Chris X Edwards

A gluten allergy, eh? How did you rule out a thiamine mononitrate allergy? Or niacin? Or folic acid? And their adulterants?
2017-11-18 10:24
Wow. Just watched a police shooting from my balcony less than 100m away. Crazyland.
2017-11-17 08:43
TPMS sends pressure and temperature for each wheel which gets squandered down to just one barely useful idiot light on the dashboard. Sad.
2017-11-16 23:23
Just learned that car TPMS broadcast unique radio beacons so Big Brother can track your car at will.
2017-11-16 23:20
"Meek and obedient you follow the leader down well trodden corridors into the valley of steel..Get out of the road if you want to grow old."
2017-11-13 23:29
Etc.
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Scaring The Nation With Their Guns And Ammunition

2017-11-17 12:04

Here’s a surreal view of my neighborhood.

shooting.png

We heard some commotion outside and tons of cop cars started filling the street. I grabbed my binoculars and had a strangely perfect view of a backyard where at least six cops were carefully surrounding a house, guns drawn. A couple of them seemed to have brightly colored shotguns. Eventually there was even a tail-wagging police dog. I saw some guy in a white tee shirt hurry past my field of view into the brush. He looked like he was attempting to flee up the steep slope that typically separates SoCal yards built on hills. The cops had totally anticipated this and had all plausible paths blocked. We heard a lot of shouting. It sounded like the cops were commanding someone to "put down the…." something. Gun? Knife? Couldn’t tell. But they had definitely made contact with their quarry and had definitely been very clear that what he was holding was not going to be cool.

Then I heard a big blast that sounded to me like a shotgun or a powerful handgun. The cops were in full combat mode. Then I heard a couple more gunfire noises but they were much quieter like the sound a stick makes when you whack it on a rock. (I may have the order and number of shots a bit muddled but it was something like that.) Very soon after that none of the cops had their guns drawn. I saw the orange shotguns being carried away safely pointed skyward and not toward the bushes.

Then I realized I could see a person lying in the backyard. An ambulance and fire truck arrived and started working on the antagonist (hard to think of this guy as the "victim"). They were definitely giving too much attention for him to be dead. I even saw him moving. They cut off his shirt which appeared to be bloody. They put him in a neck brace and pretty quickly they wheeled him out and drove him away.

News crews arrived and pretty quickly reports appeared on line. Apparently the bright colored shotguns are to designate them as loaded with bean bag rounds. That name makes one think of a comfortable yet awkward piece of 1970s furniture, but in this case the word "bean" is even more misused. These guns shoot bags filled with lead shot which will not be comfortable to catch.

I have to say that for a situation involving dozens of guys running around outside my home with loaded guns drawn, this ended pretty well. Not only do San Diego police have some ability to not kill antagonists, they all seemed very professional and quite well trained for such things. After the kinds of things I heard the cops yelling at this guy, I thought he was a dead man for sure.

That fact that it is being reported that he will survive has some subtle but important secondary effects. These idiot guys (95% male) who contemplate suicide by cop will have to recalculate if cops are no longer playing along. Not only that but cowardly suicide terrorists need to be pretty damn sure they don’t want to spend a lifetime in some very bad place after recovering from a very, very bad day. When cops kill people it is usually more or less than the targets deserve. This seems to be getting the balance right for both of those problems.

The Web And Its Heroes

2017-11-11 20:26

I fell into a pretty deep rabbit hole today! Being silly, I had this idea that there sure are a lot of web developers and isn’t that funny since these days there are only a couple of web sites left. Very droll, eh?

But seriously… The BLS says there are 162,900 web developers sharing the blame. And just how many web sites are left anyway? I discovered Quantcast’s rankings of website popularity. I’m not endorsing it or saying it’s completely accurate, but it definitely is interesting. They even have a data set of the top 1 million web sites that you can download. (Of course it only contains 527614 but let’s not quibble with free data.)

Here are the top 50 web sites according to Quantcast which makes for an interesting reality check.

