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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in scrottie's LiveJournal:

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Thursday, September 3rd, 2015
3:05 pm
Data Science vs Stats
Half way through Coursera's Data Scientist track from John Hopkins, I hit a wall. Brian Caffo tried to introduce stats but what happened is he covered some requisite knowledge, briefly, which is fine, moved on to one advanced topic, and then had quizes about other more advanced topics he didn't touch. Time permitting, I could have learned subjects on my own then to try to keep up, but instead I bailed and took stats through UoPeople. I'm going in to the second course now. The course materials for that, http://pluto.huji.ac.il/~msby/StatThink/IntroStat.pdf, are often less than helpful, being mired in terminology that's not clarified. My previous introduction sidestepped that. It's helpful to see a subject again, but it's frustrating to do that and be thrown by how it's taught. Feedback I gave in the Intro CSCI course was reportedly forwarded along to the people who maintain the course materials; in Stats 1, no such promise was made. Part of me wants to say, "This is only a drill. Had this been a real CSCI curriculum based on Open materials, a github repo would have been provided, and pull requests evaluated and accepted as situations warranted". Unexpectedly getting 56% (completely bombing) a couple of graded exams with UoPeople warned me that something was going horribly wrong. I'd started watched Khan Academy lectures, https://www.khanacademy.org/math/probability/statistics-inferential before then, and decided that they were quite fantastic. The lecturer introduces the "intuition" before the math, explains things in long form long enough to really get confident with the process, and is just nice to listen to. Honestly, he sounds like Neil deGrasse Tyson. He may be. It's wonderful to listen to him. I could see his students crushing on him.

So, UMN College Algebra (because I'm a highschool drop out who passed the GED) brief introduction to stats (I think I've been racking my brain to figure out where I've seen this stuff before) -> Coursera's Data Scientist Track -> UoPeople -> Khan Academy. I am not a smart man.

Coursera didn't really introduce stats, though they introduced a lot of stats ideas, which actually is a pretty good introduction -- having people play with more and more data while introducing them slowly to more statistical ideas. I thought it would be useful to document some highlights from my notes from those classes.

Indexing dataframes by row, column; reading data from URLs; from the console; head(); markdown syntax (documentation is important!); figuring out which packages you have installed; installing R packages; R Studio; loading R code with source(); search() for figuring out everything that's available in the current scope.

"Data are values of qualitatives or quantitative variables, belong to a set of items." Data vs population. Qualitative vs quantitative values. "Data is the second most important thing; most important thing is the question you're trying to answer." Lots of philosophical gems from people who actually do lots of research. "Often the data will limit the question or enable it. You may have to modify the question or answer a sub question. But having data can't save you if you don't have a question."

Descriptive vs exploratory vs inferential vs predictive vs casual vs mechanistic statistics. Experiment design; A/B testing; inference; variability in samples; differences between large vs small groups; selection and sampling; confounding variables; spurious correlations; "correlation does not (automatically) mean causation" (I know, but I really like how they presented it, by building up to it through other means with examples); fixing variables; statifying; randomization in studies/trails; building prediction functions; false positives, false negatives, true positive, true negative, sensitivity, specificity; replication; positive predictive value; accuracy; problem of a pretty good level of accuracy on a rare disease.

Good experiments are reproducible, measure variability, generalize to the problem, are transparent in code and data, don't confuse prediction and inference, don't "data dredge" to find spurious correlations.

Atomic classes in R; creating data of different types; special values in R (Inf, NaN, NA, etc); object attributes such as names(), dimnames(), dimensions, class, length, metadata; comments; autoprinting; c() builds lists; implicit type coersion; explicit coersion; dealing with and viewing warnings; matricies; cbind(); lists; factors in other data structures; table(); data frames; names(); quantitative functions on boolean values; subsetting rows and columns.

Reading data of varoius formats: CSV, plain text, managing memory usage with selective reading, dget() and dput(); bzfile(); file(); url() again; open() for read/write/append; reading and writing will be revisited again and again.

for and while loops; random walk; repeat, break; functions; anonymous functions; rnorm(); sd(); args(); paste(); environment(); creating objects; matrix operations such as %*%.

Date processing; comparing dates; different date types; converting between date types; parsing dates of different arbitrary formats; emitting dates and times in arbitrary formats. weekdays(); months(); quarters(). Sys.time(), strptime(), as.POSIXlt(), etc.

Stopping here; this is part way through the second class. I should blog more about what I did cover in the data scientist courses... I think it's a cool intro.

Edit: I've been using the time that I'm walking around Lincoln to listen to/watch Khan Academy lectures, or read chapters and other course materials for UoPeople. I cite stories of R's little sister as my inspiration for walking and reading.
Saturday, August 22nd, 2015
2:45 pm
Lumino City
I played through this yesterday (and late into the night).

It was very pleasant. Very pretty, and interesting. The models are a sort of papercraft/elegant but minimal construction from misc parts, done well.

It's completely on rails. You can't and don't go backwards. You can't get lost. And they intentionally designed it so you can't get too stuck. Before he vanishes, your grandfather gives you a book of plans for the city that you can consult. This was good, because the puzzles were really dumb. Good puzzles are hard, but silly math puzzles and putting gears on so they fit and putting pieces in so they fit are about the lowest of the lowest common denominator of puzzles. I really wanted to see the story unfold and explore but I did not want to do most of the dumb puzzles. Some required a little problem solving and thinking and I put up with a bit of that. Meant for a younger audience, I guess. More on that in a minute.

I don't want to say anything about the story except that it was very thoughtful and well worth while. Things unfolded in an interesting way. That felt nice.

This is a result of me sometimes throwing $5 at the Humble Indie Bundle when there's something that looks interesting. This was one of them. It's kind of in the style of Myst, except not first person.

Part of the game is that many of the machines are broken and ways are impassable. Puzzles dealt with things like completing circuits and assembling gears. The main character is a gurl. I could see where this would be a good game for young kids, including girls, to send the message "yeah, electronics are cool, and you're smart enough to figure it out", except all of the puzzles and machines were abstract. None of them related to what you were supposed to be fixing in any meaningful way. Okay, well, almost none of them. There's no element of trying to figure out how to, for example, fix circuits based on feedback from what your changes to it do to the world around it. It's all or nothing -- doesn't or does work. Almost none of the puzzles involve problem solving in the context of the world, unless Myst. Something doesn't work, then you click something, and it's a puzzle that has nothing to do with anything really. I'd really have liked to have seen them do better.

This city, while nifty, represents a massive failure in transportation planning. No one can get anywhere. The people who live there have extremely meager ways to eat anything and if anything breaks, they starve to death. There are probably hundreds who already starved to death. You should not have to get someone to shoot a grappling gun with a rope in order to get out of your tiny piece of the world.
11:44 am
Adventures in shitty offbrand cell service: FreedomPop
Another exercise in estimating when to cut loses but after sticking out previous attempts too long, I'm thinking "one more hour, then it's time for the rubbish bin".

FreedomPop (.com) is a Silicon Valley startup advertising free cell service. I put the "Silicon Valley startup" before the "free cell service" on purpose.

It was a big red flag when their site insisted on having my email address before "checking coverage in your area". Immediately after that, it refused to let me navigate anywhere on it without clicking "no thanks" on a free data offer, except the "no thanks" didn't actually let the navigation continue. It dropped me back on the previous screen. That was huge red flag number two. Always interested in deal (with a long history of getting cheap cell service that is soon discontinued, leaving me again without cell service and again shopping), I google'd to try to figure out if it was a scam (which it obviously was) or maybe just maybe it was legit but really, really extra shitty. A number of articles, including one at PC Magazine, claimed it was legit but calls were problematic. Other sites had similar reviews.

They of course used my email address and emailed me an offer for a $40 phone. I gave them my credit card number. A few hours ago, a new looking Kyocera Hydra Icon Android phone showed up. The quick start guide says "Activation: If this phone was purchased at freedompop.com, it is already activated. Turn it on and start using it." It was. I turned it on and spent an hour battling a barrage of urgent dialogs. Holy fuck, Android is like Windows. Various apps urgently required permission to location data and other things. Updates were non-optional and had to be fetched now, before I could even set up WiFi, so it started chewing through data (at least that works...?). Five times it asked if it could download the same update to Visual Voice Mail -- I couldn't say yes to other things because that dialog kept pop-ing up over it. Okay, it's like Windows with a tiny screen and a complete lack of overlapping windows. Maybe someone who knows how to do Android could effectively cope with this but I found the user experience to completely suck. Eventually after trying and failing to use it for a while (can't make calls, can't disable any of the things assaulting me), it informs me it has a software update and needs to reboot. It spends 15 minutes doing its system update and reboots, and nothing is changed. The phone app still doesn't work -- I get a recording saying the number I'm calling is invalid. I can't find any other dialing app. The VoicePop app just links me to various standard Android things after getting past its main screen which is just diagnostic information. There is no other dial app that I can find and the built-in one doesn't connect me.

Okay, maybe I need to active it. I head to the site. It's still trying to force me in to the free data thing. At great effort (another hour), I manage to figure out that there are no phones or service on the account I used to order the phone with. I'm also unable to active it using the MEIM on the box and in diagnostic screens on the phone. This also means that I have no way to cancel the premium trial I agreed to that costs $6/month.

If there is anything real here, why did they hide it behind all of this garbage and fake stuff?

Firehose of fail.

