Chris X Edwards

Tour De France coverage in miles is not Tour De France coverage. #NBCSports
2022-07-08 15:47
Does inhaling insects count against being a vegetarian?
2022-06-15 06:35
Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet was written 35 years after Brooke's The Tragical History Of Romeus and Juliet. So, in effect, a reboot.
2022-06-03 08:05
Love the phrase "live off the land" applied to malware strats, using a system's core tools. My work strives for this. No deps is effective!
2022-05-15 09:20
Nervous hearing the "Report suspicious activity" announcements in the NYC subway because I was not staring at a telephone.
2022-05-10 10:24
Blah Blah
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Bike Problems Normal People Do Not Have

2022-08-19 08:42

pitlock.jpg

This is a Pitlock locking seatpost binder. I purchased it from Veloplus in Wetzikon in 1999. In 2001 the middle rack stabilzer bracket was added when my rack finally ripped the last of the four factory mounts off the frame. I’m not sure I’ve even removed the seatpost in 15 years. Importantly, with a locking binder, neither has anyone else.

I Like New York

2022-05-15 23:19

Is it just me or is it ironic that this icon of liberty is decorating a crowd control barrier?

IMG_20220512_062042_SoL.jpg

Well, let’s not worry about that. I’m just having a bit of fun with New York’s (technically New Jersey’s) famous tourist landmark (visible in the background).

I am presently in New York, the state, but last week I took a business trip to the place people think of when they hear "New York": New York City. The last time I was in New York City it was for an "interviewcation" in the middle of winter. That was around six years ago. The city seems to be changing quickly and I think for the better.

Where I live in Buffalo, NY is pretty nice. While bike riding on the paths along the canals I often think, "This place is so nice, it’s almost Dutch." I was quite surprised to get that same feeling in the City version of New York.

This is me waiting for the subway at just after five in the morning.

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That is why there’s nobody around and why I’m not wearing a mask. Although The Plague seems to be lightening up a bit, in the subways of New York City, people are still into masks even though state-wide they’re not required. For every person I saw not wearing one, I saw a person wearing two masks. The apprehension is understandable with a zillion people packed into these tunnels and the memory of one of the worst death tolls from the early months of The Plague. Still, the fact that trains run all over the city is something NYC is famous for, but it is also something quite ordinary in most European countries. Like the Netherlands.

The last time I was in NYC I remember it reeking. The problem is that smoking is not generally allowed in the buildings. So even if a small minority of the population smokes, if they all must come outside to do it then every alley will be filled with smokers 24/7. Since I can smell someone smoking a block away, the whole place was awful. But I didn’t get so much of that this time. Maybe some critical mass of people have quit. But what is funny is that if you walk four or so blocks, one of them will smell very strongly of marijuana smoke. Apparently it is full legal in NYC now. I saw someone rolling one on the train. I’ve never been a smoker of anything but I have to say that if it’s going to be weed or cigarettes, I’ll take weed any day. You know what other city you randomly smell weed smoke in? That’s right, dumb tourists in Amsterdam.

The best thing about the Netherlands is the magnificent scenery. And I have to say, NYC is boasting some excellent scenery of its own. And I’m not talking about skylines here — I’m talking about the people. Dutch people as a whole are far and away the most attractive people in my opinion. But the inhabitants of NYC are really putting in a good effort for second place. (Can they overtake Buenos Aires? I think so!)

What’s the secret to NYC’s attractive people? Well, it’s not this hilarious sign I saw.

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New York City has excellent food. How can you have a certain kind of restaurant if it sucks and there are five excellent ones within a few blocks? (Answer: tourists. But you get the idea.) I found a magnificent bakery that was almost Dutch quality. You’d think that all that great eating would not do great things to the attractiveness of the people. But it turns out to not be a problem.

The fact is that humans in general are attractive when there are no pathological physical problems. NYC may have a slight edge over Holland because of their diverse population. But the sad fact is that Dutch people and NYC people are just people — they look so damn good because they haven’t been pummeled so hard with the first world’s most devastating ugly stick: the automobile.

Cars are shit. They ruin almost everything. If you think of a prototypically "nice" place (a beach, Disneyland, the top of a mountain) there are no cars. If you think of a place with a lot of cars (a beach in Texas, Anaheim, parking at a ski resort) it is a dystopian nightmare where you literally must fear for your life at every moment. But cars make people ugly as well as the locale.

And NYC is finally catching on to the truth about cars. Manhattan is an island. There is no possibility of sprawl. The land is very valuable so an amazingly stupid communist plot like free parking is easily seen as the mistake it is. NYC obviously has some city planners and they have finally figured out how induced demand works. They know they can’t build a 26 lane freeway. And I think they’re starting to figure out that they do not want to! All over the city I saw examples of intelligent city planning. Accommodating 8.8 million people driving private cars around a dense city is just not going to be a thing. Other options must be explored. Instead of doing what most cities do as they lose the battle with giving cars literally everything, NYC has focused on alternatives. What a concept! I saw many, many streets/avenues where car lanes have been removed. They have been replaced with dedicated bus lanes, and in a shockingly Dutch turn of events, bike lanes.

