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May. 24th, 2017 @ 10:23 am Synecdoche vs Metonymy
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In a manful effort to remember which is which, I looked these words up *again*.

It looks like, "synecdoche" means using a part to represent the whole, eg. "how many heads" in a herd of cattle, or "how many bums" in a theatre, or "nice wheels" referring to a whole car. But is also used for the reverse, using a whole to represent a part, eg. "what does Brussels think" referring to the European parliament.

I couldn't tell why the second meaning was included, but secondarily, if the first meaning came first, and then people started using it both ways round, or something else. Nor if only the first meaning is "correct" and the second is a mistake, or if both are equally accepted.

Apparently "metonymy" means "using a closely related concept to represent a thing". Eg. using "suits" for "lawyers" or "businesspeople", or "the pen is mightier than the sword" to mean "the written word is mightier than force of arms".

So the real difference between "synecdoche" and "metonymy" is different history and connotations, which I don't really understand. But in terms of literal meaning, the only difference is "using a part to represent the whole" vs "using one concept to represent another".

But, obviously, human pattern matching means if you mostly use synecdoche in the "part for a whole" sense, then the most common use of metonymy is "whole for a part", even if it could be used for other things.

Can anyone fill in the gaps here?

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May. 22nd, 2017 @ 04:53 pm Cambridge North
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We went to visit the new north cambridge station, and had a lovely trip to Ely. I hadn't realised we'd actually got to the opening so it was a pleasant surprise.

Overall, it looked really nice, clean, modern, a little artistic, if it works out practically I'd really enjoy using it.

In many ways well provided, like having a lift fairly central and not buried off somewhere, despite a few flaws.

There were some nice touches, like mains and usb charge points in the waiting room, although I did feel, if you're going to add any, why add only four, why not put them round the room? And why not put them next to a shelf?

I wasn't sure quite what trains I was hoping for, there aren't the ones Liv and ghoti had hoped would exist, and for now the connections seem annoyingly inconsistent, but any trains at all from North Cambridge is really nice. I think as I get used to having it available I will find it's really handy; ambling there on the bike puts a train trip in the "why not" category not the "sigh, I suppose so" category even if it doesn't save that much time overall.

My biggest worry was that it would instantly become as busy as the old station, taking a lot of the traffic from north cambridge, and making chesterton into more london commuter belt, and not be able to handle that traffic, but other people seem to think that wouldn't happen. Presumably there is *some* plan for expansion if necessary by people who know (there is still something to be built next to the station judging by the empty lot).

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May. 17th, 2017 @ 10:32 pm Life things
Driving to Bar Hill for work has been fine. It took a little adjustment, I kept not wanting to switch to cycling to go out in the evening (and if I come home first I find it very hard to go out again). But it doesn't take long, the traffic is not bad.

Although I'm not looking forward to doing it in the dark again, most is fine, but some of the junctions are a bit offputting.

Since I started working in Bar Hill I've been going to the gym there. I've very slowly got better from where I seemed to be to start with, but the last few weeks haven't improved much. Hopefully if I just keep at it, I will improve in spurts.

I've been keeping up month-by-month goals. Although several months have been more like a todo-list than a goal. I think I'd benefit from some that were even more focused on "just relax". In fact, I realise lots of productivity advice suggested month-by-month tracking of tasks and goals, but "one big one" was the way in that worked for my brain; previous attempts at similar things had me shy off thinking "I have to do everything and I can't".

Work is going ok. I still have many of the problems I've had actually getting progress done, but all *better* than they used to be, and longer periods of productivity. My first few weeks effort to close out distraction entirely failed though, I'm back to alternating work (where I get plenty done if I'm into it), and other faff.

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May. 15th, 2017 @ 12:09 pm NSA/Malware
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I feel confused by the news of Friday's ransomware worm. I've tried to piece together the pieces.

It spread by both email (requiring people to clink a link or open an attachment?) and across local networks to windows computers that were not up to date with patches (ie. all xp and win7/8 which haven't got security updates in the last two months )[1] using one or more particular vulnerabilities. Is that right?

This vulnerability applied to some networking thing called Windows SMB, version 1, which was outdated, but mostly still enabled on any computers which used SMB at all, which was mostly organisation networks, not home computers. Is that right?

Some time ago, the NSA discovered this particular vulnerability. As far as I can tell there's no suggestion they *created* it? Even though that's the sort of thing they WOULD do. Lots of news articles are saying "the nsa vulnerability" but that's just hype, right? But they did find it, and (apparently) not report it, just keep it for internal use.

They assembled some of these vulnerabilities into a suite of hacking tools.

Some time more than two months ago, there was a leak. Probably an insider of some sort? Someone got hold of those tools. cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EternalBlue

About two months ago, maybe immediately, maybe after a delay, the NSA tipped off microsoft. Microsoft released a patch in the normal security updates. I think Microsoft mostly confirmed this recently, even though at the time the patch didn't say anything about it (it was somewhat suspicious it didn't say who found the vulnerability).

