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[Book Reviews] Dueling Australian librarians, magical Japanese sheep, hackers with djinns

Raven - 5 hours 54 min ago
Still working my way through the review backlog! But I got most of the books I didn't like out of the way in my post of a few days ago, so these are all but one books I would lend someone I liked. [grin]

After having enjoyed Ramez Naam's debut "Nexus" some months back, I was interested enough to go read the sequel, "Crux". I think I had enough carryover from the first book to stop going "brains don't work that way!" and maintain more of a suspension of disbelief for his head-hacking posits. "Crux" focuses on the ways in which governments and human systems of control seek to exploit the usability of Nexus, and how that conflicts with the peaceful sharing intentions of the technology's pioneers. In that way, it's kinda like a Bourne plot... "secret government agents are after you!" has driven many an action genre piece. But there's also a lot of Singularity-flavored thinking in there, with an explicit cyborg/"posthuman" plot. (I am biased by really hating the phrase "posthuman". Humanity isn't something one just gets over one day. But I didn't hate the characters or the way Naam handles it; that's all my peeve vs. the implications of the phrase.) While I was pretty displeased at his handling of one character near the end, that's not enough to sour me on the book entirely, and I really want to see where he goes with Ling Shu. Like its predecessor, three and a half personality uploads out of five. (It would have been four, but ooooh that thing he did with that character!)

justbeast gave me the turned-out-to-be-fantastic recommendation of "Souls in the Great Machine", the first of Australian author Sean McMullen's far-future trilogy. ("The Miocene Arrow" is the second. Still waiting on the third to arrive.) In this world, humanity's terrible war in our modern day had far-reaching effects. Any mechanized vehicle longer than 30 meters, sizable use of electricity, or anything like an internal combustion engine gets shot down from space. In addition, most lands are subject to varying sweeps of the Call, where any animal larger than about 30 lbs will walk mindlessly in the direction of the Call until either it dies, is stopped by a wall or something that impedes progress, or the Call passes over it. As you might imagine, these worldbuilding strictures make the far-future civilizations interestingly different. Australia is sort of desert-steampunk, ruled by a plurality of ambitious dueling librarians and engaged in a series of revolutions in technology. North America has small havens in the mountains, and rather than being driven by wind-powered trains, has diesel compression engines and aircraft just under the limits permitted. Separate fiefs are held by chivalric airlords. And then the wars over genetic engineering start. [grin] They're the best sci-fi I've read recently for having innovative and interesting worlds, I liked the hat-tip to the early days of computing, the characters are well fleshed out and generally likable, and the plots were pleasingly unpredictable. I was also delighted that many of the world-moving, planet-changing characters were women; if they made movies out of these books they'd pass the Bechdel test easily and often. A pure delight despite some of the premise being a bit far-fetched; four Spock flashbacks out of five.

The one book I didn't like (and was warned that I wouldn't, but I read it anyway) was G. Willow Wilson's "Alif the Unseen". I *wanted* to like it; I was pretty excited about the author's reimagining of Miss Marvel and have been following some of her writing there with pleasure. But with a lead character who's allegedly an amazing hacker, nothing he did made any kind of technical sense, and the constant flow of "computers don't work like that!" was really disruptive to me. I recognize that it's fantasy, but I think it's fantasy for the nontechnical person. I did enjoy the setting and the code switching between cultures that went on, but between not believing in his skills and feeling like the protagonist was rather more dense and self-centered than I liked, I just didn't find a lot to love in the book. I want a book about Dina instead. Two cups of mint tea out of five.

In contrast, I very much enjoyed Murakami's early work "A Wild Sheep Chase". Fantastic, lyrical, hilarious, it was just the kind of absurdity that I particularly appreciate. I regret that my Japanese is not better; I would have loved to read it in the original and see how many of the bits I particularly appreciated were the same in nuance. (I am totally adding this to my list of future goals, though!) I also enjoyed the little glimpse at Hokkaido; I don't know that much about the history of that region of Japan and have a couple nonfiction books of the sort on my reading list. I might read through all of Murakami in chronological order, but I think it more likely that I'll just skip to his running book next. Four mysterious ovine spirits out of five.

When I discovered "Mountain Weather: Backcountry Forecasting and Weather Safety for Hikers, Campers, Climbers, Skiers, and Snowboarders" at REI, picking it up was a no-brainer. I'm out there pretty often; I will happily take any knowledge or improvements in how I should make my go/no-go decisions. Meteorologist and avid outdoorsman Jeff Renner does a pretty good job of outlining the basics of how storms and problematic weather forms (most of which I already knew), and then tries to lay out some simple rules for figuring out what's going on. It's a challenging set of problems to make simple rules for, though -- I've definitely had experiences where I had a day-old forecast that was clearly insufficient and yet better than nothing, cases where I could tell that the weather had changed but I wasn't sure what to expect next, and a whole lot of looking at snow slopes and trying to figure out how bad things were from what I knew about recent weather. The guidelines (and weather forecasting in general) are a lot more actionable if you're spending several days in the same place so you can get that continuity of "and then what happened?" so essential to avalanche forecasting. But if you're a day hiker and itinerant like me, you're basically never going to have that. ("Did it rain here yesterday?" "Well... it rained in Seattle, 60 miles away and with some mountains in between... and the system came from the south... but we're on the east face of this mountain... which is southeast of Seattle... aaaaaagh!") Sometimes historical local data is available, but often it isn't, and that does make things riskier. That's not the fault of this book, of course... the author is aiming for a more informed and better readership, even if the results of being more informed are to feel surrounded by risk and depressed at all the things you don't know and probably can't find out. So, useful but kinda discouraging because it is a hard problem; four mixed front enlightenments out of five.

