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gaptoothsanta
Date: 2014-08-18 10:05
Subject: Some programming
Security: Public
Mood:amusedamused
I finally took a break to do some programming for fun.  I put together some Python programs to fetch weather observations (METAR) and forecasts, extract the parts I wanted, and put them into the background window dashboard of "conky".  Conky is similar to the Windows "rainmeter" tool.  It can put various useful status stuff into a semi-transparent window in the background wallpaper.  The other excuse was preparing to help my nephew who is going to be taking an intro course on programming, and Python is the chosen first language.

Now that I've used it a bit I agree it makes a good first language.  All the important basic concepts are there, it's got a huge library of useful parts, it's widely available, and it's a simple syntax.  For example, there is a large library of meteorology tooling.  I could get an open source METAR decoder, so getting the current observation consisted of fetching the METAR (a few lines to do HTTP GET), invoking the METAR decoder to get a complex object, then selecting and formatting the observation fields that I wanted displayed.

End result looks like this:

example-conky
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gaptoothsanta
Date: 2014-07-27 18:14
Subject: Computers vs Travel this week
Security: Public
It  was a bad week for computers.  During the F2F I was doing battle with a difficult Lotus Notes.  It was in the mood to hang, vanish into never never land, and become as slow as refrigerated molasses.  Repeated kills and reboots were needed.  I don't know why it had problems.  Lotus Notes sucks big time.  I never did get it to work from the hotel, which is odd.  Usually that same hotel has better speeds than RSNA.  For regular web browsing the hotel worked OK.

When I got home the Internet was out.  Come morning I saw Verizon out working down the street.  Apparently a truck tore up the FIOS cable bundle on Friday.  The Verizon crews were there until late Saturday night.  They had to clear the mangled cable, put in a new cable, and then splice the cables.  They said it was 144 fibers to be spliced in that cable.
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gaptoothsanta
Date: 2014-07-18 21:35
Subject: Mis-use of laws
Security: Public
More details need to be disclosed, but there are growing indications that privacy laws like HIPAA are being converted into walls against whistle blowers.  The latest is growing evidence that VA employees who disclose unsafe practices are being threatened under HIPAA.  You can't disclose facts to back up claims of unsafe practices without disclosing at least minimal patient information.  The story is that the VA is claiming that informing your lawyer is a HIPAA violation.

The continual cold war between open source, Microsoft, and Apple hit me again today.  Microsoft will no longer format a USB device that is larger than 4GB with a FAT-32 file system.  In practice you can manipulate block sizes to get much larger devices supported, and I've gotten such devices.  Now it must either be exFAT or NTFS.  The problem with these is that they are not publicly documented and are covered by some US-only patents.

Why is this a problem?  I want to carry around movies, music, podcasts, etc. on a portable hard drive.  I want to plug this hard drive into my Windows, Linux, and Mac systems with read/write access.  That's precisely what Apple and Microsoft don't want to have happen.  Apple will not support any Microsoft disk formats (other than FAT) and Microsoft will not support any Apple formats.  They both want to own their customers.

Fortunately, Linux is a fringe issue, has lots of non-US developers who can ignore US-only patents safely, and has engineers able to reverse engineer a file system.  You can now get a reasonably robust and reliable NTFS read/write support on Linux.  This rescues my 500GB portable that had to be re-formatted.  It's now NTFS.  The Mac can't use it, but I can use network access when it needs files.  That's not great.  But at least I can stuff a couple hundred GB of movies and podcasts onto the little disk.  I don't have to decide now what I'll want when travelling.  I can take everything and decide then what I want.
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gaptoothsanta
Date: 2014-07-16 11:08
Subject: Book series: Brilliance by Marcus Sakey
Security: Public
Mood:hothot
The first two books of this trilogy are published, with the last coming soon.  I found it from Scalzi's "Big Ideas".  The basic concept is that since 1980 one in a thousand children has been "brilliant" has an extreme savant skill of some sort.  They are otherwise normal, not disturbed like the "idiot savant".  This leads to discrimination, fear, conflict, etc.  They are simple plotting, simple characterization, with a fast pace.  Without the SF context these could be action detective stories.  They're a good easy read.  I'm not surprised that the first one is already under consideration for a movie.  This will make good action movies.  I hope they go for the intelligent detective/action style.

The "big idea" posting is the authors perspective.
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gaptoothsanta
Date: 2014-07-02 09:29
Subject: Future of mobile health
Security: Public
Mood:amusedamused
This came across my web feed while I was starting again on reading MPQ.  I give you the future of mobile health:
antidote_Brg118ECMAAP48g
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gaptoothsanta
Date: 2014-06-16 12:13
Subject: Computer stuff
Security: Public

  1. I finally got around to de-DRMing all my books.  I had been doing it as I read books (mostly because I find I prefer the calibre epub viewer and Nook reader over the Kindle reader).  This makes starting a new book a bit of a nuisance since I have to do these extra steps.  I finally went through all the book files, separated the non-DRM (like O'Reilly) from DRM, and removed it all.  I didn't bother to fully automate it since the cut-paste-mouse setup was doing about 4 books/minute.  Now I just have to do it when I buy another DRM'ed book.

  2. Playing with external USB disk toy, which I'll use for some backups and cleaning old disks.  I had a disk that Windows suddenly declared broken.  I put it into this thing to check it out.  smartctl reveals what Windows disliked.  It had remapped over 3,000 blocks as bad.  It failed self-test.  I used badblocks for it's alternative purpose.  It's a reasonably fast disk contents eraser.  The most apparent weakness is that it will follow bad block re-directions.  That's a minor privacy leakage, considering that the blocks are probably already corrupt.

