Blog: 2011-10

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Training When You Can't Herd

"Whitney, we have a problem," Fredo&Pid'jin comic

Fish Stories

The sliver of raw fish sold as white tuna at Skipjack's in Foxborough was actually escolar, an oily, cheaper species banned in Japan because it can make people sick. [...] Those were among the findings of a five-month Globe investigation into the mislabeling of fish. It showed that Massachusetts consumers routinely and unwittingly overpay for less desirable, sometimes undesirable, species [...] In many cases, the fish was caught thousands of miles away and frozen, not hauled in by local fishermen, as the menu claimed. [...] The Globe collected fish from 134 restaurants, grocery stores, and seafood markets from Leominster to Provincetown, [...] Analyses by the DNA lab and other scientists showed that 87 of 183 were sold with the wrong species name -- 48 percent.

—Jenn Abelson and Beth Daley, "On the menu, but not on your plate," Boston Globe, 2011-10-23

ChallahWatch

 [photo of bags of unbraided challah bread, with one $7.99 price tag showing] Latest news of the challah bread industry is that now Cheryl Ann's of Brookline did not even bother to braid the $7.99 challah, but instead just kinda swirled it in a pile.

I went to the store to pick up only bread, and decided to splurge and get premium-priced challah, but when I saw that they hadn't braided it, I had to turn my back and walk away.

It's like a microcosm for the decline and fall of Western societies.

See also 2009-12-13 and 2009-07-15.

dmr

Pioneering computer scientist Dennis Ritchie has died after a long illness. [...] Those paying respects said he was a "titan" of the industry whose influence was largely unknown.

—"Unix creator Dennis Ritchie dies aged 70, BBC, 2011-10-13

Dennis Ritchie, sometimes known as DMR or dmr, was revered and a legend to most computer scientists and professional software developers for decades.

In the pre-Web age of the Internet, where, if you were fortunate enough to have access and you knew the right places to go, it was not uncommon to converse with people famous in their scientific disciplines. Even there, Ritchie was a wizard with star power. One day, 20 years ago, a beaming coworker waves me over to her office, conspiratorily, to see a message on her screen. The post was by dmr, saying something whimsical. (It might have been a message about telling apart him and Thompson and/or Kernigan, based on beards; I don't recall for certain.) I'd been using Ritchie's co-invention, Unix, since a kid in the late '80s, and she knew I would love seeing this. DMR had more star power than, say, Bill Gates, or anyone else I could think of who might be on the Internet.

Most all computer technology you use has been greatly influenced by DMR, and influenced in a positive way. (Indeed, sometimes we have used his inventions almost as they were, when he might have preferred that we build more upon his work, more quickly.) Dennis Ritchie was a computer scientist, who worked in a basic research lab. He didn't make billions of dollars, and he didn't get on lots of magazine covers, but I can't think of anyone more influential on today's state of information technology.

Bar Keepers Friend

 [product photo of can of Bar Keepers Friend] I have a new favorite product. I picked up some Bar Keepers Friend the other day, after it had been recommended for restoring the shine to a burnt stainless steel cooking pot. Experimentally tried it on the old stainless steel electrical plates in my new place, and the effect was striking. Stains, oxidation, and whatever else pretty much just wiped right off, leaving a mirror-like finish. I've never had had a scouring powder do quite that on metal.

Their low-budget video on YouTube, which they embed in their home page, is great in how painful it is. It's details, like the exposure of a few different brands, the independent lab that would let itself be used in an ad, the tall girl's clasped wrist (hands in front convey honesty, and avoiding most gesture gives a feel of unpolished, regular person, but the gesture to the guy looks practiced), the guy acting like a boring scientist/technician, the obscured view when sponge is being aligned on top of the tile and is placed there manually, the human influence potential in that the sponge starts on top of the tile, no nod to the fact that this is one (poorly controlled) data point rather than scientific experiment, the continuity error in the sample tiles when they cut from the results shot to the guy pretending to work while the girl gives the pitch, and the lab faucet that looks like it hasn't had a going-over with Bar Keepers Friend in a while. The lesson: don't let the cute brunette suspend your observational and critical thinking skills. Also, that the BKF can packaging is taller than Comet's when they're side-by-side helps the ad video people: they can put both products in a shot with pretty much equal prominence, and you still get the message of BKF being superior.

