Dog First Aid

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015

After decades of ethnographic and quantitative research into the medical skills of Canis lupis familiaris I can finally publish a detailed guide to canine medical lore:

  1. Lick it.
  2. If, for any reason, step 1 fails to work eat grass until you throw up.

Universities wishing to bestow an honorary DVM should contact me at @abfo.

Reviews and links for April 2011

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

Zero Day by Mark Russinovich

2/5

Promising start, Mark 'system internals' Russinovich certainly knows his stuff and the initial computer forensics are bang on. Sadly it descends into a pedestrian chase thriller and the malware takes a back seat to cookie cutter Arab terrorists.

 

The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos by Brian Greene

5/5

An education on many different species of parallel universes: in space, in time, in dimensions, in simulations and more. Interesting detours into the current state of cosmology and quantum theory and much discussion on the nature of science when exploring realms that may forever be closed to observation (although it's surprising how many of the parallel universes may leave some detectable footprint in ours, or be conclusively ruled out by future experiments). Fascinating and very well written.

 

Links

- SF Chronicle video prompts White House threat from San Francisco Bay Area News — — SFGate (Petty. What did you just say about having more important things to do? #Obama).

- Mayor Ed Lee Opposed to Shark Fin Ban from KQED News Fix (Boo temporary Mayor!).

- Reserve marine life 'flourishing' from BBC News - Home (Are scallops in some sense not wildlife?).

- Homes' solar panels often boost values from San Francisco Bay Area News — — SFGate (Yippee! That was my theory when we did it...).

- Bernalwood’s Wild Kingdom, or How To Deal Unwanted Guests from Bernalwood (It's like Cloverfield in a garage!).

Legislative Service

Updated on Saturday, April 21, 2018

congress

Churchill said “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” and since then we seem to have given up trying to find a better one. Twiddling with the mechanics of voting doesn’t count.

My idea: Legislative Service. This is modeled on Jury Service only instead of judging a person you’re asked to judge a proposed bill. In your typical bicameral system of government the Legislative Service would replace the upper house. The Senate in the US, The House of Lords in the UK.

In a US version 101 citizens would be randomly drafted for each bill. The pros and cons of the bill would be presented in an adversarial environment, much like a jury trial. The citizen legislators would then vote anonymously and either pass the bill or send it back to the House of Representatives. The President would retain the right to veto a bill.

Such a system would castrate the malign influence of money and lobbyists in the political system. It would also improve engagement as more citizens take part or talk to friends and family who have served.

You would still have professional legislators who would be responsible to their constituents. They’d just have a harder time adding pork and returning favors. Each bill would need to be palatable to a majority of average citizens.

Possible objections:

People dodge jury service all the time. Wouldn’t you end up with a similar problem? I don’t think so. Legislative Jury would be far more prestigious.

Isn’t the average voter too stupid to understand complex legislation? You are the average voter. In any case, the adversarial system would give both sides a chance to both argue and explain. Expert witnesses could be called. Ballot measures that are voted on by the entire electorate suffer from this problem as money is spent to over-simplify and obfuscate. In Legislative Service you’re taking a representative sample of the electorate and giving them the time and help needed to make a serious judgment.

It’s unconstitutional! This would require a constitutional amendment.

What about knee-jerk legislation? Tyranny of the Majority? Hopefully this system would help to put a brake on hasty and ill-thought through bills. The President would retain veto power and the Supreme Court would be able to annul unconstitutional decisions and so sufficient checks and balances would remain in the system.

Of course getting rid of The Senate isn’t going to happen overnight. I can think of a couple of ways to start moving in the right direction.

Firstly, this plan is just as applicable at the state level. My state, California, is a mess and this proposal could help. There are rumblings about holding a constitutional convention and if this happens I want us to ditch ballot initiatives and replace the State Senate with Legislative Service.

Secondly, and more plausibly, what about setting up Legislative Service as a non-profit to look at each bill and vote on it but without the actual power of preventing bad bills from being enacted? A sort of non-partisan citizen think tank. If any of my billionaire readers are interested get in touch.

