Archive for April, 2019

Green Thumb Up My Nose

April 30, 2019

Garden Report for 190430

So, immediately after I planted out the seedlings and my newly-purchased Japanese Maple, we had two days of high winds, and two days of frost.

The winds were Friday and Saturday, and ran 30mph with gusts to 40mph. The frosts were Sunday and Monday nights, with lows of 30F.

Ten degrees warmer than outside in the daytime, maybe a degree at night

I did my best to prep. Bought a big wardrobe moving box for the maple, wrapped a car tarp around the base, and dropped in one of those back-warmer chemical packs.

I also ran the dripper overnight

In back, I laid a big tarp over the garden, and set the soaker hose to run for a couple of hours after midnight. The aluminum gutter guards I had put out earlier, to discourage the squirrels held it off the plants. Theoretically.

It seems to have worked (click to embiggen).

The plants that were still in the greenhouse (everything that wasn’t a squash or a melon) I pulled back into the house. Those will go back at the end of the week, when we finally enter a prolonged warming phase, and I’ve found time to prep Section 3. We won’t be totally out of the woods for a while (it has been known to snow during the first week of May), but I’m willing to chance it. Forecast for the rest of the week is lows near 40 and highs in the mid-60’s.

Hot Dog Oats

April 27, 2019

Lately, there’s been a totally silly question going around: Is a hot dog a sandwich? I realize that in the Middle Ages several wars were fought over religious questions of equal import, but this enlightened age should have better things to do with its memes. And now we have the logical extension to that question: Is hot dog water a broth or a stock? For the record, my opinion is that, since a stock is made with bones, and hot dogs don’t have any bones (unless they’re the low end versions that use machine processing to get every bit of pink goo off the bones, with said machines sometimes going a processing too far), hot dog water is obviously a broth. Well, if it’s a broth, one should be able to make oatmeal with it.

I heated up two all beef franks in one cup of water, simmering them for fifteen minutes.  The franks we ate, the water I saved for the next morning (you didn’t think I was going to have hot dogs for breakfast did you?).

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup hot dog broth, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. No potatoes this time.

Results: Oatmeal.  Bland. Cheese helped, but not a lot. Evidently, hot dog water isn’t all that different from regular water. Maybe if I used Evian.

Rating: **

Green Thumb Up My Nose

April 25, 2019

Garden Report for 190425

The weather is warm (lows in the mid-40’s, highs in the mid-60’s) and it’s time to (trans-) plant. Added a couple cuft of potting soil to Section 1. Moved all ten squash/melon seedlings there. Squirrels immediately made it look like a recreation of the Battle of the Somme. I have ordered some gutter guards to protect the plants. Once the wind dies down and the air warms up, I’ll put in some seeds-on-tape: lettuce and carrots.

Section 1. Grid is covering the area where I’ll put some taped seeds

I planned to put the beans and peas and cucumbers in Section 3 (Section 2 is for tomatoes), but the forecast suddenly turned to lows in the low 30’s this weekend, including frost on Sunday night. I’ll leave them in the greenhouse for now.

That’s not trash in the bottom. It’s old icepacks for thermal balance

Meanwhile, I got a new Japanese Maple for the hole out front what was left from taking out the weeping birch.

Only another six feet of growth and it will be useful

With any luck, the cold snap won’t kill the leaves.

The Mueller Report

April 19, 2019

There are two key questions we have to answer in the aftermath of the Mueller report: (1) Is Trump impeachable?, and (2) Should we do it?

First, read this. It’s a six page comic, won’t take you any time at all.


Is Trump impeachable?

That is, has he committed impeachable acts under the Constitution? Depending on how you interpret them, there are several sets of actions that might fit that definition. Meanwhile, most pro/con declarations at this point are made by people who haven’t read the report, and are mostly based on party affiliation.

To rephrase the question, since impeachment is essentially a political act, has Trump sufficiently irritated enough Representatives that they will use the actions listed above as an excuse to obtain a bill? I think we’d all agree that the answer is yes, and it might even include a few Republicans.