The bestselling authors of "Thinking Strategically" revised their work and produced "The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist's Guide to Success in Business and Life", aimed at a popular audience. It's a good introduction if you're not familiar with the field, but it also brings out a number of things that I find frustrating about the field. Even in explicit discussions of non-zero-sum games, there's an underlying assumption that you are an individual actor out to win the game for you. If your best outcome also comes from helping other people do well, great, but if you do better long term by cooperating until the very last round and then cutthroat, well, that's what's best for you! (But like Vizzini, a rational actor would know that, so they cooperate until the second to last round, but your opponent would know that you know that, so they cooperate until the third to last round.... and so on.) It's interesting if you're a programmer, but it gets frustrating if you're a neurologist or a behaviourist or an ethicist. So despite being a widely spanning introduction to a good number of fundamental concepts of game theory, I was left with the sense that people who read this book and only this book will be like the pickup artists of strategy... they'll have a few tricks that will allow them to feel like they've "won" and that they know the secrets of successful negotiation now. So I want to recommend this book, but only to people who will also read other books which do not presume Homo economicus. Hardly the fault of the authors, they do point out where peoples' actual experimental behaviour deviates from what a good programmer/mathematician/strategist would optimize for... like the weather book, it's just a hard problem to bookify. Three and a half "and also read something else"s out of five.

I bought Dave Egger's "The Circle" because I hadn't read any good cyberpunk in a while, and I had hoped from the description that it would be a modern day social media novel in that genre. (Naam for bioengineering, Egger for social engingeering?) Given my political tendencies, I expected this book to be a thoughtful exploration of what we as a society are doing by sharing so much about ourselves, how it shapes our interactions, and how irrevocable that is. I didn't expect to do most of the reading with my shoulders around my ears; the culture of the Circle company felt like it was written to give me personally the heebie-jeebies. I suspect many other privacy geeks would feel the same way. Aaaaaah! One of the people I normally push books upon when I am done with them... I actually asked him, as much as I could without giving away spoilers, if this was something he would even want to read. (He's like me but more so there.) It's trenchant social commentary, but it wasn't the revolutionary thinking many of the critics are lauding him for... it's more like "aaaand here are the consequences that my friends have been wargaming for twenty years". So good on him if he gets more people thinking about that, but it feels very arrogant to think that there aren't already tons of people thinking about that. Three unsettling heebies out of jeebie.

Back to things I straightforwardly loved, John McPhee's "The Control of Nature" had me at Atchafalaya. [grin] Everyone recommends him and I can't think why I didn't try him long ago. ("You're one of today's lucky ten thousand!") After "The Emerald Mile" from last batch, I thought I was on a dam kick -- I knew something about the Old River Control, but not with the personal touch that McPhee brings to it. (I also want him to write a post-Katrina update now, and I want to go find my friend who was with the Army Corps of Engineers down there and ask him about his time serving.) I also wanted to get this book read before my trip, given McPhee's coverage of Iceland's attempt to save a town from being overrun by lava with high pressure hoses and seawater. I now appear to be on a volcano kick. [grin] Your recommendations for good volcano books gleefully accepted. I will certainly go look up the rest of McPhee's work; four and a half submerging islands out of five.

This entry was originally posted at http://ivy.dreamwidth.org/406812.html and has comment count unavailable comments there. Please feel free to comment on either site; comments rock.
Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

OpenStack Infrastructure August 2014 Bug Day

Elizabeth Krumbach - 12 hours 46 min ago

The OpenStack Infrastructure team has a pretty big bug collection.

1855 collection
Well, not literal bugs

We’ve slowly been moving new bugs for some projects over to StoryBoard in order to kick the tires on that new system, but today we focused back on our Launchpad Bugs to par down our list.

Interested in running a bug day? The steps we have for running a bug day can be a bit tedious, but it’s not hard, here’s the rundown:

  1. I create our etherpad: cibugreview-august2014 (see etherpad from past bug days on the wiki at: InfraTeam#Bugs)
  2. I run my simple infra_bugday.py script and populate the etherpad.
  3. Grab the bug stats from launchpad and copy them into the pad so we (hopefully) have inspiring statistics at the end of the day.
  4. Then comes the real work. I open up the old etherpad and go through all the bugs, copying over comments from the old etherpad where applicable and making my own comments as necessary about obvious updates I see (and updating my own bugs).
  5. Let the rest of the team dive in on the etherpad and bugs!

Throughout the day we chat in #openstack-infra about bug statuses, whether we should continue pursuing certain strategies outlined in bugs, reaching out to folks who have outstanding bugs in the tracker that we’d like to see movement on but haven’t in a while. Plus, we get to triage a whole pile of New bugs (thanks Clark) and close others we may have lost track of (thanks everyone).

As we wrap up, here are the stats from today:

Starting bug day count: 270

31 New bugs
39 In-progress bugs
6 Critical bugs
15 High importance bugs
8 Incomplete bugs

Ending bug day count: 233

0 New bugs
37 In-progress bugs
3 Critical bugs
10 High importance bugs
14 Incomplete bugs

Full disclosure, 4 of the bugs we “closed” were actually moved to the Zuul project on Launchpad so we can import them into StoryBoard at a later date. The rest were legitimate though!

It was a busy day, thanks to everyone who participated.

Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

The WTF necklace

Terri - Mon, 2014-08-25 16:02
This is crossposted from Curiousity.ca, my personal maker blog. If you want to link to this post, please use the original link since the formatting there is usually better.

This one barely counts as a maker-y thing, in that all I really did was string some letters onto a faux-leather strap, but I think it’s hilarious and needed to be shared:

Necklace with the letters WTF on it. WTF Necklace

Actually, this was much harder than it should have been. The necklace strap came pre-assembled and had to be disassembled so I could thread the letters on, which normally wouldn’t be too hard but I can’t find the relevant jewelry pliers so I wound up using these round ones which were totally unsuited. And then once I got it off, it turns out the darned letters have holes that aren’t quite big enough to easily thread the pleather through (or equally, the pleather was a bit too sticky for the length of threading required), so then I had to MacGyver this threading implement with a piece of wire that had been originally used to hold the bead in the package. My original plan of wrapping the wire around the pleather didn’t work because the wire was too thick, and then I wound up accidentally stripping half the wire inside the bead when I tried, and finally I had to find a needle and poke a hole in the end of the pleather and convince the wire to get into this much smaller hole so that I could hook it around and finally get the darned beads on the strap.

So, um, yeah. Totally easy, of course!

I can’t really take credit for the idea exactly: I saw a gal at defcon with a beautiful monogrammed purse that said WTF all classy-like (in as much as one can) and then beads were on sale when I went in to get stuff at the craft store and I was going to get my initials (which are funny enough in and of themselves) but then I decided I needed this too, because I am such a classy individual.

The instagram-clone filters prove it:

Necklace with the letters WTF on it. WTF Necklace

The thing that bugs me about this is that the holes in the beads aren’t exactly at the same height, so my necklace has a kerning problem. Can you see it? I really can, but I suppose I don’t actually have to look at my own necklace all day, and everyone at work is much too polite to stare randomly at someone else’s chest, so I figure it’s only the font geeks who’ll catch it.

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Market Street Railway Exploratorium Charter

Elizabeth Krumbach - Mon, 2014-08-25 03:43

Last month I learned about an Exploratorium Charter being put on by Market Street Railway. I’m a member of the organization and they do charters throughout the year, but my schedule rarely syncs up with when charters or other events are happening, so I was delighted when I firmed up my DebConf schedule and knew I’d be in town for this one!

It was a 2 hour planned charter, which would pick is up at the railway museum near Ferry building and take us down to Muni Metro East, “the current home of the historic streetcar fleet and not usually open to the public.” Sign me up.

The car taking us on our journey was the 1050, which was originally a Philadelphia street car (built in 1948, given No. 2119) which had been painted in Muni livery. MJ’s best friend is in town this weekend, so I had both Matti and MJ to join me on this excursion.

The route began by going down what will become the E line next year, and we stopped at the AT&T ballpark for some photo ops. The conductor (not the driver) of the event posed for photos.

Throughout the ride various volunteers from Market Street Railway passed around photos and historic pieces from street cars to demonstrate how they worked and some of the historic routes where they ran. Of particular interest was learning just how busy Ferry Building was at it’s height in the 1930s, not only serving as a busy passenger ferry port, but also with lots of street cars and other transit stopping at the building pretty much non-stop.

From the E-line there the street car went down Third street through Dogpatch and finally arrived at our first destination, the Muni Metro East Light Rail Vehicle Maintenance & Operations Facility. We all had to bright vests in order to enter the working facility.

Obligatory “Me with streetcar” photo

The facility is a huge warehouse where repairs are done on both the street cars and the Metro coaches. We had quite a bit of time to look around and peek under the cars and see some of the ones that were under repair or getting phased into usage.

I think my favorite part of the visit was getting to go outside and see the several cars outside. Some of them were just coming in for scheduled maintenance, and others like the cream colored 1056 that are going to be sent off for restoration (hooray!).

The tour concluded by taking us back up the Embarcadero and dropping us off at the Exploratorium science museum, skipping a loop around Pier 39 due to being a bit behind schedule. We spent about an hour at the museum, which was a nice visit as MJ and I had just been several months earlier.

Lots more photos from our day here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/sets/72157646412090817/

Huge thanks to Market Street Railway for putting on such a fun and accessible event!

Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

One of them Los Alamos liberals

Akkana Peck - Sun, 2014-08-24 16:50

 One of them Los Alamos liberals] I love this Adopt-a-Highway sign on Highway 4 on the way back down from the Jemez.

I have no idea who it is (I hope to find out, some day), but it gives me a laugh every time I see it.

Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

August 2014 miscellany

Elizabeth Krumbach - Sun, 2014-08-24 04:52

It’s been about a month since my surgery. I feel like I’ve taken it easy, but looking at my schedule (which included a conference on the other side of the continent) I think it’s pretty safe to say I’m not very good at that. I’m happy to say I’m pretty much recovered though, so my activities don’t seem to have caused problems.

Although, going to the 4th birthday party for OpenStack just 6 days after my surgery was probably pushing it. I thoroughly rationalized it due to the proximity of the event to my home (a block), but I only lasted about an hour. At least I got a cool t-shirt and got to see the awesome OpenStack ice sculpture. Also, didn’t die, so all is good right?

Fast forward a week and a half and we were wrapping up our quick trip to Philadelphia for Fosscon. We had some time on Sunday so decided to visit the National Museum of American Jewish History right by Independence Mall. In addition to a fun special exhibit about minorities in baseball, the museum boasts 3 floors of permanent exhibits that trace the history of Jews in America from the first settlement until today. We made it through much of the museum before our flight time crept up, and even managed to swing by the gift shop where we found a beautiful glass menorah to bring home.

