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22nd November 2015

11:53am: I have just acquired an inexpensive Chinese-made dual-SIM Android phone. It has a miniscule amount of internal storage (2GB), so I am impatiently awaiting the arrival of the 32GB microSD card I've ordered. Until then I'm just charging the phone.

Suggestions on what apps I should download and (even more importantly, avoid) from the Google Play store are welcome. I think I'm going to start with transit apps like NextBus and HyperDia, but also possibly messaging apps like WhatsApp.

Thanks in advance!

17th November 2015

6:59pm: Back at my parents'. One of the things I won't miss about being here is the non-stop TV news my father seems to be addicted to. The last few days have been wall-to-wall coverage of the Paris attacks. That coverage has reminded me how much I dislike TV news. From one hour to the next there's very little new information to convey, so they fill up the time by scaring their viewers.

It's a successful business model, but I don't have to like it.

What's also striking is the reminder that TV news is a mid- to late-twentieth century medium, for people whose media habits were formed back then. I mentioned to bedfull_o_books that I'm exposed to more prescription drug adverts in my few days here than I am in the whole of the rest of my life combined.

I'm not sure it's the TV that's given me a sour stomach and a headache, but it probably isn't helping.

1st November 2015

10:48pm: I took a month off from social media*. Originally, this is because I caught whatever crud that was going around, and it took nearly two weeks to recover from it. I'm recovered now, although it sometimes feels like I still have a little more upper respiratory gunk than usual.

I found I really didn't miss social media much and had gotten out of the habit of looking at it. I might or might not get back into it, but I figured I'd pop my head up and say hello. If there's anything that happened to you in October that I really shouldn't have missed please let me know.

*except for one unintentionally cryptic post about listening to the soundtrack of Spirited Away.

19th October 2015

12:04am: ...

1st October 2015

12:05pm: "October. This is one of the peculiarly dangerous months to speculate in stocks. The others are July, January, September, April, November, May, March, June, December, August, and February." --from Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894), by Mark Twain.

28th September 2015

10:20pm: I've been saying since the news first hit about Daraprim that the people who should be angriest about Martin Shkreli and his douchebaggery are the rest of the biotech industry. He painted a great big target on their backs.

From Barron's:
There’s blood in the streets, but nobody’s buying.

Biotechnology and pharmaceutical stocks lead the way down during Monday’s broad stock selloff. Endo International (ENDP), Regeneron (REGN) and Mylan (MYL) were among the worst decliners on the S&P 500, falling 10%, 7.5% and 6.3%, respectively.

Health care stocks on the S&P 500 declined 3.8%.

The horror show for the sector’s stocks began a week ago, after Hillary Clinton made overtures about controlling fast-rising drug costs. On Monday, selling accelerated after Democratic lawmakers distributed a letter calling for a subpoena to force Valeant Pharmaceuticals (VRX) to fork over more documents related to price increases for two heart drugs.

Valeant’s shares are listed in Canada, so the stock isn’t a constituent of big U.S. stock indexes. No matter. Concerns about Vertex fueled indiscriminate selling shares of drug makers on record trading volumes.
That asshole probably shorted all his competitors as soon as he started to feel the heat.

Disclaimer: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned and do not plan to initiate any in the next 72 hours.
9:54pm: Biofluorescent sea turtle!
Big Lunar Boulder
Geologist-Astronaut Harrison Schmitt worked next to a huge, split boulder at geology Station 6 on the sloping base of North Massif during the third Apollo 17 extravehicular activity. The lunar rover developed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. operated fine in this rough lunar terrain.

For about four and a half years during my childhood, the moon was a place people went to and explored on a regular basis. By the time we stopped, I was in middle school, and I’d gotten used to that just being a thing that was part of the world I lived in.

“People go to the moon a couple of times a year,” I thought. And that was neat.

It was one of the things I was excited about as a child. But I took it as a given, like having to go to school, weather getting cold in winter, or cartoons on TV on Saturday mornings.