A followup question is, once the bill of impeachment has moved to the Senate, is it possible to get a two thirds majority in favor of removing Trump from office? Given the current structure of the Senate, and given GOP proclivities for supporting almost any policies that Trump wants to impose, my take is that there is zero chance of the Senate voting for removal.

So the answer is yes, he can be impeached, and no, it won’t make any difference to the government. All that will happen is that all other legislative actions will be placed on hold, and Trump might be politically embarrassed. Given that not a lot is getting done right now, and that Trump has proven to be immune to embarrassment, the direct impact is likely to be minimal.

Should we do it?

That is, should we go ahead with the political process set up in the Constitution? This is really a tactical decision. On the one side, there are those who say that we should do it, to place future Presidents on notice that they are not immune to oversight. That if we don’t, we have given up all possibility of holding Presidents responsible for their actions. Their position is that Congress should proceed with impeachment, even though the immediate result might be negligible.

On the other side, there are those who point out that we have an election coming up in 18 months, and that impeachment proceedings will be the one thing that can galvanize the GOP base into coming out in support of Trump (or at least in opposition to perceived Democratic bullying), despite the crimes and misdemeanors uncovered in the process.

On the other other side are those who fear that this would set a precedent for witch hunts after every turnover of power. I suspect this is why Obama didn’t sponsor war crimes trials against Bush staffers. The Republic works best when we all pretend that all members of the government are honorable people, working for the good of the country as they see it.

And here’s yet another view. Impeachment means overturning an election. Are the Presidential crimes serious enough for that?

TLDR — Anime I never finished, Spring 2019 Part 2

April 13, 2019

As we head into the second week of the season, the latecomers and early bloomers start to fade.

Senryu Girl: Socially inept high school girl can only communicate by high speed calligraphating of 17-character messages on short boards. Joins the literature club to improve her writing. Meets standard anime trope #54, bad boy with heart of gold who has trouble communicating. A little too contrived for my taste. In addition, Senryu was the name of a fighter plane in the game Sky Crawlers, so I keep waiting for her to suit up and take off.

Namu Amida Butsu! Utena:  Bishi gods come down to Tokyo. Clueless bishi gods. This has so been done before, with magical swords, and magical historic heroes, and magical drain covers (OK, I lied about that last one, but wait until Summer).

Yatogame-chan Kansatsu Nikki:  Boy from Brooklyn moves to Boston, where everybody talks funny. Sorry. Boy from Tokyo moves to Nagoya, where everybody talks funny. Like the short about Osaka of a few years back, this falls into the “You might be a redneck if…” category.

Nobunaga Sensei no Osanazuma: Is 2019 the year of the ethically challenged teacher? Time traveling 14-year old bride lands in the house of the descendant of the guy she’s supposed to marry, immediately strips off and suggests baby-making. Teacher/descendant has a hard time keeping his hands off the child. Next thing you know, the show will be talking about suppositories. Fortunately, even the uncensored version is censored.

Thoughts on Assange

April 12, 2019

So, they’ve finally dug him out of his hideaway in the Ecuadorean embassy. Actually, due to a change in government, Ecuador decided to hand him over to the UK government.

There has already been a lot of discussion of his case by a lot of people who are a lot better informed than I am. What follows are some thoughts that occurred to me over the years.

Over on Wikipedia (no relation) is a description of the history of the case.

2010 April:  Wikileaks publishes some thousands of State cables and low level military ops message traffic from Iraq, provided by (then) Bradley Manning. Obama administration starts an investigation.

2010 November: Assange accused of sexual assault in Sweden. Assange claims the US government put Stockholm up to it so they could get him out of the UK and into a more extradition-friendly country. The details of the case are murky, but could certainly be interpreted that way.

2012 August: Assange jumps bail, takes refuge in extradition-free Ecuadorian embassy.

2016 Summer: Assange, having been confined to the embassy for four years so far, starts publishing emails from the Clinton campaign. I suspect his primary motivation is revenge on Obama and Clinton. He’s striking back with the only weapon available.

