Regarding SOPA and PIPA

Published at 18:52 on 18 January 2012

Probably the worst thing about both is something that most opponents are not focusing on. Yes, such legislation will probably cause economic harm by making life more inconvenient for Internet entrepreneurs.

The worst threat, however, is that such legislation will provide both a rationale and an obligation to create an infrastructure of censorship, one that could later be exploited by the government in ways detrimental to civil liberties. And recent trends in the USA (warrantless searches, incommunicado detention, death squads, torture, etc.) have been worrying enough for civil liberties as it is.

Another Winter Storm

Published at 17:35 on 18 January 2012

Snowy Woods, Camp Long, Seattle
Camp Long this Afternoon.

The forecasters really couldn’t make up their minds on this one. First it was supposed to be the storm that ends this current cold spell by dragging the normal mild marine air back. Then, it was supposed to start as snow but turn to mild rain and end the cold spell anyhow. Then the amount of initial snow went up to amounts that would create a slushy mess when the rain came. Then it was supposed to be all snow, huge amounts of it.

Those huge amounts of snow went south (Chehalis, a lowland town that gets no more snow on average than Seattle does, got a whopping 17 inches). We ended up with a little over 4 inches here in West Seattle, still a very significant accumulation for the lowlands.

It all wound up as forecast around 2PM. Or so I thought. I woke from the nap I took after my walk in the woods, and looked out at a puzzling sight: tiny little drops on the outside of the window, a haze in in the distance as if it was still snowing, but no flakes falling and no evidence of the least bit of melting.

I went outside and the mystery was solved: the leaves on the laurel bush out front were becoming glazed with ice. Freezing drizzle. It’s sundown and there’s now a distinct crust on the snow, and the tree branches are making that creaking sound in the wind that they do when encrusted.

Up until this week, I had been worried that this was going to be a dud of a La Niña winter. No longer.

Snow (at Last)

Published at 19:40 on 15 January 2012

Snow-covered western hemlocks, Schmitz Park.
Snow-covered western hemlocks, Schmitz Park.

Was planning to go to the foothills for a hike in the snow, but minutes after I left it started really dumping (after half-heartedly snowing off and on all morning and not amounting to much), so I quickly changed plans and took a walk in Schmitz Park instead.

Up until today, it’s been a real dud of a winter for those of us who like interesting weather, which has been something of a surprise, given that La Niña years tend to have below-average temperatures and above-average precipitation. Maybe that pattern is about to change.

QuiBids: Best Avoided

Published at 11:34 on 11 January 2012

While looking at The Guardian’s website this morning, I noticed an ad for an on-line auction company called QuiBids, which listed some about-to-close auctions with temptingly low bid amounts.

Realizing that it might be too good to be true, I decided to investigate a little. Because, on the other hand, if it’s not some sort of sleazy ripoff site that charges you simply to place a bid (whether it wins or not), even if only a small fraction of the items go for pennies on the dollar, it could really pay to keep an eye on things and slap bids on anything that looks like it’s going to sell for a song. I probably wouldn’t win every time, of course, but at those prices it would be worth celebrating the wins and ignoring the ones that got away. It’s hard to do this sort of thing on eBay anymore because that site has simply become too popular, but perhaps this site is new enough that such opportunities can still be found. Or so I thought.

Was I ever prescient. Turns out it is a sleazy ripoff site that charges 60 cents per bid, whether or not the bid wins. Worse, you have to buy a ridiculously high number (100, $60 worth) of bids up-front before you can use the site. And the shit icing on the cake is that you have no choice of bid increments: you can only make pathetic, penny-ante bids at a fixed amount dictated by an algorithm on their site.

I know enough about how “baby bids” work on eBay when you make them (or rather, don’t work) to know that this makes the site a complete ripoff. How much do you want to guess what the odds are that once you give them your $60, you’ll find that mysteriously there are no items about to sell for a song like their ad shows? My guess is pretty darn near 100% odds.

Visiting Roxhill “Bog”

Published at 20:03 on 9 January 2012

At the headwaters of Longfellow Creek in West Seattle is what used to be an extensive peat bog. It was then partially mined for peat, filled, and turned into a park. Except that much of the park never was very successful, because it was still in a low area and its lawns tended to be mushy and squishy. Worse, there was still peat under all that fill, meaning the land had a tendency to subside.