Safely back in San Francisco, I met up with a few of my local Ubuntu and Debian friends on the 13th for an Ubuntu Hour and a Debian dinner. The Ubuntu Hour was pretty standard, I was able to bring along my Nexus 7 with Ubuntu on it to show off the latest features in the development channel for the tablet version. I also received several copies of The Official Ubuntu Book so I was able to bring one along to give away to an attendee, hooray!

From there, we made it over to 21st Amendment Brewery where we’d be celebrating Debian’s 21st birthday (which was coming up on the 16th). It took some time to get a table, but had lots of time to chat while we were waiting. At the dinner we signed a card to send off to a donation to SPI on behalf of Debian.

In other excitement, our car needed some work last week and MJ has been putting a lot of work into getting a sound system set up to go along with a new TV. Since I’ve been feeling better this week my energy has finally returned and I’ve been able to get caught up on a lot of projects I had pushed aside during my recovery. I also signed up for a new gym this week, it’s not as beautiful as the club I used to go to, but it has comparable facilities (including pool!) and is about half of what I was paying before. I’m thinking as I ease back into a routine I’ll use my time there for swimming and strength exercises. I sure need it, being these past few months really did a number on my fitness.

Today I met up with my friend Steve for Chinese lunch and then a visit over to the Asian Art Museum to see the Gorgeous exhibit. I’m really glad we went, it was an unusual collection that I really enjoyed. While we were there we also browsed the rest of the galleries in the museum, making it the first time that I’d actually walked through the whole museum on an excursion there.

I think the Mythical bird-man was my favorite piece of the exhibit:

And I was greatly amused when Steve used his iPhone to take a picture of the first generation iPhone on exhibit, so I captured the moment.

On Wednesday afternoon I’ll be flying up to Portland, OR to attend my first DebConf! It actually started today, but given my current commitment load I decided that 9 days away from home was a bit much and picked days later in the week where some of the discussions were most interesting to me. I’m really looking forward to seeing some of my long time Debian friends and learning more about work the teams are doing in the Continuous Integration space for Debian.

Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

Counting the days until Akademy!

Valorie Zimmerman 2 - Sat, 2014-08-23 02:46
It seems so soon after returning home from Randa and Geneva, but already the day of departure to Vienna and then Brno looms. So excited! For starters, both Scarlett and I got funding from Ubuntu so the e.V. is spared the cost of our travel! I've often felt guilty about how much airfare from Seattle is, for previous meetings. We're having a Kubuntu gathering on Thursday the 11th of September. Ping us if you have an issue you want discussed or worked on.

Also, Scarlett and I will be traveling together, which will be fun. And we're meeting Stefan Derkits in Vienna, to see some of his favorite places. Oh, a whole day in Vienna seems like heaven. We have a hostel booked; I hope it's nice. Now I need to figure out the bus or train from Vienna <> Brno.

Then there is the e.V. annual meeting, which I enjoy since I was admitted to membership. It is great to hear the reports personally, and meet people I usually only hear from in email or IRC.

Finally, there is Akademy, which is always a blur of excitement, learning, socializing, and interacting with the amazing speakers. My favorite part is always hearing from the GSoC students about their projects, and their experience in the KDE community. After Akademy proper, there are days of BOFs, and our Kubuntu meeting. This part is often the most energizing, as each meeting is like a small-scale sprint.

Of course we do take some time to walk through the city, and eat out, and party a bit. Face-to-face meetings are the BEST! Sometimes we return home exhausted and jetlagged, but it is always worth it. KDE is a community, and our annual gathering is one important way for us to nurture that community. This energizes the entire next year of creating amazing software.

An extra-special part of Akademy this year is that we are planning to release our new KDE Frameworks 5 Cookbook at Akademy. Get some while they're hot!
Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

Learning to git

Valorie Zimmerman 2 - Fri, 2014-08-22 09:55
A few years ago, I learned from Myriam's fine blog how to build Amarok from source, which is kept in git. It sounds mysterious, but once all the dependencies are installed, PATH is defined and the environment is properly set up, it is extremely easy to refresh the source (git pull) and rebuild. In fact, I usually use the up-arrow in the konsole, which finds the previous commands, so I rarely have to even type anything! Just hit return when the proper command is in place.

Now we're using git for the KDE Frameworks book, so I learned how to not only pull the new or changed source files, but also to commit my own few or edited files locally, then push those commits to git, so others can see and use them.

To be able to write to the repository, an SSH key must be uploaded, in this case done in the KDE Identity account. If the Identity account is not a developer account, that must first be granted.

Just as in building Amarok, first the folders need to be created, and the repository cloned. Once cloned, I can see either in konsole or Dolphin the various files. It's interesting to me to poke around in most of them, but the ones I work in are markdown files, which is a type of text file. I can open them in kate (or your editor of choice) either from Dolphin or directly from the cli (for instance kate ki18n/ki18n.in.md).

Once edited, save the file, then it's time to commit. If there are a number of files to work on, they can be all committed at once. git commit -a is the command you need. Once you hit return, you will be immediately put into nano, a minimal text editor. Up at the top, you will see it is waiting for your commit message, which is a short description of the file or the changes you have made. Most of my commits have said something like "Edited for spelling and grammar." Once your message is complete, hit Control X, and y and return to save your changes.