2019 April: Assange is removed from Ecuadorean embassy, and that same day the US unseals an indictment against him. It’s a simple charge of attempting unauthorized computer access (“using special software, namely the Linux operating system”). Nothing political. Nothing about freedom of the press. No reason for the UK to not agree to extradite him.

So, what happens now? My guess is that, once he is in US hands, additional indictments will be issued, for things like treason and espionage and assisting a foreign power. This will raise serious issues of freedom of the press, immunity of foreign nationals to prosecution for breaking local US laws while not in the country, and so forth, but by then he’ll already be in jail and doing hard time for the duration of the trial and whatever sentence they can make stick.

Whatever you think of Assange personally, and what little I know is unfavorable, this looks like one more step in the process of restricting the press in this country.


Scallop Oats

April 11, 2019

We had scallops the other night — package of big, frozen sea scallops. We thawed them as per instructions, then baked them in a broiler pan in the toaster oven. When they were done, there was a couple of tablespoons of the liquid off them in the bottom of the broiler pan.

Meanwhile, I’d cooked some small shell pasta in chicken broth (about which more later). I mixed a cup of this broth with the scallop liquid and used it for my breakfast oatmeal.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup pasta-scallop broth, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the potatoes at the end. Add shred cheese if you like.

Results: Very good. A little salty. Most definite seafood flavor despite using only two tablespoonsworth. I had not planned ahead on this, otherwise I would have put some water in the bottom of the pan. As it was, a good portion of the scallop water browned itself to the bottom of the pan.

Rating: ***

Memories of my Youth: The perils of AI

April 10, 2019

My Ph.D. is in Systems Science, which deals with the ways that things work together. As part of my studies I got to work with some really neat tools. The dissertation was about building a neural net supply chain management system using a neural net AI control concept originally developed as an autopilot for a single-stage-to-orbit hypersonic vehicle. It doesn’t get any cooler than that.

Neural net controllers work best when they’ve been properly trained and to properly train them you need input/output data for the “plant” they are controlling. Where to get the data? In particular, where to get the data when the system you are trying to control doesn’t exist yet? Enter simulation.

I built a discrete event simulation of a multi-layer supply chain, including both the inventory and the transport costs. In order to get a wide range of values, and to help design the system structure, I used another AI technique called a genetic algorithm to optimize the whole operation. See what I mean by cool?  Here’s a picture

Playing with all my toys at one time

Unfortunately, I made an error. The GA was developing policies for re-ordering products and passing them back to the simulation. The simulation would run by applying those policies, and report out the total cost at the end of the run. Buried in the simulation code was a set of decision rules about how to apply the reorder policies. But there was an error in the decision rules, one that rewarded inappropriate actions.  The GA, having no sense of ethics, or even common sense, noted that error and began to exploit it. Policy sets that were obviously bad were coming out with high scores and taking over the population. What to do?

Well, the what to do is, go into your simulator code and track down and fix the error. This let the system operate in an appropriate fashion and come out with usable results. There’s a lesson here — if you leave a loophole in your programming, your AI will find it and exploit it to achieve the goal you gave it.

People who talk about runaway AI often think of killer bots wandering the streets, shooting people. That makes for exciting graphics, but it’s not the real problem.

Who would you like to kill today?

The real problem comes when an AI has the ability to interact with the world, and modifies the world to suit its own goals. Elon Musk talks about a strawberry-picking AI that works to cover the world with strawberry fields. Or think of a stock fund AI that decides the best way to make money is to buy defense stocks, and then start a war. Or an AI that shorts a bunch of stocks, and then causes a market crash.

Nobody knows why the market crashed that day…

So, twenty years ago, my little AI project stumbled upon a problem that is likely to be at the center of AI research for the next twenty.

TLDR — Anime I never finished, Spring 2019 Part 1

April 8, 2019

Some horses fall at the first fence. Some anime don’t make it through the first episode. Not that they’re bad, as such, but that they are too too obviously not of interest to me, personally.

Amazing Stranger Tiny humanoid space explorer lands on Earth, only to end up purchased as an anime character figurine. A true teen flick, because it’s too mature for kids, and too stupid for adults.