Update: Turns out, to avoid spam, I gave them a really wild fake address. I remember now. They rejected spam@slowass.net, which is a real email address (that I don't read unless I'm looking for something specific). So I gave them webmaster@hotmail.com. They took that. That made for an interesting conversation with phone support.

Googling for tech support, one of the listed things to try was to make sure that the app was installed and at the latest version, with a link to an app that was not installed. Since there were three other FreedomPop apps already installed, I figured a missing app wouldn't be the problem. I stilled that, and now it gets calls to its number and can send and (very very slowly) receive text messages, via text over IP and voice over IP. I still can't dial. The app that installed vomits with an error about having the wrong messaging app installed, with a link to the right now. Installing/uninstalling/re-installing/rebooting doesn't fix the error. It's confused and I don't want to dick with it any more.

The free data appears to be working. I installed cSipSimple and configure it for Callcentric. I guess I could install Google Voice too, but I try to keep the GOOG at arms length, even though they own my main phone number (I'll move that somewhere else if someone else finally introduced speech to text for voicemail and for bloody crying out loud even just lets me block numbers -- how the fuck is it that we live in 2015 and no other carrier has this feature?). So I can use callcentric to make calls, and it gets calls on its VoIP thingie that FreedomPop does (the free FreedomPop plan doesn't have real cell voice or real cell SMS; it's both over IP).

So this is kinda of useful as is. It's what I was thinking would be nifty with the Kindle, which came with a tiny amount of monthly free data, indefinitely. Good for emergency/extremely infrequent use. Easier to lug than Windows (never got VoIP running on Linux; it's a sea of broken Debian packages and Linux sound problems).

I commented on it being a startup; they've taken a big pile of investor money to try to buy customers by offering a product at a loss (free!), ignoring the fact that it's fantastically buggy and not at all ready and all of the reviews are terrible. This has Silicon Valley written all over it. If they're offering me a free 500 megs of mobile data per month, I'll gladly help them go bankrupt, but I don't think they're selling anyone on switching their main line to this. Or maybe, like Google, they have an infinite amount of money to throw at it and they'll happily stay in beta for four years.

Now, if they wanted to do something brilliant, get customer service stuff all running web based, like Net10 tried to do, but make it actually work, which Net10 never got near, and then create plans that don't try to rip off the low end at the expense of the high end or vise versa, like everyone else is trying to do. Let me have a line for $6/month with cheap minutes, billed to a card, with configurable usage alerts, and cheaper and cheaper prices the more I use without having to pick a plan or manually refill or buy minutes/megs in advance. Make it a good deal across the board. There's an avenue to invest in technology wise and a pricing gimmick. And honestly, that's what I was looking for before I gave up and compromised on this.

Edit edit: The test call I made with Callcentric was speakerphone, and I didn't think anything of it. Today I tried to make an actuall Callcentric VoIP call. Holding the phone to my head, it stayed on speaker phone. Plugging headphones in to the headphone jack, it stayed on speakerphone.

http://gcn.com/articles/2013/08/15/kyocera-hydro-edge.aspx

Turns out, this is the feature. I accidentally got, for $40, the loudest phone ever made:

"In a Sonic Receiver setup, there is no sound hole for a speaker. Instead, the entire touch screen becomes a sweet spot for audio, transmitting all sounds as vibrations that are carried by body tissue directly to the eardrum and inner ear. Bottom line: it means you can hear audio even in very loud environments.

We tested this out by heading over to a sports bar, the loudest place we could find on short notice. Sure enough, there were several games on TV, as well as music blasting over speakers and the din of conversations. Just talking with a person sitting at the same table required a raised voice. However, talking on the Hydro Edge was effortless. Once the phone was raised into position next to the ear, it was like everything else faded away. The maximum decibel level when using this technology on the Edge is 100, which is the equivalent of hearing a jackhammer from about six feet away."

Fuck. Right now, I'm wishing for introvert warning labels on things. Warning: This product contains obnoxious loudness and anxiety inducing levels of public obnoxiousness. Not recommended for introverts.
Monday, August 10th, 2015
8:55 pm
Anti-learning Stats
I can't remember, but I think College Algebra spent some time on stats. I enjoyed it. Since then, though, I've found it frustrating. I did well in Physics, which was far more formula heavy, so this has been confounding. Organizing my notes before the final, I'm slowly continuing to get a handle on why I'm confused.

This is from the first practice exam:



They can't decide from one question to the next whether something is a population. First it is, then it isn't. I know that it's a population in the sense that it's being sample from, but I know that it isn't a population in the sense that itself doesn't include all of the data. Where's the checkbox for that reply? So, large amounts of energy are going towards trying to mentally model the state of mind of the people who wrote these things.

It isn't immediately obvious from the screenshot, but the plotted data was the 10 minute data sampled each morning -- the exact same data/population/whatever.

Stats questions are hell bent on being ambitious and clever. This is amusing because they've essentially engineered tests that are highly specific but not the least bit sensitive at all. They are able to screen out people who don't understand stats, but they're ineffective at identifying people who do understand the stats in question.

This observation partially inspired by an email exchange with the instructor who keeps observing "rounding errors" in my assignments. Since I've been pasting in the entire IEEE single precision floating results from R, this is confounding. The assignments say that you "may round up to two places". The IETF has documented, published meanings for "SHOULD", "CAN", "MAY", "MUST". "May" has a very distinct meaning from "must". I'm not clear on the situation (the exchange wasn't completely coherent) but it seems like failing to round when I "can" round but apparently maybe "must" round. The test software is perhaps failing to detect correct answers.

I suspect that I'm also screwing myself over by attempting to interpret the meaning of questions instead of mindlessly applying formulas according to a mental probability assessment of how often that formula gets applied.

Then there's what R does versus what the book says. We were given the formula for outlayers as (translated to code):

qnorm(0.75) + 1.5*(qnorm(0.75)-qnorm(0.25))
qnorm(0.25) - 1.5*(qnorm(0.75)-qnorm(0.25))

But sometimes the quiz answers instead use boxplot()'s output as a reference. That's problematic, because boxplot() uses IQR from "Returns Tukey's five number summary (minimum, lower-hinge, median, upper-hinge, maximum) for the input data", using the median and "upper-hinge", and also uses the 1.5 constant multiplier for establishing an outlier boundary:

https://github.com/wch/r-source/blob/e0104656589073490591cefb12997178362feb7a/src/library/grDevices/R/calc.R#L23

https://github.com/wch/r-source/blob/e0104656589073490591cefb12997178362feb7a/src/library/stats/R/quantile.R#L127

In some of the problems, you get different answers depending on whether you do it by the book or just consult the output of boxplot(). There was no warning about that difference of implementation, or differences of implementation of the quantile algorithm between R and the book. This leaves the student guessing which implementation they're using today. There is a pattern. Right after the concept is introduced, it's by the book. After a while, it's by R. So I'm guessing that the final will be R's version... but that's only a guess.

Likewise for variance. There's a -1 correction that's supposed to be applied when computing the variance of a random variable. Quoting the text:

"Notice that the formula for the computation of the variance of a random variable is very similar to the second formulation for the computation of the sample variance. Essentially, the mean of the data is replaced by the expectation of the random variable and the relative frequency of a value is replaced by the probability of the value. Another difference is that the correction factor is not used for the variance of a random variable."

But, soon after the concept is introduced, they forget they ever introduced it (as indeed I'm sure most students did) and just start using R's var(), which doesn't apply this correction factor. Energies spent discerning between variances on sample distributions and populations ultimately just shot me in the foot. Much of the energy of analyzing my failures in practice quizzes was reconstructing stuff like this.

So, un-learning. Thinking you understand something but being told that your answer is wrong has a powerful destabilizing impact on actual knowledge. This situation should be avoided by educators. And herein seems to lie the major problem with computer grading. The student doesn't know when to stand up and say "sir/ma'am, I think this thing is wrong"*, and no human is looking at the replies. This keeps errors from being fixed.

Trying to scale up education to huge levels, cheap, through automation is hard. I'm still grateful for instructor feedback, even if it is often off the mark. I'm sure that when I complained about differences in how R computes outlayers versus the book, the reaction was that I'm the one who is nuts and spouting non-sense. Still, better than UMNC instructor who couldn't reply to anything or even update due dates on assignments from when he taught the class three years ago. The first time I saw that my assignment was late I freaked a bit, until I noticed it was very nearly three years late. Then I got used to it. Could you expend any less energy?

Or maybe the subject of this should be "over-analysis and atrophied human instincts fucks computer nerd, again". I am seriously worried about bombing the final after bombing the last quiz, scoring a whopping 56%.

On the plus side, I'm learning how to do this stuff in R (using built-in functions or with algorithms from the book), even if they aren't able to detect that I am.
12:01 pm
The RV Idea
When R got a post-doc offer in Texas years ago now (a story unto itself), I proposed getting a small, used RV to make the trip and to allow us time to find a non-wheeled place to rent that met both of our requirements (ignoring the contradictory requirements, such as me wanting a large lawn for reasons, and R hating grass and mowing). This turned into a grass-is-greener scenario in my head, where I keep thinking that I should have done that (ignoring that hypothetical situations don't actually produce data, and the superiority of the idea is mere conjecture). [1]

R is now planning a stint in CA and I'm still kind of drawn to the idea. After CA, she'll likely be moving again. Besides moving with it, I ponder the idea of parking myself in a rural Iowa trailer park, like my father before me did, where rent is cheap and things are quiet. Continued stalling out of consulting work makes that seem like a not unlikely contingency plan. Maybe a degree will make me marketable, but it'll be a few years before I find out. Also in the "for" court is prospects of on-site consulting. I never hear about work in the Tempe area. Oxford International, for example, got my information and worked very hard to get my attention, but all of the short term consulting gigs they throw at me are always in remote places. In a bad stretch, I had them submit several; I was not interviewed for any of them, suggesting that I do need to finish the degree. So besides the rural Iowa trailer court idea, I have the idea of do a Trapper John MD thing and using it to help attempt on-site jobs (which seldom actually work out for me, but that's another story). I'm also on the hook for operation: help my mother move, yet again, but she's only moving within Minneapolis.