It's a good idea to do another git pull just to be sure no one else has pushed a conflicting file while the commit message was being crafted, then git push. At this point the passphrase for the ssh key is asked for; once that is typed and you hit return, you'll get something like the following:

Counting objects: 7, done.                                                                                                                                                                              
Delta compression using up to 8 threads.                                                                                                                                                                
Compressing objects: 100% (4/4), done.                                                                                                                                                                  
Writing objects: 100% (4/4), 462 bytes | 0 bytes/s, done.                                                                                                                                                
Total 4 (delta 2), reused 1 (delta 0)                                                                                                                                                                    
remote: This commit is available for viewing at:
remote: http://commits.kde.org/kf5book/90c863e4ee2f82e4d8945ca74ae144b70b9e9b7b
To git@git.kde.org:kf5book                                                                                                                                                                              
   1d078fe..90c863e  master -> master                                                                                                                                                                    

In this case, the new file is now part of the KDE Frameworks 5 book repository. Git is a really nifty way to keep files of any sort organized and backed up. I'm really happy that we decided to develop the book using this powerful tool.
Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

MicroView: the bad, the good, and the awesome

Terri - Thu, 2014-08-21 07:17
This is crossposted from Curiousity.ca, my personal maker blog. If you want to link to this post, please use the original link since the formatting there is usually better.

I backed this cute little thing on kickstarter called the Microview, which is basically a teensy arduino with an oled display attached. It was too adorable to pass up: I’ve wanted a little programmable necklace for a while, and this meant that project would be really easy to build.

My MicroView (Adorable Arduino with OLED display) My MicroView (Adorable Arduino with OLED display)

I’ve been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the MicroView and it finally came today. So I popped open the instructions page and the first thing I see is a big apology. Uh oh…

So I check my email and sure enough, there’s an email about a big problem. Short version: they sent out a whole pile of units without bootloaders, so it runs the demo but won’t run any new code. Both of my MicroViews, it seems, are in the affected batches. More details here:



So that’s disappointing, but they’re shipping out replacement units, and I suppose I can wait a bit longer to play. It’s not like I don’t have other toys to play with.

But here’s the super awesome news: it’s possible to dissect the unit and fix it!

So… with a bit of hacking, and assuming I don’t break anything, I may have double the number of MicroViews by the time this is done, and I’ll have had an excuse to dissect my new toys.

I’ve never been so pleased about receiving a defective product. :)

In the meantime, I guess I can play the tutorial game:

 Connect a jumper between pins 5 and 8 MicroView running the tutorial “game”: Connect a jumper between pins 5 and 8

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Mouse Release Movie

Akkana Peck - Wed, 2014-08-20 23:10

[Mouse peeking out of the trap] We caught another mouse! I shot a movie of its release.

Like the previous mouse we'd caught, it was nervous about coming out of the trap: it poked its nose out, but didn't want to come the rest of the way.

[Mouse about to fall out of the trap] Dave finally got impatient, picked up the trap and turned it opening down, so the mouse would slide out.

It turned out to be the world's scruffiest mouse, which immediately darted toward me. I had to step back and stand up to follow it on camera. (Yes, I know my camera technique needs work. Sorry.)

[scruffy mouse, just released from trap] [Mouse bounding away] Then it headed up the hill a ways before finally lapsing into the high-bounding behavior we've seen from other mice and rats we've released. I know it's hard to tell in the last picture -- the photo is so small -- but look at the distance between the mouse and its shadow on the ground.

Very entertaining! I don't understand why anyone uses killing traps -- even if you aren't bothered by killing things unnecessarily, the entertainment we get from watching the releases is worth any slight extra hassle of using the live traps.

Here's the movie: Mouse released from trap. [Mouse released from trap]

Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

[Book Reviews] Excellent anthologies, an epic Grand Canyon run, and two awful books

Raven - Tue, 2014-08-19 21:15
Hello, Internet! I read a couple of terrible books as well as several that I liked. In an attempt to whittle down my backlog of book reviews some, have a post. Books I disliked:
I got a recommendation for "The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club" from a lady I was corresponding with; she swore that Laurie Notaro was the funniest woman alive and that everything she wrote was gold. I was expecting comedy stories about a group of women out adventuring. Instead, what I got was more like "it's soooooo hard having a Jersey Shore style life". I... had assumed that the title was self-deprecating. I didn't expect the author to genuinely be someone I thought was stupid. I should have read Powells rather than just jumping to Paperback Swap: She writes about a world of hourly-wage jobs that require absolutely no skills... and hangovers that leave her surprised that she woke up in the first place. The misadventures of Laurie and her fellow Idiot Girls (“too cool to be in the Smart Group”) unfold in a world that everyone will recognize but no one has ever described so hilariously. She delivers the goods: life as we all know it. Uh. That is not life as I know it. I didn't find it hilarious. I was torn between "wow, that is completely obnoxious and self centered", "you realize you could have trivially avoided this problem, right?", and just a complete lack of connection with the protagonist. Our priorities are so different that I disliked basically everything she decided to do, and that made it hard to find this funny. One episode of falling asleep on someone else's lawn in your own vomit out of five. :/

I know, I'm a heathen, but I hated Paul Park's "A Princess of Roumania" too. It's a portal fantasy full of characters that I don't care about, in a world where the only person I liked gets turned into a silent dog pretty much immediately. Bah. It's the first of a trilogy, and it doesn't stand alone very well, but I didn't care about the characters or the world enough to read the other two. If you liked the "mucking about in tents" part of Harry Potter 7, you will like this book... there are nontrivial similarities. Our Heroine (and her small entourage) are very lazily pursued by the bad guys, the weather is awful, there's always a vague feeling of threat, nothing feels resolved. Even when things happen, it doesn't feel like there's progress of the plot, it's more just like "and then in the winter of 1638 Such And So fell sick and died unexpectedly, also barley harvests were down but winter wheat taxes were lucrative". The younger characters whine and bicker a lot, which does not add to their likability. The adult characters all took a triple dose of Inscrutable Motives And Secret History, so they're all swanning about giving the fourth wall meaningful glances but never actually saying anything. Bah. One pointless winter march out of five.

