LiveJournal for Gerald the cuddly duck.

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Monday, March 30th, 2015

Subject:Wrongward Ho!
Time:7:22 pm.
Mood:Inquisitive.
So, a question for those with access to a geographical database, or a serious challenge for anyone else:

What's the northernmost place in the UK with "south" in its name? What about the other compass points?

Similarly, are there pairs of placenames of the form "XsouthY" and "XnorthY" where the former is more northerly than the latter, or similarly discrepant east/west pairs?

(No, I don't know the answer.)

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Saturday, March 28th, 2015

Subject:A knight to remember
Time:12:41 pm.
Mood:Reflective.
Terry PratchettCollapse )

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Friday, March 13th, 2015

Time:12:31 am.
Mood:Bereft.
Neil has no words, either; I feel less inadequate now.

By chance, I finished re-…-re-reading Wyrd Sisters last night. Tonight, I begin The Fifth Elephant for the umpty-first time. It's the best he ever did. It's the least I can do.

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Thursday, March 12th, 2015

Subject:RIP, PTerry
Time:3:43 pm.
Mood:Sombre.
Bugger.

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Saturday, March 7th, 2015

Subject:Heisenberg's emergency-lack-of-party uncertain party
Time:5:38 pm.
Mood:Collapsed/uncollapsed.
A fortnight ago, I wrote: "Until I noticed the scheduling clash I'd been intending to go to the pub. Instead, I'm intending to celebrate my birthday at The Haymakers on Saturday March 7th, starting late afternoon."

Unfortunately, due to feeling extremely ragged with (another) lurgy in the middle of this week and only today having found time to recuperate, I realise it's now 5:30pm on the appointed day and I've done precisely nothing to make this happen. Not booked a table, not reminded people, not told people who don't read LJ… nothing.

This possibly means I end up having a "no use pretending it's my birthday but let's do something anyway" party in another 2-3 weeks' time.

Alternatively, if you do fancy meeting up in the Haymakers this evening, despite the silly short notice and ridiculous indecisiveness, please speak up. It would take me 45 minutes to get there and I could bring a few of my lighter, more pub-friendly, more partyesque games.

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Sunday, March 1st, 2015

Subject:A good day
Time:8:30 pm.
Mood:Joyful.
Today has been a good day. I'd been feeling quite out of sorts for a while, without quite being sure why or how. I'm not sure I've got to the bottom of the reasons, but at least I now have the confidence that, though I might need help, I'll be able to find them.

What with Norovirus then people visiting for my birthday, I missed church services on two consecutive Sundays. That included missing the first two of the three Exploring Membership sessions at City Church.

Today was different. I got up in time to go to the 9:30 service, then attend the Exploring Membership session during the 11:30 one. The sermon on Exodus 16 ("An omer is the tenth part of an ephah. — that's the main point I wanted to make about this passage.", Daniel jested.) and a side-order of John 6:22-35 was decidedly uplifting, discussing the false dichotomy between rational understanding and taking things to heart, the need for both in order to know something fully. Feeling much uplifted, during worship I felt moved to say a few words myself about the cynicism that creeps in when away from church for too long, and the need to nurture our emotional connection with God; I read 1 John 4:7-12.

Afterwards, someone I didn't know came up to say kind words to me and explained that he was the father-in-law of one of the elders, new to the area, looking for a church family. Apparently, what I'd been guided to say had swayed him more towards hanging around City.

I passed on to Mike the flyers for Parks at One Jon had given me; I delighted that Nic is getting better after her cycling mishap; I talked to Poppy about helping out with projection.

The Exploring Membership course had to be conducted in a local community centre because Brickfields didn't have a spare room big enough, which is also very encouraging. I found out how to give the church money, which is handy now I have a salary again, and got hold of the membership paperwork. I probably can't join this time because I missed 2/3 of the course, but at least I can now see what it involves. I may have to talk over a couple of points of doctrine, but it all feels very positive.

Having done some shopping, including dropping by the Milton Farm Shop and finding everything I wanted was in stock, I headed home for a much-needed shower. While drying off, prayerfully, and fortified by the morning I'd had, I rang my mother and had an entirely friendly and constructive conversation about the hoohah over her birthday. It also now seems plausible I'll visit her for Easter, which is good, too.