One month ago, a shadowy hacker group who named themselves after a shadowy hacker group in Mass Effect 3, tried to auction some of those leaked tools with mixed success. This sounds weird, but AFAICT is fairly certain, is that right?

They could be anyone, but people suspect they may be sponsored by Russia, as propaganda to say, "see what the NSA do, don't get into an open, cyber or propaganda war with us, you have a lot to lose too".

If the malware had been released *before* the patch, it could have been a lot worse, it could have infected many other networks as well, even completely up to date computers. As it happened, it only applied to older computers of which there were still many, but it made the auction less notable.

By Friday, someone had used that vulnerability to create (an updated version of?) that worm aka WannaCry and released it. It infected many many major organisations including most of NHS.

I don't know how the clean-up is going. Will large organisations pay ransom? Probably not? Will they be able to restore computers? How much data is permanently lost? I've no idea.

Someone registered a domain name referenced in the worm which accidentally or deliberately acted as a kill switch.

Microsoft released a one-off patch for windows xp and some other older operating systems (?) to fix this specific exploit.

We have no idea who "someone" was in this case, if they were affiliated with any of the previous groups or not.

Speculation

This is just a feeling, but it feels like this particular worm was a bit of a rush job by someone who didn't expect it to do this well.

Misconceptions

As far as I can tell, this worm was based on the same exploit the NSA found, but I've not heard anything concrete whether (a) they reverse engineered the microsoft patch (b) they got the vulnerability from the leaked NSA tool or (c) they re-used some of the code in the leaked NSA tool.

I assume the NSA didn't actually write this worm? Like, they would have done something more targeted?

But the news keeps saying things like "the tool used in this current attack had been developed by the US National Security Agency and was stolen by hackers". As far as I can tell, they just didn't understand the difference between "using" and "based on", right? I don't understand how they could know "using" without citing a security researcher or something, and I've not seen anything like that. Am I missing something?

What we should do

Give up the idea that unpatched OSes are "good enough". Make sure you're getting updates if you can.

Backup.

Worry about the NHS being underfunded, and having a fucked-up tender process that ensures their IT infrastructure is always supplied by the sort of company that was cutting edge when security updates came out on a scale of a decade, not a day.

Worry about the NSA stockpiling vulnerabilities.

Remember that it could be a lot worse. Sooner or later things will line up and a vulnerability gets discovered and *not* patched, and basically infects every computer running a particular operating system, and is paired with something even worse than ransomware eg. a botnet consisting of 75% of the windows computers on the planet. People are working on this and we've got a lot better, but it's a struggle to make security good enough.

Postscript

That's my attempt at a summary. Mostly based on the news and SwiftOnSecurity. Can people who actually know more fill in the details, especially the bits that don't quite seem to track?

Footnotes

1. No idea if anyone's using vista.

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May. 13th, 2017 @ 04:54 pm More quantum
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No-one enjoyed Aunt Vera? I loved writing that.

I had a further thought about some of the things I've tried to read. That quantum "things" ie. probability waves only exhibit recognisably non-classical probabilities when they line up perfectly, in order to have the bits with otherwise-non-detectable opposite signs cancel out. Which only really happens if they were generated together in the first place.

And if some of that state is elsewhere, because one of the particles/waves has interacted with something else, it doesn't do quantum things (you don't get interference bands). But if it interacts with something else, but you're able to re-interact those particles so they both go back to what they were before then it would work. But if it interacts with LOTS of particles, that state is spread across all of them and basically never recoverable.

That means, a deterministic "what happens is based on the physical state of the particles/waves that are there" view coincides with a weird philosophical "you get interference if you 'could' know in principle"... But I'm really not sure. That seems to make *some* of the dodgy-sounding explanations fit, but not all of them. Anyone able to explain better than that?

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May. 11th, 2017 @ 10:36 pm Aunt Vera Explains Relativity
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As I passed Aunt Vera's, I wandered up to the open garage to see how she was doing. A week ago, she had borrowed mum's bar billiard's table. Mum had said it would be good for her to give the mad science a rest occasionally and try a different hobby. I was excited to see what she'd turned it into.

As I peered into the garage, she was indeed tinkering madly with the billiard table. Four steam funnels rose from the corners, and a dense web of different wires wended between them almost creating a wall round the table a meter above it. At the head of the table, dozens of different dials had been wedged onto a narrow wooden board, several resting at awkward angles suspended by the wires and pipes plugged into them.

I must have made a noise, as she suddenly spun around, labcoat and goggles swirling about her. "Ah, Sarah! What perfect timing. I have a lot to show you."