Better books:
I was a Kickstarter backer for "Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History", and I had pretty high hopes for it. I like anthologies, I like the chance to get to discover new authors, and I was particularly looking forward to an anthology that wasn't just going to be a million Play Ren Fest With Magic stories about being a noble in medieval Europe. (Even or perhaps particularly as a Celt, the avalanche of magic medieval Ireland stories get really really old.) Favorite stories included Tananarive Due's contribution -- I'm not a horror fan but she writes so well that I grit my teeth and read through the creepy anyway. Ken Liu’s “Knotting Grass, Holding Wing” was also excellent; Green Siskin is a wonderfully well developed heroine. L.S. Johnson's “Marigolds” and Nnedi Okorafor's “It’s War” were also among my favorites. The anthology as a whole is certainly serving a market looking for its stories; about two days after I'd finished, a new book friend of mine said that she liked postcolonialist literature and speculative fiction but rarely found the two in the same works. I cackled and sent her a recommendation. For sensitive readers, a lot of the stories deal with difficult subject matter... there are plenty of cases where the plot is driven by the characters asserting themselves against an unfair world, and the harshness of their surrounding circumstances is pretty apparent. But I was regularly delighted by the narrative focus remaining on these characters as people who decided and acted... the stories were not about how hard they had it, but rather about what they did with their lives. A++ for that! Many of the stories do not end happily, which is pretty consistent with how many of the referenced periods of history used as settings went, but even when they were hard to read I still enjoyed having read them. Four and a half complex plots out of five.

"Athena's Daughters: Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy" was another Kickstarter project (and it's worth going to that page for all the associated art, but by the time I found out about it I was too late to fund it. Instead, I ended up ordering the ebook through Amazon. Pun sort of intended, it's a stellar anthology -- I found out about it through Sherwood Smith's blog, and with her story and a couple of my other favorite authors (Cleolinda Jones! Nisi Shawl!) it would be hard not to be. It was icing on the cake that astronaut and all-around badass Colonel Pam Melroy (one of only two women to command the Space Shuttle) wrote for them as well. I know I'm a sucker, but the Amelia Earhart story was my favorite. Like "Long Hidden", the included art was lovely and added to my enjoyment as a reader, even if I do always try to figure everything in the story out in advance from the art. I understand they're doing a second volume with submissions opening this summer, and I'll definitely read that one once it's out too. Four wise owls out of five.

My book friend to whom I recommended "Long Hidden" lent me Stephen King's foray into mystery/hard boiled crime fiction "The Colorado Kid". More than anything, I read it as an ethnography of Maine island life. It wasn't badly told, but if you are the kind of reader who likes all their loose ends wrapped up and everything neatly packaged, you will not like this book. It's much more "old-timers talking about a cold case" than it is a detective hurtling across the landscape trying to solve a murder before getting offed themself. Short, interesting, but not a neat fit in any genre. Three and a half ferry boat drivers out of five.

From my first trip to Third Place Books, I had to pick just one book to take home with me. (I was on a bicycle. It's a long way.) That book was "The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Though the Heart of the Grand Canyon". It's excellent outdoor writing -- lots of history, some geology, and enough background to understand the tension and opposing worldviews of the engineers who built and maintain the dams on the Colorado as well as the environmental activists who oppose their existence and management. Readers who like high context and understanding how things came to be will like this book. While it takes quite some time to get around to the Emerald Mile's record-breaking run down the river, by the time you get there you can appreciate what it was that just happened. I am still substantially astonished that nobody died... like the Powell party, heading dwarfed but undaunted into a partially known river of that scale is straddling the line between crazy and legendary. I sure wouldn't want to do it, but I enjoyed reading about people crazier than myself doing it. Four new faces of Crystal out of five.

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Wuthering Bytes 2014 Talk – SPI and I2C

Melanie Rhianna Lewis - Tue, 2014-08-19 13:22


Here are the slides to the SPI and I2C talk I gave at Wuthering Bytes 2014 at Hebden Bridge, here in the UK.


Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

Book review: Stormdancer

Terri - Tue, 2014-08-19 04:53
I haven't really kept up on reviewing much of anything lately, even though I still read lots of books and try makeup and stuff, but life is busy and I'm pretty sure I'm less likely to regret missed reviews than I will other things, so I don't feel that guilty.

That said, here's a book review:

Stormdancer (The Lotus War Book One) by Jay…
Stormdancer (The Lotus War Book One)
by Jay Kristoff

It was a snippet describing this book as "Japanese Steampunk" that made me curious enough to request this from the library. I'd personally describe it more as "feudal Japanese dystopia" than steampunk, but I seem to have a penchant dystopian young adult stuff, so that works out ok for me. There are some robot-suits and flying machines so it fits the bill if you're looking for steampunk rooted in something other than victorian England culture. Frankly, it's worth a read just for that cultural quirk, although the technical-cultural aspects are barely touched upon in this volume.

Stormdance is mostly the tale of Yukiko, daughter of the famed "Black Fox" -- a hunter whom the shogun has sent on what seems a fool's errand: he is to find and bring back a "thunder tiger" (griffon) in a land that is so polluted and poisoned that there are barely any animals left. As Yukiko accompanies the hunters on their quest, the way she sees her father, other people, and the world winds up irrevocably changed, and she soon finds herself on a quest of her own...

