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Apr. 30th, 2016 @ 12:29 pm XXL leather jacket or laser gun, anyone able to lend?
XXL leather jacket or laser gun, anyone happen to be able to lend?

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Apr. 28th, 2016 @ 04:43 pm PCC Candidates
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Next week is the PCC election. I'm not convinced that's a good idea, but if we have one at all, better to have a good one. This time there seems to be less of a broad choice, there are four candidates who are endorsed by parties, even if that was not what was supposed to happen.


My non-impartial summary follows


* "Tough on crime, tough on the causes on crime".
* Moar war on drugs
* Moar police, less back-office expenses


* The same, but more so
* Rah police! Down with political correctness!
* Anti-speeding (as was Con), also pro-resources-for-non-emergency-101


* Some platitudes, more police
* Ex-fireman, ex-Anglia-public-service-lecturer
* Sounds committed to actually going things, in getting involved with communities and bridging them to police


* Positive manifesto steps for preventing crime, preventing re-offending, not just being "tough"
* But via friends-of-friends have heard bad things about him personally

To me, Labour guy sounds best, unless anyone has any other rec?

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Apr. 28th, 2016 @ 01:24 pm Tiny life hacks I'm proud of
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Bought online a cheap pack of 100 plastic key fobs. If you want a spare key ring, there's plenty, and if you want to label some keys (a rarely used key, a spare for a friend, a spare key you're giving TO a friend) it's so much less likely to be lost if you can write a short name on the key fob, or just recognise the plastic fob.

Putting contact details (my email address and liv's phone number) on my mobile's lock screen. Not paid off yet, but a good idea.

Make sure you have SOME spare key nearby, at work, or at a friend's house. It's true, that can fail to save you if you can't access it, but 90% of the time, it will reduce a minor crisis to insignificance.

If you temporarily box up some stuff, or shovel some unsorted post into a bag to deal with later, or put some clothes aside to give-away/grow-into/shrink-into, put in a piece of A4 saying what it is. When you find it again, that will usually let you know whether you want to use it, keep it, or throw it out, immediately without needing to sort through it.

Tie one of your corkscrew/bottle-opener to something fixed so it doesn't wander off round the living room in a party -- having one you can always find is really handy.

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Apr. 28th, 2016 @ 12:52 pm Recent books
Genrenauts (Michael R Underwood)

Short novel about a comedian who joins a covert organisation which travels to secondary worlds themed around fictional genres. The first one is resolving a major plot derailment in Wild West World.

I love the playing with genre. The characters and plot are quite good. I would have liked a lot more, more explanation of the rules, more playing with the possibilities, but it was really fun.

I liked the sound of several of his other series too (popular-culture-mancers, superhero-meets-epic-fantasy etc) but I wasn't sure if I'd enjoy reading them or not. I will maybe look them up now.

I basically love the concept of any book with "-nauts" in, although they don't always live up to it :)

Throne of Glass

About an assassin condemned to slave mines a year ago age seventeen, now plucked from imprisonment to compete in a tournament to find a King's Champion. And also resolve various mystical threats, and form close friendships/romances with the King's heir and his captain of the guard who proposed her for the tournament.

It had a lot of good ideas I liked, but I quailed a bit at the worldbuilding -- if she's been raised by an isolated sect of reclusive assassins, where did she get romantic ideas in order to reject them? How exactly do the assassins support themselves? Does the king want a warrior or a poisoner, possibly he should pick one or the other?

Great Way, Harry Connelly

Harry Connelly wrote the Twenty Palaces series which had a lot of good stuff but somehow never gelled as a whole, and the standalone "Key, Egg, Unfortunate Remark" an urban fantasy about a mostly-pacifist aunt who keeps the peace without seducing or slaying anyone :)

Great Way is epic fantasy series. There are lots of good ideas. The empire at the heart of books, sharing an uncomfortable relationship with partially absorbed hinterland regions, maintains control partly by military might, but really, by a monopoly on magician-provided logistics. Rather than an unbounded number of spells, a ceremony every fifty (?) years connects the capital through a portal to a mysterious elf-like race, who watch a great ceremony in their honor, and in return gift a magic spell. There's about twenty of these total, each with some number of painstakingly researched variants. But being able to -- at all -- conjure stone to build fortresses, or create flying carts, etc makes an unmatchable long-term military advantage.

But -- shock -- this year, instead of semi-creepy but valuable elf ambassadors, the portal opens to an giant army of mutant demons, the centre of the empire falls, and the rest of the characters scramble around trying to ensure their personal survival, figure out what happened magic-wise, and if there's any way of knitting together the splinters of disintegrating empire into a concerted resistance.