I’ve been mulling the idea of Legislative Service for quite some time, but especially following the atrocious reform of the British House of Lords in 1999 resulting in an upper house composed of appointed peers, a handful of hereditary peers and a few bishops. This threw the independent oversight baby out with the unelected toffs bathwater. Since 1999 I’ve lived in California and my revulsion for the US political climate keeps growing. Serious change is needed. I think Legislative Service is it.

Thinking about the UK referendum on AV

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015

I just got my postal ballot for the UK referendum on switching from the current first-past-the-post system to the alternative vote (AV). I’m going to think out loud about which way to go.

Each campaign has a handy top three list. The yes campaign says:

MPs working harder to earn - and keep - our support: Your next MP would have to aim to get more than 50% of the vote to be sure of winning. At present they can be handed power with just one vote in three.  They’ll need to work harder to win - and keep - your support.

I’m not sure anyone campaigns to get less than 50%. Because AV means that the candidates with the least support are the first votes to be redistributed this inevitably means campaigning to capture votes from the fringes. It’s also a bit of a misdirection. Just because you end up with 50% of the vote after x rounds of redistribution doesn’t mean that you have the wholehearted support of 50% of your constituents.

A bigger say on who your local MP is: Ranking candidates gives you more say - in who comes first and who comes last. If your favourite doesn’t win, you can still have a say. It’s as easy as 1,2,3…

It is appealing to be able to vote your conscience and then vote reality. But as you’re still ending up with a single MP you’re not getting proportional representation (that would be STV or similar schemes) and there is always going to be a winner. Maybe better to have the courage of your convictions and actually make the hard choices involved in picking a single candidate to vote for.

Let’s say that you favor green policies and so want to send a signal by voting for the Green party. Green candidate off the table you’d vote for Labor. Under FPTP your vote for Green risks dividing the Labor vote and allowing a Conservative candidate in. Under AV you can happily vote Green #1, Labor #2 safe in the knowledge that your vote is going to be redistributed. You’re sending a signal either way, but the signal that involves a candidate losing their seat because their policies were not green enough seems like the stronger one, even if it’s more painful in the short term.

Tackling the ‘jobs for life' culture: Too many MPs have their ‘safe seats’ for life. Force complacent politicians to sit up and listen, and reach out to the communities they seek to represent.

To the extent that this is a problem it would seem that term limits would be the answer. AV will still produce plenty of safe seats. Very bad choice of a third argument.

The no campaign says:

AV is costly: The change to AV will cost up to an additional £250 million. Local councils would have to waste money on costly electronic vote counting machines and expensive voter education campaigns. With ordinary families facing tough times can we really afford to spend a quarter of a billion pounds of taxpayers' money bringing in a new voting system? Schools and hospitals, or the Alternative Vote – that's the choice in this referendum.

Even if you take this number at face value it would be a small price to pay for better governance. Silly first argument.

AV is complex and unfair: The winner should be the candidate that comes first, but under AV the candidate who comes second or third can actually be elected. That’s why it is used by just three countries in the world – Fiji, Australia and Papua New Guinea. Voters should decide who the best candidate is, not the voting system. We can't afford to let the politicians off the hook by introducing a loser's charter.

How I hate the ‘something culture’ and ‘whatever charter’ lingo. AV isn’t particularly complex. In fact, because you don’t narrow your choice down to one it’s actually less complex than FPTP in terms of the reasoning that goes into your ballot choice rather than the trivial mechanics of actually voting. I think it is unfair though, more on this below.

AV is a politician's fix: AV leads to more hung parliaments, backroom deals and broken promises like the Lib Dem tuition fees U-turn. Instead of the voters choosing the government, politicians would hold power. Under AV, the only vote that really counts is Nick Clegg's. We can't afford to let the politicians decide who runs our country.

Reading the Jenkins' Commission report and looking at examples like Australia this doesn’t seem to be particularly true. The current coalition is the result of FPTP. Australia doesn’t have hung parliaments very often. In fact, AV can lead to larger swings in favor of one party.

My experience of AV in San Francisco is that I often ended up just voting for one candidate. I had a single preference and really didn’t care to rank a second choice (especially in the cases where AV was bizarrely used for two candidate races). This would be possible in the proposed UK system as well.