I did check out the Windows native alternatives, but they mostly require re-booting to ISO images.  That's more work than using the Linux stuff.  There's probably a way without leaving Windows, but the application developers seem to find a standalone program significantly easier.

Smartctl did point to one problem with these USB adapters.  They are imperfect in their implementation of secondary SATA commands.  They're good at the USB to SATA for the usual disk I/O stuff.  The security stuff, like setting internal hard drive passwords or using internal firmware disk erase functions, is dubious.  The manual especially warns of problems with the disk erase functions, because even with firmware those take many hours.  USB timeouts, retries, etc. during that time can cause lots of problems.

The disk in question will go into my pile of stuff for recycling.  I don't want personal data getting out that way.  It's gotten hard to drill the new drives.  They have stronger cases.  This allows somewhat better recyclability too.  smartctl reported that this drive had just under 24K hours of operation, which is less than I'd like, but much longer than warranty.
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gaptoothsanta
Date: 2014-06-03 18:12
Subject: "The Fall"
Security: Public
Mood:working
I watched the TV show "The Fall" a second time and it survives a second viewing.  It's a police procedural/ serial killer show, but it concentrates on character and context.  The killer is revealed at almost the beginning.  What matters is the people, personalities, procedures, and side issues.  These are nicely done.  It is set in Belfast, with very good cinematography.  It's 5 episodes, 1 hr each.  (In theory there could be a second season, but I have my doubts about a followon season working.)
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gaptoothsanta
Date: 2014-05-08 13:49
Subject: History and alternative history
Security: Public
I'm reading a book on the early years of Vietnam, starting before WWII.  Basically the French period and interval before US intervention.  It's very good.  I've reached about 1950 and there have past the two time where history could really have been different.  These could become interesting SF alternative history candidates.  They also illustrate a period generally forgotten in current politics.

The US had a huge anti-colonialist feeling during and after World War II.  It wanted all the European colonial empires disbanded.  Post war it was obvious that the German and Italian colonies in Africa were to be made independent.  US relations with Britain were very tense, with the US position being that the British empire should be peacefully dissolved.  The situation for Dutch, Belgian, and French colonies was unclear.

In 1945-46 the US almost declared Indochina independent of France.  With the surrender of the Japanese, Vietnam was run by some British troops, the Chinese, and the surrendered Japanese who had accepted Allied command.  The British and Japanese had the southern two thirds and the Chinese the northern third.  The British made it clear that they wanted to leave, and the Japanese were clearly going to have to leave.  The Chinese were extremely unpopular with the Vietnamese, and did not really want a war of occupation when they had internal problems with Mao's army in Manchuria.

The US faced a choice between allowing France to send troops or declaring Indochina independent.  This was a very close thing.  The Viet Minh had good relationships with US local representatives, who recommended independence.  In the end, Truman decided to allow the transport of French troops to Vietnam,  (The US ruled the ocean.)  This was in contrast to the situation in Indonesia, where there was a similar situation.  The Dutch wanted to return and the US said no, Indonesia will be de-colonized and made independent.  It could have gone either way.  The political forces in the US were very closely balanced and unsure of which way was best.

It came down to fears around Europe.  At that point, the UN was a paper organization, Europe was in ruins with widespread starvation.  The Marshall plan, NATO, EC, and EU were all in the future.  There was fear that Europe would return to chaos and renewed warfare.  The argument was that France would disintegrate, the Western alliance break down, and chaos would emerge if the French colonial empire was ended by US edict.  Truman decided that de-colonialization could wait, and the risk of chaos with more European warfare was too high.  The same considerations for Indonesia were that the Netherlands were less likely to disintegrate and even if they collapsed, the impact on Europe would be acceptable.  So Indonesia was freed.

On alternative history would be "what if Vietnam had taken the path of Indonesia?"  Would Ho have become similar to Sukarno?  Would France have disintegrated into civil war?  What would have happened to Europe?

There was a similar point a few years later, with a more difficult US decision, whether to treat Vietnam as a purely internal French problem (with certain bloody defeat and de-colonization) or should the US pick a side.  In this period, the French diplomacy was superb and they persuaded Truman and Acheson to support France.  This was also quite close in terms of domestic politics, and again European considerations dominated.  The French played the anti-communist anti-Stalin card superbly.  Then when China fell to Mao, the Soviet Union and China recognized the Viet Minh, and the Communists invaded South Korea the anti-colonialists lost their last hope of keeping Vietnam a purely internal French issue.

From 1950 onward, there were no more points where changing course was easy or likely.  Those two were the two where the US almost chose the anti-colonial path.
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gaptoothsanta
Date: 2014-04-13 05:11
Subject: Ribs
Security: Public
Mood:tiredtired
There's a great ribs place in Vienna on the Donau Island near the Connectathon location, the Kaisermuehle. It has all the usual other good foods too.  But ribs grilled with garlic and herbs is excellent.

Today is the big annual marathon.  It messes traffic up worse than the Boston Marathon.  (It goes over the bridge and back to Donau Island).
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gaptoothsanta
Date: 2014-03-25 21:33
Subject: Good lecture
Security: Public
Just watched a fun lecture from the CEO of Prosetta.  Fascinating work on drug discovery and bio-chemical mechanics of protein assembly mechanisms.
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