things to do when there’s time

I haven’t had much time off this year and I’ve been feeling tired for a while. June-July tends to be a busy time for both work (end of financial year etc) and personal (filmfest, birthdays, etc) and it’s been hard to find spots to take a breather or get a few things done. My partner I do have a week planned for Tassie in mid August, and she’s taking the week before off to help Ms17 with exams. I’ve recently decided to take a week off after the Tassie trip and have it to myself though have offered to drive Ms17 around to print stuff for her HSC major work.

So I thought I’d make a list of things I’d like to get done as once I’m on holidays, any plans tend to go out the window and I fudge it day by day. Still, making a list has at least given me a useful list of things to do if I get stuck:

  • watch Twin Peaks – all of it. Despite loving David Lynch movies, I’ve never actually watched any of Twin Peaks. This is a distinct gap in my education.
  • Install internet mesh – I’ve been waiting for the NBN to be installed before going ahead with this project. We had the lawn dug up and cabling installed about a year ago but then it was put on hold forever…I think we’re now due end of this year or early next year. A mesh setup will improve connectivity within the house and reduce black spots while providing a single SSID for devices. That should also speed up access to stuff stored on the NAS and improve its usefulness.
  • Fix TV cabling – we’ve recently bought a smart TV but it seems to be competing at times with the PVR. At the moment both devices connect directly to the sound base and I suspect I should be connecting the PVR directly to the TV. It would also be nice to get the hearing aid loop working with the TV.
  • Enjoy life – this seems essential and shouldn’t be forgotten
  • Visit Bankstown Library – I worked there many years ago and still have friends there and I miss it. It was moved across the road to a new, fabulous building a couple of years ago and I still haven’t checked it out.
  • play some more with web archiving tools and analysis – haven’t touched it in a while and need to do some more. Plus I’m going to a conferenceThe path of the Kepler over a hill with blue sky peaking through the mist. in NZ in November on this stuff and hoping to learn lots more
  • Watch last Tomb Raider movie – missed it at the cinema…actually I miss quite a bit at the cinema these days.
  • Drive somewhere – ’cause random drives are fun
  • Re-watch some things eg Interview with a Vampire, Charlie’s Angels
  • watch a bunch of episodes of The Avengers – I bought the box last year and I would like to work my way through all the seasons
  • Sew buttons – my favourite shirt has lost a button, as has an old jacket. It’d be nice to sew them back on and be able to wear them
  • Listen to my ipod – sometimes it’s just nice to put the headphones on and bop around the house
  • do some reading – I would anyway but seemed odd not to include it in the list

I suspect I will keep adding to this list and not get most of it done. That’s ok.

on collections

A friend forwarded me details of a home gallery they visited, the Elliot Eyes Collection (tEEC), and I loved their taste and may visit one day myself. Looking through their site, I saw so many things I liked. I would love a colourful sculpture by John Nicholson, in fact I want that block of rainbows :-) I’d never heard of Euan Macleod, now I would love one of his pictures.

I am not in their league; they occupy spaces, a mental landscape far removed from my own; other worlds beyond my existence.

I liked this reference they made to collecting:

Allen Weiss in “The Grain of the Clay” (Reaction Books,2016) has described collecting, or a collection, as an autobiographical statement. Unencumbered by the boundaries, rules and bureaucracy of public galleries, the housemusem displays the passion of the collector – individualistic, subjective, imaginative and zany.

It resonates. The collection conveys a sense of the person, their past, perhaps an image of themselves that they want to present. A curated appearance.

books on shelves in a warehouseThe objects you have in your house tell a story about you.

Objects. Books.

I collect books. I used to collect books to read, to accumulate, to expand. I used to read more in the past: a voracious appetite. I read less now but still buy but I no longer buy as much. I hope.

Books can be objects
Books can be read
Books can be memory

I buy books now as objects, to have nice things. Objects that can be opened and read; the intent is that all should and will be read. I buy nice books, pretty books, well bound books.

On occasion, I browse my books, pulling out this or that, memories triggered, a life passed. My books are a map to my past: of place, of mind, of heart. I need to know where my books are. They are part of the story of who I am.

bursts of inactivity

This was a comment elsewhere but I thought I might add it here as it’s a little bit meta and a little bit where I’m at.