So there's an insurance against future turbulence idea, and camping outside/inside of a town while looking for housing aspect.

Then there's the "against" court: Like man-eating bears, people who don't own them hate them. This thread talks about the slim and dodgy prospects of urban camping: http://www.rvforum.net/SMF_forum/index.php?topic=27888.0. Most cities don't allow overnight stays in vehicles on roads, and RVs are red flags.

"The folks usually show up in very old RV's all dented and with broken or missing windows and just make the whole neighborhood look trashy. Problem is if someone wants to do it in a well kept RV....where do you draw the line?"

I'm not the first person to flirt with this idea. Like hippies and gypsies before us, Perl programmers can't just go trashing out neighborhoods.

Tempe exempts small RVs of 21 feet or less, but Lincoln makes no such distinction, requiring them in a fenced back yard and not near anything: http://www.lincoln.ne.gov/cIty/attorn/lmc/ti27/ch2767.pdf California is likely similar.

RVs can be parked on the road in Lincoln, but apparently all vehicles parked on the road must be moved significantly every 72 hours: http://www.lincolnnewsmessenger.com/article/rv-boat-parking-ordinance-enforced.

This means that an RV would spend most of its life in a storage facility.

It's easy to see why class-B motorhomes, that don't look like motorhomes, are popular. These are the conversion vans and the like that many people do use as daily drivers.

So, you're going to buy a small motorhome. The class-C dealies are the truck-front or van-front jobbies. I'm partial to Japanese engines. Honestly, someone in my hood in Tempe has a Toyota Dolphin complete with "NOT FOR SALE" sign in the front window, and I've been coveting it. Dolphin and Toyota are both companies; they collaborated on this thing. The Dolphin is based on a 4 cylinder Toyota Hilux/Tacoma. The Warrior is newer and is based on the 6. There were other collaborations throughout the 80s, but for some reason, the Dolphin version is somewhat synonymous with small Toyota RVs. Compared to American vehicle based RVs, they get better gas mileage and are tragically underpowered: http://www.rv.net/forum/index.cfm/fuseaction/thread/tid/21424905/.
But they're also much loved, with a cultish following: http://www.tundraheadquarters.com/blog/the-toyota-mini-motorhome-a-quirky-rv-with-a-strong-following/.

In fact, they're hard to buy, as I'm discovering. I observed essentially no Craigslist listings for them in the southwest. Coming up north was a chance to perhaps act on this idea, but I'm finding that the prices on Craigslist listings are largely a self perpetuating myth. Someone puts something up for $1,500 because similar ones were put up for that price, but then it sells instantly. Adding confusion to this, people often don't take their listings down, but none of the listings that are up are answering calls or emails, suggesting they sold (some people are bad at taking listings down). Others are up for a week but someone has a down payment on it as soon as its up and only finishes the transaction (busting it cross country) a week later.

Craigslist was leading me to think I could pull this stunt off inexpensively, but it seems like the listings in RV Trader magazine might be a more accurate indication of the price you would have to pay if you don't watch constantly for a new listing so you can immediately call and buy it sight-unseen, and those prices are approximately what the thing listed for when it was brand new in the 1980s (sadly, they stopped making these things come the 90s; word is that Toyota had to admit that their small trucks were a bit too minimal, without adequate brakes or power, and highway speeds got much faster).

The newer V6 automatic transmission Warriors go for a lot more money.

So, perhaps like the "I should buy a house in Detroit... I can totes afford that!" idea, this idea might actually be impracticable.

I've got an offer of $2,000 on one right now, from '81. The little old lady who owns it says her mechanic told her not to drive it above 50mph, which makes me wonder if he knows something I don't, but consensus on the forums is that attempting to go faster just burns lots of gas and works the engine without accomplishing much. She always says it "sometimes uses oil", which could be related to her using it extremely infrequently and the valve seals being dry, or it could need a top-end job. I don't know how much oil it uses. I resisted the urge to ask her to put the RV on the phone. Within a day of listing it with all of the wrong keywords (I found it searching for "Toyota" in the RV section of CL), she had an appointment and a sight unseen offer, so I offered better than that offer, also sight unseen. It sounds like not much works in it, and she also joined the "stick in a window A/C unit meant for houses" club that seems to be so popular. It's got 42k miles on it, which I was skeptical of, but paying $6 for a title history, I find that there is no reporting of odometer readings because it's more than 9 years old, but she is the second owner, and it's never left Iowa. Major pro for this is low mileage and little old lady driven, and the major cons are appliances in poor condition and "sometimes" burning oil. Besides that, it's an older model, and Toyota got more HP out of the engine in later years.

Footnote 1 (as long as the main article): Princess TinyCar happened instead, eventually, during the Texas era, with the intention of simplifying the extremely expensive and convoluted travel logistics into and out of B/CS, and she demonstrated one major downside of motor vehicles: the engines sometimes go ka-boom, especially when they're older and high mileage (and designed for an extremely low price point car). There was some half baked idea there that it could pull a small camper, and indeed its previous owner had a camper he pulled with it that was both a form factor designed for motorcycles and collapseable, like the Coleman models. (Men often have dumb ideas and insist on realizing them.) Exhaust remains unreplaced, the minor (in the sense that it should be easy to fix, not in the sense that it doesn't leak much, because it does) oil leak remains un-fixed, and confidence in the re-built engine hasn't been established. PTC pulling a camper would be a 35mph affair at best and after having seen the 8 inch diameter clutch disk and primary drive which is made of a motorcycle chain, I'm thinking this would be a bad idea. Interestingly though, the 4 cyl Toyota Dolphins are rated at 100hp, and PTC's little 750cc air cooled two cylinder engine is rated at 67hp, which I interpret to mean that PTC would burn herself out in short order, revving fast with inadequately air floor struggling to pull something that weighs as much as she does. A 5% downhill grade would be certain death.

Footnote 2: I dislike automatic transmissions. They're less efficient, tend to go out, are expensive to fix, delay making needed shifting decisions, and I don't smoke, so I need something to do with that hand.
Tuesday, May 19th, 2015
6:04 pm
Schedule Decision
This is probably a slightly iterized version of the last post in here. I'm dumping this here to reduce the urge to dump it on people who try to have normal conversations with me.

UoPeople, which charges $50 for each 3 credit class (plus a one time $50 application and that's it) has 5 terms per year. Students can take 1-3 classes per term. Taking two classes each term works out to exactly 4 years. The one major downside (besides lack of interesting advanced classes) is that you can't transfer credits in.

Next UoPeople term ends right before UMNC's Fall 2015 starts. I did the FAFSA and was estimated $3,000 more than I was estimated last year. According to the UMNC financial aid office, this is supposed to be enough to cover full time attendance for a year, but estimates for non-optional course materials (I got different text books on loan from roommates or purchased completely different ones in the same subject cheap on half.com) and fees, it wound up not covering going half time for one semester. To graduate from UMNC, I have to complete 30 credits there including the last 20. I don't know what future financial situations will be (last year sucked) but I suppose I can pass over this chance at funding and continue to evaluate the option year by year.

There are various possible strategies to doing this:

Continue at UoPeople, ignoring liberal ed requirements but completing core curriculum requirements, and then using credits from St. Cloud Community College, UMNC, and UoPeople to get in to a two year masters program. That could shave a year off of doing an entire four year degree from scratch at UoPeople, but would cost money. It's also not really the direction I've started, as I've continued to be all over the place with what I take.

Transfer UoPeople credits into UMNC on an ongoing basis and then do my last year (30 - 8 = 22 credits) at UMNC. Since advisers have to sign off on this and I can't manage a conversation with any of them more articulate than you'd expect when you're trying to mug someone, questions remain. I should try to get my St. Cloud Community College credits assigned to test the waters here, though I'm loathe to block the hours and hours off of my schedule to do this. Attempting to do this on-site is probably my best bet. Right now, it looks like I have to apply for re-admission to attempt this.

Continue at UoPeople, hoping that they eventually begin allowing the transfer of credits in but accepting that they might not.

I'm still eying taking COBOL at Richland Community College online, and I'm still kicking myself for not spending a semester in Tucson, taking classes from Ralph Griswold, when we on this earth were still blessed with him. I had FAFSA info sent to Richland too. COBOL may be my best bet for gainful employment and I have no idea when this last online COBOL class is going to vanish forever. It looks like if I pay for the class out of pocket, it'll cost about $600, before course materials.

I guess technically another option would be to transfer everything to Richland and then finish an AA degree in one year of full time work. Since places like State Farm are rejecting me out of hand apparently for a lack of degree, this might actually do the trick. UoPeople does AA degrees too but the lack of being able to transfer things in puts it two full time years out instead of one.

