LED lights give a lot of light for the amount of electricity (enough that there are problems in snowy areas where LED traffic lights don’t melt accumulated snow the way the incandescents used to), but the spectrum they give off doesn’t look much like natural light; a “white” light is usually just a mix of yellow and blue. There are solutions coming up with quantum dot lighting that should make it possible to produce lights that approximate the visible portion of the blackbody spectrum, giving a true daylight look.

The next step after bulbs that provide a good approximation of natural light (i.e. a color rendering index near 100) would be ones that can dynamically shift to a specified color temperature, making it possible to have your house lights be bright and sunny on a winter morning, but dimming and cooling to be more like candlelight in the evening. This would help provide cues that it’s getting closer to bedtime. (You can already do this with your computer monitor using f.lux.)

mithriltabby: Detail from Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” (Time)
( Feb. 2nd, 2012 12:00 am)

The handy thing about going grey is that I can dye my beard interesting colors without going to the trouble of bleaching it first.

“My body is a temple... of Bacchus!

So we’re covering Bodhidharma’s Bloodstream Sermon and hit a passage:

People who don’t understand and think they can do so without study are no different from those deluded souls who can’t tell white from black. Falsely proclaiming the Buddha-Dharma, such persons in fact blaspheme the Buddha and subvert the Dharma. They preach as if they were bringing rain. But theirs is the preaching of devils not of Buddhas. Their teacher is the King of Devils and their disciples are the Devil’s minions. Deluded people who follow such instruction unwittingly sink deeper in the Sea of Birth and Death. Unless they see their nature, how can people call themselves Buddhas? They’re liars who deceive others into entering the realm of devils. Unless they see their nature, their preaching of the Twelvefold Canon is nothing but the preaching of devils. Their allegiance is to Mara, not to the Buddha.

I remarked: “The allegiance of devils isn’t very useful. My wife can’t even get them to help out with the housework.” (She’s named after the Biblical Mara, not the demon, but it’s just too funny when the name pops up in the scripture.)

Generate Activation Context failed for c:\Temp\updater\tests\basic-success\bin\updater.exe. Reference error message: The operation completed successfully.

Error messages like this make me realize that the entire point of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is to shave hours off Bill Gates’ allotted millennia of doing tech support in Hell, where the network is a mix of Windows ME, 2000, and Vista.

Microsoft Windows Hatred Status
Their developers are smoking advanced experimental prototype monkey crack again.
mithriltabby: Serene silver tabby (R'lyeh)
( Dec. 30th, 2011 11:19 pm)

The biggest retailers of ebooks are Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, both of which are in the habit of locking their books with DRM that prevents the books from being read by anything other than an approved device. (Barnes and Noble, to their credit, will allow an author to turn off DRM on their books, but they don’t give you a way to search for this, so you have to ask the author directly; Tim Pratt, Linda Nagata, and Walter Jon Williams are good sports.) These sorts of ebooks aren’t really being sold to you; they’re just rentals, only good as long as the store is open. We’ve seen music providers go under and take online music collections with them.

So where does one go for unlocked books, if you want to reward the good sports who are willing to trust their customers and sell them ebooks that will still be readable even if the store goes away? There are a number of formats, though it looks like EPUB (essentially a bunch of XHTML/CSS files in a ZIP container) is winning out. You can crack open an EPUB and edit it with open source tools like Sigil, making your own tweaks if you want to fix something. On Android, Aldiko is a good reader.

MOBI files are less popular, and I haven’t been paying as much attention to them; many electronic bookstores offer EPUB, MOBI, and PDF options.

  • Webscription is the first place to check for science fiction and fantasy. They have pretty much everything that Baen publishes, as well as a smattering of titles from other publishers.
  • Smashwords also has a good variety, including the Liaden chapbooks by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller; Walter Jon Williams is releasing his backlist there as well.
  • Book View Café is publishing the out-of-print backlist for a number of science fiction authors.
  • Weightless Books has a sparse selection, but is worth checking— they have some of Elizabeth Bear’s work from Subterranean Press.
  • FS& have a very small selection thus far, but they have Daniel Keys Moran’s tales of the Continuing Time and Steve Perry’s Matador books.
  • DriveThruFiction very rarely have work from known science fiction authors; I usually visit their sister site, DriveThruRPG, for PDFs of gaming books, and just turned up some of Alan Moore’s 2000AD work (in PDF form) on DriveThruComics.
  • Fictionwise
  • Wildside Press
  • ereads

The different stores have their various foibles. Some allow keeping a wish list (useful if you want to keep track of books to purchase over time, in moderation, when freeing up physical shelf space), some don’t; some allow purchasing in bulk, while others make each book a separate transaction.

