Sunday, January 21, 2018

Like a good British detective story?

Like a good British detective story?  I do, as does Debbie.  Between the two of us, we've probably read some or all of the oeuvre of every British detective story author of the past 150 years.   I have a new favorite, though.  I've just finished the second of Robert Galbraith's “Cormoran Strike” series.  I'm about to start the third.  The first two were simply wonderful.  They don't suffer from any of the usual deficiencies in character development, plot continuity, or implausible dialog that plague most works in that genre.  These are detective stories that can legitimately be called literature, and the first two had me riveted from the first page.

I haven't mentioned something that is perhaps the most surprising aspect of these novels.  “Robert Galbraith” is a nom de plume – the author's actual name is ... J. K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame.  You might be excused for immediately thinking that the Cormoran Strike novels are juvenile or young adult fare, but they are not – they are decidedly adult books.  In fact, if you have kids I suspect you really wouldn't want them reading these. 

Highly recommended!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

I've got the government shutdown blues...

I've got the government shutdown blues...  No, not really. :)  If I don't look too hard at the details, I kind of like the idea of the government being shut down – because it means they're spending less money.  Not no money, because the government's idea of “shutdown” is more like “slow down by 3%” than anything a normal person would call shutdown.  But hey, wasting 3% less of my money is better than not doing so!

Anyone under 40 years old or so may not realize that there was a day when the U.S. government never did shut down.  The first one happened in 1980.  They've been coming with increasing frequency in the past few years, as the two political parties play their brinkmanship games.  They're one of the more obvious symptoms of our broken polity, and every time I'm reminded of that (as this morning), I get to pondering about the tiny role that the ideals this country was founded on play in our current federal government.  You'd need a powerful microscope to find an ideal anywhere within a mile of most senators or representatives.  That's very sad, for me, at least, and that's from whence arise my blues this morning...

The past few days I've been hugely enjoying the fruits of Debbie's last baking spree: the most wonderful lemon ricotta cookies (at right).  This batch we're actually keeping, instead of giving them away.  There are a dozen or so left in our freezer.  I'm having two each morning with my tea, so they'll last for a while.  The ricotta makes the cookies moist and soft, while still having a pleasing body.  They are lemony throughout, but there's a dollop of lemon frosting (the off-white stuff) on top of each cookie, and a sprinkle of yellow sugar crystals.  The sweetness is perfect for me: just enough to offset the tang of the lemon, without overpowering it.  They are so good!

We woke up this morning to about 3" of wet, gloppy snow – and we've had another inch since.  The snowfall appears to be petering out, so I'll likely be out plowing and shoveling shortly.  Oh, joy.  :)

Meanwhile, I've been working away on my Sisyphus table software, and I've made some nice progress.  I've got the code in good enough shape now that I've published the GitHub repository for anyone who would like to use it.  I've licensed it under the very permissive MIT license, so should any nut like to incorporate it in another project, they can.  I've still got a lot more that I want to do with it, and no doubt many bugs remain, so that code will be changing.  But anyone who can program and who wants to play with their Sisyphus table is welcome to take it out for a spin.

The photo at right shows my table after an “erase” is almost complete.  If you look very closely at the track visible there, you'll see that it's actually a giant spiral, not a series of concentric circles as you might expect.  The command to make that spiral is very simple:

      0.0 0.0
      -628.3185307179587 1.0


That simple command tells the table to start at 0 radians, 0 distance from the middle, and draw a line to -628.xxx radians, 1.0 distance from the center.  If you're not familiar with radians, I'll make it easy: that many radians is 100 complete circles (one circle equals 2 times pi radians).  The "-" tells it to move the ball counter-clockwise.  A distance of 1.0 from the center just means all the way to the outside edge.  So, in English, that command tells the Sisyphus table to draw a spiral from the center to the outside edge, taking exactly 200 revolutions to do it.