I like the way the characters grow into themselves: the king's son is initially a bit of a populist wastrel, but rises to the occasion when heroism and leadership is needed; the grizzled captain of the guard learns to work with the young nobles; noble-children hostages friends of the king's son experience conflicted loyalties.

Something still feels a bit missing but I'm not sure what. I will go on to read the other 2/3 of the series.

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Apr. 26th, 2016 @ 03:30 pm Recent Films
Dear White People

A satirical film about several black students at an Ivy League university. The radio show host known for activism and her sarcastic "Dear white people" show. The pushed-to-succeed son of the Dean. The nerdy gay journalist who would rather be left out of things. Generally interesting and enjoyable, but even more pointed now than when it was made :(


Black Narcissus (1947)

Adapted from a Rumer Godden novel, apparently famous for some technological innovations: even now the colours and visuals of the abandoned stone palace, the steep valley, and the long views out from the Himalayas are striking.

Shortly before Indian independence, a group of nuns are invited by the local Indian ruler/general and colonial administrator to set up a convent including school and hospital in a remote Himalayas valley, and gradually fail because the locals don't really want them, they're completely isolated, the leader is sympathetic, driven and well-meaning, but doesn't have much experience solving problems when they all start to go off the rails from isolation, and generally colonialism is giant clusterfuck.

I'm not sure what to say about it, but it raised lots of interesting questions in me: how much did these characters actually want to be there, and how much was a convent their only life choice? How much of the descent into disaster was due to something environmental or supernatural, how much due to inexperience, and how much to being where they weren't really wanted? If sexual attraction had been less stigmatised, would they have avoided ending in a stew of jealousy, and murder? How much of Sister Ruth's problems are due to an unspecified mental illness, how much to being generally unlikeable, how much to being excluded and given no responsibility, how much to the situation?


A-Team Movie

This was a generally enjoyable action movie, I was very pleasantly surprised. I've not seen the series to compare it to, but it did a good job setting up the team as doing spectacular but incisive and necessary violence, and their conflict with more sinister bits of the government.

Many of the action scenes were intercut between what's happening, and planning sessions or post-mortem sessions, which I felt worked very well, it felt much more interactive that just watching an action scene straight through from beginning to end.

The action scenes managed what I think is valuable but hard to evaluate, that it felt like competent characters dealing with complicated messy situations well, rather than people just wading through redundant outclassed opponents.

And I finally actually remember who all the four characters are and which is which.

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Apr. 21st, 2016 @ 01:41 pm Magnificent Seven
The first two minutes of the Magnificent Seven with the non-prejudiced corset salesman arguing to get the old drifter buried, and arguing back and forth that he was no hero, but he didn't want to see him left in the street, and the undertaker saying he'd be happy to do it, if people didn't shoot him for it, were amazing. And the first ten minutes with the hearse shootout were nearly as good. And the first half an hour gathering all the motley gunfighters were pretty good.

And the rest was a decent western. But maybe they could, you know, remake the last-two thirds and leave the first bit alone?

Well, honestly, it seems quite likely that's what they WILL do. But they may not show the first bit at the beginning of the film :)

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Apr. 20th, 2016 @ 03:41 pm Books
Borderline, by Mishell Baker

An urban fantasy with a protagonist who had borderline personality disorder and amputated legs. She walks straight from a residential clinic into an agency that deals with contact between our world and a secondary Fae world.

Apparently the author has BPD too, and it reads like a matter-of-fact journal of how she copes, rather than a romanticisation, so I don't know if the borderline personality disorder is accurate but it's not obviously bad and I'd like to hear from someone who would know better than me.

The fantasy worldbuilding is reasonably well done, it establishes some simple ideas about human/fey relations and how that bring creativity to the human and abstract thought to the fey, and develops them. I felt like it all wrapped up a bit quick, but what there was was quite interesting.

Warning that the protagonist had a relationship with a college professor which may have been abusive, and had a suicide attempt, before the book starts, but are brought up often, if that is likely to make it difficult to read for you.

Just City, by Jo Walton

Greek Gods Athena and Apollo pull hundreds of volunteers from all over time to participate in an experiment to create Plato's vision of a perfect society (Utopia) in reality. And several of the characters are historical figures who've written on Plato (who I hadn't heard of, but if you follow this sort of thing you will hopefully be excited about).

It does most of the things you'd hope from that premise, it examines what's right and what's tragically wrong in Plato's ideas, and how people from different cultures cope with the ideas differently, and has people living lives with a blend of civic responsibility and philosophical discourse. Near the end there's an important philosophical debate between one of the philosophers and Athena.

Again, warning, that a major theme is different relationships between men and women, and why some cultures don't really have an understanding why rape is bad, and in a few places it gets quite graphic. It's not endorsing or condoning anything, but it's likely to be difficult to read for many people.