  1. google.com

  2. facebook.com

  3. amazon.com

  4. youtube.com

  5. wikipedia.org

  6. twitter.com

  7. reddit.com

  8. yahoo.com

  9. ebay.com

  10. nytimes.com

  11. yelp.com

  12. buzzfeed.com

  13. adobe.com

  14. Hidden profile

  15. wikia.com

  16. Hidden profile

  17. apple.com

  18. quizlet.com

  19. paypal.com

  20. bing.com

  21. craigslist.org

  22. espn.com

  23. linkedin.com

  24. live.com

  25. walmart.com

  26. urbandictionary.com

  27. Hidden profile

  28. wordpress.com

  29. netflix.com

  30. thepennyhoarder.com

  31. Hidden profile

  32. target.com

  33. pinterest.com

  34. weather.com

  35. microsoft.com

  36. usatoday.com

  37. Hidden profile

  38. chase.com

  39. stackexchange.com

  40. Hidden profile

  41. giphy.com

  42. Hidden profile

  43. quora.com

  44. Hidden profile

  45. theguardian.com

  46. legacy.com

  47. webmd.com

  48. Hidden profile

  49. instagram.com

  50. ranker.com

I’m not sure exactly what "Hidden profile" indicates (pr0n?). There’s nothing too shocking on that list really except adobe.com at lucky 13. How can they still be in business, never mind a hot web property? Yuck! And that quora.com is pretty awful too. Otherwise I’m not shocked by this list.

Pulling the monthly distinct user counts from their web listing, I made this demonstration of a perfect example of a mathematical phenomenon known as the power law.

powerlaw.png

(Do you like how I included internet kittehs?)

This list is full of interesting information. Here are the top 25 .edu sites shown with their overall rank.

  1. 465 psu.edu

  2. 503 purdue.edu

  3. 518 harvard.edu

  4. 562 stanford.edu

  5. 599 cornell.edu

  6. 742 umich.edu

  7. 786 wisc.edu

  8. 866 ufl.edu

  9. 901 berkeley.edu

  10. 998 ucla.edu

  11. 1053 mit.edu

  12. 1106 illinois.edu

  13. 1115 umn.edu

  14. 1156 columbia.edu

  15. 1198 washington.edu

  16. 1250 academia.edu

  17. 1294 yale.edu

  18. 1307 cuny.edu

  19. 1402 colorado.edu

  20. 1406 msu.edu

  21. 1430 utexas.edu

  22. 1470 gsu.edu

  23. 1508 ucsd.edu

  24. 1527 uchicago.edu

  25. 1538 upenn.edu

I’m pretty impressed that UCSD makes the list. Here are a couple of other interesting (for personal reasons) edu sites farther down the list.

  • 111. 5049 sdsu.edu

  • 149. 6208 uc.edu

  • 150. 6237 ucop.edu

  • 254. 10439 williams.edu

How does on-line education compare? Here’s where these on-line education sites rank overall.

  • 347 khanacademy.org

  • 1015 udemy.com

  • 1114 codecademy.com

  • 1782 lynda.com

  • 2128 coursera.org

  • 5483 udacity.com

  • 7438 skillshare.com

In honor of Militarism Glorification Day I had a look at .mil sites.

  1. 2294 osd.mil

  2. 2333 navy.mil

  3. 2761 af.mil

  4. 2880 dfas.mil

  5. 5810 tricare.mil

  6. 7359 marines.mil

  7. 9252 uscg.mil

  8. 10053 dtic.mil

  9. 10156 mail.mil

  10. 11290 dod.mil

I actually didn’t even know what osd.mil was and that as a URL goes nowhere. It’s actually "Office of the Secretary of Defense" and has tricksy URLs like this. I have no idea what happened to army.mil which is definitely a real thing. It’s not even on the list at all. Maybe they use internet camouflage. There were these.

  • 3576 goamry.com

  • 6356 armytimes.com

But the interesting thing to note is that there are around 10 mil sites in the top 10000 list. I think if we plotted ritual adulation of various government organizational units, we’d see another clear power law law with the military grabbing all the glory.

What about all the people serving their country peacefully? This list provides a pretty interesting look at what our tax dollars are buying. Here are the top 100 .gov web sites; these all make the top 10000 overall list.