Taking classes covering material I already know will take a lot less time than doing new stuff. At UMNC, it feels like a waste of money, but at UoPeople, I feel like I'm sharing the benefit of my US education with students from all over the world and just chatting about things I know and hardly spending money at all. Short of being able to test out, this is what getting a diploma should be like for people who do things like read text books and research papers and technical manuals at home for fun.

The major two impetii for going back to school was difficulty finding a job, and the benefit of the Pell Grant from having made little money. UoPeople reduces pressure to take advantage of the Pell Grant at the same time I'm trying to make ends meet and complete other projects.

Coursera is still in the mix. I've been doing one off, one on. Each is four weeks but it looks like there's a two week break between them in one case. The quickest I could complete this if the pattern continues is the end of Nov, assuming I only take one at a time.

The most compelling thing I wanted to take at UMNC was stats, but I have that up next at both Coursera and UoPeople (Statistical Inference vs Introduction to Probability; pretty sure the latter will be redundant with what I did in grade school/high school/working in Vegas).

Having taken one Coursera Data Scientist class off, I've been focusing on the new paying gig and giving UoPeople 1.5 days a week. I critically need to catch up on money and stockpile enough that I can work full time on the wG Kickstarter project again. Catching up will take a few months at high intensity. By then, Fall will be starting again. So I need to take Fall off from anything else too serious.

I'm thinking 0 classes at UMNC, 1 at UoPeople, and Coursera for Fall. That keeps things around 1 day/week.

COBOL at Richland is in the Spring. I might do that out of pocket. Using aid money would require taking two. Also, if I use Pell Grant/Ford Loan money there in the Spring, I can't use it elsewhere (ASU? UMNC?) in the Fall.
Sunday, April 19th, 2015
4:47 am
Greece, Corrpution, and the Red Faced Capitalists
Greece has been in the news recently for its austerity measures stemming from what's been dubbed the Greek Debt Crisis. Greece's financial plight has publicly been blamed on many things, such as social expendiatures, but in all regards, Greece was below the European Union average on social expenditures: “Greece spent 19.3% on social expenditure in 2000 and 23.5% in 2011. The equivalent figures for Germany are 22.1% and 26.2%. The EU average in 2011 was 24.9%.” (Reynolds, 2015, “The Greek Economic Crisis, The Social Impacts of Austerity. Debunking the Myths”)

This left austerity measures to attack an already weak working class. In exchange for loans, the EU and IMF required so called austerity, involving slashing social spending, raising taxes, cutting pensions, and deregulating labor markets. The results devastated Greek's already weak economy, making recovery difficult or impossible. (BBC, 2012)

Reynolds cites results of a vicious cycle of recession, unemployment that more than doubled in the first three years of austerity, reaching 25%, with more than half of the population between 15-24 unemployed, more than 65,000 small businesses closed in 2010 alone, migration of the young educated set out of Greece, deteriorating public health, and record suicide rates. (Reynolds, 2015)

Peter Eigen, former Director of the World Bank Office for Africa, in his TED talk, argued that humanitarian efforts are systematically passed over by the World Bank in favor of projects that make purchases from major first world corporations, leaving the developing nation saddled with the debt, and that this happens because of corruption and bribery. (Eigen, 2009) This non-profit NGO, Transparency International, seeks to create multilateral national legal bans on bribery to government officials in developing countries by established corporations in first world nations. (Eigen, 2009) Surprisingly, paying foreign bribes was not previously illegal.

Greece's pattern of borrowing seems to fit this pattern of corruption: "It is common knowledge that no area has contributed as heavily to the country's debt mountain as arms expenditure. Had Greek defense spending been at a level similar to other EU states over the last 10 years, it is estimated it would have made a saving of 150 billion Euros -- in other words, more than Athens had to pay for its last bailout." (Mather, 2015, “The debt is illegitimate”)

The Guardian quoted Papadimoulis, a former Greek MEP, as stating that Greece was continuing to engage Germany and France in arms deals even as deep cuts were being made to health programs, supporting assertions from Mather that even as the crisis was beginning to unfold, European countries were still selling “aircraft, tanks, artillery, and submarines” to Greece. (Smith, 2012) (Mather, 2015)

Smith points out that Germany has benefited significantly from Greece's military spending, with nearly 15% of German's total arms sales being made to Greece. France follows with 10% of their military exports going to Greece. “If there is one country that has benefited from the huge amounts Greece spends on defense it is Germany ..., its biggest market in Europe.” Smith cites 2 billion Euros for unnecessary and unusable submarines as an example. “That’s three times the amount Athens was asked to make in additional pension cuts to secure its latest EU aid package.” (Smith, 2012, “German 'hypocrisy' over Greek military spending has critics up in arms”)

Even with the latest cuts as of 2015, Greece spends twice as much of its economic output (4% vs 2%) than the European Union average. That plus a lack of transparency of dealings leads to widespread speculation of collusion between IMF officials, Greek politicians, and French and German defense contractors (Smith, 2012).

Relief efforts that put money in to the pockets of politicians to be paid back by the working class, both in GDP output and in austerity measures, are inherently prone to abuse. As such, negative impacts are unavoidable. Secrecy of the terms of the deal coupled with lack of Greek government transparency give workers few options but to deem their government corrupt and oust it.

When corrupt officials collude with corrupt lenders, leaving a disaster, what recourse do the working people of the country have?

Joseph Hanlon argues that bad faith action by lenders and government officials should not be binding to the people of the nation, and cites as an example the US Treasure's handling of international debts run up by Iraq's now ousted government to buy military hardware. Hanlon further asserts that creditors should accept risks when dealing with corrupt governments. (Hanlon, 2006)

In reference to Iraq's borrowing, the US Treasury Secretary, John Snow, said on television, “Certainly the people of Iraq shouldn’t be saddled with those debts incurred through the regime of the dictator who is now gone”. (Snow, 2003)

Indeed, Argentina has declared some debts illegitimate agreements made by bad faith actors, and defaulted on them. (Rosenheck, D.) Ecuador has also examined their debts and declared some illegitimate with a threat to default on them. (Denvir, 2008) Dan Rosenheck argues that “The primary reason that states honor their debts is so that they can keep borrowing.” (Rosenheck, 2014, “Argentina’s Rational Default”) Argentina recovered well in rebuilding and attracting foreign investment once forgiving itself of debt and ending the cycle of borrowing (Rosenheck, 2014), so perhaps not being able to borrow is not such a bad thing after all.

If the German and French representatives of international aid organizations were able to look past unnecessary arms sales, hope remains for international aid organizations in the form of direct aid. If we are willing to accept that excessive numbers of excessively risky investments, especially to corrupt governments, can temporarily deplete world investment capital, and accept the ensuing temporary investment stagnation, we have the fascinating option of using rescue funds instead to feed nation's peoples. If we can accept that we've been approaching the situation exactly backwards, valuable infrastructure may be maintained through downturns. Speedy recovery would be assured by education, affordable state water, and medicine maintained even as capital markets dry up and investors are left red faced by their own recklessness. But that's okay -- no matter how poor their investments and how corrupt the dealings, we won't leave them to starve.

Bibliography

1. Reynolds, L., Feb 13, 2015, “The Greek Economic Crisis, The Social Impacts of Austerity. Debunking the Myths”, www.globalresearch.ca/the-greek-economic-crisis-the-social-impacts-of-austerity-debunking-the-myths/5431010

2. BBC News, staff writer, Nov 27, 2012, “Eurozone crisis explained”, www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13798000

3. Eigen, P., TED, Nov 2009, http://www.ted.com/talks/peter_eigen_how_to_expose_the_corrupt

4. Mather, M., 2015, “The debt is illegitimate” http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1046/the-debt-is-illegitimate/#2

5. Smith H, April 19 2012, The Guardian, “German 'hypocrisy' over Greek military spending has critics up in arms”, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/apr/19/greece-military-spending-debt-crisis

6. Hanlon, 2006, “‘Illegitimate’ Loans: lenders, not borrowers, are responsible”, http://www.open.ac.uk/personalpages/j.hanlon/3WQ_illegitimate_debt.pdf

7. Snow, interviewed on “Your world with Neill Cavuto”, Fox News, April 11, 2003, http://www.foxnews.com/printer_friendly_story/0,3566,83939,00.html

8. Rush, C., Feb 20, 2004, Executive Intelligence Review, "Argentina vs. IMF:
`Test Issue' for U.S. Leaders", http://www.larouchepub.com/other/2004/3107argentina_imf.html

9. Denvir, 2008, Alternet, “As Crisis Mounts, Ecuador Declares Foreign Debt Illegitimate and Illegal”, http://www.alternet.org/story/108769/as_crisis_mounts,_ecuador_declares_foreign_debt_illegitimate_and_illegal

10. Rosenheck, D., Aug 7, 2014, The New Yorker, “Argentina’s Rational Default”, http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/argentinas-rational-default
Thursday, April 2nd, 2015
7:53 pm
Google Voice and my mother and printers
"Transcript: Hi Scott, This is Linda Mom and I have a friend over here
truck. I've given the ego like a really great printer West Palm. It
also has wherever I can Do photographs whatever and she cannot get it
to line up with the computer. I have not, she's going to talk to you
if you could give us a call back. Maybe she can set it up with your
help. If you're available. Please give me give us a call back soon as
you can. I think they'll be here for another half hour or so. Thanks.
God bless you, hope you're doing well. I know, okay."