Hitoribocchi no Marumaruseikatsu Socially inept grade schooler enters middle school, tries to make friends with her entire class because her only friend, now attending a different school, said she’d dump her if she didn’t. Doesn’t realize that if she makes just one good friend in the new school, she doesn’t need the old one. Or maybe I’m just not into middle school anime.

Why the hell are you here, teacher? That’s what I want to know. Another season, another set of inappropriate student-teacher interactions (are suppositories the new thing?). Harsh sound track, too much shouting, stupidly contrived situations. Doesn’t rise to the intellectual level of Domestic Girlfriend. Twelve minutes is twelve minutes too long.

The Rising of the Shield Hero This is the second cour of an anime that started last season. Average non-otaku guy is shanghaied into an isekai world where he is promptly doublecrossed by the local royal family, which sours his outlook on everything thereafter. Obtains a couple of cute female non-human slaves, who promptly fall in love with him and try to improve his attitude. It’s working, and it’s a halfway decent anime, until the start of the secound cour, when he gets doublecrossed again. Can you say “Perils of Pauline”? Can you say “Jumping the shark”?

I was wrong … they’re bad.

Kotobuki: Parts of it are Magnificent

April 4, 2019

Think of it as Girls und Panzer meets Porco Rosso.

In another dimension, or astral plane, or something, exists a world named Ijitsu, that looks a lot like Australia — mostly howling wilderness. It used to have an ocean, but a wormhole of some sort opened up, destroyed the oceans, devastated the countryside and dumped a lot of military technology (including every type of Japanese WWII fighter), plus curry, rice, and pancakes, onto them. This all happened courtesy of the Yufang, who appear to be alternate timeline Japanese.

A town like Alice

Now the people of Ijitsu live a hardscrabble existence in a scattering of tiny outback towns, tied together with zeppelin flights and bepestered by air pirates. The six girls who are part of the Kotobuki Squadron* fly escort off of one of the zeppelins, fighting off the air pirates and making sure their cargo, or passengers, make it through safely.

Carrier based aircraft

Unfortunately, there’s a shadowy organization, the Brotherhood of Freedom Union, led by Isao, the mayor of the biggest city on Ijitsu, a guy who can smile and joke while ordering the destruction of entire towns, and who wants to exploit any new holes that appear and use that technology to take over the world. The Union employs dozens of fighter units and is systematically intimidating all the small towns to join up. The Kotobuki Girls are not really interested in this. As with Firefly, they just want to find a job, find a crew, keep flying. Of course, they get dragged in, end up as part of the big final battle, and are instrumental in destroying a newly opened hole and the death of the mayor.

Girls at war

Got that? Good. Now ignore it. The heart of the anime is the flying, and everything else is just an excuse. Every episode has a multiplane dogfight, and every dogfight is of heart-stopping intensity. Along the way we get to see all of these WWII fighters in action, plus some machines that never made it into the sky on our timeline — the Kyushu J7W1 Shiden, of which only two were ever built, and the Nakajima G10N Fugaku heavy bomber, only ever seen on the cover of model airplane boxes.

The bomber that never was

I suspect that Director Mizushima is doing what Miyazaki was unable to do in The Wind is Rising, celebrate the warplanes of WWII without having to insert an extended apology for Japan’s role in the war. Even though he ended the film before the start of the war, Miyazaki was still criticised for not saying enough about it. But if you have Japanese fighters shooting down Japanese fighters on an alternate world on an alternate timeline there’s no way you can be guilty of glorifying the Pacific War, right?

George and Betty

Meanwhile, we have the Kotobuki Girls. Each of the six has her own personality and her own reason for flying.

Come as you are

They are portrayed in 3DCG, and are not quite ready for prime time — their faces are stiff, and their movements seem more like those of marionettes. Be that as it may, they are all individuals, and you find yourself rooting for them in all of their fights.

Fight’s on!

