destroy the file.

Anyway, I discovered this blog was hosed. I had noticed Gotcha Jerks Part II was missing from various social media sites. So, I went to post it and found the whole blog hozered. It just displayed a Fatal PHP Error for class.jetpack-tracks.php and so I started to look on the WordPress.Org support page when I decided to move the whole Jetpack plugin directory to jetpack.bad and “see what happens.” Well, that restored the blog. The plugin claimed it needed an upgrade, so I ran that. All is well.

Easier than my initial resignation.

I went to “diff -r jetpack.bad jetpack” to get a comparison of the differences between the bad one and the good one, but the bad no longer exists. Thus the title. I am considering deleting and reinstalling Jetpack to ensure what I have is pristine. I have a nagging feeling that the upgrade moved jetpack.bad to jetpack then updated some files. Delete and rebuild would give me more confidence I purged lingering bad code from the plugin. Additionally, the lingering issue from WordPress and SSL a month ago might be related? In sum, I suspect there are subtle issues lingering and a clean sweep is in order.

Gotcha Jerks Part II

If you have not read Gotcha Jerks, then please do first. I recently ran across The “Other Side” Is Not Dumb which goes further. Here is my favorite quote from it.

Sharing links that mock a caricature of the Other Side isn’t signaling that we’re somehow more informed. It signals that we’d rather be smug assholes than consider alternative views. It signals that we’d much rather show our friends that we’re like them, than try to understand those who are not.

It makes a great point that part of what makes discussion politics on social media problematic is the false-consensus bias where we assume people we like should always think the same way we do because they are awesome like we are. Liking the posts of Facebook friends who state things with which we agree or defriending / unfollowing people who disagree, leads to the algorithms creating an environment for ourselves where the information coming to us drives the FCB into overdrive. If we are only seeing the stuff where we agree, then we are blind to other positions out there. Going even a leap further to knocking down Straw Men certainly alienates the Other Side. They will defriend / unfollow us which leads to the same result.

I reluctantly have culled people over their behavior during the election season. I also did not expect things to get better November 9th. In my mind, this animosity has been ever increasing since 1998, so I saw no reason for it to end. Both candidates held unfavorable numbers by majorities of likely voters, so  whoever won would cause butthurt.

Family Feud is a game show where people try to guess the common answers to a poll question. If people had no FCB, then the game would be completely pointless. People would provide fairly accurate responses leading to people only uncommonly getting answers wrong. Instead, from what I have seen of the show, it seems hard for contestants in general.

Advice from The “Other Side” Is Not Dumb to consider:

A dare for the next time you’re in discussion with someone you disagree with: Don’t try to “win.” Don’t try to “convince” anyone of your viewpoint. Don’t score points by mocking them to your peers. Instead try to “lose.” Hear them out. Ask them to convince you and mean it. No one is going to tell your environmentalist friends that you merely asked follow up questions after your brother made his pro-fracking case.

Not long ago, it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling for a very conservative coworker to call me the only liberal he knows that he can discuss things. We disagree, but we respect each other enough to discuss things. I am not hurt by our disagreements. And as much as he tries to act radical, I suspect a lot of it is poker bluff acting.

Further reading:

Buffer Feature Requests

Dual Window

LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+ have significantly different character number restrictions than Twitter. Naturally, Twitter limits posts to their notorious 140 characters. LinkedIn allows 700, and Google+ / Facebook allow about five thousand.

I like to post things with a quote from the articles I share that captures what I found most interesting about it. Generally, they fall between 200 to 200 characters. Too long for Twitter, which means I editorialize it to make it fit.

Something amazing about the Pocket tool to share to Buffer is it provides two different textareas. One for Facebook and one for everything else. Brilliant! So much so, that I am tempted to completely change my workflow to push anything I want to share to Pocket just so I can share it with Buffer in a way that makes sense. On Facebook the preview URL appears to Pocket rather than the actual destination which slightly bothers me because I’d prefer the source to get attribution.