I think what this means (extrapolating from the past ("extrapolating" is my word of the month)) is that someone is offering my mother a printer and she can't figure out how to plug it in to her (fairly recently replaced) computer (which now runs Linux because Apple hardware loves to die a premature death; planned obsolesce from the software and hardware angle?).

When she moved out of her house a number of years ago and my brother and I were helping her, we discovered that one of the first floor closets and a *pile* of printers in it. No shit. A pile of them.

My brother and I had each given her printers for Christmas. She got them from other people too. After she moved into her seniors apartment, we set her up with another printer.

World, meet my mother, Destroyer of Printers.

If she says she wants a printer, just say no. Save a printer's life. She's the fucking Michael Vick of printers.
Monday, November 3rd, 2014
3:23 am
BIOL
Registration for Spring 2015 opens tomorrow. So, yeah, I started doing the plebeian undergrad thing again. No, I don't already have a degree. I got distracted with the dot com boom and other things. Working for failed startups and doing tame large company IT stuff, I did a wretched job of actually cashing in on it, but that's the story of my life.

Anyway, I have to figure out what I'm doing now.

I'm supposed to be working on a Kickstarter, but I kind of got my ass handed to me between ongoing TBAG projects and UMNC Biology and Physics (online). I wound up with five chapters of biology reading the other week. Officially, there were two, and one of the labs required another one, and the suggested text and the one I own don't line up exactly.

This made me wonder if UMNC is covering way more stuff than ASU would have, so I asked Google.

http://www.public.asu.edu/~rball5/BIO%20181%20syllabus%20Fa2012.pdf

http://gurney.faculty.asu.edu/uploads/pdffiles/BIO.182.syllabus.Spring.2012.pdf

At midterms, we've covered all of that, except for one thing, and more. One of those looks really fluffy. Still left:

Human anatomy and physiology, Human Genetics, Cellular respiration, Photosynthesis.

I also suspect that we're covering stuff in more depth than ASU would. Methylation of DNA by histones (epigentics) was on the midterm exam.

I also don't see anything about class projects in the ASU syllabi.

Physics has been similar.

None of this is especially difficult, but with sometimes two labs a week and small avalanches of chapters, it's time consuming.

Doing UMN again was partially motivated by a general disgust I have for ASU. I almost never see the students studying whereas other places libraries are wonderful places of quiet and concentration. They drive like aggressive spoiled richkid asshats. Bikeability on campus is just sad, with 2.5 of the boardering roads not having bike lanes and looking like highways and almost nil bike theft enforcement and a complete lack of bike paths on campus.

It was also motivated by a strong sense, from talking to compsci people at ASU, that their undergrad academics are badly subpar.

Then there's the perk of online education that I can travel around and be non-committal to the entire state of Arizona.

I don't know if the quality of instruction is better or worse, but Minnesota suffers a glut of prospective students due to some extremely attractive state level student subsidizes: they pay half of your education, outright. My strong impression from the computer science classes I took there, and the anthro, was that they'll happily slaughter half of a freshman class, and in fact have to. Since anyone can afford to go, academic standards are the only barrier. So they just don't hold back. Even with enormous stadium lecture halls and classes starting at 7am, they can't fit everyone.

But I might be wrong and this might all be bias.

But US News and World Report lists Crookston as #1 in regional schools, in the Midwest Region:

http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/rankings/regional-colleges-midwest/top-public

Whereas ASU is ranked #129 nationally:

http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/asu-1081

I have no idea what they're ranked on, but I'm going to stick my head in a hole and assume that the one and only criteria is kids coming out less stupid than when they went in.

But really, I'm probably just fooling myself. When you get off the beaten path a bit, I'm sure ASU has tons of great classes for the more ambitious students.

https://webapp4.asu.edu/catalog/courselist?s=CSE&t=2131&hon=F

Yup. Nothing as mindblowing as what they were doing at the UMN TC back in the day, with some of their AI courses, their robotics program, or the computer/biology crossover neurobiology stuff, but still, lots of stuff that might actually be educational.

Oh, fun fact: You can take PUBH 1003 Alcohol and College Life (UMTC) online at UMNC. Learn how to say "no" to parties without ever leaving your room!

http://onestop2.umn.edu/courseinfo/viewSearchResults.do?campus=UMNCR&swapNow=N&searchTerm=UMNCR%2C1153%2CSpring%2C2015&searchSubjects=****|****&searchCatalogNumber=&searchOnline=true&searchOpenSections=true&searchLowerStartTime=00%3A00%2C12%3A00&searchUpperEndTime=23%3A59%2C11%3A59&searchMon=true&searchTue=true&searchWed=true&searchThu=true&searchFri=true&searchSat=true&searchSun=true&searchLowerLevelLimit=0%2C0xxx&searchUpperLevelLimit=9999%2C9xxx&searchLowerCreditLimit=0&searchUpperCreditLimit=9999&searchInstructorName=&searchCourseTitle=&searchSessionCodes=ALL%2CALL&campus=UMNCR&search=Search

I was really, really supposed to have been working on the Kickstarter. It's important to maintain goodwill and keep momentum up from volunteers who got involved. I also need to finish my work there before I run out of money.

I made some good progress on the installer, especially before classes started, adding OSX support and making stuff a lot more robust.

I was kind of hoping that grants, federal loans, and tax rebates would cause a (temporary; loans) cash influx to make time less critical, but if there's a temporary influx, it's small.

To minimize loan debt, I was thinking of taking all of the dumb computer classes I'm way overqualified for all at the same time and taking a 30 credit load (credits at the 13th are free), but even the busywork associated with that would take a significant amount of time and the Kickstarter badly needs love. Maybe I'll do that in the future.

Actually, looking through this, only 21 credits worth of stupid easy computer stuff are being offered for spring, and fall probably isn't much better:

SE 2050 Introduction to Programming I
SE 3060 Data Warehousing and Mining
NT 3215 Information Assurance and Systems Security
ITM 3110 Microcomputer Operating Systems
ITM 3020 Introduction to Management Information Systems
HI 3020 Introduction to Health Information Systems
CA 1040 Web Site Development

The degree program is "Information Technology Management". I'd love to be able to say I graduated with a computer science degree but extremely few places off that online and those that do either don't federal aid or have miserable curriculum and cost too much money. CSci masters seem to be a lot more common now. One option there would be to finish the prereqs like biology and physics, take a few more fun upper level computer things, and then try to get in to a masters program somewhere.

Anyway, it's time to register again. I could try to pick out two 3 credit really easy looking classes. I could decide that even that's too risky and I really need to 100% focus on the Kickstarter, but I can only use the educational opportunities tax credit for four years and it's prorated to expenses, so I'd be walking away from some money there. I could stubbornly decide that taking easy classes which cost money and teach little are not a good use of time or money and steadfastly plunge forth into taking math or even more bio.

I like to make things as complex for myself as humanly possible, so one thing I was thinking about was applying elsewhere next year with the goal of transferring the credits back in to UMNC. Some rural midwestern community colleges are online and one of them has a COBOL class:

https://people.richland.edu/fbrenner/syllabus/cs161course.html

That starts to look pretty attractive compared to the Information Technology Management offerings at UMNC:

https://webapps-prd.oit.umn.edu/courses/courses.jsp?campus=UMNCR&designator=ITM

In part (large part, actually):

ITM 3110 - Microcomputer Operating Systems
(3.0 cr; A-F or Aud, spring, every year)
Introduction to DOS, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows NT, and UNIX operating systems. Single-user vs. multiuser systems, control operations, utilities, hardware, application software specifications.

ITM 3130 - Messaging Systems
(3.0 cr; Prereq-3110, NT 3120; fall, every year)
Unified messaging types such as electronic mail, fax, voice. Server software such as Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes, Novell Groupwise. Internet standards for messaging.

ITM 3190 - Topics in Information Technology Management
(3.0 cr [max 9.0 cr]; Prereq-SE 2050, SE 3050; fall, spring, every year)
Topics may include cold fusion, asp, net, other emerging platforms.

That's assuming that I actually try to get this particular degree from them, which might be a rational thing to do for a person not hell bent on making their life difficult. If I wanted to make things more interesting, I could take other stuff, ignore the program I'm in, and try to transfer later, or else engage in plea bargaining for some kind of a degree after having taken all of the wrong classes.

But I already know DOW, Windows 3.1, and Windows 95, so I could just fork over some cash and glide right through and basically just buy myself some credits, which is exactly what I didn't want to do at ASU.

In case you also didn't get the memo, Microsoft has been working very hard to rid the world of Windows XP. I'm not sure what they'd say about a university that's teaching future managers about the wonders of Windows 3.1.

Though honestly there's less complete trash in here, NT:

https://webapps-prd.oit.umn.edu/courses/courses.jsp?designator=NT&submit=Show+the+courses&campus=UMNCR&admissionURL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww1.crk.umn.edu%2Fadmissions%2F&oneStopURL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww3.crk.umn.edu%2Fonestop%2F&applicationURL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww1.crk.umn.edu%2Fadmissions%2Fapply%2Findex.html

And here, SE:

https://webapps-prd.oit.umn.edu/courses/courses.jsp?designator=SE&submit=Show+the+courses&campus=UMNCR&admissionURL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww1.crk.umn.edu%2Fadmissions%2F&oneStopURL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww3.crk.umn.edu%2Fonestop%2F&applicationURL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww1.crk.umn.edu%2Fadmissions%2Fapply%2Findex.html

One of the things UMN Crookston does for online programs is a hospital information systems masters, so those classes are available to me with exciting options such as HSM 1010 Health System Management/Medical Terminology. That sounds like the rote learning jackpot.