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And these are not token crap ones. They really seem serious about this. This is a city for people, not cars. I’m thoroughly impressed. Most NYC people do not (yet) bike like Dutch people, but they do walk. I figure they easily walk 15min to their subway stop, down then up some stairs, 15min to their office, up some stairs, and then all that in reverse, maybe some more walking for shopping and daily life. If the average NYC person walks 30 minutes a day, (and I bet it’s more) that’s enough to make a drastic change in the vitality of the population. And I’m not just talking about wealthy Manhattan people. They’re probably worse off because they can afford more car travel!

By avoiding the stroad strip mall monoculture that is, with rare exceptions, every other place in the USA, NYC is a very interesting place. Definitely worth visiting. This visit was the first time the calculus of living there became something I could actually imagine. It’s not a cheap place, but it may be worth it. I like New York!

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Do Not Crucify Trees

2022-04-15 16:41

axe.jpg

But the dangerous piece of iron hardware in this photo that I want to highlight is actually the nail. My bucking cut was less than an inch away from it. I do not even want to think about hitting that with a chainsaw.

Think twice about putting steel fasteners into trees. They don’t like it and neither does the guy who will clear it away decades from now.

Review - Termination Shock

2022-03-21 18:41

My short review for the impatient: Neal Stephenson’s latest book Termination Shock seems more reserved than some of his well-known works but it is a thoughtful, well-constructed story about a topic that may turn out to be far more important to our species than what nerds usually focus on.

That topic is geoengineering but before looking closer at that, I’ll quickly run through my fiction scoring matrix.

  • Concept - Good and probably some forward thinking about a discussion this planet will soon be having.

  • Style - It’s Neal Stephenson so it reads like my own inner dialog. YMMV.

  • Organization - Good. Neal always sells words in jumbo packs so you have to be good with that.

  • Character names - Excellent and well thought out.

  • Believable characters - Definitely. And from such weird disparate (I hesitate to use the word "diverse" but that too) backgrounds.

  • Natural dialog - Excellent.

  • Plot complexity - I’d say the complexity per page was low. But there were a lot of pages.

  • Plot resolution - Good. Lots of far flung action brought together and no characters you care about left hanging.

  • Erudition - If the thousands of random interesting (true AFAIK) facts in this book were on the same topic, it would be a textbook.

  • Gems - Neal is capable of more here. They were mostly set up slowly. I’d say the gem count per page was low, certainly low for Neal, but again high just on volume.

  • Immersion/world building - I was on Wikipedia quite a bit trying to get a clearer idea of what was really a thing and what Neal had made up. So that’s pretty good.

  • Believable tech - If you can fool me into having nothing to immediately contradict about fake future tech, that’s unusual and impressive.

  • Imagination/creativity - It’s easy to forget how artful this work really is because it is presented with a kind of literary photorealism.

This book is pretty new, from 2021, and on page 351 Covid-19 is mentioned as well as other recent political events. On page 355 Covid is mentioned again and one of the main characters is what the CDC (shyly) and I (boldly) call an "R" ("recovered" in what were formerly uncontroversial epidemiological models). What I found fascinating is that this character has lost his sense of smell even after otherwise recovering; but in the story he gets some slight restoration of his ability to smell things, but only important things that might represent danger, e.g. smoke. What’s strange about that is that I actually had olfactory hallucinations of smoke — specifically — last year for a few months. It seems fine now but very weird for sure. So strong bonus points for covering a detail like that with such eerie accuracy.

On page 158 we learn exactly what genus of billionaire one of the main characters is ("ten billion"). I can’t help but think Neal’s penchant for writing about billionaires comes from some of his fans who make researching that demographic a bit too easy. Or worse, who own the world’s largest bookstore.

But on page 178 the billionaire character changes the mood slightly with, "[Some engineers are] happy working on shit that’s actually getting built, even if it ain’t going to Mars with some fucking billionaire. We gotta terraform Earth before we get distracted by Mars is my philosophy."

I’m wondering if that philosophy might reflect that of the entire book. This certainly has very precisely been my position with respect to all nonsensical Mars colonization chatter. But there did seem to be an emphasis on specifically pursuing tractable feats which can actually be accomplished.

As with most Stephenson books, this one was filled with cultural curiosities from around the globe. The "sport" of gatka is featured and I got to learn what that is. This is on brand because Neal is always very interested in exotic ways people can hit each other with sticks. He’s kind of right in the sense that we’re probably hardwired to take such events pretty seriously.