Trampers on the Kepler Track

Where are we now? Some folk in the community are hitting a peak and I seem to be heading toward a trough, perhaps I am old…I am a decade or two older than quite a few that I am chatting to on twitter these days. I remember my uni days which stretched on forever…yes I was at uni for a decade or so. Every year or two, I needed to make new groups of friends to ensure I continued to have friends as others continued to graduate. I did finish eventually with a BA (Philosophy, History & Philosophy of Science) [and an unofficial major in Computer Science and a Master’s in Librarianship. So nerr…I finished and people didn’t really expect me to finish…professional student, years on the dole…yet here I am…a senior librarian at one of the top libraries in the country.

I am not a manager, I have no staff reporting to me. Somehow I keep finding interesting projects in odd nooks and crannies. Imbuing whatever job I’m doing with some extension of who I am. Allegedly, my primary role is to look after eresources, manage contracts and budgets, deal with suppliers…and stats for usage…always stats. Yet somehow I keep squeezing a little bit of me in…I do more tech stuff than most, I have managed to grab some tech support into my role…tech support seems to be a natural home of sorts.

Trampers on the Kepler TrackHowever, I manage to pull in other things..some years ago I was tasked with implementing a strategy to harvest web sites, which I did. I have, via my employer, been capturing  NSW government websites for several years. That’s several terabytes of data now and I continue to experiment with tools for exploring that content and looking at ways for making it publicly available. I’ve recently taken over the Library’s capturing of social media…so I’ve set up a working group to take some of the weight. Meanwhile I’m exploring policy and looking at what’s possible with other platforms.

I can see the shape of me developing…I turn 50 this year and am happy to say that I keep seeing endless possibilities, so many directions to head, so many things to try. At 50 I want to work forever, actually I think the government wants me to work forever too. However right now, I don’t want to stop. I want to keep pushing. I want to keep doing.

At 50 I have more hope than I did at 20. My horizon is larger.

Hmmm…this post has not been a regurgitation of my comments elsewhere…I might have to squeeze them in another day, or not, and continue ever on.

knuth

I often say professionally that I did a compsci major (though can never claim it officially) yonks ago but decided against becoming a programmer. That’s not a decision I regret mostly, though it must be said I continue to have strong leanings that direction. Scarily, it’s been over 25 years since those compsci days. Still, I learnt good stuff.

I recall in the second half of first year compsci, we had an older lecturer at the time who was actually a maths lecturer who seemed to have come across into computers. I can say “older” as I’ve just found this bio which sums up very briefly a rather fascinating career. He may even have been one of my favourite lecturers as he liked to play with new ideas and introduced stuff he knew about from maths into computing. I was a very rare beast in compsci in that I was enrolled under BA and not directly in Compsci and I did no math. I had done first year math but it wasn’t quite my bag. Doherty was very big on mathematical ideas and assessing efficiencies of algorithms.

I recall him talking some weird algorithm for encrypting data and he worked through the basic idea in a lecture, I think it was based on some sort of fractional encoding model. At the end of the lecture, he said the next assignment would be to implement it. I found the idea of it fascinating. The next assignment came out and sure enough it was on encryption so I implemented the algorithm in Pascal that he’d talked about based on my lecture notes. The idea was you’d write code to encrypt a paragraph of text, and code to decrypt the text. I was mostly successful but because it relied on decimal conversion of larger numbers, it rapidly lost accuracy on the 8 bit macs we were using at the time. Out of a sentence of 10 words, it started losing letters by the end of the first word.

Turns out, I should have read the back page of the assignment. Doherty had decided that the technique was a little too experimental for first year compsci and had instead instructed everyone to use a hashing technique. I handed my assignment in and discussed with the class tutor what I’d done. He wasn’t familiar with the algorithm at all but was impressed that it worked and understood why it failed where it did. I got full marks and first year compsci was one of my few high distinctions at uni.

mini computers on top of computer books.Anyway, Doherty would often quote Knuth as the foundation of modern computing. Knuth was all about the development of algorithms and understanding their efficiencies. Algorithms are really important as they represent techniques for solving particular sorts of problems eg what is the best way to sort a random string of numbers? The answer varies depending on how many numbers are in the string, or even whether you can know the number of numbers. For very small sets, a bubble sort is sufficient, and from there you move on to binary searches, binary trees, and so on. I wasn’t always across the math but really appreciated the underlying thinking around assessing approaches to problem solving. Plus Doherty was a fab lecturer with a bit of character.

