Sense8 character collage

Sense8

Finished season 1 of Sense8. It is not a good show. It’s self-indulgent and nonsensical, brimming with melodrama and an unearned sense of its own importance.

I loved it anyway.

I think because I really just like the characters.  You spend a lot of time with them.  They all lead improbably complicated and dangerous lives.  You’ve got a Chicago cop, kick-ass Korean MMA fighter lady, Kenyan bus driver (which, it turns out, is more complicated and dangerous than it sounds), Icelandic DJ in London, trans-woman computer hacker in San Francisco, Indian research doctor and bride-to-be, German jewel thief and Mexican telenovella star.  And they can each channel each others abilities.  It’s a 90s or 2000s graphic novel quasi-superhero story.

And the fact that one of them is a telenovella star is the subtle hint that tells you how to frame this thing.  It’s supposed to be a crazy fantasy story.  So just go with it.

I do wish it spent more time digging into the science fictional premise.  But that’s my taste.

So much of this show is utterly ridiculous.  Bits of it are pointlessly gratuitous (in various senses).  I can’t justify liking it as much as I do.  But I do.

Hugos

I’m enjoying reading George R R Martin’s take on the drama that is the 2015 Hugo awards. I’ll link to the boingboing summary as a launching page not because I think Cory has a clear-eyed, unbiased view of the situation (he doesn’t, even though I agree with him), but because it also links to an interesting set of blog posts by Bruce Schneier’s posts on voting systems, and I kinda love that stuff.

I’m a one-time Worldcon member who didn’t vote for the Hugos. I’m occasionally tempted to join as a voting member because you get free ebooks of all the nominees, but then I remember I never bother to read the pile of books I already own.

The Hugos are a clique. The clique is Worldcon. People who are popular regulars at Worldcon by and large get the nominations and win the trophies. But the Hugos are Worldcon’s. It’s their award. It’s weird to be in the room where they’re handing them out, because you kinda feel like you’ve crashed somebody else’s prom when they’re handing out prom king and queen awards. If you don’t go to prom or even to that school, I don’t really see how you’d expect to win those particular popularity contests.

I mean, they nominate stuff like video tapings of the previous year’s Hugo awards ceremony. Everything except for the fiction awards is kind of a joke. A good-natured joke, generally, but I’m not going to be looking to the Hugos to tell me what’s a good comic to read or movie to watch.

Now, you could argue whether the “most prestigious science fiction literature awards” should go to the prom kings and queens of Worldcon, but Worldcon is the hub of science fiction book fandom. Very good writers go there. If you’re a serious science fiction writer and you’re not going there, one has some justification to question your dedication to the field. And they do care about the quality of the work. And the Worldcon people do actually take the fiction awards very seriously. So I feel a bit sad that they’ve had this happen to them. Because the people rushing in to vote don’t care about the Worldcon community or history or whatever. They’re doing it for the lulz.

2014 Waterloo Municipal Elections

With minimal ado, this blog endorses the following candidates in the municipal races I get a say in:

I’d love to endorse some school board candidates, but I have to admit I’m not well-enough informed to publicly commit to endorsements. School board is really important and I wish I had time to dig into it. Good, critical evaluation of candidates would also be really valuable because it’s so hard to come by. But I don’t have it. I suck, basically.

As if to contradict myself, I have some less well-informed opinions of other races around the region. If you’re interested in them, check out my Sticking My Oar In section.

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The 100,000,000-year-old moon

[Peter Capaldi on the moon]

So on this week’s Doctor Who episode, the Doctor asserts a couple times that the moon is 100 million years old. This, along with a lot of other Jack Kirby-esque science nonsense, irritated a great many viewers. Like this respected and lovely local author on Twitter:

In our universe, the moon is about 4.5 billion years old, give or take a few hundred million–there’s still some debate. That information isn’t hard to find. However, I assert he did look it up.