I think the real flaw in AV is that votes for least popular candidates are the ones that get redistributed, providing a second, third and even fourth vote. This seems fundamentally unfair and unsound. There is no perfect voting system but providing greater influence for minority views seems like a worse trade off than underrepresenting them.

Maybe instead of carving up the vote it would be better to carve up the parties?

I’ll be voting no.

Convert BlogML comments to WXR for Disqus

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015

I’ve just moved ITHCWY comments over to Disqus. BlogEngine.NET now supports Disqus out of the box, but doesn’t export comments to anything that Disqus is willing to eat. I’ve knocked up a quick converter that takes a full BlogML export from BlogEngine.NET (and at least in theory any other source of BlogML) and converts the comments to WXR. You can import the WXR file under the Generic option in Disqus.

The tool is a Windows console application that takes two parameters, the BlogML import file and the WXR output, i.e.:

BlogMLtoDisqus.exe C:\BlogML.xml C:\ForDisqus.wxr

It isn’t fancy and there is no error checking so it will either work or die horribly. If the latter, leave a comment and I’ll try to fix it for you.

Download BlogMLtoDisqus.exe. You’ll need to install .NET 4.0 as well if you don’t already have it.

Updated 2011-04-22: Added an optional third parameter that specifies the XML namespace for BlogML in case you need to override the default.

Extreme Environmentalism

Updated on Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Speaking of Gaia, I read Michael Lind’s Why we should embrace the end of human spaceflight on Salon yesterday with horror. He marshals a bunch of straw man arguments against humans in space, the worst of which is dismissing the threat of a planetary catastrophe:

“A sufficiently large asteroid or comet impact like the one that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs could do the job. But if a massive bolide threatened the Earth, we would send unmanned spacecraft, not Robert Duvall or Bruce Willis, to steer it away or destroy it.”

That’s a little complacent. Even if we ever get perfect asteroid defenses cracked you’ve still got to worry about cosmic strings, strangelets, radiation storms, Von Neumann probes, DNA hackers, the Yellowstone super volcano and anything shown on a Saturday afternoon on SyFi. All of our eggs are very much in one planetary basket.

Take the Gaia hypothesis to its ultimate conclusion: if the planet is a super-organism then humanity is the reproductive system. We’re the best bet to spread life beyond Earth and ensure its continued survival. The asteroid scenario may trigger panspermia but that would be for a lucky few bacteria, not Homo sapiens sapiens.

Colonizing space is difficult, expensive and for most people unappealing. But stop thinking about the planet you’re leaving to your children and start thinking about the universe you’re leaving to whatever our DNA based planetary ecosystem may evolve into.

A real environmentalist would focus on making this planet uninhabitable so we escape before it’s too late.

;)

Merging Resource Dictionaries for fun and profit

Updated on Sunday, September 30, 2018

Here are two scenarios where merged ResourceDictionary objects are the way forward.

I’m working on a WPF project that needs to be single instance. Heaven forbid that the WPF team should pollute the purity of their framework with support for this kind of thing (or NotifyIcon support but that’s another story) so I’m using the code recommended by Arik Poznanski: WPF Single Instance Application. I like this because it both enforces a single instance and provides an interface that reports the command line passed to any attempt to launch another instance.

An issue with using this code is that you need to write a Main function and so App.xaml is set to Page instead of Application Definition. Once you’ve done this the program works fine but the Visual Studio designer fails to load resources in UserControls (and in Windows containing those UserControls).

The fix is to factor all of the application level resources out into a separate ResourceDictionary (i.e. MergedResources.xaml). Once you’ve done this merge the new ResourceDictionary into App.xaml as follows:

Next, in each Window or UserControl reference the same ResourceDictionary:

The designer will now be able to find the correct resources for each UserControl and Window.

The second scenario is factoring resources and other Xaml into a DLL. To pull resources in from a referenced assembly you just need to use a Pack Uri when merging in the remote ResourceDictionary:

If you’re putting Windows and UserControls in the DLL use exactly the same approach to reference the resources using ResourceDictionary.MergedDictionaries and you’ll get designer support for these as well.

Radio 4: Can I buy you a new hard drive?