  1. 114 nih.gov

  2. 230 irs.gov

  3. 350 weather.gov

  4. 366 state.gov

  5. 422 ssa.gov

  6. 441 noaa.gov

  7. 448 cdc.gov

  8. 624 nasa.gov

  9. 662 ed.gov

  10. 687 nps.gov

  11. 699 usda.gov

  12. 717 uscis.gov

  13. 878 medlineplus.gov

  14. 931 usajobs.gov

  15. 1006 healthcare.gov

  16. 1071 usa.gov

  17. 1126 medicare.gov

  18. 1139 dhs.gov

  19. 1235 archives.gov

  20. 1353 fema.gov

  21. 1366 ftc.gov

  22. 1390 usgs.gov

  23. 1394 nhtsa.gov

  24. 1410 fda.gov

  25. 1518 bls.gov

  26. 1525 disasterassistance.gov

  27. 1530 whitehouse.gov

  28. 1611 house.gov

  29. 1687 epa.gov

  30. 1722 uscourts.gov

  31. 1774 studentloans.gov

  32. 1777 cancer.gov

  33. 1853 census.gov

  34. 1910 senate.gov

  35. 1952 sec.gov

  36. 2085 eftps.gov

  37. 2233 justice.gov

  38. 2246 cms.gov

  39. 2309 opm.gov

  40. 2439 dol.gov

  41. 2464 tsa.gov

  42. 2528 fbi.gov

  43. 2595 dot.gov

  44. 2719 fafsa.gov

  45. 2813 usmint.gov

  46. 2852 flhsmv.gov

  47. 2864 usps.gov

  48. 2934 socialsecurity.gov

  49. 2997 hud.gov

  50. 3092 congress.gov

  51. 3130 usembassy.gov

  52. 3132 cia.gov

  53. 3214 fcc.gov

  54. 3224 cbp.gov

  55. 3245 nist.gov

  56. 3251 fueleconomy.gov

  57. 3312 sba.gov

  58. 3362 faa.gov

  59. 3475 airnow.gov

  60. 3513 energy.gov

  61. 3582 gpo.gov

  62. 3735 drugabuse.gov

  63. 3828 tsp.gov

  64. 3871 osha.gov

  65. 4081 recreation.gov

  66. 4122 uspto.gov

  67. 4141 donotcall.gov

  68. 4169 treasurydirect.gov

  69. 4311 treasury.gov

  70. 4317 mymedicare.gov

  71. 4685 benefits.gov

  72. 4815 nwcg.gov

  73. 4951 pay.gov

  74. 5111 defense.gov

  75. 5298 consumerfinance.gov

  76. 5550 clinicaltrials.gov

  77. 5806 federalregister.gov

  78. 5938 gsa.gov

  79. 6117 eia.gov

  80. 6167 nsf.gov

  81. 6746 cpsc.gov

  82. 6799 eeoc.gov

  83. 6845 vets.gov

  84. 7045 usdoj.gov

  85. 7496 choosemyplate.gov

  86. 7750 samhsa.gov

  87. 7900 sss.gov

  88. 8622 medicaid.gov

  89. 9047 energystar.gov

  90. 9136 ahrq.gov

  91. 9152 fws.gov

  92. 9167 usastaffing.gov

  93. 9249 ecfr.gov

  94. 9493 safercar.gov

  95. 9524 supremecourt.gov

  96. 9553 blm.gov

  97. 9649 atf.gov

  98. 9828 hrsa.gov

  99. 9832 ice.gov

  100. 10021 identitytheft.gov

(I manually removed local websites ending in .gov e.g. virginia.gov. I’m sure they’re doing important things too but I wanted to focus on the national level.) I found this list quite interesting and full of insights. For example, I’m reminded how creepy SSS.gov is; why not just call it Waffen-SSS? Seriously, that would actually fit those guys.

But that’s an exception. A lot of these sites are quite uplifting. I was encouraged to see the NIH so high up. Hey, they are definitely helping me to fight the good fight on behalf of real Americans against the shady side of big pharma. People laud the courage of soldiers and that’s fine, but let’s take a moment to consider the CDC. If we’re going to talk about making Americans secure, we’d better say some good things about the CDC. I recently was in a high security medical research vivarium and the intense safety protocols remind one that if you want a job where dying a gruesome death is possible, the military isn’t the only way to go. But if you do the job well, you can maybe prevent a pandemic from killing half of humanity.

In the mainstream media’s desperate quest for lurid sensationalism you don’t hear about little things like the Thrift Savings Plan (whatever that is) helping victims of the California wildfires. Or that the SEC is righteously punching back at some pharma scumbags. Do you like having electricity? Apparently the EIA is helping by obsessively worrying about that so you don’t have to. Yea! And there are so many things on this list that are real treasures. For example, the National Park Service. Also the USGS has been a go to resource for maps and tons of other important things long before the internet existed. Same with NOAA and it’s pal weather.gov. And at 624, NASA is a not just an internet rock star; it is the team that scored some of humanity’s most stunning achievements.

And this is just the popular stuff. There are tons of things farther down the list buried in undeserved obscurity. For example, at 13785 is the National Gallery of Art and 10064, the National Endowment for the Humanities. Why is time.gov only 10213?