[The History of the Universe]

The Doctor Who universe isn’t our universe. In the Doctor Who universe, the arrival in the moon in orbit around the Earth is a specific and important historical event. It did two things: its sudden appearance in the sky convinced the Silurians (aka Homo Reptilia. SCIENCE!) to go into hibernation to avoid the impending doom it almost certainly portended (see: Doctor Who and the Silurians), and it destabilized the fragile Earth-Mondas twin orbit, sending Mondas drifting into interstellar space (see: The Tenth Planet and, in particular: Spare Parts).

Putting it at about 100 million years makes some sense for the Silurian timeline (moreso than the Doctor Who History of the Universe’s assertion that the Silurians’ ancestors survived and evolved 20 million years after the Earthshock extinction event that killed the dinosaurs). And it suddenly appearing as described in those stories is nicely in line with what is revealed about the moon in Kill the Moon.

So yeah, the age of the moon, to me, was a delightful callback to previous adventures. The nonsense about the increased mass of the moon was a bit more irritating, but I’ll give them a pass for not wanting to pay for all that wire work.

Update! 2015-05-05 Writer Peter Harness confirms on this week’s Radio Free Skaro, episode 474, that the 100 million year age of the moon was, in fact, a deliberate reference to Doctor Who and the Silurians. Validation!

Star Wars: Clone Wars

Life Size Ahsoka Tano StatueI’d kind of dismissed the Star Wars: Clone Wars animated series, because I didn’t see a need for it what with the already pretty awesome Clone Wars series by Genndy Tartakovsky. And also because, seriously, people, nobody likes the prequels. Why do we need to dwell on them?

But I think Clone Wars managed to redeem the prequel trilogy for me a little bit. Oh, it’s still terrible, but they kind of help show how it might have been good if George had actually hired a real director or something.

The best part about Clone Wars, hands down, is Ahsoka Tano, Anakin’s padawan introduced by the series. She’s feisty, brash and hot-headed, like the prequels were desperately trying to make Anakin, but she’s also deeply moral and just and kind. She gives Anakin something to care about that’s not his horribly dysfunctional relationship with Padme. And she’s fun. Oh god, it’s so refreshing to have a Star Wars that’s fun again.

Her morality causes conflict. With the Jedi, with Anakin and with herself. But she comes through, mostly doing the right thing when she can, and doing her best when she can’t.

The series does a bunch of other amazing things even when Ahsoka isn’t on screen. The Clones become actual characters you care about. All the political machinations start making some semblence of sense. You see how things like trade embargoes (somewhat simplified) affect actual people. Jar-Jar is still a (mostly) useless buffoon, but everyone’s in on it now and rolling their eyes along with you. I didn’t hate the Jar-Jar episodes! They kept Assaj Ventress from the 2003 series and she’s still awesome.

It’s not perfect. The Jedi are still inexplicably dumb. The politics, while amazing for being coherent and relatable, are clearly simplified for the kids watching. Legend of the Galactic Heroes, this ain’t. And they almost completely avoid the mystical Jedi stuff, gloss over anything about what it means to fall to the Dark Side or how any of that stuff works, much like the prequels. With one notable (tho odd) exception. Which is a shame, because all that stuff is what I loved thinking about playing Knights of the Old Replublic or the West End Star Wars RPG.

None of that overshadows how great the characters are (even Anakin sometimes), or how much fun it is to watch.

I should also note that it gets pretty dark towards the end. Fair warning: characters die. Ones you care about. Not Game of Thrones dark, but surprising for a kids’ show. Not that I don’t think kids could handle it, and I thought it was great what they pulled off. But it surprised me.

I gotta say, I recommend it. Clone Wars made me love Star Wars again. And I’m really looking forward to Star Wars Rebels.

@NewEatsKW

[COMING SOON] Up until a couple months ago, I’ve been pretty tied up with Kwartzlab. Kwartzlab is awesome and I loved serving on the board, but being an administrator was taking away from actually making or doing things.

Way back in February, the lab hosted Open Data Waterloo Region for Open Data Day. For a while, a coworker (Mark Sherry, @alfedenzo) and I had been kicking around the idea of using the Waterloo Region Food Inspection dataset and using it to figure out when a new restaurant opens in town. So when Open Data Day happened, that’s what I worked on.