"Uh. My parents are going to be cross if I'm late for dinner agian. And I was going to call Carol later."

"Pish!" she exclaimed. "Pish-tosh! "This is Educational, and they will appreciated you being educated,"

"But I am being educated," I protested. "I have homework and everything. Homework I need to get done, if I'm going to call Carol before 10."

"Pish!" she said again. "Is Carol going to show you how quantum mechanics works?"

"Well, I don't expect so-" I began.

"Well then!" she announced with finality. "You need me to do it. No niece of mine is going to go to university with a piddling A-level knowledge of quantum mechanics."

"But, Aunt Vera, they don't teach quantum mechanics at A-Level. Not even in physics. And I'm studying Biology, and Economics and Japanese, and..."

"PRECISELY MY POINT", she yelled, a foot from my ear. "You would swan off to university with no knowledge of physics, the very forces which stop you falling through the ground. Did I tell you about my adventure of the intangibility harness and the Earth's crust?"

"Aunt Vera", I shouted, and winced as I realised how loud I was screaming. But she stopped, a bit put out, and I continued. "I'm not a physicist." She looked heartbroken, and I tried to school myself not to fall for it. "But I'd love to see what you've--"

"Excellent," she crowed, and dragged me up to the table. Wires festooned the edges, and at the top where the score used to be, a bank of complicated dials and levels waited.
I toyed with the idea of a comic fantasy style explanation of what I'd learned about relativity. Unfortunately, I really loved how the byplay turned out, but the actual explanation didn't work well. There's a lot more, but it's mixed "fun arguing" and "didactic bad explanations".

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May. 11th, 2017 @ 09:58 pm Preventing traffic jams by driving at constant speed
Every so often I hear someone talking about modelling traffic jams as waves travelling in a queue of cars. After some thought, I came to some tentative conclusions, without having actually tried any modelling or anything.

Imagine a long long stream of cars along a somewhat congested motorway without much overtaking.

The first observation is, whatever you do, you can't really affect the car in front as long as you're driving legally/safely. And whatever you do, you don't end up significantly behind them: if there's any sort of traffic, the average speed is much under the fastest speed you could drive in an empty road, so you can always catch up with them. So whatever you do, *you* will reach your final turnoff shortly after the car in front.

However, over a long run of cars, it seems plausible (I haven't double-checked the maths) that cars driving at 30mph have a greater throughput than ones alternating 60mph and 0mph, mostly due to needing more than twice the distance between at 60 than at 30. That means that if traffic is dense, there's a natural tendency for small disruptions to sometimes get magnified, when each car reacts a little slowly to the car in front, and hence makes a slightly larger correction. Whereas if you go a bit slower and give yourself a bit of extra space when the traffic in front of you starts of but you suspect it's more stop-start, hopefully the traffic behind you will experience *less* disruption.

I'm not sure, does that sound right?

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May. 10th, 2017 @ 04:34 pm Improvement
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Since I started work in bar hill (about 3 months now, eek!) I've been going to the gym here twice a week.

I think I have very slowly started to improve again. I have a long way to go to regain my previous best. I'm not sure if the improvement is due to more reliable running with treadmill, or due to doing weights more strenuously as well.

The paradox of improvement seems to apply to many other parts of my life as well. I'm not happy unless there's something I'm working towards. If I'm failing I'm not *happy*, but if I have *no* pressure, I'm listless in a different way.

I have been slowly learning how to vary the amount I intend to do each day. Some days that's "get changed, reply to emails, go to bed" and sometimes it's quite a bit, but if there's some connection between what I intend and what I do, I feel a lot better, regardless of the actual amount.

I still find it very hard to fit things in though. Ideally I could do things like housework in the edges and gaps, 5min here and there, but it doesn't usually happen as well as it might. Every so often I try to set good habits, and things improve a certain amount, but still short of what would be better.

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May. 10th, 2017 @ 11:42 am SACRED PRINCIPLES AS EXHAUSTIBLE RESOURCES
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http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/04/11/sacred-principles-as-exhaustible-resources/
https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/04/12/clarification-to-sacred-principles-as-exhaustible-resources/

Almost everything Scott posts is interesting, even when I disagree with it. Sometimes I decide I absorbed an important idea anyway despite superficial disagreements. Sometimes I decide he's just wrong, but said interesting things along the way.

Here he describes a case where a student group invited a couple of deliberately controversial speakers as a pro-free-speech point. This is probably a bad idea for a variety of reasons, whether it was well meant or not. But he and I were thinking of the details about *why* it was a bad idea.

Was that effectively pro free speech whether or not it caused harm in other ways?

His point was, separate to which ideas *should* be covered under free speech, deliberately choosing controversial ones uses up people's tolerance and moves us a notch closer to associating free speech with mostly being used for horrible things and make everyone dislike it.