So Knuth. He is best known for his series, The Art of Computer Programming, which has gone through a few editions and I wonder if it will ever be actually finished; the fourth volume is actually labeled 4A: Combinatorial Algorithms Part 1. Volume 4 is eventually expected to cover 4 volumes: 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D. 4B has been partially released across several fascicles of which 6 have been released. Volume 3 seems to be the most relevant for where I’m at today and where I’m looking to play; #3 is around 750 pages devoted specifically to sorting and searching. So much of what we do online is reliant on being able to find stuff and to find stuff well, it helps if the data has been ordered.

Knuth has this been this name in my head though my life has gone in other directions. A few years ago, I did a google and found that not only were his books on Amazon, there was even a box set of Volumes 1-4A. I bit the bullet about 3 years ago and bought the set, cost around US$180 at the time and looks really, bloody good on the shelf. I haven’t read a great deal yet but dipped in a few times and planning to get into volume 3 properly at some point. I’ve recently being moving stuff around at home and don’t have a lot of space for books next to where my computer gear is these days. However, it turns out, the mac mini sits nicely on top of the set, and my newest computer, the VivoMini sits nicely on top of the mac. I sorta like the idea of these small computers sitting on Knuth’s foundation.

more sheep (there are spoilers)

…which sounds like it could be a line introducing the planned Settlers of Catan movie.

But no, I of course refer to a second movie picking up on the themes of Philip K Dick‘s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”. As an aside, thankfully, googling “android” and “dick” produced far less scary results than anticipated. Dick’s greatness far exceeds dodgy pr0n references. DADOES as it is often shortened to, is possibly Dick’s second best novel, the best generally regarded as The Man in the High Castle. I tend not to disagree.

When the first version of the first movie was released in, I think, 1982 or 3, I wasn’t able to see it. Dad however, bought me the book. I was 14 at the time. It blew me away. I loved it much. I’ve only read it once but it has always stuck with me. Vivid. I finally saw the film on its second release, as the Director’s Cut. Loved it. Also vivid. Seared into my mind. I saw it many times both on big screen and small.

I suspect I’ve seen the original version several times since. Comfortably double figures on the director’s cut, possibly double figures on the original. I love both though it remains true that people generally prefer the version they saw first. There is also a final cut that was much later that I tried to watch recently but didn’t quite find the right moment to pop it on. I’ve read enough to know where it differs and seen the other versions enough to work out where it fits visually.

Seriously: spoilers below.

Bladerunner is that rare, rare film that leaves out so much of the book yet captures its essence, shares its soul. Blade Runner 2049 also succeeded…mostly. I was riveted to the screen for most of it, for most of it was perfect. If it had stopped shortly after Agent K and Deckard met, or been effectively finished at that point, I would have been happy. But it didn’t finish, there were fights and kidnapping and more fights, Terminator-esque. The side plot of the tycoon Wallace, felt shallow and vacuous. Unnecessary. Even then, if the film had ended with K dying on the snowy steps it might have been redeemed. It felt so much like an interesting film with a Brady Bunch ending slapped on.

And yet, it was still so bloody good…so much perfect, visually grand (it needs a really big screen, a big space), musically, aurally wonderful. It still traces the path of  what does it mean to be human, and explores new ripples. It was well paced, events, music, landscapes…connected. I loved its play with virtual characters, and the way it overlapped virtual with real…or a sense of real. It’s all about the sense of real, and not necessarily the real itself.

techie librarian; meatier than a seahorse

 

Tag lines…whatever do you use for your tagline: the subheading of your identity, the punchline by which people establish a connection. Mostly I pay them lip service, smiling occasionally at a clever one. My own tend to refer to variations of: techie, librarian and eclectic, sometimes all 3 at once.