Painting and Kids

 [photo of living room being painted] There are not many practical uses for children. But as I started painting the living room today, on perhaps the last warm weekend before winter, it occurred to me that one way kids could earn their keep is as junior laborers. "Now, Bobby, take the rag and bucket of water, and Sally take the paper towels. We're going to play the painting without a good dropcloth game. Whenever you hear Daddy mutter a very bad word to himself, that's your cue to rush in and scrub up the paint drops off the floor before they dry. It'll be fun!"

Then, after five hours of painting, plus emergency paint-removal Supercuts visit before their mother sees them, I will notice how the paint is drying to not match the original cream color for which we'd carefully had a match mixed. And I will notice that, hidden at the bottom of the paint can, is a dense concentration of pigment. Then the children will ask where the paint splatters are, because I am muttering very bad words. I will say that I am speaking telepathically to Mr. Hooper at the hardware store, who I saw take this can out of the paint shaker after returning from helping another customer, but who apparently never turned on the paint shaker.

Sally will pipe up in a helpful manner, "But, Daddy, didn't you notice a spot of oil or pigment or something on top when you opened the can, prompting you to reseal it, shake it, and then stir it with a screwdriver? It seems that you were in a position to guess that the paint had actually never been mixed, and to take corrective action, such as more rigorous stirring, or halting work until the hardware store reopened on Tuesday. So, logically, perhaps you share some of the blame?" Not exactly beaming with pride, I'll respond, "Dear child, I'll treasure your precocious devil's advocacy and wise counsel always. Just as soon as you graduate from college, find gainful employment, and reimburse me for tuition."

Then we will go get ice cream, during which I will coach the children on what to say when their mother sees the now-white living room and their missing bangs.

For more on the utility of children, see, Advent of the Twelve-Year-Old as Force for Good (2009-01-16).

Update 2011-10-13: I have rescued the painting job, and it's now a nice cream color. Painting was necessitated by contractors ripping out windows to repair some problem in the building's wall. Landlord had an excellent plasterer reconstruct the framing around the window, and then a general contractor prep and prime. I volunteered to do the finishing painting. Now for the other room...

Smart Strip, PS3, IKEA CORRAS, Velcro

 [closeup photo fo part of Smart Strip mounted on underside of shelf, with inset photo of front of table with PS3 on it] For powering on and off my minimal Sony PS3 setup, using the game control (and using the PS3's built-in shutdown timer), as well as for not having to fine-tune the volume control every time I turned it on, I got a Smart Strip SCG4. This is a surge protector power strip that also has "slave" AC outlets, that turn on and off based on whether the "master" device is on.

The problem remained of a clean way to mount the Smart Strip on the IKEA CORRAS table. On real wood, a couple wood screws would be the way. However, the EINA CORRAS table is made of veneer over a mostly hollow paper-like interior, kinda like some interior doors, but lighter and cheaper. I thought of making a bracket held on by a large glued surface on the underside of the table, or by friction. I also thought of putting machine screws through the table, perhaps in sleeves, with some kind of large flange on either end. Then there was wall anchors.

Then I remembered I had a large adhesive Velcro pad pair on hand. Sure enough, Velcro seems to have worked for mounting the Smart Strip out of sight, on the rear underside of the shelf. The Velcro also gives it some wiggly resilience when being tugged upon, when table is rolled too far away from wall. If the Velcro adhesive is ever torn off, I can explore one of the more drastic options for mounting.

Incidentally, I don't condone Sony's repeated "I have altered the agreement; pray I do not alter it further," nor its general authoritarian attitude. Eventually, I'll probably replace the PS3 with a PC that can do Netflix and games. But the PS3 is a neat little piece of hardware, and pragmatically works pretty well. Also, using high-end technical computers called "workstations" when Sony introduced the PS, I thought that "playstation" was the perfect name.

See also PS3 and PC Speakers (2010-10-16).

Update 2011-11-01: The Velcro adhesive held for about a month, but pulled off the wood eventually. Was worth a try.

Update 2012-07-26: Using Gorilla Glue on both sides of the Velcro a few months ago has worked so far.

Earlier to... 2011-09

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