So I went to see World War Z this weekend, and it was pretty much everything I expected — which is to say 1) a delivery system for a visually impressive horde of zombies running into full tilt into walls with an enthusiasm not seen since the most recent Tough Mudder and 2) absolutely nothing at all like the book.

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As I write this, I don’t know what is going on in Boston right now and it appears that nobody I know is directly involved in the event. So I’m not going to write about it. What I am going to write about is a subject that I do have a fair bit of experience in — that is, reading the news.

If you are involved in the event yourself or may know people involved, your problems are somewhat different and I’m not going to cover them here. For the rest of us, whose function is mostly or entirely watching the news, here’s Tinker’s Simple Guide to Disaster for the Uninvolved:

  1. Shut your piehole. People are looking at the media, including social media, in order to understand what is going on and in some cases what to do — to leave the disaster area, to find their loved ones, or to know which stocks they should have sold. If you originate speculation or repeat unsourced information, you are part of the problem. This sort of stuff has a way of sticking around. I’m often shocked, with regard to events that I have some degree of knowledge about, that I can talk to people years later who still believe early speculation that was later thoroughly debunked — that the “Trenchcoat Mafia” was any sort of organization, for instance (it wasn’t), that fat people materially hindered evacuation from the Twin Towers (almost all deaths were dependent on one’s location within the building at the time of the plane striking), or that a whole bunch of people saw Kitty Genovese get stabbed and did not call 911 because they did not care (they did not see her and 911 did not exist). Make sure that the information that you repeat comes from a trustworthy source, and cite that source so that people can refer to it and not to their memory of your interpretation of something someone told you in the hall that they saw on the teevee.
  2. Be quiet. Particularly if you are selling something. Realistically, life does go on for those of us not directly involved. However, you probably do not want ads for your new low-carb diet juxtaposed against the news that 27 children and three cute puppies were just killed in a tragic molasses accident. Not all publicity is good publicity, so turn that shit off before you become the next time-filler feature.
  3. Keep your fucking mouth shut. Yes, okay, you’ve got some sort of little political kink that you’re really into — whatever it is. In the early phase of a disaster, DO NOT go around running your mouth about how somehow this thing just totally proves how you were right all along. One of two things is going to be true: you’ll be an asshole and right, or you’ll be an asshole and wrong. Even if you’re right, which attribute are people going to remember first — your incredible prescience, or the fact that your first thought upon observing a significant national tragedy was something involving the word “sheeple”? Hint: geniuses are often not recognized in their own lifetime.
  4. When news stops being news, STOP READING THE NEWS. For any event, there comes a time in between the initial propagation of what is known to have happened and the emergence of useful analysis and slower-moving data. During this time, nothing new can be learned of the event. However, if a reporter were to tell you “We know nothing more about the alien invasion, please come back tomorrow when scientists have had the chance to examine the pods” they would be sacked and the persons responsible for sacking them would be sacked. They will therefore not tell you this. Hence, you must do the job yourself. When the news people start repeating themselves, shut them off. At the least, you will be saved aggravation; probably also misinformation, by avoiding the point at which unsourced data starts to get spurious attribution.

When something happens far away from you, there often isn’t much you can do to help during the initial phase of the event. The only thing you may have an effect on is whether you aggravate yourself and whether you aggravate other people — and by following these four simple rules, you can make sure that your contribution (tiny though it may be) is the best that it can be.

… so here is a picture of a kitten.


Functional Freedom

Posted: March 31, 2013 in Uncategorized

As I write this, my cat is sitting on top of my wireless router.

This is, in general, not something that I would think to do. As far as I’m concerned, a wireless router is a thing made to provide access to cute pictures of cats, not to warm the butt of an actual cat. However, it is nonetheless almost perfect for the task — I’ve got it on top of a shelf, so it has the height that cats generally prefer, and of course it puts off a noticeable but not excessive amount of heat. So the cat is not bothered with niceties of labels and such. The cat sits.