It was a place like anywhere else, and people went and visited it, like anywhere else.

So it’s very odd to look up at the moon tonight and think that people stopped doing that, and haven’t been back for most of my life.

27th September 2015

10:45am: 中秋節快樂!Happy Moon Festival!

Today is Mid-Autumn Festival. This year one of its other names, Moon Festival, seems even more appropriate, because there will be a supermoon and a lunar eclipse as well.

Happy Moon Festival everyone!

21st September 2015

2:22pm: Daniel Larison on Ben Carson's recent comments about Muslim unfitness for office.
Daniel Larison points out the strangeness of Ben Carson's statements on Muslims' fitness for public office:
Ben Carson said some objectionable things yesterday about Muslims, but I thought this defense of his position was by far the strangest one he could offer:
Muslims feel that their religion is very much a part of your public life and what you do as a public official, and that’s inconsistent with our principles and our Constitution.
I say this is the strangest defense he could offer because it is extremely easy to imagine this same argument being deployed against Carson–or any religious conservative–in exactly the same way. A significant part of Carson’s support comes from evangelicals, his public rhetoric is full of expressions of his religious faith, he invokes Scripture when talking about policy, and I suspect he would be among the first to condemn attempts to drive Christian teachings out of the public square. More than most of his competitors, Carson would presumably affirm that Christianity ought to be “very much a part of your public life and what you do as a public official” and he would object to the idea that it be kept strictly separate from political life. Indeed, many Christian conservatives are rallying behind him because of this.
One of his commenters followed up by asking:
Did Carson just throw Kim Davis under a bus?

19th September 2015

5:43pm: The last week or so has been an excellent time to stop reading news article comments.
4:07am: Volkswagen admits to using "defeat device" software to game U. S. emissions testing.
Well, this is certainly interesting.

From Bloomberg: Volkswagen Admits to Cheating on U.S. Emissions Tests
Volkswagen AG admitted to systematically cheating U.S. air pollution tests, leaving the automaker vulnerable to billions in fines and possible criminal prosecution.

The company sold diesel versions of Volkswagen and Audi cars with software that turns on full pollution controls only when the car is undergoing official emissions testing.

During normal driving, the cars pollute 10 times to 40 times the legal limits, the Environmental Protection Agency said. EPA called the technology a “defeat device.”

Violations of the Clean Air Act could be referred to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution, the EPA said. The potential financial liability is unclear. The EPA could fine the company $37,500 per vehicle, said Cynthia Giles, the agency’s assistant administrator for enforcement. With 482,000 autos part of the case, the total could be $18 billion. The VW investigation involves model years 2009-2015.
Bloomberg's followup story: VW `Clean Diesel' Scheme Exposed as Criminal Charges Weighed
Volkswagen AG’s admission that it cheated to make its diesel cars appear cleaner-burning than they are leaves the automaker facing billions in fines, its executives risking criminal charges and its U.S. expansion plans in tatters.

VW admitted systematically cheating on U.S. air pollution tests for years, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday in citing violations that could add up to $18 billion in fines. The company said it has also heard from the Justice Department, which the EPA said could pursue criminal prosecution.
A Jalopnik story "EPA Says Volkswagen Cheated On Emissions With 482,000 Diesel Cars (Updated)" lists the car models and years involved:
The vehicles affected are the 2009-2015 diesel Jetta, Beetle, Golf, Passat and Audi A3.
Another Jalopnik story notes that Volkswagen has deleted its diesel ads from YouTube:
The ads were a pretty big campaign from Volkswagen USA, and accordingly weren’t just covered by business magazines like AdAge and Fast Company, but were even touted by automotive publications like Car And Driver, which touted them as “hilarious,” while noting their “excellent viral mileage.”

But for all the praise and publicity the ads generated, Volkswagen USA seems to be trying to now scrub them from the Internet. A quick check of Volkswagen USA’s YouTube page shows a record of the ads being there, but now all that’s returned is a big “Deleted Video” sign.
I wonder if (how many?) other car companies have been doing this, and whether VW Group has also tried to game emissions testing elsewhere.