Tumblr

It would be nice to be able to share to Tumblr through Buffer. It seems odd that Buffer would support App.net who has been dying for years and will finally be gone in 6 weeks yet not one of the larger social networks?

Fun With Regex

We replaced the old ticketing system with a new one. Naturally there are people who are concerned about losing access to old tickets. So we looked at exporting all the tickets. My coworker had the better method of getting out the data with one issue.

Because the old sytem used an HTML editor for a specific textarea, the content in them was difficult to read without expertise in HTML. Fine for a former Webmaster like myself, but few people who will need this read it like they do English.

My first thought was to look for products that clean up HTML. I even got excited when I notice HTML Tidy comes with our Linux OS, but that just converted the HTML to standardized format of HTML. (And trashed the plain-text portions of the ticket.) I did not find options for removing the HTML with Tidy.

So, my next thought was to try Regular Expressions (Regex). Certainly it ought to be doable. Just Regex is hard. No, difficult. No, turn your hair gray at 22. But, it can do anything if you put your mind to it. And I ran across RegExr which really simplified the process by showing how my pattern worked in sample content.

In the end I mad a simple shell script to clean up the files.

#!/bin/bash
#############################################################
# Convert HTML to plaintext using sed.
# Created by Ezra Freelove, email
#############################################################
# Variables
WORKINGDIR=/stage/$1
if [ -d $WORKINGDIR ] ; then echo “… found dir; continuing” ; else echo “… missing dir ; bailing” ; exit; fi
DESTDIR=${WORKINGDIR}/fixed
# Make a list of files to convert.
cd $WORKINGDIR
WORKINGLIST=`ls *.txt`
# Fix the files
mkdir -p $DESTDIR
for WORKINGFILE in $WORKINGLIST
do
sed -e ‘s|<br[\ \/]*>|\n|g’ -e ‘s/<[^!>]*>//g’ -e ‘s/&nbsp;/ /g’ -e ‘s/&lt;/</g’ -e ‘s/&gt;/>/g’ $WORKINGFILE > ${DESTDIR}/fixed_${WORKINGFILE}
done

The regexes are:

  • s|<br[\ \/]*>|\n|g which means match HTML <br> tags and replace with a newline character . The <br> tag tells a web browser to go to the next line.
  • s/<[^!>]*>//g which means match a less than (<) out to the next greater than but exclude an exclamation point. Delete everything between. This handle the HTML elements and their attributes. This like <p class=”MsoPlainText”> or </span>. For some reason the date and username of the person who updated the ticket are stored as <! 2017-02-03 username>, so I had to figure out how to keep them.
  • ‘s/&nbsp;/ /g’ which means match the text “&nbsp;” which is a non-breaking space it with a normal space.
  • ‘s/&lt;/</g’ which means replace the text “&lt;” with a “<“. And finally the same thing but for greater than.

An easy way to match all of these latter ones would be pretty cool, but I think dealing with the most common ones is good enough.

Initially I was going to remove all the character codes like &nbsp;. In the end, I decided that the ones I handled should help people. The more rare ones can be determined easily if someone runs across them.

Return of the Auroch?

Move over bison burgers, the ancestor of cows is coming back.

Scientists edge closer to bringing back the aurochs, the fearsome cattle breed last seen in the 1600s

The creature, the ancestor of modern cattle, once roamed forests and marshlands from Britain to the Balkans and beyond to Asia and North Africa.

But it disappeared from the British Isles in the Iron Age and was driven to extinction in the rest of Europe by the 17th century, with the last specimen dying in Poland in 1627.

Now researchers are working through a process known as back-breeding, which entails selectively mating existing breeds of “primitive” cattle which retain much of the ancient aurochs’ DNA.

Good for them for going at this with breeding. I still kind of want to point the scientists to Jurassic Park in the part where it talks about wildlife tourism.

