Credit Where Credit Is Due

It seems to me that I’ve been seeing lots and lots of social media posts which assert that [artist | intellectual] predicted [dystopian future that looks just like one aspect of today’s world] and did it [years ago]. I have to wonder what that’s in aid of. I mean, the second half of the 20th century was all about living with the constant threat of nuclear annihilation or environmental collapse, to say nothing of national existential threats (as the US and the USSR engaged in worldwide political destabilization and regime change) and obvious corporate misandry. The stories of my youth in the 70s and 80s were all dystopian nightmares of one kind or another, each one based on the reductio ad absurdum of some then-current phenomenon.

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Why Crypto?

I know a few people who are concerned about their online privacy, but who don’t have a good handle on what to do about it. There is always some story about some company leaking private data, or some government spying on people, or some “hackers” stealing information for nefarious purposes. So people are worried, but the defensive measures they might take aren’t always clear or easy to understand, let alone implement. I thought I’d write some easier to understand instructions and analysis for my less technically inclined friends. Continue reading

Engage

I got totally burned out on social media by the U.S. election. Rather than textual posts with partisan argumentation (that’s how you spell, “civil discourse,”) Twitter and Facebook were awash in nasty memes. A month later it feels kind of like the morning after a killer party: I’m slowly looking around for cat videos and reports of my friends’ holiday plans and I wince slightly whenever I see some hate photo.

And it occurs to me, not for the first time, that this is what people do instead of slapping bumper stickers all over their cars. You can’t put a nuanced position on a bumper sticker; there’s no room for exposition or citations, nor for detailed reasoning. There’s just a conclusion. How do you argue with a conclusion? How do you point out that there’s a flaw in the logical chain, when the chain is not present? How do you engage with someone whose every pronouncement is an unsubstantiated claim?

I saw a tweet the other day about how people indulge in long tweetstorms (1/11, 2/11, 3/11…) meanwhile their blogs sit idle and not updated for years. I think people are feeling the pinch of trying to have conversations via bumper sticker, and trying to solve the problem by using more stickers. This feels like a wrong approach.

Maybe we could go back to long-form communication and just use the memeverse for advertising?

Distortion

Back when Dubya was president, I read Slashdot every day. My wife worked as a journalist and then as a technical writer in the semiconductor industry and she mocked me when I told her about some cool thing I’d seen: either the “news” was like six months old or the story had misrepresented whatever the development was. Any semiconductor story along the lines of some great new manufacturing process or some cool chip or a company merger or…well, anything, it was old, wrong, or both. I eventually gave up on Slashdot and turned to more established news sites.

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How to Draw a Line

I became a bit intimidated and frustrated with my simulation framework so I set it aside for a while. I played a lot of video games and I practiced my piping. I’m bored with the video games, though, and last night I came back to the sim. I’ve got some ideas for making the problems tractable or even non-issues, and that’s the benefit of walking away for a bit. Before tackling the big structure, though, I thought I’d take a look at a small fix: how to tell what direction a link is going.

A link between two components is a directional line. It takes messages from the source end and sends them to the destination end. But if I’m drawing the link as just a blue line, how can you tell by looking which end is which? I thought I’d maybe color the line as a gradient. (First I thought maybe I’d draw little arrows on the line, but that seemed too fiddly for almost bedtime.) The documentation and tutorials around using LinearGradient are all about using gradients as fill for shapes, not about lines, so there was some experimentation along the lines of, “What happens when the source endpoint is to the right of the destination endpoint, or what if the source is below the destination?”

Anyway, this works:

Stop[] stops = new Stop[] {new Stop(source.getX() < dest.getX() ? 0 : 1, Color.BLUE),
                           new Stop(source.getX() < dest.getX() ? 1 : 0, Color.RED)};
LinearGradient linkStroke = new LinearGradient(0, 0, 1, 0, true, CycleMethod.NO_CYCLE, stops);
ctx.setStroke(linkStroke);

It’s Alive!

So, I’ve been fooling around with Java FX for the past month or so, poking at a toy project just to see how the system works. And now I’ve built a discrete event simulation environment that lets me drop graphical components down onto a workspace and let them pass messages to each other. I’m pretty jazzed about this! Maybe in another couple of months, I’ll have a trade network simulation that I can fool around with.

Followup

From the javadoc comments in Math.java: “If the argument is NaN or an infinity or positive zero or negative zero, then the result is the same as the argument.”

Let me just point out that Java thinks that NaN (Not a Number), positive zero, negative zero, or either positive or negative infinity are different values, and this is not a quirk of Java. The language thinks this because the standard for computer representation of real numbers thinks this; the language is just exposing the constructs so that programmers can handle these different values.

At least nowadays positive zero will test as equal to negative zero. (That wasn’t always true, you know.)