...as a result of standardization, the emoji narrative is coming.

Once I read that the Nook Tablet could be hacked into running the Android Market, I decided that it would be a fine choice of e-reader: lightweight, good screen, slot for a microSD card so I could give it a boatload of storage. The form factor is just right for fitting in the paperback-sized pocket of my jacket.

The stock Nook is pretty limited; Barnes and Noble have hidden a lot of standard Android functionality. It comes with Pandora, Netflix, and Hulu, and you can download EverNote and Skitch from the B&N app store, but there’s not a lot of choice there. It’s pretty easy to download the Amazon App Store, which gives you some more choices; you don’t need to be a hacker to install the Kindle app on the Nook and get the advantage of both bookstores.

Getting the full benefit of Android, though, requires rooting it— hacking the device to give yourself administrator permissions. At the moment, that means you need to download the Android SDK to your computer, download a program like AppMenu or Any Cut to the Nook so you can access the hidden part of the UI that lets you turn on the flag that will let the debug tool in the Android SDK talk to your Nook, and then load up a program that will break the security. This is pretty straightforward if you’re already comfortable with the command line (though there were some false starts until I found the right version of AppMenu), but I wouldn’t recommend it for someone nontechnical.

Once that’s done, installing the Android market, then using that to install ADW.Launcher to get a real launcher (and directly installing HomeCatcher to let you override the big N button on the front of the case to take you there) finally makes it a real Android device. It takes some abuse of root permissions to get the Swype keyboard working (which is a relief, since B&N have their own keyboard that acts different from all other Android keyboards), but I didn’t have any issues getting Adobe Reader, Aldiko, Kindle, and Google Books all loaded up, and Zinio and the Economist work just fine. None of the Android apps for Twitter, Facebook, Google Maps, or Google Plus are marked as compatible, so the Android Market won’t let you download them.

There are still some odd hitches, like the erratic availability of the Back and Menu buttons (which usually appear when needed, but occasionally get left out). I’m hoping that the intrepid hacking community will soon have a full Ice Cream Sandwich build to overwrite B&N’s hack.


This is one of the better Fate implementations I’ve seen, providing a very flexible framework for storytelling at power levels ranging from mundane to epic. Fate normally has a set of skills that each have several trappings, and then stunts that modify how the skills work. The variant in The Kerberos Club provides a system for rearranging the trappings into different skills, and spending the stunt slots on changing the “power tier” of a skill or adding particular “gifts”, chosen from a list of half a dozen, that provide anything from loyal companions to extra skills to special equipment. Mechanically, this would be superb for a supers game.

The game also has a splendidly visualized steampunk setting, with a variant 19th century that starts out similar to our own history and then begins to gradually go off the rails as the “Strange” phenomena in the game begin to come into the light. The blending of inspiration from numerous sources is just as much fun as Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula, with the strangeness of the story centering around Queen Victoria displaying her own peculiar powers— I suspect as an avatar of Britannia, though the writer leaves it mysterious. The game facilitates classic tropes ranging from occultism to mad science, as well as reflections of ideas from our own era (such as Lady Ada Lovelace developing punchcard-driven humanoid automata that go horribly awry in ways clearly inspired by modern computers).

The Dresden Files RPG is an excellent one for its setting, but needs adaptation to fit other ones; this one is much easier to generalize, and has all the delightful pulpness of Spirit of the Century.

Every year, the arrival of Xmas™ Muzak® marks the beginning of holiday-frenzy season, when perfectly good Christmas carols are placed on repeat play because some marketer somewhere thinks it enhances holiday mood and encourages people to spend more money, even if it wrings the last drops of sentiment out of the assocations with the tunes. This is the time of year when I am careful to carry a music player and headphones into any public venue where I might encounter said muzak, lest there be a repeat of the Spam Incident.

The Spam Incident was a revelation I had one night in a Lucky’s while I was shopping with [livejournal.com profile] obsessivewoman. We were going down an aisle while I attempted to remain patient with the latest repetition of “Jingle Bells”, and suddenly I understood:

Spam® is the spirit of Xmas™.

After all, Spam® came in small tins suitable for stocking-stuffers, large tins that could be wrapped as presents! It all made sense. I explained this to my darling as I began filling the shopping cart with tins of Spam®, but before I had gotten very far, she made me put them back and go out and wait in the car until she was done shopping.