In closing I’ll also mention my favorite government heroes. Some people have that urge to see the world and meet interesting people but are heroically squeamish about killing them willy-nilly. I suspect that The Peace Corps web site would be more popular (than 14528th) if they weren’t systematically sent to the places in the world least likely to have good wifi. So bravo and thanks to the Peace Corps volunteers who sacrifice so much to show the world that not all Americans are assholes.

3D Sintering

2017-11-10 17:04

In the past I have never felt much enthusiasm for 3d printing. I just discovered what El Reg calls "metal 3d printing". Although they’re missing a huge chance to cleverly call it "3d sintering" or even "3d sinting", I am actually quite optimistic about this technology.

Sintering is a very smart technique which can create very interesting results. Unlike thermoplastic resin (hot glue gun) 3d printing, metal sintering has the potential to make things that are actually useful. In a wild speculative way, I can imagine very exotic workpieces with difficult geometries and even clever tricks like different metals fused into the same part. It seems like a genuine amalgamation of the reasons for the 3d printing hype and the reasons to persist with traditional metalworking.

The company driving this technology, Desktop Metal, seems like they’ve got a sensible manufacturing product. The idea seems sound. Rather than replace traditional machine shops, I think that the bigger threat is to traditional small foundries. The Desktop Metal marketing literature suggests that you can "apply optional finishing methods such as machining or bead blasting for critical tolerances and finishes". It sounds like this would be perfect to combine with a benchtop milling machine.

But still, replacing an exotic metals foundry with a piece of office equipment is quite a trick. I have to say I never would have imagined the existence of an "…office-friendly sintering furnace with a peak temperature of 1400C, allowing for the sintering of a wide range of metals." That just sounds crazy but if it works then I’m impressed.

On the other hand, this same office sintering furnace is also described as "cloud-connected" so maybe it is nothing more than posturing and nonsense. I do think the concept seems reasonable. It will be interesting to see how this system performs in the real world. I am hopeful.

The Health Care Bug

2017-11-09 21:14

In computer science there are obvious errors that prevent software from running but there are also obvious errors where everything works reasonably well. For example, you may have a database where one of the fields is destined to always contain the same (therefore pointless) value. The program may function and seem to work properly, but that does not absolve the error.

Politics is full of such errors. The saddest one in my opinion has to do with health care in the USA. I’ve been saying for well over a decade that the bulk of America’s health care woes can largely be completely cured by correcting a tiny but devastating error. The cure is to simply prohibit employers from offering health care benefits.

At first this seems ridiculous. If we need more health care (options, etc) why would we eliminate the bulk of coverage? Employer sponsored health insurance is like opioid addiction — it was maybe well intentioned at first, but as it grows increasingly problematic, it is very hard to kick.

In this article titled "The Illogic of Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance", the problem is characterized by a brilliant analogy where the medical profession is compared to a pickpocket who steals money from you in a bar and then buys you a drink. In the current system, instead of trading your service as a worker for properly fungible money to apply in a free market economy, you get paid in two separate currencies, money and health care, which for most people are not interchangeable at all. Yet for the insurance companies and medical profession this layer of obfuscation is a windfall.

Ask yourself if life would be better if your employer paid for car insurance. If you assume that your employer will just simply deduct that cost from your salary, pretty much all you can expect will be a much more limited range of insurance options, some hidden markups, and friction changing to a better provider.

And it’s not like employers actually want to mess with your health care. It’s as huge of a hassle and impediment to market fluidity for employers as it is for employees who can feel stuck at jobs with acceptable benefits. Perhaps the most glaring example of the nonsensical nature of this system is my employer who happens to be the largest health care provider in San Diego. If they wanted to give their employees a health care benefit, why not just give them a big price break on our own health services? If you consider that obvious question, it’s easy to suspect that something rotten is going on.

There are two other industries that I can highlight that have similar errors. Today, tax preparation is an absurd and immoral business that resists proper obsolescence with massive lobbying by tax preparers. That one is extraordinary because I don’t think people even feel like the pickpocket here is buying them a drink.

The most "generous" thieves in the bar are the mortgage bankers. Thanks to the mortgage interest deduction, people think they are getting a sweet kickback on the most expensive purchase of their lives. But the reality is like anything the government subsidizes—it stimulates more business which causes demand pressure and higher prices. The losers are renters who don’t get the kickback and society in general who must dedicate more pointless resources to housing. The winners, of course, are mortgage bankers and anyone dealing with real estate who are paid in fractions of the purchase price (builders, brokers, etc). The difference between the government printing special banknotes that can only be used to pay mortgage bankers and just giving mortgage bankers a lot of money is essentially nothing.