And I'm sort of torn. Because on the one hand, that sounds completely true. Things that are sufficiently harmful are NOT covered under free speech (morally or legally depending on culture or country), and this is deliberately expanding that category by making potentially-harmful things a lot more of a problem.

On the other hand, defending horrible things as legal if undesirable feels like it sets a standard for free speech: we know other speech is ok, because we allow this.

Did it cause harm in other ways?

Everything above is true whether you chose speakers you personally sympathise with but don't want to say so, or speakers you massively disagree with but want to engage with. However, there's definitely an awful trend that when talk about free speech, they don't mean "lets invite some communists" or "lets burn some american flags". No. They mean, "lets find some supposedly-intellectual research which has been seized on by a rallying cry by the alt-right".

People attacked by the alt-right have done MORE THAN THEIR FUCKING SHARE of being attacked with little recourse. If you're convinced that inviting speakers who are incredibly threatening to a certain proportion of people on campus is necessary, can you at least choose some DIFFERENT subset? Invite some revolutionaries who want to guillotine people with inherited wealth. Invite some over-the-top animal rights types who want to bomb all non-vegans. Or, preferably, find views which are *controversial* but not *immediately threatening* to make your point with.

I originally tried to list some views which were very controversial to the point I can easily imagine protests etc about them, but (a) from all over the political spectrum and (b) not personally threatening. Some of which I secretly agreed with, some of which I hated. But I decided that would just cause a worse argument right now.

No we actually want to hear them, we're not just being controversial for the sake of it, honest

Scott talked about, if you actually *want* to hear a speaker, you should use different criteria than if you're trying to air controversial views. If you're being controversial on purpose, I feel you need a greater weight on "not harming people" in addition to "does this help or hurt freedom of speech".

But if you really want to hear a speaker, even one I find vile, I generally don't think banning them is that useful -- provided you do sensible things like, advertise to people who actually want to hear them, and for fuck's sake don't try to make it at some mandatory event, or even some organisation-wide event, to show you just want to have a speaker, not that you want to force a speaker on people who will be harmed by it. Most of the "bans" have been because people have been deliberately bullying people they expect to object, not because they were genuinely trying to have a quiet meeting and then got invaded by protesters.

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May. 10th, 2017 @ 10:01 am Clickie Zoo Retrospective
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Abi got me into Clickie Zoo (Tironium Tech/Idle Tycoon). A while back I completed the main series of achievements. There's a few achievements for specific things which I haven't bothered to fill out.

But I spent a while fascinated by how big I could get the numbers.

The top level gives 1 gem every 15 seconds (gems are premium currency used to buy various permanent upgrades). I don't think there's any way of increasing that. I've upgraded most of the permanent upgrades as much as I can.

The passive income seems really small compared to what I get elsewhere, even with all of the in-game and permanent upgrades I can easily get. So I could throw more resources into it, but I don't *think* it's going to exceed other ways of making money.

For a long time, breeding animals was the best way of making money. My previous high water mark involved breeding the top animal and selling it to expand its enclosure so I could breed it more, and using temporary boosts to increase its breeding rate, and "fill a random enclosure" until I got lucky and it was the top one.

But now I upgraded the "animal sell price" permanent improvement to where it's more than the buy price, and after getting the net gain for a single round trip to about 10% of the sell price, just spending a few seconds clicking "sell buy sell buy" gets more income than waiting for animals to breed.

Unfortunately, with the top animal, you can only buy/sell in units of 100,000 which is much more than I got any other way, but when you get more money than that, the rate you gain money is limited by the amount you can buy at once, not the amount of money you have. (Although, expanding the enclosure size to >100,000 is really quite expensive too).

Right now the best actions available seem to be:

1. Just waiting for the 1 gem every 15 seconds income, and ploughing it into some permanent upgrades (whose price steadily gets more expensive).
2. Buy/sell trading the best animal to accumulate more cash.
3. Using buy/sell to build up a new zoo and sell it for gems. (This gets gems faster because you're not limited by the size of the enclosure so much when you can keep moving on to the next animal. The gems you get are logaraithmic in zoo size, so building up a small zoo repeatedly is about as good as one big zoo.)

And the goals I wondered if I'd reach are:

1. Go up from 1 Nonillion dollars to see if the game has an abbreviation for 1 decillion (or in fact, see how far it goes before running out if it were possible).
2. Increase birth rate to 100% and see if it crashes/goes infinite. Unfortunately, it seems like even if the birth rate is 100x what it starts at, that might not be that lucrative compared to sell/buy, when I originally hoped that would be the most lucrative thing.

However, I'm not sure there's any good way to reach those than what I'm doing, and getting there that way would be a grind-fest of months, so I'm thinking I will shortly declare myself officially done with the game :)

ETA: Oh yes, you can also trade animals for gems, but only once every two hours, I don't think that's enough to make a difference.

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