Ever since then, I am careful to have headphones with me during the holiday season so I can override the muzak as needed. And if ever I rule the world, I will make a rule that Christmas carol tunes may only be performed in public by live singers, violations punishable by being placed in the stocks at the entrances to shopping malls and pelted with expired fruitcake.

As usual, I’ve written up my research notes for the coming election so you can all crib from my work. I’ve given my conclusions, and invite everyone to come to their own. Even if we disagree on everything, I'm still happy if this collection of links saved you a headache. No issues outside Sunnyvale this time )

A colleague of mine just switched to the Technology Credit Union. Anyone have experience with them?

Speculation: Android developers are Star Trek fans, Apple developers are Star Wars fans.

Android has had voice actions for a while, but they’re all just commands, like the ship’s computers in Star Trek: “Computer, navigate to Starfleet Academy!” “Computer, listen to Klingon opera!”

iPhone voice controls, on the other hand, make an effort at natural language processing and talk back, like the droids in Star Wars: “What’s your favorite color?” “My favorite color is... well, I don’t know how to say it in your language. It’s sort of greenish, but with more dimensions.”

For Mage: the Ascension:

Some believe it is a powerful talisman that wards off Paradox.

Some believe that its mere presence can shatter the paradigms that define reality.

All we know is that other people are willing to kill for possession of it, so it must be worth all that bloodshed.

After all, it is the only remaining grilled cheese sandwich prepared with green cheese retrieved by an Apollo mission.

Today, Jamais Cascio tweeted (as he ponders the notion of “occupying the future”):

Calling out and bringing down a failing system isn't enough; we have to start right now to build something better to replace it. #otf

I replied:

The cornerstone of a better system will be a way to make decisions about improving the system without partisan freakouts.

That stuck in my mind when I was swimming tonight, so I started pondering how one might go about designing an information age democracy. My first thought was to go big: come up with a fractal decision-making structure designed to exploit the human brain architecture for tracking Dunbar’s Number (ND) of people, dividing the population into groups of size ND÷3 who designate a representative to deal with the next tier up, also of size ND÷3, and was thinking “yeah! Emergent properties! Swarm intelligence!” and then I did the math and figured out that even a city the size of Sunnyvale would need a couple of thousand people involved. So I decided that maybe I should be a little less ambitious.

My next thought was to find ways to aggregate votes in a way that doesn’t leave as much opportunity for them to be corrupted by lobbyists. I wanted something that would allow a busy person to be effectively making voting decisions they liked, without necessarily taking the time to study the issues. What I came up with was something I might call “proxy-enabled direct democracy”, or perhaps a “digital-proxy republic”:

  1. Any citizen eligible to vote can, if they wish, vote on every legislative issue coming up at any level: federal, state, county, district, city, whatever. Votes are held open for seven days unless the executive for the district declares an emergency, in which case the time can be shortened, but that automatically puts up an issue for recalling the executive. Votes are, by default, private.
  2. If a citizen does not wish to obsessively track every single legislative issue going on at every level that affects them, they can assign their vote to a proxy, whose votes are public; a proxy knows how many people have entrusted them with a vote, and can broadcast messages to them, but does not know who they are. The proxy assignment can be specified based on jurisdiction and tag, with tags assigned by members of the appropriate level of the judicial branch. (e.g.: civil liberties, environmental policy) As long as the vote is open, the assignment can be revoked.
  3. The proxy can be a person, organization, or algorithm. The most important algorithm is No, which automatically votes no on everything; all citizens are enrolled in No by default until they choose otherwise. It could also be something like “any time the ACLU and EFF agree, go with that”. And it could be “contact me via phone/email/whatever to resolve conflicts in my rules”.
  4. A proxy can in turn delegate to another proxy.

So this means that if you always like my choices on my election research posts, and I registered as a proxy, you could assign a vote to me and figure I was doing all the policy-analysis dirty work. Someone more skeptical might specify an algorithm like “any time [livejournal.com profile] slothman, [livejournal.com profile] palecur, and [livejournal.com profile] rhylar agree on something, go with that”, figuring that anything that got past our disparate viewpoints would be worthwhile (and while there might be a suspicious amount of support for ambitious space-launch megaprojects, they would have sane funding sources). Setting something like this up should be possible for non-technical people with modern voice-recognition technology, given what we’re seeing from Siri.

I think this might be a good replacement for the House of Representatives, though a Senate of elected humans might still be useful in its role as a “cooling saucer”, as long as there were constraints to free them from lobbyist influence.