So, as soon as I figure out what in the everloving heck I'm trying to do, then I can figure out which classes to take. Candidates include:

MATH 1150 Stats
SE 3060 Dating Warehousing
COMP 1011 Composition
SPCH 1101 Public Speaking
COMP 3431 Persuasion
COMM 3857 Tech communications
COMM 4900 PR
CRJS Introduction to Criminal Justice
HSM 1010 Health System Management / Medical Terminology
SE 3700 Project Management
NT 3215 Information Security
IBUS 3500 International Business Management
HSM 4210 Health Care Law and Biomedical Ethics
HLTH 1062 First Aid and CPR (2 cr)
ENGL 3001 World Literature

That's not listing most of what I'm actually supposed to take:

http://www1.crk.umn.edu/academics/online/itm/curriculum/index.html

Accounting. Bleah. Took it in highschool.

There's also the possibility of taking more stuff from other UMN campuses (Morris, Duluth, Twin Cities) but Crookston is the budget option. Morris only costs a bit more.

I guess right now it comes down that if I take a couple of easy classes, I'll likely be ruining my scheme of taking all of the computer related classes all at once to save money on credits, so maybe I should take the spring semester off. Urgh. Over analyzing things make deciding hard.

Or I could bail on this plan for the time being and re-allocate the love back to Coursera. The Data Scientist track was pretty awesome.
Wednesday, September 10th, 2014
6:37 pm
Growing up, I knew lots of adults who tinkered with engines. Some were really good at it. Others just knew some basics. I've been enjoying talking online to the old guys who work on Honda N600s and Z600s. It's a bit more common in Texas, but for the most part, people just don't do that any more. I read a statistic the other day that Tempe is among the top 20 safest places because motorists only get in an accident once every ten years. I guess there isn't much point to learning how to work on your car if it's just going to get wrecked.

On CRAP the other night, as often happens, people were praising their smart phones to me, telling me how it does everything they want. That's because you're not doing anything interesting. You're only doing things that 100,000s of other people do. Otherwise no one would have bothered to make an app to let you do it. If you only do things you can do on the smartphone, you're never going to do anything original or interesting, except perhaps write a novel or take a cool photograph. Not only do you not contribute to the basic ecosystem you're contained in with that phone, but anything too edgy for mass consumption is locked out of it.

Trying to do TBAG stuff, I spend a lot of time talking to people and encouraging them to do various different things. Right now, the cops are staking out the sidewalk along University Ave right in middle of campus and ticketing bike riders on it. The riders use it as a multiuse path like the rest of the paths (not sidewalks, paths) on campus. These students are coming to TBAG for help, as if we can magically make the cops stop. Well, I might be able to do that, but I'm already doing 30 other things. Asking them if they could help put fliers on bikes as part of an educational effort that's less severe than that of getting a ticket, I get stone cold silence. What, do something? Crazy! Yet your complaining to me suggests that you want me to do something. Did I say it wrong? Should I complain at you that students aren't helping save their own asses and act like everyone else is a surrogate parent?

Given a choice between doing stuff and not doing stuff, nearly everyone opts for not doing stuff, every time. And then they brag about how little they did.

Since when did not doing things become cool? Since when did doing things become stigmatized? Well, it's stupid. People who are doing things are way more interesting than people who aren't. Why else would I get 500 emails a day from you assholes?

Something else has changed since my childhood: People are really unhappy. Or maybe I'm imagining it. More than half of the people I know and hang around with describe themselves as being depressed. Sure, people were melancholy sometimes. Major life events would leave us profoundly sad.

If you're not free to affect change in your community, or play outside and run wild in the street, or create new social institutions, or organize a protest, or install unapproved apps, or ticket with your engine, or use art to change peoples opinions, then you aren't free. If you aren't free, you're disenfranchised. In the doctors office of life, you're just sitting there in the waiting room reading shitty magazines. What did Shakespeare write about outrageous fortune and picking up arms?

Kids, it isn't your fault, but us old people got adequately placated with consumer goods and comfort. Not made happy, but placated. It gets easier as the energy levels run down with age. Then Madison Avenue turned their eyes to you and honed and refined their algorithms to insanely efficient levels, and they're doing the same thing to you, but starting at a much younger age and much more thoroughly. You've got Coke in your bottle from a young age, literally and figuratively. You won't drink water unless it has a brand name printed on plastic packaging around it. That's not freedom.

When's the last time you had a protest on campus about anything? I protested water pollution on the Mississippi, the University of Minnesota investing in a company that made land mines, and handing over food service to Aramark, all in one year. Protest the police ticketing you. Being a good little consumer won't save you. Grow a spine. DO SOMETHING.
Friday, August 22nd, 2014
4:56 am
Localvoring it (from an email)
One person a couple of blocks over has an enormous pomegranate bush, but I only just discovered that the other day, and it looks like no one really took any of the fruit. Hundreds were mummified on the ground and the whole bush was covered in mummified pomegranates. Depressing. They were probably shot before I got back.

I spotted ripe dates on the ground on that same walk back from campus, so I visited that spot where we got all of the black sphinx dates. I had been keeping an eye on it on PISS rides, but didn't see any sign of fruit, so I was surprised when I did see dates. I guess what happened was they trimmed all of the fruit stalks before they could fruit, so there's just no fruit this year. I wandered around in the complex and that's the case for the dozens of trees in there. Frustrating. I was determined to nab those. I did find some of the small brown ones in a park in the area, but it will take a few more visits to get any sort of quantity going, and they really aren't nearly as amazing.

I wouldn't mind doing a bunch of mesquite, but that seems pretty involved and I don't know the schedule on that and I don't think I could swing it right now.

I'm kind of thinking prickly pair mead, if I can get to the rest of the fruit before they rot. I don't know if it will be good, but it'll be local. Especially being on a budget, I really feel like I need to be taking advantage of local stuff, and I'm not above things like mulberries.

Hauling Ben out to collect prickly pair fruit was fun. (Edit: Rides are good, but rides with a mission are better.)

The grapefruit trees along the PISS route still have some fruit from last year, but only just a bit, and it's the really sweet but kind of strange stuff that happens when it's been there all year. I'm still eating it.

Oh gawd... I should cc Valerie on this. Or just make it into a blog post. She would empathize with my compulsion.
Thursday, May 2nd, 2013
10:40 pm
Cycling Advocacy
At a city public meeting (Citizen's Transportation Commission, a fine example of citizen government), one person with the city remarked that the bicycle people were always the most organized.

It makes sense. Cyclists don't shop at the giant mall off of the Interstate. They shop at those little local businesses, and they make friends with the owners, and they see their neighbors shopping in there, too. They see their friends on the street and stop, pull off of the road, and chat. They wave to their neighbors when they ride by their neighbors in their front yards. They also have about $8,000/year more disposable income they tend to like to spend on entertainment, which amounts to dining out, buying locally made goods, locally grown produce, and supporting local pubs rather than sending the money out of town by financing cars and buying gasoline. This helps them spend quality time dining, cooking, and drinking with friends and neighbors.

No wonder cyclists are so active in their community: they're connected to their community. And that's exactly why bicycle infrastructure is a good idea: it connects people to their community.
Saturday, February 16th, 2013
5:20 pm
Status
I inherited my roommate's PowerBook G4 and just got around to plastering over his stickers with mine. Chickens got re-fenced a bit so that they don't have access to poop on most of the patio, so the punching bag and weights can go there. I've been playing with the Palm webbrowser "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows 98; PalmSource/Palm-D050; Blazer/4.3)". Many sites freak out at seeing "MSIE 6.0". A browser that tries to be compatible with MSIE 6 is perhaps the only thing more frightening than MSIE 6. I wonder in a morbid sort of way if this thing runs VBA (MSIE used to and maybe still does run embedded VBA in addition to JS). I migrated away from a desktop machine for the Windows 2003 machine to a laptop but that didn't really free any space as the even larger amd64 dev machine for the wG8 installer. Most users are 64 bit users and emulating 64 bit on a slow 32 bit machine is impractical for development and smaller computer cases cost more and the amd64 mainboard won't fit in the P4 Celeron's case. I spent one evening fixing an audio tape that got its tape wrapped around a spindle in the Pixelvision when trying to get the mencoder command to rip it down. The great eBay garage sale continues. I spent a few hours today cutting up stained and torn clothes to make rags, some for myself, some for Bike Saviours. Ben5 (roommate) decided that the straw was too messy on the floor of the shed and he wasn't comfortable with putting it on something outside with a tarp over it, so he portioned it out into boxes, put the ones on the bottom in (compostable) plastic bags, neatly stacked them, and then put the tarp over them, inside of the shed. (I asked permission to post this story before posting it.)
Friday, February 8th, 2013
7:40 am
"We designed an ethno-archilogical component that really addressed the question of how people use...
"We designed an ethno-archilogical component that really addressed the questions of how people use their built in environments..."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmUyTauQBQ4&list=PLn9gUqW6huXVtpoO2CgevGimk2dLIkKM8&index=1 ... _A Cluttered Life: Middle-Class Abundance_

"Hyperconsumerism is evident in many spaces, like garages, corners of home offices..."