17th September 2015


"No selfie" signs from the Russian Ministry of the Interior, part of a
Russian safe-selfie campaign leaflet.

Accompanying article from Conde-Nast Traveler.

(I think I'm giving nothing away by summarizing the article as "selfies are more dangerous than sharks".)

ETA: two images of the pamphlet, with explanations in Russian:

ETA: Thanks to SO, I now have a link to the pdf.

13th September 2015

6:51am: Today is International Chocolate Day. One of them, at least.
It turns out that there are two Chocolate Days, July 7th and September 13th. For me this is not a problem.

I have already begun to celebrate the day in the traditional way. :)

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Chocolate_Day, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Chocolate_Day)

11th September 2015

11:45am: Okay, I'll share a pet peeve about Facebook. It's when a post appears in my feed which I can do nothing with except share it. I can't interact with it in any other way except sending a friend request to the poster, who isn't a friend. The only reason it appears in my feed is because one of my friends interacted with it in some way.

I realize this is because the person who posted it locked down all interaction with their posts, but in that case I really don't need to see it, do I?

I consider this a bug, but clearly Facebook does not.
11:06am: The heat wave has broken! It's cool and damp out.

I'm pleased. :)

7th September 2015

3:11pm: Labour Day.
Today I learned: that the American Labor Day celebration in September, rather than in May, has its origins in Canada: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/labour-day/

Wikipedia adds:
The origins of Labour Day in Canada can be traced back to December 1872 when a parade was staged in support of the Toronto Typographical Union's strike for a 58-hour work-week.[5] The Toronto Trades Assembly (TTA) called its 27 unions to demonstrate in support of the Typographical Union who had been on strike since 25 March.[5] George Brown, Canadian politician and editor of the Toronto Globe hit back at his striking employees, pressing police to charge the Typographical Union with "conspiracy."[5] Although the laws criminalising union activity were outdated and had already been abolished in Great Britain, they were still on the books in Canada and police arrested 24 leaders of the Typographical Union. Labour leaders decided to call another similar demonstration on 3 September to protest the arrests. Seven unions marched in Ottawa, prompting a promise by Canadian Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald to repeal the "barbarous" anti-union laws.[5] Parliament passed the Trade Union Act on 14 June the following year, and soon all unions were seeking a 54-hour work-week.

The Toronto Trades and Labour Council (successor to the TTA) held similar celebrations every spring. American Peter J. McGuire, co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was asked to speak at a labour festival in Toronto, Canada on 22 July 1882. Returning to the United States, McGuire and the Knights of Labor organised a similar parade based on the Canadian event on 5 September 1882 in New York City, USA.

31st August 2015

10:50pm: Jon Stewart Certainly Seems to Be Enjoying Retirement

He really does, doesn't he?

24th August 2015

5:19am: Another Monday, another crash.

China stocks suffer biggest one-day fall since global financial crisis.

23rd August 2015

4:36am: Today's Google doodle--at least in certain countries including the UK, France, and Belgium--celebrates Paul Otlet, co-founder of the Mundaneum:



The Wikipedia page says
The Mundaneum was an institution created in 1910, following an initiative begun in 1895 by Belgian lawyers Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine, as part of their work on documentation science. It aimed to gather together all the world's knowledge and classify it according to a system they developed called the Universal Decimal Classification. Otlet and La Fontaine organized an International Conference of International Associations which was the origin of the Union of International Associations (UIA).

The Mundaneum has been identified as a milestone in the history of data collection and management, and as a precursor to the internet.

19th August 2015

5:12pm: From a piece in today's Guardian:
The hacked infidelity site Ashley Madison apparently retained enough personal data about users to identify them to spouses – as the site’s hackers have claimed – despite offering a paid-for “full delete” service, which charged users £15 or $20 to remove all their information.