There would be interesting voting blocs springing up; I expect alliances of megachurches with blanket proxies from their parishioners would be major players, for instance, and the traditional political parties would be setting themselves up as vote aggregators. There would be big advertising media blitzes while votes were open, trying to persuade people to shift their votes. The default of “no” rather than “abstain” would change the kind of work done in persuading voters; given current voter turnouts, it would likely bring government to a screeching halt until people felt enough pain that they got to the polls.

That’s the first pass. Critiques and suggestions are welcome.

Stack Overflow is a nifty site for asking and answering programming questions, which has branched into a number of other ones for system administration, etc. Stack Overflow Careers 2.0 gave me five invites to hand out to friends— anyone want in? It’s particularly useful if you already use Stack Exchange sites, since it will list your reputation there and your top answers.

I recently joined Fitocracy, a social-networking site where you can log your workouts for your friends to see (and comment on and praise— the UI has it as “giving props”). It doesn’t keep track of calories for you (or have a nifty GPS app) like Endomondo, but it does have a motivation system based in video games. One aspect is that it awards you experience points, both for your activities (e.g.: an hour of vinyasa-flow yoga is worth 180 points), and for milestones (it gives you 20 points the first time you do much swimming, 50 points when you put in some distance, 200 points the first time you break 750m) it labels as “quests”. And, like all role-playing games, you level up when you get enough experience points. (There are also “achievements” corresponding to video game trophies, such as “I Seem to be Lost”, which is awarded when your lifetime running distance goes over 20 miles. I haven’t earned one yet, so I don’t know if they come with experience points.)

It’s still in beta— I can invite you, if you wish— and doesn’t have anything fancy to go with the leveling up. But it gives both the “I want to level up!” gamer motivation as well as the “I want to keep up with my friends” social one, which is a good start. If you’re already on there, I’m mithriltabby.

And forty minutes of sitting zazen is worth two points, so you can use it to keep track of how much meditation you do as well.

When you have a washer-dryer hookup, the dryer has an exhaust vent to the outdoors. On a quarterly basis, it is important to clear this vent of accumulated lint using a brush mounted on a flexible rod that can be spun by an electric drill. (Keywords “dryer vent cleaning kit”, cost about $25.) If the lint is allowed to back up, it can cause a fire.

We apparently managed to avoid the “cause a fire” outcome because another side effect of clogging the vent is that the pressure from the dryer can cause the tube connecting the dryer to the exhaust vent to be pushed off the dryer, thus venting the dryer’s heat and lint into the house, creating a carpet under the dryer that makes the most hideous shag rug from the 1970s look attractive by comparison. You can prevent that outcome with a $2 hose clamp.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a prequel to the classic Deus Ex, set in a future 2027 where cybernetic augmentation technology is changing the world. Like the original, it’s both a first-person shooter and a role-playing game. The original Deus Ex was very much about the conspiracy theory, and the writers did a good job of researching real-world theories to work into the storyline. This game focuses more on the ramifications of human augmentation technologies and how it creates haves and have-nots, though there are still some Illuminati references. You can see some interesting adverts from inside the game at Deus Ex: Human Revolution Asks The Tough Questions.

The gameplay is very good: it supports lots of sneaking around and avoiding guards rather than fighting them, and in addition to a lethal sniper rifle, there’s a tranquilizer-dart rifle for people who prefer their body count to be unconscious instead of dead. (The game rewards this with extra experience points, quieter takedowns, and a “Pacifist” trophy. I wound up tranqing or tasering the head of security for Tai Yong Medical three different times and was wishing there was a way to tease him about it.) Like the original, they put a lot of work into the worldbuilding, and it’s worthwhile to talk to almost everyone you meet to get their individual take on the situation— some dialogue does repeat, but it’s rare. There’s also a completely unrealistic “hacking” minigame that lets you break into computers and security systems, which can get you passcodes for breaking into secure locations as well as lots of in-world detail as you eavesdrop on the e-mail between characters in the game. There are also several “social combat” scenes where you can try to talk people around to your point of view (sometimes getting them to avoid a suicidal choice), which can be aided by a very nifty bit of cyberware called a social enhancer that gives you information on what your target’s vital signs say about what they’re thinking.

The story also works well: the hero, Adam Jensen, is the head of security at Sarif Industries, which is attacked and several top scientists abducted. He is gravely wounded in the attack and given a set of cutting-edge military augmentations, and six months later is dragged back in to work from his post-surgical physical therapy when a second attack occurs and his skills are needed. He then starts peeling the layers away to find out who performed the original attack, and why. On the way, there are a lot of side missions that provide moral litmus, finding out who you’ll choose to help in a given conflict.

Spoilers ahead! )


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