Then, it being that time of year again, I returned to Cambridge to remember Chris at Clare Evensong — 14 years, now. This day, my emphasis was more on thankfulness for his life than horror at the tragedy of his death, though, which was a blessing.

Clare Evensong is habitually preceded by a musical recital. Today's was a harpsichord performance of Bach's Goldberg Variations by Douglas Hollick, who was very good and did them justice. That was the first time I'd ever heard them performed live on the harpsichord. This morning, I'd felt City had missed a golden opportunity to include Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer in the worship music ("bread of heaven / feed me till I want no more") so I was pleased when, serendipitously, that hymn was included this evening.

After the service, I prayed a while, and got a few more things straight. Now I'm home and it's time for a toasted sandwich…

(Edit: Oh, just as the icing on the cake, as I drove down to Cambridge the second time there was a beautiful, perfect double-rainbow.)
(Edit 2: And the snowdrops are out. I tend to count spring from the equinox, but sometimes it feels as though the meteorologists have a point. In any case, as someone who tends towards melancholy bordering on SAD in winter, my birthday has always been a useful harbinger for the turning point.)

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Saturday, February 28th, 2015

Subject:Quality journalism from Cambridge News
Time:2:50 pm.
Mood:Baffled.
Headline: 'Shia Muslims may "testify that there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is His Prophet", but they're flogging a 150-year-old musical instrument — to Germany'

OK; I may have paraphrased slightly, but I hope I'm not being over-sensitive in seeing that headline as bizarrely, fractally wrong?

I mean, why the scare quotes around "saved"? And why imply being "saved" is in some way doctrinally distinctive to Evangelical Christians? And why mention the transdenominational movement but not that they're Anglicans? And why the implication that selling things is somehow un-Christian, or some kind of failure, or in some other sense sordid or negative? What relevance has salvation to the story? Why "flog" rather than "sell"? And, given the organ's being sold, why not to Germany? What's wrong with Germany? And why "historic", when there are so many much older instruments in other churches, even within Cambridge?

I agree it's happening in Cambridge, though; I have no complaint with the word "Cambridge" in that headline. Raymond Brown wrote a word that makes sense! Woo!

(As it happens, though I go to an evangelical church with contemporary worship, I'm not an evangelical Christian and I do think it's a shame that Holy Trinity is losing its real pipe organ, but that's probably beside the point.)

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Subject:Modes of a dress
Time:1:42 pm.
Mood:Dressy.
OK. I suppose I shall participate in the implicit "make a posting about that dress then invite people who read your blog to do likewise" meme.

I'm confused.

The first thing I thought when I saw that photo was "good grief, what a horrible photo: really poor lighting and background giving a washed-out look and strange colours". I barely trusted it to be a picture of a dress, let alone to depict the colours even slightly accurately.

If pressed, I'd have said the colours were some kind of blue and something between black and a murky gold-ish. And I'd have known the photo was so bad it was impossible to be any more sure than that.

And I'd have been right. Which puts me in the peculiar situation of looking to and fro between the "obviously white and gold" people and the "obviously blue and black" people wondering why either camp is so sure. And why I seem to be the only person shrugging and saying "it's a lousy photo; who can tell?"

Everybody's comparing it to assorted previous optical illusions; I'm most reminded of those "can you tell an arse from an elbow" quizzes that were popular a decade ago. Sure, it's hard to tell, but at least one knows the photo's ambiguous and it's not obviously one or the other… right?

Everybody's seeking expert opinions from fashion editors, dressmakers, ophthalmologists, psychiatrists. Journalists are incestuously seeking expert opinions from one another. How come I've not yet seen anybody ask for an expert opinion from a photographer?

By contrast, I find the XKCD take if anything more confusing. In cartoon form, there is no lighting per se, so fewer visual cues to disrupt the illusion. I could guess the dresses were going to be the same, but I had to ball my hand into a thin tube and squint through it at individual spots on the screen to know for sure.

Some of the comments on the LJ RSS feed of XKCD are interesting, though. Firstly, this illustration which goes beyond showing how one thing can look different in varying contexts, to demonstrate how two different things could look the same in varying contexts. But finally, to [personal profile] kalimac's comment both for an awesome userpic and for so aptly illustrating Randall's alt-text. (-8

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Thursday, February 26th, 2015

Subject:So I herd u liek gamez/birthdayz
Time:7:00 pm.
Mood:Happening.
Do you like boardgames?
Are you Cambridge-based?
Are you free on Saturday evening?
Can you enter a church without spontaneously combusting?