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Apr. 18th, 2016 @ 11:27 pm Teaching sequentially vs top down
Sometimes you teach something complicated by teaching the first steps perfectly, and then building on that to teach the second steps perfectly, etc.

Other times you kind of teach how to fake your way through the whole thing, and then improve each bit again and again.

Both techniques are important in different circumstances, and you usually use a mix of both.

But beware of getting it wrong. Most people would not try to teach someone who's never played football by subbing them into a Premier Division match and holding them to the full set of rules. They might learn something, but they probably won't learn how to play football well. How will they learn how to kick, if no-one passes to them? Why will anyone pass to them if they can't kick?

Conversely, forcing someone to memorise a set of skills without teaching them what they're for, without teaching them what's desirable and what's undesirable, generally prevents them actually learning how do those skills.

But both mistakes are tragically easy to make. It's easy to miss when someone doesn't have the basic ground-level skills you thought you were building on. And it's easy to miss when you thought it was obvious WHY you were teaching this, but it wasn't.

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Apr. 13th, 2016 @ 02:22 pm More books
Quantum Prophecy (Michael Carroll)

Another interesting YA superhero novel. Superheroes all disappeared or lost their powers mysteriously 13 years ago. Now the next generation are just starting to get their powers, which is a good excuse for why there's infrastructure for superheroes but the young ones are important.

The title refers to a prophecy by a superhero called Quantum, which is a bit of a cheat but probably better than trying to justify why it's quantum :) This bit is quite ominous, one of the powerful, good, but eccentric heroes had visions about some disaster involving one of the new generation, which underlies all the events.

But the main characters aren't very memorable, and it was ok but not great.

Conspiracy of Angels (Michelle Belanger)

Urban Fantasy about different orders of angels living on Earth, and the fallout of events from 1000 years ago. Great premise, but I wasn't interested enough to seek out sequels.

A Prospect of Vengeance (Penultimate Anthony Price)

I can't remember the title, but I think I read my way almost up to date with everything he wrote.

I love his books where minor characters are updated to viewpoint characters, and we get to see previous characters from the outside. But I find it hard to get into the books about completely new characters, like this one.

And it's true, I'd rather he'd kept writing about cold war books, even if that wasn't the real world, than try to cope with transitioning to a post-cold-war spy agency.

Girl Genius #11

Always fun, but this one was especially funny too.

Don't tell my parents I'm a supervillain (Richard Roberts)

Another reasonably good YA superhero novel. It handles people gaining powers in interesting ways, it makes explicit the "mad scientist" thing the hero does builds awesome one-offs which have to be re-purposed to the situation at hand. But it feels a bit pointless that being a supervillain is mostly just a name, there's not really anything "bad" about it.

(Edited to add authors)

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Apr. 4th, 2016 @ 11:36 pm 2d source control history
I talked about this several times before, but the idea was still settling down in my head and I don't think it made a lot of sense.

Imagine each commit had one parent that was the "branch" parent or "this is a logical atomic change" parent or the "the tests still pass" parent, or the "space not time" parent. All the same guarantees you'd expect from code on the same branch hold (eg. compiles, tests pass). This represents history the same way a non-branching source control history does, a list of changes that sum up the current state of the software. Or, for that matter, the same way a heavily rebased clunk-free history does. It shows the code being built up.

And each commit may have none or one (or more) "content" parent or "rebase" parent or a "chronological" parent or a "meta" parent, that represents "the change made in this commit, is based on this other commit".

If you already merge from branch into trunk, you may find the parents are quite like this already.

Why might you want to do this? Well, to me, the good reason is that it does away with all the "oh no I want to rebase but I already pushed". The pre-rebase history is just always there by default, though you could choose to purge those commits if you wanted. So any software working off your remote, when it pull-rebases, can just automatically move anything that was built on top of your pre-rebase branch onto your post-rebase branch, just as if you'd committed a few extra commits without rebasing anything. And the new code isn't just suddenly in limbo, anyone can check that the branch tip is the same as the pre-rebase branch tip.

It also may provide useful hints for merging avoiding duplicated commits, when there's extra info about which commits are "the same" other than their content. It doesn't solve the problem, but it may help some of the time your source control program can't automatically fix it.

It also removes all the "oh fuck, I screwed up, reflog, reflog, flog harder!" if you accidentally screw up a branch you're working with. Instead of the previous tip of the branch floating in limbo hoping you'll retreive it, the previous branch history, all of it, is retained, until you explicitly delete it. You don't even need to be on the same computer, someone else can ask you can push the changes and sort out your mess, when you can't (I think?) push a reflog.

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