I admit, I found this one a bit hard to get into: it starts with lengthy descriptions and more Japanese-style pacing than I'm used to in my young adult novels, and I found having to learn terminology sent me on enough tangential trips to the glossary that I had trouble immersing myself. But once I did, it's a great story with a few great characters and a fascinating world.

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WutheringBytes 2014 Talk – Linux Bootloaders and Kernel Config

Melanie Rhianna Lewis - Sat, 2014-08-16 10:19


Here are the slides to the Loaders talk I gave at Wuthering Bytes 2014 at Hebden Bridge, here in the UK.


Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

WutheringBytes 2014 Talk – Linux Bootloaders and Kernel Config

Melanie Rhianna Lewis - Sat, 2014-08-16 10:15


Here are the slides to the Loaders talk I gave at Wuthering Bytes 2014 at Hebden Bridge, here in the UK.


Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

WutheringBytes 2014 Talk – Linux Bootloaders and Kernel Config

Melanie Rhianna Lewis - Sat, 2014-08-16 10:13


Here are the slides to the Loaders talk I gave at Wuthering Bytes 2014 at Hebden Bridge, here in the UK.


Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

SanDisk Clip Sport

Elizabeth Krumbach - Sat, 2014-08-16 00:32

I got my first MP3 player in 2006, a SanDisk Sansa e140. As that one aged, I picked up the SanDisk Sansa Fuze in 2009. Recently my poor Sansa Fuze has been having trouble updating the library (takes a long time) and would randomly freeze up. After getting worse over my past few trips, I finally resigned to getting a new player.

As I began looking for players, I was quickly struck by how limited the MP3 player market is these days. I suspect this is due to so many people using their phones for music these days, but that’s not a great option for me for a variety of reasons:

  • Limits to battery life on my phone make a 12 hour flight (or a 3 hour flight, then an 8 hour flight, then navigating a foreign city…) a bit tricky.
  • While I do use my phone for runs (yay for running apps) I don’t like using my phone in the gym, because it’s bulky and I’m afraid of breaking it.
  • Finally, my desire for an FM tuner hasn’t changed, and I’m quite fond of the range of formats my Fuze supported (flac, ogg, etc).

So I found the SanDisk Clip Sport MP3 Player. Since I’ve been happy with my SanDisk players throughout the years and the specs pages seemed to meet my needs, I didn’t hesitate too much about picking it up for $49.99 on Amazon. Obviously I got the one with pink trim.

I gave the player a spin on my recent trip to Philadelphia. Flight time: 5 hours each way. I’m happy to report that the battery life was quite good, I forgot to charge it while in Philadelphia but the charge level was still quite high when I turned it on for my flight home.

Overall, I’m very happy with it, but no review would be complete without the details!


  • Feels a bit plasticy – the Fuze had a metal casing
  • I can’t figure out how it sorts music in file view, doesn’t seem alphabetical…


  • Meets my requirements: FM Tuner, multiple formats – my oggs play fine out of the box, the Fuze required a firmware upgrade
  • Standard Micro USB connector for charging – the Fuze had a custom connector
  • File directory listing option, not just by tags
  • Mounts via USB mass storage in Linux
  • Micro SD/SDHC expansion slot if I need to go beyond 8G

We’ll see how it holds up through the abuse I put it through while traveling.

Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

How to Encrypt Email in Linux

Carla Schroder (O'Reilly articles) - Fri, 2014-08-15 19:15
If you've been thinking of encrypting your email, it is a rather bewildering maze to sort through thanks to the multitude of email services and mail clients. There are two levels of encryption to consider: SSL/TLS encryption protects your login and password to your mailserver. GnuPG is the standard strong Linux encryption tool, and it encrypts and authenticates your messages. It is best if you manage your own GPG encryption and not leave it up to third parties, which we will discuss in a moment.
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Time-lapse photography: stitching movies together on Linux

Akkana Peck - Fri, 2014-08-15 18:05

[Time-lapse clouds movie on youtube] A few weeks ago I wrote about building a simple Arduino-driven camera intervalometer to take repeat photos with my DSLR. I'd been entertained by watching the clouds build and gather and dissipate again while I stepped through all the false positives in my crittercam, and I wanted to try capturing them intentionally so I could make cloud movies.

Of course, you don't have to build an Arduino device. A search for timer remote control or intervalometer will find lots of good options around $20-30. I bought one so I'll have a nice LCD interface rather than having to program an Arduino every time I want to make movies. Setting the image size

Okay, so you've set up your camera on a tripod with the intervalometer hooked to it. (Depending on how long your movie is, you may also want an external power supply for your camera.)

Now think about what size images you want. If you're targeting YouTube, you probably want to use one of YouTube's preferred settings, bitrates and resolutions, perhaps 1280x720 or 1920x1080. But you may have some other reason to shoot at higher resolution: perhaps you want to use some of the still images as well as making video.