In a rather wayward conversation, spinning down a rabbit hole of curiousity, as things are wont to do when Matt Finch is involved, a recent conversation turned from roasting penguins to eating seahorses.

I participated in a workshop as part of NLS8 and the first activity was for everyone to sketch a scene, in 90 seconds, on a piece of A4 using at least one of three figures on a screen: 2 humans (or human-like) and a penguin. As is my wont, I immediately gave into the dark side and sketched the two humans roasting the penguin. The second half of the activity was for each table to construct a cohesive story using those scenes as panel. They were two quick activities that worked really well as an icebreaker and got you thinking at how easy it was to come up with ideas under pressure.

The seahorses came later…or rather many years earlier:

to which I responded with my “meatier than seahorse” remark and commented elsewhere that while I have never eaten penguin, I have actually eaten seahorse.

Many years ago, 2003 I think (really must upload those photos to flickr), I spent a few weeks on an Intrepid trip in China with friends. We started in Beijing and went to the Beijing night markets, a place where you can eat just about anything including silk worms and even scorpions on a stick. Scorpions were a wee a but scary but we figured had to be ok as noone was dropping dead. As far as we can figure, they’re bred without their stinger.

While trying to order something else, there was a language issue, and I ended up with seahorse on a stick. I think the scorpions were about 20 cents for five whereas the seahorse was a few Oz dollars for one. Our tour guide tried to talk our way out of it but the shopowner insisted. So I paid for it and ate it. There wasn’t much flavour as it was primarily shell with perhaps a tiny morsel of meat.

Matt suggested “meatier than a seahorse” as a bio and it immediately rang the right sort of bells, both physically and metaphorically. I am now using it for all my taglines :-)

a little low end

Ruminating further on my desire for more processing power, I’ve been thinking more on clusters and can’t help but feel that a lego rack of tiny motherboards is a rather cute direction to head in. My general idea at the moment is to look at building a cluster significantly more powerful than a mac mini but with a small footprint and not too expensive. While there are desktop towers and second-hand servers that can achieve much better performance, they take up a lot of physical space. 2 things I’ve always been interested in in computing:

  • small size (or footprint) – I don’t want them to dominate the space
  • low weight
  • good battery life is also nice but less relevant in this scenario

The Intel NUC cluster is the high end version of the sort of setup that could work for me. However high end, cutting edge isn’t the only solution and comments on twitter reminded me that there are other, cheaper options for home use starting with the humble raspberry pi. Turns out there’s quite a bit of work in that area on a low end approach to supercomputing. While the overall speed per board won’t be huge, gains can be made for parallel computing as a good number of cores and threads increases work done in these sorts of systems and may work out better, and cheaper than a single NUC.

train station in Manarola, Italy.

There’s been a lot of work with raspberry pi clusters and running boards in parallel with anything from 4 boards up to 200+; someone has even published instructions on building a 4 board Pi cluster in a mere 29 minutes. However the Pi isn’t the only option and another board that has developed a community is the Odroid series and they seem a wee bit more powerful than the Pi without being much more expensive.

The challenge I gather with Pi/Odroid setups is potentially around the ARM chipset whereas the NUC being Intel is on a more common platform. ARM is a slower chipset relatively and doesn’t quite have the broad support of mainstream chipsets however there seems to be a strong community around them. On the other hand, if you want to go down the intel route, then there’s credit size computers, like the Intel Edison, based on x86 chips. Literally the size/thickness of a credit card and can boot to standard linux. Clusters of these are even smaller, with a 10 card cluster that looks like it could fit in the palm of your hand.

Realistically, while it’s nice to dream I’m not actually that great with hardware stuff and I can see that 29 minute Pi cluster taking me most of the day…if I can get it to work at all. Yet it sounds so simple. I suspect it’s a matter of courage, patience and lots of google-fu. I get nervous when dealing with hardware and installing software, blindly running other people’s scripts and keeping my fingers cross that if errors occur, they’re not too hard to resolve. The advantage of cheaper approaches is that I’m not too badly out of pocket if I can’t get it to work, a few hundred vs a few thousand. The other question is whether a tenth of the budget produces better than a tenth of the power?