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015

I love that Radio 4 is available outside the UK on iPlayer. It’s an essential link to home. But why, oh why, oh why is each program episode only available for a few days? It’s so frustrating to find an interesting looking series and then discover that it’s halfway through and you can’t listen to the first episodes.

BBC, I’d be happy to send you a new hard drive if that would help. It really can’t require that much space to keep the content around for more than a week.

While you’re at it: per-program RSS feeds and more podcasts please.

Reviews and links for March 2011

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids by Tom Hodgkinson

3/5

It could have been a great one page idle book - leave the kids alone more. But I guess that wouldn't fly with the publisher so it's more of a manifesto for a more traditional childhood - four hour school day, build things from wood, raise and eat your own pigs. Possibly idyllic but far from idle. Also, Hodgkinson denounces computers yet the book wants you to visit its blog. Entertaining and occasionally inspirational nonetheless.

 

The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle

2/5

Derivative, and requires batteries which is the last thing you need with a book. I think Carle phoned this one in. Actually, it's like when thriller writers get too famous and farm the hard work out. It reads like an "Eric Carle's" or "Eric Carle with Grant Blackwood" kind of book. Introduces a small range of insects but manages to use "whirred" twice. Has Mosquitoes out at night rather than being a dawn/dusk phenomenon. The only saving grace is the unexpected twist with the Luna Moth.

 

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

4/5

It's a geeky, Hispanic coming of age / family history epic. To read it you need some Spanish, some knowledge of the Dominican Republic (rather distractingly sketched in via footnotes - I wish Díaz had included an appendix instead) and to have read a lot of SciFi.

 

Links

- EU envoy defends Bahrain police from BBC News - Home (How do we fire Robert Cooper? Seriously, how is a sniper and 'accident'?).

- Obama's war tent from BBC News - Home (Surely he's just doing that to screw with Gaddafi?).

- Radiation Chart from xkcd (Radiation perspective...).

- Are cloth seats a public health hazard? Possibly. from Boing Boing (Of course. And which Muppet decided to carpet BART?).

- Chrysler Tells It How It Is from Failblog After Dark (It looks real - someone got fired for tweeting this).

- VIDEO: Murakami's book on silver screen from BBC News - Home (I hope they didn't screw it up...).

- Facebook adds suicide help system from BBC News - Home (Also needed, a 'net' underneath the wall.).

- What should you do if a cash machine overpays? from BBC News - Home (Really BBC, you needed to crowd source this one?).

- Herpetology from xkcd.com ('herpetology is a silly field').

- Dear Oprah: Some thoughts on your credibility. from Boing Boing (In her defense, she has a lot more hours to fill these days...).

Is PAD dead?

Updated on Thursday, December 26, 2019

I’ve been a member of the Association of Software Professionals (née Shareware Professionals) for nearly ten years and I publish PAD files for most Catfood products. The idea is that PAD provides a standardized XML format for syndicating product information out to download sites. I used the ASPs PAD directory back in 2009 to analyze product information available in this format.

It used to be that download sites were a significant source of traffic and downloads, especially cnet’s Download.com. This just isn’t the case for me any more. I need to really massage Google Analytics to find any referral traffic from download sites. While I have PAD files available I no longer make any effort to promote them. Given a spare minute or two it’s far more effective to write a blog post.

Historically Download.com did a great job surfacing new products. They’ve shifted to emphasizing paid placements and the most popular so unless you’re a category killer (in a pre-defined category) it’s much harder to get traction. Lower tier download sites used to offer some SEO benefit but I really don’t see this any more as the sites have got wise to preserving their limited link juice.

Other than inbound marketing efforts my best source of traffic is creating Google Gadget versions of my products where appropriate. These provide independent value and link to the downloadable version for people who want more (a fusion of freemium and shareware).

Having got to the point of giving up on PAD I’m excited to see Ryan Smyth’s rallying cry in the introduction to a series on this topic on cynic.me:

“I’m going to once and for all shut up the many nay-sayers that are constantly poo-pooing on PAD, Robosoft, and download sites.”

Maybe I’m just doing it wrong. I hope so and I’ll be happy to learn something if this is the case.