For my first test, I shot at the full resolution of the camera. So I had a directory full of big ten-megapixel photos with filenames ranging from img_6624.jpg to img_6715.jpg. I copied these into a new directory, so I didn't overwrite the originals. You can use ImageMagick's mogrify to scale them all: mogrify -scale 1280x720 *.jpg

I had an additional issue, though: rain was threatening and I didn't want to leave my camera at risk of getting wet while I went dinner shopping, so I moved the camera back under the patio roof. But with my fisheye lens, that meant I had a lot of extra house showing and I wanted to crop that off. I used GIMP on one image to determine the x, y, width and height for the crop rectangle I wanted. You can even crop to a different aspect ratio from your target, and then fill the extra space with black: mogrify img_6624.jpg -crop 2720x1450+135+315 -scale 1280 -gravity center -background black -extent 1280x720 *.jpg

If you decide to rescale your images to an unusual size, make sure both dimensions are even, otherwise avconv will complain that they're not divisible by two. Finally: Making your movie

I found lots of pages explaining how to stitch together time-lapse movies using mencoder, and a few using ffmpeg. Unfortunately, in Debian, both are deprecated. Mplayer has been removed entirely. The ffmpeg-vs-avconv issue is apparently a big political war, and I have no position on the matter, except that Debian has come down strongly on the side of avconv and I get tired of getting nagged at every time I run a program. So I needed to figure out how to use avconv.

I found some pages on avconv, but most of them didn't actually work. Here's what worked for me: avconv -f image2 -r 15 -start_number 6624 -i 'img_%04d.jpg' -vcodec libx264 time-lapse.mp4

Adjust the start_number and filename appropriately for the files you have.

Avconv produces an mp4 file suitable for uploading to youtube. So here is my little test movie: Time Lapse Clouds.

Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

[Book Reviews] "Why Everyone (Else) Is A Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind"

Raven - Fri, 2014-08-15 15:59
It probably says something about me that I had already read about every study cited in Robert Kurzban's pop science work "Why Everyone (Else) Is A Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind" and all of the philosophers, but 75% of his movie references were lost upon me. I fail at pop. (Pretty funny, since that's what most of the Amazon reviewers loved about the book.) I was predisposed to like his book, though, because his thesis of the complexity/multiplicity of mind pretty much tallies with my own experience of consciousness. Briefly, he posits that we are not each one solitary controlled actor, but rather each a collection of competing and cooperating neural responses and cognitive processes (he refers to these as modules of the brain) which don't necessarily share information with each other. So we aren't always (or even often) consciously aware that we have done something (heart beating, breathing, etc.), or how we have done it (detectable decision making is not the first neural activity associated with that decision) or, most crucially, why we have done it. He tackles confabulation and split-brain patients, touching on the work of my favorite neurologist V.S. Ramachandran, and then extends this thinking to other neural processes that aren't strictly hemisphere-limited.

The central useful idea of the book discusses cases where we simultaneously hold two conflicting ideas, and explains this as different modules of the brain being adapted for different purposes. That certainly happens and has clear ties to Ramachandran's split-brain work, and when asked how we resolve these seemingly conflicting pieces of information, we usually just make shit up (technical term: confabulation). He explains our brains as adapted for living as social animals, and so one module (he calls it the press secretary) has as its function the favorable presentation of ourselves to others. If this were true, it would sometimes be to our advantage for that module to be strategically ignorant of other things we do or think, much as politicians tend to deny knowledge of whatever inconveniently unpopular thing is advancing their agenda. So in Kurzban's framing, the self-interested modules that are pursuing our own advantage simply don't inform the press secretary module of this, and this explains why you get family values politicians having affairs, Eliot Spitzer, etc. (He didn't reference the GLBT versions thereof, I suspect because some readers will think that's a harder evolutionary sell than het sex.) The thing I would have loved to see discussed that didn't get covered is how these various brain modules arrive at a decision when there is conflict between them. I suspect that the answer is "Nobody knows!", but he spends so much time debunking the little-decider-brain-within-a-big-brain approach that I felt like he owed the reader an alternate hypothesis for how this decision making actually happens, or at least an admission that we haven't the faintest idea.

Kurzban is a straight-up materialist and nothing else is considered, just referenced as history... he comes within a hair of titling a section "Why Your Religion Is Wrong And There Is Nothing But The Brain". But if that doesn't bother you or if you agree with him, you'll probably like this book. I think he's too exclusionary there -- even if you're a materialist too, he doesn't reference or look at the known effects of digestive bacteria on mood or neural activity, for example, and only kinda touches on the substantial body of literature on hormones and their expressions. When you're writing a 220 page book I can kind of understand not wanting to open those cans of E. coli, though. I appreciated his clear delineation of the differences in playing a game against other humans (where you may win via persuasion even if you are wrong) versus playing a game against nature (honey badger don't care about your press secretary) and the cases where that does and doesn't work out for people. But I do think it would do most of us good to be able to think of ourselves more as ecosystems rather than as singly motivated beings... we pretty clearly are. I have found it cognitively useful when thrashing through a complicated problem to not kick myself for "Why do I hold both A and in-this-case not-A?" -- realizing that it's a case of dual inputs which happen to conflict rather than "you suck at logical consistency" helps me figure out what I'm actually going to do. I didn't learn a lot from reading this book -- the one new-information takeaway that I got from it was that Stephen Jay Gould attributed ideas his fellow evolutionists never held to them just so that he could "debunk" them. Pretty annoying to have someone try to prove to you adversarially your own position! Heh. "Gould's strategic errors, painting himself a defender of a completely sensible view in opposition to views held by no one, was thoroughly effective. He died famous, wealthy, and wrong." Dang. (Stephen Jay Gould was one of my childhood heroes; I was reading and loving his books about the time that all this was going on in academia.)

Four monogamy-policing nesting birds out of five.

This entry was originally posted at http://ivy.dreamwidth.org/403612.html and has comment count unavailable comments there. Please feel free to comment on either site; comments rock.
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