So about 10 years ago, it was decided to try and bring the bog back, at least in the lower part of the park. Except that it’s no longer a coniferous forest in the surrounding area; it’s mostly lawns. Lawns that get a fair amount of lime and fertilizer dumped on them in order to keep them healthy.

Alas, what keeps a lawn healthy is the same thing that kills a bog. Bog plants can cope with extreme acidity and low nutrient levels just fine. What they cannot generally cope with is non-bog plants, because the latter grow faster and out-compete bog plants in non-bog environments.

And so it is that, ten years on, the “bog” is not really bog at all; it’s an open, marshy wetland in the process of evolving into a forested, swampy one.

Wetland (as opposed to bog-specific) plants were in general doing just fine. Swamp roses were growing in great profusion, and black cottonwoods and willows were volunteering everywhere. The Sitka spruces which had been planted generally looked very healthy.

However, most of the specific bog species plantings I found were sickly and barely surviving. There were a fair number of stunted bog laurel bushes, and an even smaller number of very sickly-looking Labrador tea shrubs. Hardly any of the bog sedges remained; invasive grasses had pretty much universally displaced them. Sweet gale was an exception to this rule; I saw a number of vigorously-growing, very healthy specimens, which had obviously spread significantly to form large clumps since they were planted.

It was, in total, less of a complete weed patch than I had expected. Perhaps there’s enough remaining bog acidity in the soil there to keep a damper on the worst of the weed overgrowth.

Sorry, but I don’t have any photos to accompany this article. I did have a camera with me, but I spaced and forgot to use it.

HD Radio Revisited

Published at 12:41 on 6 January 2012

I’m beginning to suspect my prior (and to some degree, current) experiences are a victim of the Connector Conspiracy. When I made a new antenna cable using parts salvaged from a defunct cell phone headset, I had much better luck receiving HD signals.

It’s still not perfect; reception drops out every so often and stays that way until I reseat the antenna connector. This makes me suspect that JVC deliberately chose to use a somewhat nonstandard 3.5 mm connector, one that fails to mate well with anything but the connectors on their (overpriced) accessory kits.

It is at least a partial fix, one that’s good enough to enable me to receive the BBC static-free on one of the digital channels of a KUOW. That will come in handy on the next big news day (forget about the Internet when a big story breaks; any streaming programming instantly becomes overloaded to the point of uselessness in my past experience).

The Daily Job Ad “WTF?”

Published at 12:21 on 6 January 2012

To Apply: Please send portfolio URL and resume to [e-mail address deleted]. Subject line should read “Your Name: Backend Developer.”

Really, now? A portfolio? For a back end developer position? Isn’t that about as relevant as asking an electrician or plumber for a set of pictures showing external views of new buildings he helped work on?

This one cuts particularly close to home for me because my last job involved fixing the horrible mess the back-end code was on a site that looked absolutely beautiful when viewed on a browser. Interestingly, this job has been advertised regularly since last autumn, so it seems this employer is having trouble filling it.

Gee, I wonder why…

Learning Cocoa is Slow

Published at 16:54 on 5 January 2012

(For the non-geeks, Cocoa is the user interface library on the Macintosh. It’s what lets you write programs that use the familiar windows, menus, alerts, and whatnot that a typical Mac program has.)

Part of it is learning a new language (and not precisely a nice, clean one: Objective-C is almost as crufty as C++), part of it is that the innards of the Mac just seem counterintuitive to me.

On the former issue, there are actually alternatives to Objective-C, including as of recently C#, a language which is far more modern and easy to use. Unfortunately, most of those are open-source projects as opposed to things with Apple’s explicit sanction and blessing, and as I’ve said before, shoddy documentation is the Achilles’ heel of open-source software.

Which raises the latter issue: the documentation and design of Xcode seems to be based on an assumption that both Xcode and Cocoa are intuitive. It documentation keeps talking about how Xcode makes everything easy and logical. For me at least, it certainly is not.

However, slow as the process of fighting with Xcode is, at least Xcode and Objective-C are fairly comprehensively documented by Apple. I hate to think of how much more difficult trying to learn Cocoa in C# would be.

Back to the Old Interview Roller-Coaster

Published at 10:15 on 4 January 2012

Already have one scheduled for tomorrow. So now I get to go through the whole “this might be the one… oh shit, it’s another mismatch” ride again. Eventually it will end, but the odds of it ending on any one interview are not so great.