If so, alextfish may have just the event for you: boardgaming at Eden Baptist Church (Fitzroy Street, near the Grafton Centre), starting at 8pm. "Board games, snacks and a very short talk about board games and the Christian faith."


In related news, my birthday is imminent. Until I noticed the scheduling clash I'd been intending to go to the pub. Instead, I'm intending to celebrate my birthday at The Haymakers on Saturday March 7th, starting late afternoon.


The more the merrier for either and both events. (-8

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Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Subject:On being employed - a philosophical musing
Time:1:15 am.
Mood:Comfortable.
Home feels a lot more like home when you have somewhere else to be and something else to do.

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Sunday, February 15th, 2015

Subject:Oh dear, I seem to have trodden in monsieur's bucket
Time:1:31 pm.
Mood:Ill.
Seems I spoke too soon. I spent last night and this morning significantly importuned: diarrhoea, ominous portents of vomiting, muscle aches, weak as a kitten, possibly a slight fever. I hope it clears up soon given I have work tomorrow. And, for that matter, it was a shame missing church this morning as it was the start of the Exploring Membership course. Whoops.

As a precaution, I put a bucket by the bed. As a further precaution, I put it some distance from where I'd place my foot when getting out of bed. Then, when I finally awoke, I remembered I'd put a bucket by the bed but not that I'd put it out of harm's way, so I… stepped over empty space and squarely into the bucket. Fortunately empty.

I still need to post about my diet some day, but in the meantime my current plight will serve to illustrate how tricky it is to ascribe causes to illness. This time, it could be any combination of:
  • Immune system weakened by stress.
  • Immune system unused to an office environment.
  • Slight, cumulative sleep deficit.
  • Eating some supermarket own-brand ginger nuts at the office on Friday, when I'm a little suspicious of nutmeg.
  • The nagging mild infection in a bit of psoriasis on one shin suddenly playing up at the systemic level.
  • Air getting into the stomach because of CPAP. (It normally doesn't, to any noticeable degree.)
  • Meeting, on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, the couple who were ill on Tuesday/Wednesday.
  • Trusting oral summaries of ingredients in home-made food at a party.
  • Eating too much rich food at that same party.
  • Not enough water on Saturday.
  • Trusting the office's communal breadknife on Thursday and Friday without washing it.
So… am I, for example, intolerant of nutmeg? Who can tell!

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Saturday, February 14th, 2015

Subject:Audacious business decisions
Time:11:49 pm.
Mood:Boggled.
It looks like the family is descending on the Isle of Wight for my mother's birthday this summer. Accordingly, we need to rent a holiday home.

Annoyingly, for a place that appears to be hanging on by its fingernails economically, and almost entirely dependent on tourism, there's not much choice.

One contender I found was this cottage in the rather pleasant if tourist-entrapping village of Godshill.

Personally, I was prepared to see past the om, reiki, crystals, chakra, channelling, tarot, "inspirational" art, serenity and ley lines and recognise a plausible cottage. My brother… not so much. So it's off the list.

Maybe the owner is deliberately seeking to put off the more conventional prospective customer, but I'm pretty broad-minded and even I find it daunting! Possibly they should put a more vanilla advert on HolidayLettings (which, after al, is part of TripAdvisor) and place their more specialist advertisement in, um… the Fortean Times or somewhere?

Ah well.

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Subject:The bit players in great art
Time:10:37 pm.
Mood:Arty.
Courtesy of the problem with Wikipedia I was reading about the writing on the wall. Perhaps predictably, the illustration chosen for the article is Rembrandt's Belshazzar's Feast.

I know the painting. I very much like the painting (wlog, since it's by Rembrandt). I've seen the original.

But this time I thought "that young woman in the background looks familiar".

After some reflection I realised: surely she's also the girl in Rembrandt's The Night Watch? He painted them seven years apart, which could be about right…

…except that The Night Watch was painted seven years after Belshazzar's Feast.

Oh.

Now I'm wondering if the similarity is just coincidence, or if the girl is the woman's daughter, or it really is the same person and he had some spare preliminary sketches lying about for a decade or two.