In fact, overall it has been quite educational to watch the cat observing my apartment and classifying every item in it as “Cat Food” (kitty kibble, human’s dinner, beer, unidentifiable residue in sink, shreds from paper shredder, etc.), “Cat Toy” (furry stuffed skunk, human, power cord for laptop, pocket knife, costume fox tail, shoes (whilst being worn), dust motes in skylight, power strip for TV, etc.), “Cat Bed” (human’s feet, human’s back, human’s face, human’s seat on couch, router of previous mention, etc.) and “Cat Litter Box” (litter box in bathroom, litter box in living room, fortunately aside from one incident no etc.) according to their various properties. Often previously unnoticed properties.

If he had thumbs, I fear that he might figure out how to point a gun at his own balls, blow up the apartment, and fly away on a hang glider made from bedsheets.


Posted: March 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

It was fun last week, so maybe it’ll be fun this week.

Work was weird. Most everyone was off for Spring Break, and we were also kind of between major test efforts, so I spent most of the week investigating defects and staring at the wall. Meanwhile, I was stacking up more activities to do outside work, between the whole blogging thing, my new fitness goals, my not-so-new career goals, the online courses I’m taking, and the fact that I’m finding two books interesting for every one book I read.

My third-grade teacher would be torn between awe and horror if she contemplated me living in a world where I could impulse buy and start to read a book in under 30 seconds from most places I typically spend time on a device I can, er, shove into a kiddy desk much more easily than one can do with a paperback.

Figured out this week that the ultra-hippie Captain Planet approved uber concentrated laundry detergent I bought a couple months ago has masking fragrance in its unscented version. Found this out the hard way. Displeased. May yet end up doing that iconic activity of possibly-foolish frugality, making my own laundry soap — though mostly out of curiosity.

Finally got my new Crossbreed holster. It does not make my butt look big.

Probably going to spend most of the weekend eating horrifying things and doing various forms of homework.

In the River Again

Posted: March 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

You can’t step in the same river twice, but that doesn’t necessarily stop me from trying.

Like a lot of people in the software industry, I’ve been tentatively dipping my toe in taking courses on Coursera. I’m a bit dubious about some of the claims that are flying about that massively whatever online courses are going to change the world — they remind me of the Segway, for one, and also seem to completely ignore the use of education as a gatekeeper — but I do think the courses have some merit. Particularly for people like me who have credentials which are slightly, but not entirely, askew from the standard background in their current field. So I’ve signed up for a few, and mostly dropped a few. It’s a work in progress.

Up until today, my current set of courses was a non-technical course and a fairly elementary-level programming course. The thing about that latter course is that it seems to be roughly equivalent to some of the early coursework I had in my undergraduate degree, plus some elaboration that one picks up from reading certain classic software books — I know this, because I read the books. One might ask, “why are you taking that course, then, if you’ve already been solidly exposed to all the material in it?”

One might ask — I didn’t. At least not until the course actually started, and I actually looked down the barrel of spending some weeks watching lectures and doing homework for something I learned ten years ago. Then I finally figured out that I was looking at the problem all wrong — looking for proof (that I actually already had) that I had achieved a a lower level of knowledge, so that I could then later do things that would challenge my ability. Thing about this is, obviously taking a course the first time didn’t solve the fundamental issue of self-confidence involved, so why waste my time doing it again? Why not just skip ahead to the challenging bit?

So, thinking that, I went and dropped the basic programming course and substituted one that I’d been looking at longingly for a bit that has likewise just recently started. These courses may not save the world, but at least they’ve got an easy add/drop process.

Lentil Update

Posted: March 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

Haven’t been able to return to the lentil experiment as quickly as I thought because I’ve been spending my calorie budget fairly rampantly on things not lentil. Mostly of the chocolate variety. Finally managed to work it in tonight, though.

As I suspected, it seems to be adding the seasoning mix to the cooking lentils and rice that causes the problem — I tried the same amounts of lentil, rice, and water with egg but without any additional ingredients. Result: perfect or near-perfect cooking. There were some crispy bits around the bottom, but that’s typical with this rice cooker.

Ate the resulting mixture with some ketchup-with-balsalmic-vinegar that I’ve had sitting around in the refrigerator for a while. Not bad, but I think the teriyaki sauce works better.