Digital Memory Blackouts

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Last Gift From Nannie

The Google Photos Rediscover This Day feature felt I needed reminding of today five years ago.

It is true that I took some photos (1,2,3) while on a beach trip. And it is also true that I cherish these photos. But it is also true I cherish them because they make me weepy and sad.

So, if their goal is to improve my day, then that was an Epic Fail.

The photo used here is another photo I took a few months later after she died and still processing my grief. That beach trip was the last trip we took. My trips over the next few months would be preparing my heart for her death. These photos were the last good time.

I could turn off Rediscover This Day. That seems like taking a sledgehammer to drive a nail. Maybe if all I had in there were bad memories, then sure.

I guess I could delete the photos about which I do not want to be reminded. While more selective, using the service as a way of sharing and storing seems pointless if I have to selectively store things I may not want reminding about somewhere else.

Better would be a “never remind me about this again.” A blackout for certain photos or sets that I specifically do not want to see again.

Collected Quotes Jan 2017

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
― Martin Luther King, Jr.

There are books, that one has for twenty years without reading them, that one always keeps at hand, that one takes along from city to city, from country to country, carefully packed, even when there is very little room, and perhaps one leafs through them while removing them from a trunk; yet one carefully refrains from reading even a complete sentence. Then after twenty years, there comes a moment when suddenly, as though under a high compulsion, one cannot help taking in such a book from beginning to end, at one sitting: it is like a revelation. Now one knows why one made such a fuss about it. It had to be with one for a long time; it had to travel; it had to occupy space; it had to be a burden; and now it has reached the goal of its voyage, now it reveals itself, now it illuminates the twenty bygone years it mutely lived with one. It could not say so much if it had not been there mutely the whole time, and what idiot would dare to assert that the same things had always been in it.
― Elias Canetti, The Human Province

It was much better to imagine men in some smoky room somewhere, made mad and cynical by privilege and power, plotting over the brandy. You had to cling to this sort of image, because if you didn’t then you might have to face the fact that bad things happened because ordinary people, the kind who brushed the dog and told their children bedtime stories, were capable of then going out and doing horrible things to other ordinary people. It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone’s fault. If it was Us, what did that make Me? After all, I’m one of Us. I must be. I’ve certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No-one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We’re always one of Us. It’s Them that do the bad things.
― Terry Pratchett

To be normal is the ultimate aim of the unsuccessful.
— Carl Jung

But the problem is, I don’t know how to be the glass half full girl, but I also don’t know how to not be the glass half empty girl. Those are two extremes and I feel like I’m somehow caught in the middle.
— chasingsettingsuns

I’ve noticed before that if you go too long without anyone seeing you, really seeing you, it’s easy to start wondering if you’re really there.
— Maggie Mitchell

Everything you see or hear or experience in any way at all is specific to you. You create a universe by perceiving it, so everything in the universe you perceive is specific to you.
— Douglas Adam

Two important facts about our minds: we can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.
— Daniel Kahneman

Because let’s be very clear: strong men – strong men, men who are truly role models, don’t need to put down women to make themselves feel powerful. People who are truly strong lift others up.
— Michelle Obama

Happy endings are a luxury of fiction.
Trudi Canavan

Stress and decisions

422575945_e293c5d53dSomeone in Athens found some pipe bombs. They took it to the police headquarters to report having found it.

People question how he could do something so dangerous. My reaction is I can easily see someone thinking of the police and taking them there.

The reason why we train people how to conduct themselves in dangerous situations is because people are effectively TERRIBLE left to their own instincts. Our instincts are all over the place. Sometimes good; mostly bad. Think about all the situations where we practice what to do:

  • tornado warning
  • fire
  • active shooter
  • hurricane
  • choking
  • CPR

The hope is the training will overcome any bad instincts and save lives. And these are just a handful of situations. The military wants people for a few years because it is going to take half a year or longer just to get people not using their worst instincts in an extremely wide variety of stressful situations. And the more good training they get, the better behaved in battle they will be.