But more than that, I'm wondering who they both are. The history of art throws up a lot of this kind of thing: random people who would be long since forgotten had they not stumbled blinking into the studio of a great artist at the right moment.

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Saturday, February 7th, 2015

Subject:Incongruities and ironies
Time:7:06 pm.
Mood:Miscellaneous.
  • Tesco now offers Frozen-branded reusable bags. They're not the insulated ones.
  • Meanwhile, Sainsbury's sells two kinds of reusable bags: the cheap flimsy ones and the pricier rugged ones. What they don't make clear until it's too late is that when the rugged ones eventually wear out they won't replace them for free. )-8
  • Poundland wants to buy 99p Stores. The price? Er… £55m.
  • I was talking to my mother about my father's second wife. Me: "I've heard she's extremely racist." Mum: "Yes, well, she's Italian. They all are."


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Saturday, January 31st, 2015

Subject:Little Gidding
Time:8:29 pm.
Mood:Regenerative.
Little Gidding is a tiny, tiny almost-hamlet not far from here.

Not far. But I shall take the long way round.

Strange loopCollapse )

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Subject:Yet Another Train Game
Time:1:17 am.
Mood:Gamey.
I have been mulling over, for a while, a board-game project dubbed "Yet Another Train Game", the intention being to parody both the glut of train-themed games out there and the state of the UK's rail network. (For the actual name, I wonder whether "Train Wreck" would be too tasteless/triggering.)

I believe I can bring the appropriate level of cynicism to bear, but I've stalled on refining the mechanic. I want tile laying. Ideally, I want octagonal tiles, to poke fun at all the square and hexagonal tiles out there. I want track on those tiles, because otherwise, well, not much can go wrong when a train's stationary.

Having contemplated the various ways tracks could run between tiles, thanks to an uncanny Amazon recommendation I've suddenly become aware of a family of games in which every tile has entry points on every edge, with varying connectivities between them. In summary:
  • Tsuro — square tiles, freely orientable, with two entry points per edge. Each player has a token, which they vie to keep on the board and away from collisions.
  • Metro — Train themed! Tiles like Tsuro's, but with a fixed orientation and a left-hand entrance always connects to a right-hand exit. Each player has several entrances to the board, which they vie to connect to exits using the longest route possible.
  • Indigo — The Knizia take on the theme. Hexagonal tiles with one entry point per edge, freely orientable. Gameplay quite like Metro, except points are by value of the terminus, not length of route.
  • Tantrix — Hex, one entry, freely orientable, the paths on each tile are three distinct colours from a palette of four. Vie to create the longest possible path of your colour, scoring double if it's a loop.
  • Kaliko — Hex, one entry, freely orientable, each path on each tile is any of three possible colours. Score for joining paths together, scoring extra for closed loops and/or paths which cross themselves.
  • Octiles — Octagonal tiles, one entry point per edge, freely orientable, square "islands" for player pieces amid the tiles. The objective is to have one's pieces traverse the board to the opposite side.

I suspect I want to have tiles a bit like those of Octiles, with gameplay a more elaborate variant of Tsuro. Maybe, since octagonal tiles have been done, for the sake of gratuitous perversity I instead want pentagonal half-octagon tiles?

Do any of you know of any other similar games? Do any of you own any of those games (alextfish and woodpijn have Octiles)?

Iiinteresting!

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Thursday, January 29th, 2015

Subject:The trolley gathers momentum
Time:3:31 pm.
Mood:Inquisitive.
Back in November, I chanced to hear this radio programme, and I'm delighted to see it's still available for download if you fancy listening to it and can spare half an hour.

Some day soon, we're probably going to get self-driving cars. When I first pointed a webchat at that programme at least one person shrugged and said the ethical questions they raise are problems easy, obvious and already solved. I'm not convinced such certainty is clever. While to a certain extent we all think we know our answers to questions in that domain, I fear in reality we all make assumptions that self-driving cars may trounce. Our options are to think more carefully before it happens or write shallow and indignant letters to the Daily Mail afterwards; I advocate the former.