(Video by Bob Jonkman. For whatever reason, that ogv video sometimes doesn’t work so great for me in GStreamer. But you can click on the little Internet Archive icon at the top and download to play in VLC or something. It’s going to be me unpreparedly rambling regardless).

It was mostly done at the time and I uploaded the code to github. Mark pulled it down and pretty much rewrote it. And then I came along and added some twitter API stuff, figuring out the basics of OAUTH for no better reason than I wanted to figure out OAUTH (basic authentication would’ve worked just fine).

But it still languished for a while. Mark was running it every week and sending me updates about what restaurants it uncovered.

Then the Kwartzlab board elections came along and I decided not to run again. Not coincidentally, I decided I wanted to dust off old projects and actually ship some. NewEatsKW was the first one.

Last night it tweeted its first tweet all on its own.

It would’ve been sooner, but there haven’t been any new restauarants in the dataset in weeks. I still need to do a bit of work to get it running in a cron job where it can download the data from the Region itself, but it works and I’m happy with it. Despite being a weird combination of being both horrendously slapdash and ridiculously overengineered.

And so far it’s made something of a splash, picking up nearly 40 followers on its first day.

Hurray! I’ve got some ideas of things I can do to make it better, but for now I’m happy that a small, simple, useful thing finally made it out the door and into the world.

Farewell, B-Div

This was my home for nearly 2 years.

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WCRI is in the process of demolishing B-Division.

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B-Div was always a bit of an odd duck in WCRI. One of the few options for one- and two-bedroom apartments near UW, you needed something like 13 terms seniority to get in when I was there.

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So it was mostly grad students and alumni. I managed to get a summer sublet from a guy who’d graduated. That allowed me to stick around even though I only had about 11 terms.

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So it was where I hid, secluding myself, finishing my degree and recovering from five unhappy years at university.

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And now it’s gone.

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New Motherboard: ASUS Z97-A (and Ubuntu)

My old desktop was seeing random drive errors on multiple drives, including a drive I only got a few months ago. And since my motherboard was about 5 years old, I decided it was time to replace it.

I asked the KWLUG mailing list if they had any advice on picking motherboards. The consensus seems to be pretty much “it’s still a crapshoot.” But I bit the bullet and reported back:

I bought a motherboard! An ASUS Z97-A

Mostly because I wanted Intel integrated graphics and I’ve got 3 monitors it needs to drive. And I was hoping the mSATA SSD card I got to replace the one in my Dell Mini 9 (that didn’t work) would fit in the m.2 slot. It doesn’t. Oh well.

I wanted to get it all set up while I was off for Canada Day. Except Canada Computers didn’t have any of my preferred CPU options. So I’ll be waiting for that to come in via NewEgg.

I gave myself a budget of about $500 for mobo, CPU and RAM and I’ll end up going over a little bit (mostly tax and shipping), and tried to build the best machine I could for that.

One of the things I did this time that I hadn’t done before was spec out a desktop machine at System76 and used that as a starting point. System76 is more explicit about things like chipsets for desktops than Zareason is. Which would be great, except they’re using the older H87 chipsets.

…Like the latest Ars System Guide Hot Rod But that’s over 6 months old now. And >they’re balancing their budget against having to buy a graphics card, which I don’t want to do.

I still have some unanswered questions about the Z97 chipset. It’s only been out for about a month. So who knows?

My laptop has mostly been my desktop for the last few years. But I want to knock that off because I’ve been developing back and neck problems. My desktop layout is okay ergonomically, at least better than anything I have for the laptop (including and especially my easy chair with a lapdesk, which is comfy, but kind of horrible on the neck). One of the things that’s holding me back is my desktop is 5 years old and was built cheap because I was mostly using it as a server by that point. I really want to make it something I want to use over the laptop (which is a very nice laptop). Which is why I ended up going somewhat upper-mid range.