Photo: A corner office full of papers. Someone has a serious paper buying habit. Silly Americans, buying so much paper. Normal people don't have paper in their home office.

"Of course, Children of all societies have something that is similar to toys, but the sheer quantity of toys is astonishing, from a cross-cultural point of view..."



Photo: Look at all of those Legos! Most children around the world only have one Lego Building Brick. And they LIKE it that way.

"We found in the study that children's toys and objects were in livings rooms, they were in spare bedrooms, they were in their own bedrooms, they were in kitchens, they were even sometimes in master bedrooms."



Photo: Billy! Have you been paying with your piano in the spare bedroom again!? Put that back in your closet where it belongs. And how many times have we told you about not having board games in the family area!

"One of the things we soon realized is that the toys themselves were toys for the parents as well as for the children. The house had a actually had a kind of child culture about it as a whole..."



Photo: Hey, wait! This robot is not actually functional. We have identified a toy in the main room of a house!

"Some of it is nostalgia, right? I mean Snoopy right, he's a cultural icon. How many children actually recognize Snoopy in a contemporary... Snoopy is a fact of, you know, our childhood."



Photo: The study identified inappropriate art.

"The reality is that we're spending perhaps more on children's culture, toys, than ever before, in the history of mankind."



Photo: Cavemen stopped at Shoots and Ladders and generally didn't also buy Apples to Apples. If the family would just spend its time in front of the TV like Australopithecus did, it wouldn't have so much clutter... on its bookshelves... and its bookshelves would be nice and tidy and empty.

I support a lot of what they're saying, but their examples are cherry-picked and, in my opinion, they are often stretching to make their point even with their cherry-picked examples. I cherry-picked from their cherry-picking, of course.

It started with "we went into the homes of 32 family... each family had two parents that both worked outside the home for at least 30 hours a week". Given the same data, I might draw a different conclusion: That Americans work too much. Having too little time, and an un-sought after disposable income, piled up papers in home offices, focused attempts at family time via board games, and buying abundances of toys seem a natural consequence. The study selected dual income families. I'd like to see those 32 families contrasted against 32 single income families. The on-air segment keeps saying "Americans" as if the dual income families are the quintessential American family. No, it's one route people take. Often, married couples never make an arrangement where by they live off of one income, whether out of different priorities, habits, or whatever, and excess disposable income with too little time at home is a common result.
Tuesday, January 29th, 2013
10:19 pm
Treatise On Stuff
A lifecycle to things is an interesting perspective. I've been told
that Japan has something like that, too. Recycleability is paramount.
Japanese electronics are never glued together but always screwed
together. I see the iPad revolution as a step back in a lot of ways
and now the new MacBooks are glued together too. From hearing Guzy
talk about his trip, the Japanese are also extremely wasteful in
refusing to repair things that break and not dealing in used goods.

If I were a farmer in Kenya, I wouldn't have use for most of the stuff
that I have.

_Your Money or Your Life_ talks about this a lot, but a lot of things
are (virtually or actually) necessary for my line of work. If I were
a blacksmith, I'd have more square feet and pounds of things, but it
would be fewer things. A blacksmith doesn't have need for logic
jumpers in five sizes. I've always followed my own instincts more so
than most people do (I think), and my instincts often tell me to be
curious about things. A lot of times they were too early and
sometimes they were too late, but I've come to have a strong respect
for them. If that little voice in my brain tells me that I should
send away to the UK for the instruction reference for a new processor
called the "ARM", I listen to it and do it. I think that in picking
technologies to play with, I've been successfully in at least keeping
things pretty fun by getting fun gigs that let me play with neat
things even if money has been elusive. But I'm also aware to some
large degree of the mental, material, and financial burden of
constantly trying to stay relevant and learn numerous technologies
each year.

Sorting through things hasn't made me happy about getting rid of stuff
or especially philosophical but it has made me think about the
situation some. If anything, I'm refining my own existing attitudes
towards things. Perhaps that's the general result -- a feedback loop
-- feelings of validation of existing attitudes. A large number of my
boxes are food and kitchen stuff. I don't have a lot of silly
appliances, but I do have various specialized tools and ingredients,
almost all of which I use. More people should cook and eat at home.
I'm sharing a kitchen and moving into a place with a stocked kitchen,
but I do not want to have to take the time and money to replace all of
my kitchen utensils if I do something else later. A lot of the boxes
are jars for canning. Those too are tools. Ben5 and I traded a very
cool neighbor lady down the street jam and honey lemon ginger tea for
two panniers full of lemons. Canning has been my primary item of
production for barter. Those tools don't make me money, but they do
help me eat well without having to spend more money for the privilege.
A safecracker or locksmith might have piles of locks and safes to
practice on. The DEFCON crowd has brought renewed interest in
lockpicking and physical security, and computer security was
intertwined in it in the early days (eg, with the MIT hackers). You
cannot study lockpicking in an abstract sense and have it be useful.
You need access to the actual machines. My old RISC machines let me
play with complicated but very different systems (sometimes
complicated and simple in strange ways). This stretches my head in a
way that I enjoy. Similar for the game systems -- video game system
hardware stretches the head in delightful ways. Programming hardware
like that is one of my favorite hobbies. That's what made me fall in
love with programming and go on to do it professionally. I'm trying
to keep programming for money from completely replacing doing it for
fun. I have stuff needed to brew, which I have to get rid of and am
not happy about. I have stuff to rock climb which I'm keeping. I got
rid of my martial arts gi, which I'm not happy about, as getting back
into the dojo is a long term plan of mine. In this case, I'll have to
spend $80 on another one again if I reach that point, and I may or may
not accomplish what I hope to, but I'm pretty stubborn about things.
And throwing away a thing and buying a new one later is wasteful. A
lot of things are related to the cluster -- remote management, backup
power supplies, switches, ethernet cables, storage, etc all add up.
Other things are for other projects and are transient. Ultimately,
the cluster is transient. It's not a thing or collection of things
I've developed an attachment too, though it's been personally
rewarding and made for a lot of good geek conversations. I know I've
talked about my box of cables that I seem to have to dig through on a
daily basis. Objects kept for sentimental value represent a tiny
present of the stuff, so I resent the idea that getting rid of them
represents a solution.

I often say that things are only good for convenience, entertainment,
or as tools. Or something like that. Maybe I change it around. But
I still feel that way. I know which of my things are tools, which are
conveniences, and which are toys. And toys are important. I think
problems develop when people aren't honest about themselves about what
things represent to them and then buy too many toys new for too much
money, and then keep them too short of a time before getting bored of
them and throwing them away. The iPad set (and new MacBook every time
one is announced set) come to mind here. If a toy is only
entertaining for a year, it might not be a very good toy.

Having a huge population on the planet but having them only subsist
doesn't sound like a good solution. Subsistence farming families
would probably be even more enthusiastic about any new tool or toy
than an American (and from what I've read, this is the case). I don't
feel like "too many people" and "Americans buy too much stuff" is a
good rationalization for me not to get used toys and play with them
for a while and maybe pass them on again. I don't have an Xbox 360 or
a PS3 or even an Xbox. I agree that we need less consumption, but we
also need fewer people so that we can have a quality of life higher
than mere subsistence.

I don't find working purely in software to be personally satisfying.
One great thing about the Vegas gig was working with all of this
different hardware.

And as I said before, I think my introvert bent gives me a different
relationship with things than most people have. I know things aren't
a replacement for people, but I'm much happier to lock myself in a
room with a week with things and build, experiment, play, learn,
tinker, etc than most people are. It's personally fulfilling to me to
the point where I consider it necessary for my happiness. The
tradeoff between time and money is an important consideration. I
could pass years or maybe even a lifetime just programming on one
interesting system. Some people do. Some guys are still pushing the
limits of the Commodore 64, but I don't think I'm that hyperfocused.
So, I could get rid of the Atari 7800, but it has some really cool
video hardware and has a lot of fun potential, so I don't want to get
rid of it.

The European instinct to collect, study, preserve, steal, build up
toolsheds, etc has served us very well even if there are some
unhealthy aspects to it.

There have been points in the past where I've had projects due, but my
only power supply blew, or my only keyboard went out, or my only HD
died. Even now, especially when traveling, trying to keep the machine
running is a huge stress point. I never feel bad about my spare parts
and spare machines. Trying to adapt in the right HD, or pick a system
that can actually burn a dual layer DVD without crapping out half way
through when it realizes that it doesn't *actually* know how to do
that or can run Skype worth a damn or can take a 64 bit OS or has
enough CPU to do a chore and on and on is a daily challenge. A lot of
this could be streamlined with money, but I'm doing the best with what
I've got, and I don't want to buy a $2000 computer just to have it
break. Like with bicycles, it often makes sense to have some
redundancy.

I had already done a pretty good job of culling my stuff before.
While using the stuff I had, I would identify what I wasn't using or
wasn't going to get around to playing with and get rid of, on an
ongoing basis. A lot of projects, kind of like your quilt, were
neglected, but in the months leading up to when I moved out, I spent a
huge amount of time on those, and then after moving, continued to.
Those have been things like working on the blue GT or getting the
other bike light working or so on and so forth.