I think the best way I can express the problem is as a thought experiment: it is the year 2025, and you take delivery of your shiny new Gogglecar, made by those boffins in Ally Pally. You plug in a micro-USB charger and after three months power it up, enter your personal details and start exploring. Soon, you find an options page with five sliders:
  • Safer ↔ faster
  • Safer for me ↔ safer for others
  • Commission ↔ omission
  • Judgemental ↔ neutral
  • Comparability with human driver: aggregate ↔ strict

When you bring up the help page, the first two turn out to be pretty obvious: to what extent are you prepared to sacrifice safety for the sake of getting to your destination more quickly? Conversely, to what extent are you happy to arrive later for the sake of more surely getting there in one piece? And, in its starkest terms, do you want the car to drive into the pedestrian or over the cliff edge?

Commission versus omission is more subtle. When the car sees the pedestrian/cliff dilemma, to what extent does it matter what the default behaviour would be? There might be a choice between going over the cliff and swerving to hit the pedestrian, or a choice between hitting the pedestrian and swerving to go over the cliff; do you want your car to treat those two situations differently?

Similarly, does it make any difference what the rules say or where blame lies? Should your car choose differently depending whether the pedestrian is a drunkard who's jumped into the road and shouted "boo" for a laugh, or someone who fell into the road because of a landslide further up the cliff?

And then there's the issue that people will judge the actions of your self-driving car by human standards. So there is a choice: should it prioritise avoiding causing any accident a human would have avoided, or should it accept a risk of that in exchange for a driving style giving an overall lower risk of accidents?

Five sliders. How do you set them?

But more than that, what should the default values be? Should the car's designer grey out any or all of them? Would it be acceptable to charge money for the ability to vary the settings more widely? Should the settings someone chooses be known to the courts if an accident happens? Should they be public knowledge? Should we legislate about the settings? How, for that matter, would Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, Confucius, the Buddha or Zarathustra configure their self-driving car?

And, indeed, can people be trusted to represent their desires and values accurately via such a user interface, or must the car determine the settings using more detailed psychometrics, in the same way that financial advisers administer risk questionnaires instead of just asking the client how risk-averse they are. Or maybe you put them in a driving simulator to gauge how they actually behave rather than how they aspire to behaving?

Then, when things go wrong, who's to blame?

Many of these trade-offs, for better or worse, we make subconsciously every time we turn the key in the ignition. Examining them honestly enough to be happy letting our car make them autonomously may be a bit of an eye-opener. Or we may blunder forwards with eyes closed.

As the impact of AI broadens and deepens, these questions will turn out to have been just the tip of the iceberg.

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Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Subject:A curious game
Time:5:03 pm.
Mood:Puzzled.
Alice and Bob decide to play the following coin-toss game:
  • Alice secretly tosses a fair coin.
  • Bob then says "heads" or "tails".
  • Alice either concedes, or reveals that Bob guessed wrong.
  • The winner of that first round receives £x from the loser.
  • Bob again says "heads" or "tails".
  • Alice reveals the coin and Bob wins if he guessed right.
  • The winner of the second round receives £y from the loser.
Note the wrinkle in the first round: if Bob guesses right, he takes the money; if he guesses wrong, Alice can either prove him wrong and win or concede anyway.

Suppose that, when she has a choice, Alice concedes with probability c. Also, suppose that for round two when Alice wins the first round Bob changes his guess with probability a, but when Bob wins the first round he changes his guess with probability b.

How much does each player expect to win or lose each time this game is played? What strategic conclusions can we draw?

SolutionCollapse )


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Saturday, January 17th, 2015

Subject:I have in my hand a piece of paper
Time:2:20 pm.
Mood:Delighted.
…and it's a job offer.

There are still other balls in the air, one at least of which is quite shiny, so it's not necessarily the job I'll end up taking, but it's most assuredly an offer I'd be happy to accept, not merely something that's better than nothing.

The pay and perks and such are fairly extensive and hard to evaluate, but I think they add up to significantly more than my previous job. So much so that the increment will only take a year or so to offset the expense of having been out of work for six months longer than anticipated.

In this respect, as in so many others, things are looking up. (-8

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Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

Subject:Reasons not to use a wireless keyboard
Time:12:57 am.
Mood:impressed.
I'm not in the least surprised that wireless keyboards are insecure, but I'm impressed at this exploit. It combines hackiness, elegance and frightening cheapness in equal proportions.

Though their remarks about how dodgy their device is from an electrical safety standpoint are well made. If you're trying to perform discreet surveillance, burning the building down might be construed as a bit of a giveaway.

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LiveJournal for Gerald the cuddly duck.

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