On the database of Ashley Madison accounts, which was posted online by the hackers on Wednesday, accounts that had been wiped by the dating service had their real name, username, email and profile information removed as promised. But the company seems to have retained the date of birth, city, state, post- or zip code, country, gender, ethnicity, weight, height, body type and whether the user smokes or drinks – providing enough information to reveal a user’s identity.

It also retained what kind of relationship a user was seeking, their current relationship status, what they were open to sexually, what turned them on, and what they were looking for in a partner. For instance, one user marked as having paid for their account to be deleted can be tracked to a specific tower block in London, where knowledge of their date of birth and appearance would easily identify them to friends or spouses.

18th August 2015

9:12pm: MeWe.
As part of my continuing effort to grab my name on every available social media platform, I have just created an account on MeWe. If you're already there, you can find me at https://mewe.com/i/serene.randomness

14th August 2015

3:35am: https://watson-pi-demo.mybluemix.net/
drwex and hammercock both tried this so I thought I'd give it a spin.
The IBM Watson Personality Insights service uses linguistic analytics to extract a spectrum of cognitive and social characteristics from the text data that a person generates through blogs, tweets, forum posts, and more.

We need a minimum of 3500 words and ideally 6000 words or more to compute statistically significant results. See the science behind the service.

Ideally, the text should contain words we use in every day life relating to personal experiences, thoughts and responses. See usage guidence for details.

My results:

Your Personality*

You are inner-directed and skeptical.

You are independent: you have a strong desire to have time to yourself. You are empathetic: you feel what others feel and are compassionate towards them. And you are authority-challenging: you prefer to challenge authority and traditional values to help bring about positive changes.

Experiences that give a sense of well-being hold some appeal to you.

You are relatively unconcerned with tradition: you care more about making your own path than following what others have done. You consider independence to guide a large part of what you do: you like to set your own goals to decide how to best achieve them.

*Compared to most people who participated in our surveys.

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 3.36.45 AM

Data Behind Your Personality

Big 5
Artistic interests7%
Achievement striving54%
Activity level4%
Emotional range41%
Prone to worry17%
Susceptible to stress31%
Openness to change86%
Visualization of Personality Data

Big 5
Adventurousness (78%)
Artistic interests (8%)
Emotionality (17%)
Imagination (89%)
Intellect (93%)
Authority-challenging (96%)
Achievement striving (55%)
Cautiousness (82%)
Dutifulness (22%)
Orderliness (29%)
Self-discipline (24%)
Self-efficacy (77%)
Activity level (5%)
Assertiveness (16%)
Cheerfulness (5%)
Excitement-seeking (4%)
Outgoing (5%)
Gregariousness (2%)
Altruism (13%)
Cooperation (72%)
Modesty (9%)
Uncompromising (22%)
Sympathy (97%)
Trust (33%)
Emotional range
Fiery (33%)
Prone to worry (18%)
Melancholy (34%)
Immoderation (29%)
Self-consciousness (50%)
Susceptible to stress (31%)
Challenge (6%)
Closeness (4%)
Curiosity (8%)
Excitement (3%)
Harmony (30%)
Ideal (2%)
Liberty (6%)
Love (20%)
Practicality (29%)
Self-expression (2%)
Stability (3%)
Structure (3%)
Conservation (6%)
Openness to change (86%)
Hedonism (47%)
Self-enhancement (64%)
Self-transcendence (47%)

Cute, but I'm not sure if it's that accurate about me. Or maybe my writing really doesn't express my extroversion very well. The visualization is attractive, though.

IBM Watson now has 6124 of my words on file, if it matters.

More documentation is available at http://www.ibm.com/smarterplanet/us/en/ibmwatson/developercloud/doc/personality-insights/overview.shtml

5th August 2015

1:11pm: "Trotsky, DON'T."

Audio only. Safe for work unless your workplace doesn't like email or revolutionary humor.

(h/t ER)
1:05pm: My friend JH says a guy he knows contends that the traffic light, and traffic obeying their signals, is a hallmark of civilization.

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