Why did it trace a spiral, and not just a straight line?  Because the Sisyphus table moves the ball using a polar mechanism, not a Cartesian mechanism that most people are familiar with (sometimes called an XY table).  The Sisyphus table has an arm underneath it that can move a magnet (that moves the ball) closer to or further from the table's center, and that arm can be rotated all the way around the center.  That lets the table put the ball anywhere it wants to, but moving the ball in a straight line is an unnatural act for it.  It turns out that the “natural” movement for a polar mechanism is ... a spiral.  More specifically, an arithmetic (or Archimedian) spiral – which is exactly the shape of the spiral on that erase.

I just added the ability for my software to draw circular arcs on the Sisyphus table.  That motion is also an unnatural act for the table, so what I'm really doing is drawing a series of short spirals that differ infinitesimally from an actual circular arc.  The photo at left, below, is the actual result of my first effort on the physical Sisyphus table.  The image at right was generated by my software, emulating the physical table.  This lets me troubleshoot the track generation before I go to the time and trouble of actually drawing it on the table.  To make the trace at left took 9 minutes, 33 seconds.  To make the image at right took 4 seconds.  That's a considerable time savings when iterating during track development!


Friday, January 19, 2018

Of search fails, wipers, socks, and snow...

Of search fails, wipers, socks, and snow...  How on earth shall I tie all those notions together?  The easy way, of course – by not!

Google has apparently decided to stop indexing my blog – searching for posts that I know I've made shows no results.  This is a bit surprising since this blog is hosted by Google's Blogger platform!  I've no idea what rules Google uses when deciding what to index or not index, but I do have two standout suspicions.  One possibility is that the web is getting so damn big (over 130 trillion pages as I write) that even Google can't keep it all indexed.  If they could index a million pages per second (and I'm pretty sure they can't index anywhere nearly that fast), that would take over four years to index.  The obvious strategy there is to index fast-changing sites more frequently, and that strategy used to be why blogs tended to be well-indexed.  That strategy isn't good enough these days, so I don't know what they do anymore.  The other possibility is that non-progressive voices are being systematically suppressed by blocking them from indices, including both Google's and Twitter's.  There is some persuasive evidence of that from the more popular conservative or libertarian web sites.  Possibly my site is being caught up in that.  If that suppression is actually occurring, it's political meddling that I'm very sorry to see – but not particularly surprising, knowing the rather evident progressive leanings the leadership of most of our big technology companies...

One of my favorite things about owning a Tesla Model X is the way new features appear like magic, every time there's a software update for the car.  Those updates don't happen on any particular interval, but the average seems to be about two a month.  In one of the recent updates, the automatic windshield wiper feature was included.  The car already had the sensor installed, but the software to make it work hadn't been finished.  Now it is, and the automatic wipers work great!  Unlike other automatic wipers I've used, so far I can't seem to predict when they're going to trigger.  When enabled, they've always worked before I would have manually triggered them, so I'm very happy with the new functionality.  Because I can't predict the triggering, though, I'm guessing that there's some AI (a neural network) involved, and it's using “rules” created by the training they did – and nobody has any clue how it works.  That sort of thing doesn't bother me at all when used to control something as innocuous as windshield wipers.  Controlling the steering and brakes is a whole 'nother beastie...

I know I've written about my Wigwam socks before, but searching for that post gives no results.  I've been very pleased with these.  I bought my first few pairs three and a half years ago, and then more a year and a half ago – and I have yet to wear a hole in a single pair of them, nor has the elastic lost any of its sproinginess.  At this point I'm certain the extra cost was more than made up for by their longevity – without even considering the extra comfort and warmth they provide.  Highly recommended!

We are to be slammed with rain and snow today, if we're to believe the weatherman.  The current radar image (at left, click to embiggen) lends him some credibility.  During the day it should be well above freezing, so it will be rain and hopefully it won't freeze on the ground to make a sheet of ice.  This afternoon and tonight, though, our temperatures will dip below freezing, and that rain will turn into snow.  Oddly, the forecast doesn't include an actual amount of snow, so I'm not sure how much we're likely to have on the ground tomorrow morning.  Almost certainly it will be enough that I need to break out the snowplow again...

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Well, I blinked...