Also as I think I've talked about before, I've spent my entire life
trying to rationalize my stuff in hopes of being able to keep it. I
had a computer before most people did and when I was young and there
was constantly suggestions made among adults that I shouldn't have
that. Then my mother, as she has talked about, didn't understand what
any of my things where or what the stuff I wanted for my birthday or
Christmas was, so she would go on about how much something costs that
she doesn't even know what is. I had to listen for a year then that
"I had to send $70 to Germany for something Scott wanted and I don't
even know what it is!". If she were willing to spend a little time, I
could show her, but really, she doesn't care because she had already
made up her mind that it's silly. Not having my own space, I've
always had to argue about which items I'm permitted to have. My
landlady was a bad match for me (and me for her), but it was really
nice having my own space where basically no one could have opinions
about my stuff. I really, really enjoyed that. There's a lot of good
things about my present situation, but it's also very frustrating and
upsetting to me. I've tried living like a normal person and was
miserable, but I'm not doing a fantastic job of being an eccentric
either, so I have to try to stealthily pass enough as a normal person
that I can continue being eccentric with some degree of privacy and
non-interference. TBAG has been good for this. I showed up to the
meeting with a create of lights and no one said, "dude, you're weird,
you have too many lights". I know it's irrational, but what people
would think and do to me for having those lights was freaking me out
just because I've learned that you cannot safely do unusual things
without interference, and you especially can't count on support.
Having acceptance and even support for doing weird things is hugely
important to my psyche. I think this is why it's hard for me to hear
arguments about how, since it's possible to subsist minimally, people
should be subsisting minimally -- and not just in resource consumption,
but also in terms of artifacts that they dug out of the ground. This
is what really freaks me out about places like Texas -- often,
community standards of normality are severely enforced. Places like
Seattle and Minneapolis have a healthy apatite for the unusual.
10:05 pm
Status
I personally can't think of a better use of homemade nutella than fueling Dani's ride.

She posted about it being really cold and wondering if she was just doing it for attention, and what her ancestors would do. That made me stop and be philosophical, though of course it is all arm chair. If something is possible, people should make it a habit of doing it, just to preserve the avenue, or else mankind loses the ability. Right now, travel cross country under our own power, while awesome, is possible. The weather doesn't make it easier than when people were doing it in covered wagons, but hospitality and paved roads do. I don't know what to class this thing as, but it strikes me as valuable. Secondarily, I'm jealous. If timing had been different, I'd to think that I might have said yes when invited. People on the route who are showing hospitality aren't just showing sympathy, they're showing support for a thing that they themselves would like to have done but didn't, and hospitality to those who do is the next best thing. That's why warmshowers is awesome. We should all be warmshowers hosts when we're not touring. Most people are pretty cool, despite everything else, and this reminds us of that, and reinforces it. I don't have a good deity picked out that I can sacrifice goats to Dani to, but I'm cheering from the sidelines. Go Dani! If it gets too cold, stay somewhere for a while and let it pass.

Ahem. So those are those thoughts. Thanks for posting pictures of the MLK ride. I just got back from the Long Wongs which is a five minute walk from here. CRAP went there. One band was in from Texas. That one was a bit too country, but the first one was rockin' country and we all enjoyed it. It makes me think that a live music venue right by where I live is really dangerous. Both had double basses. Standing around buzzed listening to live music makes me philosophical. I don't think I can summarize what went through my head. I didn't take good enough notes. It made me wonder about how people got to where they are in their lives, and taking care of the people around you in your life, and doing good for people you don't know.

I soaked in the tub for a while today. I was doing email and phone most of the day. I made bread. My schedule got a bit backwards there. I'm trying to fix it. I finally got the stuff out of Guzy's that I wanted to, the other day. There's some stuff left that is intended to be shipped off but that I might have to fetch some of, so the immediate work is done. Internal voices get muted with too much businesses. Stopping to write emails and blog posts is when I regroup, lately. A lot of things are caught up, so I'll be catching on mostly different stuff for a while.

xox,
-s
Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013
8:14 am
Status
Ben5 made http://chicachocolatina.blogspot.com/2013/01/churro-waffles.html for brunch Monday morning after I got back from Tucson. Delicious, but I'm more than ready for veggies again!
The "not working/parts" CF-T7 showed up yesterday. This has happened before: the "parts" machine shows up and is in vastly better condition than the machine that it is supposed to be parts for. In the past, I've taken parts off of the parts machine and kept it nice. This time, I just swapped the HD and battery over to the "parts" machine as I didn't want to spend the day transplanting the fan, yet again, and I know that it takes most of a day. That and, even though the thing looks almost new, it was only $40. One of the things that drew me to the Toughbook CF-R1 and then later T4 was the lack of a fan, because this happens to every machine I have that has a fan. I leave the thing on, use it too much, do too much computationally intensive stuff, leave too many tabs open, and there's too much dust in Arizona, and within a year, the fan eats itself. First fan in the T7 lasted for well over a year (I think), but still, it's always a problem.
Tauber was sending the CRAP announcements but failed to on account of a broken hand. Ben5 advertised it on FB as himself, but essentially, no one came besides him and I. One fixie kid who goes by the name of "youmadbro" (or something close) swung by the usual place at the usual time on a random day and caught us there and rode with is, which was kind of awesome. Fixie kid was telling us about his cargo bike and how he uses it for his window washing business. Rad.
Today: Goodwill, post office (again), haul workstations, list more hardware on eBay, hopefully pick up a load of lemons, grocery store run for the stuff that's too expensive at Sprouts, meet Sarah to post stuff on the TBAG blog and figure that out. Still itching to do much needed Bike Count IT work (grr!).
Friday, December 21st, 2012
2:25 pm
Status
UofM(N) architecture courtyard. Finals are over. The best models got taken home; the worst were abandoned.
My mother dropped her keys in the break room while at work yesterday at $large_upscale_department_store. They got taken to the lost and found, which closed before she got off work and noticed them missing. She got a ride home, and R and I got back just a bit before she called. This morning, she bummed a ride in to work, got the keys back, came back, picked us up, and dropped us off at the St.Paul UofM(N) campus. We took the bus over to the Minneapolis campus and checked out the architecture library. I moved to the courtyard after lunch. R headed out to erg on the holiday challenge. Other days have been similar: logistics eat up a lot of the day. This trip, I didn't arrange for loaner bicycles for the visit. Now I'm starting to get itchy. Old friends, my brother, R, and I hit Chatterbox pub last night and played Mario Adventure on their NES and then SJG Munchin on a table. Chatterbox midtown now owns a copy of Mario Adventure. I sold it to them for a beer. Go play it!
Met my new nephew and the older of the two again (first time he's likely to remember me) and had holiday dinners. Had dinner with my aunt. Lunched with my mother. Revisited the St. Thomas library and worked there. St. Thomas' library has changed a lot, but it's still a fascinating space. Three existing buildings got composed, care of a central structure, into one structure. The central structure's floors align with one of them. Short stairways, stairwells, and exterior walls on the interior abound. The really hard to get to hooks are now administrative offices, many former exterior walls were replaced with glass walls, and purposes were found for large spaces that formerly had no purpose. I guess the consolidation/expansion architectural project for the library allowed for a lot of growth through change.
Yesterday during the day was Angry Catfish, a coffee shop/bike shop. Like Seattle bike shops, a lot of MN shops have lots of wool, fenders, interesting rack systems, and other practical cycling wears that help make cycling comfortable as a life style. Being MN, they also have heavy lobster claw style gloves and studded snow tires, which, despite their name, are really highly desirable for ice.
It's good to be back. People are more laid back here, and quieter. Lower speed surface road traffic and quieter voices lend me a much needed feeling of serenity.
Friday, December 7th, 2012
1:14 pm
DSC01313
Socks decorated the Meyer lemon tree. Bulbs built-in.



DSC01312
New Biopace on the Green Bianchi to go with the new chain. It feels strange opening 20 or 30 year old packaging.



DSC01311
The exhaust had to come off of the Z600 so that the left side of the engine can come off, then the clutch (ugh), so the oil pump can be inspected, but the bolts holding parts of the exhaust system together were rusted into solid little blobs. The exhaust system is in four parts, under the hood, and includes a blower, a heat exchange, the manifold, and, eh, something else. Heat for passengers comes from air warmed off of the exhaust system. The exhaust parts need to be sand blasted and chromed, but I'm holding off on doing that until at least I figure out if I can make this thing run again. I managed to get off only one bolt with a wrench, smashing the wrench with the sledge hammer and putting penetrating oil on the bolt. Another bolt got its head ripped off, which worked for getting the exhaust parts apart. The others got sawed through with a cutting disk on Socks' Dremel tool. Those are going to have be drilled out. That picture has the camshaft and valve rockers out.



DSC01304

Amtrak view.


DSC01217

Brevet cards.

Monday, November 19th, 2012
6:28 pm
Status
I hope for a day where I'm back to blogging about writing code and bicycle advocacy rather than the mis-adventures of living above a cranky old lady, or, really, about much else. Not that my personal life isn't often wonderful, but that's not what I want to talk about. Coming back to Phoenix, one of the nicest things was my Internet connection. The dedicated IP simplifies a lot of admin work. I suppose a similar fix would be VPN'ing into a work machine. I spent an evening repairing the cluster. It seems like the Nano board that's the init node can't handle two HDs plugged in at the same time even if one of them is on a completely different power supply. I initially suspected that. I need to re-move the music off of that failed second drive attempt onto a portable drive for my own use. Which I guess is to say that after a half assed but still thoroughly time consuming run, I'm shutting down the cluster experiment. The batteries in the primary UPS died anyway. The last power cycle was me removing it after it went to self test, failed, and lost power to the cluster.
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