I think for me what was most interesting was the fact that I personally knew a lot of the book’s locations pretty well. While some of that was nice (the Netherlands, Lago di Como, etc), there was, unfortunately, a lot of Houston, Texas. There was much detail about the rivers, lakes, and bayous of East Texas exactly like ones I’ve canoed, swum, and even scuba dived in. I once lived right next to the White Oak Bayou, a major tributary of the waterway the story spends a lot of time on, and I know that kind of scenery all too well. I also know this kind of scenery described on page 339: "He was an Anglo Texan, but apparently not the sort who hated nonwhite folk — or if he was he did a good job of hiding it…" My first thought when reading that was, ok, that still needs to be spelled out I guess. Noted.

Some of the tech was weirdly personal too. On page 417 a map is mentioned of dots in the ocean that turn out to be "weather buoys". There is a good reason I demonstrate such a map in my SVG notes. As someone who once was in charge of scooping up all of the data from thousands of weather buoys (technically "drifters"), that kind of felt personal too. But Stephenson covers a lot of ground; he probably talks about some coincidentally idiosyncratic thing from your life too.

Finally, let’s look at the big tech topics. First is drone madness. This story features a lot of Deus Ex Drone action. Which is fine. We can vaguely take it as given that drones are neat and do surprisingly clever things. But my feeling about the whole topic is summed up on page 670: "[Important character] was in a quite ambivalent frame of mind about the whole drone thing. On the one hand, this whole operation would have been unthinkable without them. On the other hand, batteries." Exactly.

I think drones are a lot like 3d printers in that people are quite excited for the wrong reasons about the wrong things. (With 3d printers, the real interesting development is cheap motion control.) With drones, I think the amazing development is really the incredible power densities we can get with all portable electric systems today. The complex but obvious integration of a lot of other standard components completes the almost magical-seeming abilities of drones. So a lot of drone magic. Which is fine.

The main tech showcase and really the core of the book’s theme is geoengineering — specifically trying to throw sulfur into the stratosphere to somehow mitigate/neutralize the excess carbon our planet’s climate is struggling with. The idea would be to simulate volcanoes which have done this and cooled the planet. Is this a good idea? The book doesn’t take a clear position on the matter other than it probably should at least be thought about by science fiction authors. Certainly a central theme of the book was that this kind of thing is controversial.

I’m no good with this kind of chemistry but my first thought on hearing the proposed solution was to wonder if sulfur was one of the causes of acid rain — Wikipedia tells me that sulfur dioxide sure is and that seems somehow relevant. But again, I’m no expert.

I have to give Neal credit though for writing a perfectly professional novel about this topic and giving it some attention. As we continue to screw up the climate, we may need some kind of drastic measures while we wait for our species' collapsing fertility to cure the problem.

How Not To Name Files

2022-03-05 07:39

I was doing some quick operations on a couple of images in /tmp/ and I ran this simple ImageMagick command to quickly see exactly what their dimensions were.

$ identify /tmp/*jpg

Simple, right? I was pretty surprised to get this output.

/tmp/image1.jpg JPEG 520x473 520x473+0+0 8-bit sRGB 28564B 0.000u 0:00.000
/tmp/image2.jpg JPEG 446x307 446x307+0+0 8-bit sRGB 43772B 0.000u 0:00.000
identify-im6.q16: unable to open image
`/tmp/systemd-private-dc07b3ba0d8d4a5bb3f871d462a4c015-systemd-logind.service-9rFjpg':
Permission denied @ error/blob.c/OpenBlob/2924.

What’s going on there? Well, it seems that this is a flaw in Systemd, the double edged sword of Damocles which tries to make Linux less Linuxy (unfortunately).

In its internal housekeeping, Systemd has created a temporary file in a public temporary file location that ends in a random string. And in this case, luck runs out and today’s file’s random string is 9rFjpg, which of course ends in jpg, just like the well known photography file format.

Although Systemd is both irritating and useful, I don’t mean to single it out. This is really a problem with the unix mktemp command which uses the C mkstemp() function from stdlib.h. So this is a pretty deep problem.

You could argue that I should have done what DOS people were trained to do and specify my shell glob as *.jpg. But why? If we’re going to have extensions be a thing at all (and trigger all kinds of automatic responses), surely we should respect them and not write random strings to the end of filenames. (Especially if we’re delimiting parts of the filename with dashes instead of periods!) That’s certainly my opinion and I’m posting this to encourage others — and my future self — to consider this a mistake and not make it. But given this problem, when doing serious scripting it probably does make sense to be defensive when specifying files by extension and insist on the period too if possible. That may not actually solve all problems of this type but it should cure most issues with default mkstemp() filenames.

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