But the thought of losing this kickback for those lucky enough to claim it is enough to generate an enormous fuss. Even though this is clearly an obvious system error designed to enrich bankers, fixing it would be painfully unpopular. (So unpopular it’s practically a Green idea.)

That’s why I’m shocked to see the GOP proposing some kind of bug fix that partially corrects this sacred cash cow. I sometimes think Trump’s policy initiatives are purely random. Like a broken clock telling time twice a day, maybe this is his moment to do something extremely unpopular but constructive.

(Yes, I know, they want to take the entire kickback and divert it to their upper class twit cronies. I’m actually ok with this for the same reason I said that if the Affordable Care Act consisted only of beating people with sticks it would be worth doing — at least the new stupid system won’t be an entrenched stupid system.)

Low Level

2017-11-07 23:34

Getting some proficiency with frameworks like TensorFlow and Keras has been pretty interesting. I’m continuing my study of machine learning by trying to really understand every detail of all components. In my own mind I had the idea that I wanted to be able to understand the entire technology chain from the lowest levels to the highest, not necessarily in extreme detail but at least a rough understanding. I had the ambition to understand neural network details as well as I understood how software in general worked. Then I wondered… I do know how software works, right? I’d better check that!

I wanted to find the smallest example I could think of where a cogent change of some specific low-level ones and zeros produced a predictable change in high-level software behavior. What I came up with is a nice reminder that computers do work with just ones and zeros. Here’s my demonstration.

I start with a high level program. It is a simple program to be sure, but it is a C program just like the Linux kernel or a compiler or Quake. The way complexity increases from here is relatively well known.

$ echo "int main(int c){return c-1;}" | gcc -o p_sub -xc -

This creates a program, called p_sub, which should take arguments, count them, and return the total number of them. This requires that the argument count variable be decremented by one (c-1) because the program name is considered a part of the argument count. Don’t worry about the details.

So there’s a usable C program in 28 characters. Next I wanted to see some different behavior by fiddling with the lowest level possible. Instead of subtracting one, I will add three to the argument count. I picked through the program and found the bits that would make that happen. This command line changes the necessary bits and creates a new executable, p_add.

$ xxd p_sub | sed '/660:/s/e8 01/c0 03/' | xxd -r > p_add ; chmod 755 p_add

If your hex vision is strong you may object, this is not bits! This is bytes. It turns out that the xxd program won’t allow bit level changes; you do have to organize them by bytes. But I promised ones and zeros! The xxd program can show binary. Here is a summary of the two bytes I changed. This directly shows the changed ones and zeros that effect this behavior difference.

$ diff <(xxd -b -s1643 -l2 p_sub) <(xxd -b -s1643 -l2 p_add)
1c1
< 0000066b: 11101000 00000001                                      ..
---
> 0000066b: 11000000 00000011                                      ..

Let’s consider these binary numbers in the reverse order that they are listed. Binary 00000011 is a one in the ones place and a one in the twos place (one one and one two, so three). 11000000 is 128+64 which is 192. And 192 divided by 16 is 12. If hex 9 is decimal 9 and a is 10 and b is 11, then 12 must be c. Therefore 192 is c0 hex. Binary 00000001 is the same in decimal and hex, just 1. Finally 11101000 is 128+64+32+8 which is 232 or e8 hex (trust me).

So I basically changed e8 01 to c0 03. The 1 and the 3 are the ammounts I’m subtracting and adding respectively. But do the op codes for e8 and c0 mean subtract and add respectively? The objdump program can tell us.

$ objdump -d ./p_sub | grep 66a:
 66a:   83 e8 01                sub    $0x1,%eax
$ objdump -d ./p_add | grep 66a:
 66a:   83 c0 03                add    $0x3,%eax

Looks right! In fact the objdump program was how I figured out what bits to change.

Do the programs work as advertised? Let’s try them out!

$ ./p_sub x x x x x ; echo $?
5
$ ./p_add x x x x x ; echo $?
9

The first program counts the arguments (5 x’s and the program name minus one). The second program does almost the same thing but it seems to add 4 to the argument count (5 x’s, the program name, and an additional plus 3).

The point of this exercise is to show that there is no magic or mysterious hidden processes involved in general computing. One could go lower and wonder what the electrical potentials and clock pulses were doing in the chip after these bits are sent to it. But that behavior is literally carved in stone (silicon at least). Understanding that voodoo is very unlikely to have any helpful effect because there’s not much that can be done about the hardware.

Now I need to get back to studying neural networks. I don’t like the feeling that TensorFlow is fooling me into going along with something stupid simply because the details can be a little hard to understand.

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