And the heart of the series is the dogfights. You see the action from all sides, and from inside the cockpit. You hear the clang of bullets hitting metal, and you hear the creak of that metal stressed to its limit.  At the end of every episode, I had a bad case of the leans, from following the planes as they pulled g’s.

Another kill for Kotobuki

The ending is a magnificent swirling fight in and over the capital city, and under the newest hole. Parts of it make you think of the trench run in the first Star Wars.

Turn right at the next intersection

In the end, Kotobuki sacrifices their zeppelin to close the hole,

They’ll never catch this dirigible!

the good guys win, and fly off into the sunset.

All’s right with the world

From a flying standpoint, anime artist’s license excepted, I have two complaints about the air battles.

First, it’s too hard to tell what’s going on. All of the fights are big, multi-plane furballs,  presented as a series of vignettes featuring one-on-one engagements (sometimes with a saving intervention), but there’s nothing that gives a good view of the overall structure of the battle. In Garupan, you always had the feeling that you knew where everyone was and that you knew how the fight was rolling out. Not so with Kotobuki. Now, air battles are notoriously hard to follow. You dive in, you engage an enemy, and suddenly you are alone in the sky; or an enemy jumps you, you dive away from them, and when you recover, the fight’s move on. But usually there’s some preliminary structure — “You draw off the fighters, you go after the bombers” — even if it breaks down on contact.

Which brings me to my second complaint about the flying. There’s no sign of any real teamwork. In WWII, the US developed a number of leader/wingman concepts, which gave us a significant advantage over the Japanese, even though our fighters were outmatched by the Zero, one on one. In Kotobuki, everyone piles in on their own, and if they see a chance to help a team-mate they will. That’s good team spirit. It’s not good team work. As a result, The Kotobuki Girls are protected mostly by plot armor.


Preflight check

From a drama standpoint, if I have one complaint, it’s that the action is all bloodless, at least on the Kotobuki side. Josh Whedon once said that if you have a fight and nobody important dies, people just say “Oh, look. They’re shooting.” That’s the way Kotobuki is.

Despite that, I’d still call it magnificent.

*Kotobuki, 寿, A Yufang word meaning good fortune, congratulations, or long life, but we don’t find out about that until the end.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

April 3, 2019

Garden Report for 190403

Meteorological Spring seems to have arrived. The snow has melted, and I can dig in the garden again, but it will be at least a month before the soil warms up enough to plant stuff in.

Only two thirds of my seeds have germinated and been repotted, but that turns out to be a good thing, since I don’t have room for any more pots. All of the melons and about half of the peas failed. I might try again when the weather warms enough to transplant the existing pots and free up some room. Of course, by that time the garden centers might be getting in their plants.

Bought a couple of small planters (24x6x4″) to grow greens in. Once they germinate I’ll put them on the back deck. Meant to plant them to different kinds of lettuce but I grabbed the wrong packet and planted one with chard. This is my first test of seed tapes. Should have something to eat by the end of May.

Once the rain stops I’ll put down some fertilizer in the garden and give it a couple of weeks to work in. I’d been feeding each section through the compost well, but I think I need to do more.

How long has this been going on?

April 1, 2019

All professors complain about students slacking off in class. Most students don’t. Many do. There’s even a electrophoretic distribution across the seating chart. The Hermione Grangers all sit up front. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, they pay attention, take notes and ask good questions. Back in the back are those don’t care, don’t want to be there, and aren’t real sure why their parents are making them go. They all have their laptops open (I’m following your lecture slides, prof, and I need to sit back here because that’s where the power plugs are.) Those are the ones who look at their screens and laugh when I haven’t made a joke. In the middle are the ones who are texting on their phones. I know who they are because they are staring at their crotches and smiling.

There’s a body of opinion that we are seeing the results of the electrification of our lives. Everybody lives for their instagram, pinterest, and facebook fix. It’s a 21st Century phenomenon. Maybe not.

Here’s a 14th Century drawing of an academic lecture. Note the distribution of attention: eager students in front, disinterested students in back. Student at the end of the second row consulting their Kindle.

Picture taken from a tweet posted by Stuart Wrigley