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.

 

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.

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.

Redeeming Digital Copies

Every time I go through movies I have bought and try to redeem the digital copy, I suspect the companies make the process so difficult that no one will actually do it. Companies like the gift card racket because they get the money and recipients hold on to them for far too long. Movie companies charge more for movies with the digital copy and make the process of redeeming them so difficult people will not do it.

Five were UltraViolet and one a Disney. All 6 required going to a different web page. Only one worked with the generic UV redemption page. Each other site had me sign in to UV from it. Two made me create accounts in other services in order to link them to UV. The Disney one was the oddest of all, it gave me a code that gave me Amazon promotional credit but was not clear about that so I had to risk buying the same movie at potentially paying more for the digital copy than I did the physical discs to redeem the code. (It did come across as free.)

I guess this is why I let them pile up for a few months before I go redeem them. An hour of work for six movies.

Review: A Nation of Immigrants

A Nation of Immigrants
A Nation of Immigrants by John F. Kennedy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was interested in reading this because JFK was the grandson of Irish immigrants. The Irish (and Italians, Chinese, and others) at one point were the targets of the kinds of language we saw just recently during the 2016 presidential election. He also was a senator and president who had to consider policy. From what I knew about him, his speeches expressed faith in American ingenuity and ability to tackle the greatest challenges.

This book did not disappoint. Well written, it is an easy read. He explains the history of immigration to the Americas both before and after we became a county. He describes how immigrants brought American systems, shaped values, and influenced our identity. He laments the resistance and advises the alteration of arbitrary immigration policy so that we can bring in the best instead of limiting ourselves to reflecting the demographics of 1920. His prescription seems to have been enacted in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.

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Crowdsourcing Bias Identification

Zittrain’s set of tweets was interesting reading.

Lots more on it: best1, 2, 3.

There is an interesting plug-in called Media Bias/Fact Check which will help show how a news site skews. Before you rush off to use it, you should like I did review their methodology to ensure you can reasonably trust it.

My one issue with it is a crowdsourcing component where each site they review has a PollDaddy widget. PollDaddy like any other similar thing tries to prevent multiple voting, but that security relies on cookies, so if I wanted to skew the poll and say make Snopes appear extreme right, it is not all that difficult to vote, delete the cookie, vote, delete, etc. A possible example is MBFC marks Palmer Report as “left center” while the poll shows Extreme Left=76, Left=36, Left Center=44, Least Biased=26, Extreme Right=2. There appears to be some disagreement between those polled and the reviewers. The polls are not pulled into the plug-in database and instead used by humans to review whether they should revisit a prior determination. So MBFC cannot be directly manipulated through the polls.

Back around 2003 spam was really, really bad. Work had not yet devised an anti-spam solution, so I turned to an interesting client plug-in where users marked messages as spam. If enough users marked a message as spam, then the sender was blacklisted and anything from them sent to a junk folder. The dark side to this model? Some people interpreted “spam” as any email they did not want to receive. Several email lists or legitimate advertisers with easy and functional unsubscribe tools were blacklisted. It was easier for people to hit spam than do the right thing.

The wisdom of crowds has very narrow applications.

But a look at recent cases and new research suggests that open-innovation models succeed only when carefully designed for a particular task and when the incentives are tailored to attract the most effective collaborators.

So I appreciate that MBFC has a firewall between the crowdsourcing and their reviews. But, that also means their method is very, very labor intensive. Sites will be very slow to be added.

Facebook is talking about removing fake news. Some are calling for them to so something like MBFC and help users understand what they are reading. Back in May they removed their editors who were in charge of doing essentially the MBFC of thing of reviewing and ensuring what ended up in Trending was good material and writing summaries. These editors were accused of bias. When Facebook replaced them, fake news immediately started showing up in Trending. Removing fake news could help, but how they go about it could be interesting. Their editor debacle could push them in the algorithm route, but their algorithm debacle could push them back toward editors. Maybe some mix of the two?

Review: Loving Day

Loving Day
Loving Day by Mat Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A satirical jab at identity. Like so main character and many supporting ones, I am mixed. Am I black? According to One Drop laws, absolutely yes. According to some black people, yes. According to other black people, not enough. There are similar mixed messages from other peoples. Plenty think I am from the Middle East, Latin America, India, or other location where there people with brown skin. A reason why I like the term Mixed-Race is because it implies all mixed up and jumbled to an incoherent mess.

Mat captures this feeling better than most books I have read about mixed racial identity. The hyperbolic satire cuts deep. Maybe too deep to be very comfortable with the novel. In the end, I am pleased my friend Nikki asked me to read it because I happen to have needed to about now.

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