Well, I blinked ... and three days went by without a post.  I'm all astonishment!

I'm feeling much better than earlier this week, in fact, just about back to normal.  I have no idea what evil virus had me under its spell, but it wasn't much fun.  That got me to wondering how much of our body is actually other organisms (hopefully, just bacteria, fungi, and viruses).  A little googling got me an answer:
The human body contains trillions of microorganisms — outnumbering human cells by 10 to 1. Because of their small size, however, microorganisms make up only about 1 to 3 percent of the body's mass (in a 200-pound adult, that’s 2 to 6 pounds of bacteria), but play a vital role in human health.
I'm not sure I like that answer very much! 

We had my brother Scott down for a visit yesterday.  Debbie made us a spectacular fresh cod, brown rice, and asparagus dinner – with fresh-baked ricotta lemon cookies for dessert.  Afterwards we all played the Mexican Train game, and (as usual) Debbie trounced us.  That's her favorite game, I think because she can routinely beat me. :)

In between other things, I've been beavering away on my Sisyphus table software.  I've been working on a version that uses a much more understandable mental model for drawing.  I hope to have usable results from it in a day or two.

We just took delivery of two new cat trees.  After unpacking them, we installed them in our sun room – and the cats were all over them immediately.  Cat trees, unlimited food, and sun!  Doesn't get much better for a cat!  :)

Our forecast calls for snow tomorrow afternoon and evening, and below-freezing daytime temperatures for several days afterwards.  Looks like I'll be plowing on Saturday morning.  Later next week, there are warmer temperatures but significant chance for more snow.  Winter may have actually arrived...

Monday, January 15, 2018

Fixed Teslas and delicious cod...

Fixed Teslas and delicious cod...  Well, yesterday our Tesla repairman showed up, and within a few minutes of the promised noon appointment, too.  This fellow's name was Colin, and he had a companion: his dog, Anya (a Belgian Malinois, colored much like the one at right).  Both Colin and Anya were about as friendly and pleasant as one could imagine.  She's an 18 month old female, and at first she was sitting in Colin's truck.  Our three puppies spotted her from our back yard, and were whimpering to see her.  I told Colin that Anya was more than welcome to join our puppies, and seconds later the four of them were running around our backyard like mad, having a grand old time.  Anya was doing “puppy bows” to initiate play, which Colin said she rarely did.  That was a treat for both of them.

Colin had the replacement part for my Model X, and he did the work while I had it parked in front of our garage, in the sun.  Most of the work involved tugging and yanking various plastic bits and carpets out of the way; there were only two screws he needed to remove.  The part itself was much larger than I expected – the bit that broke off turned out to be just a small protuberance on a roughly foot-tall plastic bracket that was mostly hidden under the interior coverings.  It doesn't look strong enough to be supporting a floor; I won't be a bit surprised should it break off again, and I don't think Colin will be surprised, either.  Anyway, in under an hour from start-to-finish the car was fixed.  No charge; apparently this is covered under either my warranty or my service agreement.  That makes me happy, as I think this is pretty clearly a design deficiency.

Debbie purchased some fresh cod at Macey's on Saturday, and yesterday she baked it using a recipe she's made a couple times before.  It was delicious!  She also made brown rice and peas to go along with it, which all together made a simple, but really satisfying meal.  It still blows me away that we can so easily get fresh fish up here – so much better than the grocery stores in the San Diego area...

Yesterday I felt a bit worse from whatever bug it is that I have.  This morning I feel quite a bit better, thankfully.  We took a drive up Blacksmith Fork Canyon, hoping to spot some moose.  Didn't see any moose, but we saw lots of deer (very fat and healthy looking, they were) and a bazillion elk up at Hardware Ranch.  Unfortunately we also passed two dead cats, hit by cars, on the way in.  On the way home we stopped with our four-way flashers on, and Debbie carried the bodies off the road.  Both of them were clearly pets; one had a collar and the other was very well-fed (read: rotund).  That was sad.  We see that all too often around here, as very few people keep their cats indoors...