That’s one of the nice things about building from parts, despite the lack of useful information: This is the 3rd motherboard I’ve put in this case. I replaced the PSU once a couple years ago so it’s quite sufficient to handle the new stuff. I’m keeping my old harddrives. I could keep the graphics card. I’ll need to buy an adapter for the DVD burner (and I’ve yet to decide if I’m going to do that, or buy a new SATA one or just go without). And I can keep my (frankly pretty awesome) monitors. So $500 gets me a kick-ass whole new machine.

Anyway, long story short, I still have a lot of questions about whether this was the best purchase, but I’m hopeful it’s a good one.

Aside: is Canada Computers really the only store in town that keeps desktop CPUs in stock anymore? I couldn’t get into the UW Tech Shop, but since they’re mostly iPads and crap now, I’m not optimistic. Computer XS doesn’t (at least the Waterloo one). Future Shop and Best Buy don’t. I even went into Neutron for the first time in over 15 years. Nope. Nobody.

It… didn’t go as well as I’d hoped:

So, anyway, I got the motherboard, CPU and put it all in my old case.

I booted up and all three monitors came up without any fuss, which has never happened for me. Awesome! This is great!

Then I tried to play game.

Apparently the current snd_intel_hda ALSA drivers don’t like H97 and Z97 chipsets. The sound was staticky, crackly and distorted.

I’ve spent more than a few hours over the last week hunting around for a fix. I installed Windows on a spare harddrive to make sure it wasn’t a hardware problem (for which I needed to spend the $20 to get a new SATA DVD drive so I could run the Windows driver disk to actually get actual video, networking and sound support :P). And I found this thing on the Arch WIki which, while not fixing the problem, did actually make it worse, leading me to conclude there was some sort of sound driver/pulseaudio problem.

Top tip: when trying to sort out sound driver problems for specific hardware the best thing to do is search for the hardware product id (in my case “8ca0”). That’s how I found this:

https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/linux/+bug/1321421

Hurray! The workaround works great and now I’m back in business!

So I got burned by going with the bleeding edge, and I should know better. But, even though the information isn’t widely diseminated yet, there is a fix. And a workaround. I’m sure Ubuntu 14.10 will have no problem with it. It’s not as bad as the bleeding edge was years ago. If the fix was easier to find (and I’m going to work on that), it was easier getting going with Ubuntu than it was with Windows.

Too Close to Call

[election lawn signs]

Sometimes I get excited about elections. I mean, I like talking about policy stuff I’m passionate about and I often find the democratic process invigorating and exciting. Other times, it just fills me with dread.

When last we met, Kitchener—Waterloo was holding a by-election to replace long-standing PC MPP Elizabeth Witmer. The victor in that race was NDP candidate Catherine Fife, which I felt pretty happy with, for reasons you can read about in the aforelinkedto blog post.

Now things are a bit different. The Liberals aren’t being complete jerk-asses. They’ve got a new leader I actually rather like and they’re running on a platform that’s pretty much everything I want them to run on. Even high speed rail between KW and Toronto, which I acknowledge is somewhat implausible, but I’ll take “we’re gonna do it! don’t ask me how” over “it’ll never happen; we hate you.” any day.

The PCs, however, have fallen back on faith-based economics and populist vitriol and stand in opposition to pretty much everything I believe in. They’d cancel Places to Grow and clean energy subsidies. They’d cancel all surface transit projects. They’d cut absolutely everything anyone cares about. Their plan, in a nutshell, seems to be to pour out as much gasoline as they can find, chuck a match and walk away with a smug grin.

I don’t like them very much.

Let’s dive into the candidates Continue reading

Enable Two-Factor Authentication

So everybody’s really excited about Heartbleed and now we’re seeing helpful folks on social media urging all their friends and family to change their passwords.

Leaving aside that your Instagram password is probably one of the least interesting things an attacker might get through Heartbleed, changing your password will only help you until the next time a security breach leaks a (hopefully) hashed password database.

Passwords alone aren’t good enough for security anymore. Fortunately, more and more sites have implemented two-factor authentication or two-step verification.

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