Some minor updates

Sep. 23rd, 2017 08:54 pm
[personal profile] swaldman
Last week was my last at my short-term research job. I have the coming week full-time to get my thesis finished. I've committed to delivering a complete draft by the end of the month. This feels achievable.

This weekend is Edinburgh Doors Open (the equivalent of London's Open House weekend). This morning I went on a walking tour by the Scottish Waterways Trust along the Union Canal. It was a nice walk through some countryside, and I also learned about some of the industrial heritage of the city. I used to be fascinated by this stuff in London, and I'd missed that.

In the afternoon I took a bus over to Portobello to visit the house of two architects and their family. They have a child who is a full-time wheelchair user, and they designed the house from scratch around the idea of step-free access - it's interesting, and beyond the whole "ramp" theme, it's always nice to see what happens when creative people can be daring without worrying about their clients' reactions. I remember thinking, years ago, about the lighting scheme I would put in my own house if I had the cash, which I would never dare propose to a client.

Lothian Buses had an open day at their depot today, and to co-incide with that they had lots of vintage buses running on a particular route, which would take me home from Portobello. That didn't especially interest me, but by pure fluke the bus that came along first was not an old one but a very new one - one of the first all-electric buses that is on trial in Edinburgh. I'd never really thought about electric buses as a possible thing, for the same reason that I'm sceptical about electric taxis or trucks, at least with current technology - heavy load and long continuous use. We only drive our cars for about 5% of the time, but commercial vehicles get used a lot more, which had made me discount battery power. BUT buses spend an awful lot of that time stopped, or moving slowly, and electric ones don't need power when they're stopped, and regenerate a lot of what they've used when they slow down.... so range is relevant rather than time-in-service, and a 150 mile range probably is enough for a city centre service to go all day, and then some. This bus had some fan noise on the back seat, which is next to the batteries, but was otherwise quiet, vibration-free, and not pouring particulates into Edinburgh's air. I like!

Tomorrow I must start work on the final chapter of the thesis. Also, clean the house.

I won another Crawl Sprint game!

Sep. 23rd, 2017 03:55 pm
hilarita: trefoil carving (Default)
[personal profile] hilarita
Cut for boringness for many people. But I won a Line Sprint, pretty vanilla Minotaur Fighter of Uskayaw
Read more... )

New Forest otters!

Sep. 22nd, 2017 07:51 pm
hilarita: trefoil carving (Default)
[personal profile] hilarita
And some other things that aren't otters. But mostly, otters.

Before going to the Lib Dem party conference, Drswirly and I went to stay in Christchurch, because of its proximity to the New Forest Wildlife Centre, which has a lot of otters. Did I mention the otters?
I found Christchurch a bit stultifying, and the kind of place I don't at all feel at home in, because it's quite clear that I'm not really their type of person. Christchurch was the kind of place that had a UKIP office prominently on one of the main streets. (It's now shut, which is definitely an improvement, but Christchurch was definitely a UKIP heartland.) It was next to a curry house, which I found mildly pleasing, though I'm not so sure the curry house owners would have agreed. We went to otters first, and then later wandered round the town. (I haven't posted pictures of the town; it's not that interesting. There's a mildly interesting bit of castle, and a mildly interesting Norman church (in places), but it's not really a particularly notable example of the genre. I may upload some bits to wikimedia commons, if I can be arsed to manage their categorisation system.)

I'm going to put a cut in, because there are a lot of otters.
Read more... )
For those people who didn't wade through the pictures of mustelidae, you should at least look at:
a gif of a contact-juggling otter!

and a short video of a giant otter squacking on command.
hilarita: casting my stoat (stoat)
[personal profile] hilarita
...as a member of the Lib Dems.

tl;dr - Conference is a pretty excellent place, provided that, unlike me, you have more social skills than a dead hermit.

Quite a lot of Conference is for the srs activist and/or candidate for some kind of political office. There is a fuckton of training, if that's your sort of thing.

However, they've also put quite a lot of effort into general activities, and activities for newbies. Sadly, some of those activities clashed with Important Brexitty debates (which was a bit of a problem this year, because of the number of new people who'd joined specifically because we're one of the less fuckwitted parties over Brexit*). Also, some of these were in the evening, by which time my energy had buggered off somewhere and was having a little lie down. 8/10, would work better for those people who aren't snooze stoats.

They're also encouraging of having new people speak at Conference, which was extremely good. They were very keen to put new members to good use. I found the info on how to fill in Speaker's Cards and so on very useful. 9/10 (I'm docking one point because I'd dearly love there to be a web form, not a pdf or a piece of paper.)

The debates were generally very well run - there's a clear protocol, and people follow it. Most of the motions seemed well-chosen; I'm grateful for those people who've blogged about the process involved with choosing motions and amendments - it really helped me to work out what was going on. 9/10

OK, you get some points for having a Conference app. But you lose several points for the navigation system. Sorry. 5/10, must try harder.

And I'm incredibly glad that I got to take part in Lib Dem policy making, because, as a member, I got a vote! I could turn up, and vote on motions! It's almost like it's a democracy or something! 10/10

So - good Conference. I'm not sure I'll go again, because I'm almost totally incapable of spontaneously talking to people (I can respond when people come up to me, but this is generally insufficient for these kinds of events). Also, just being around so many people (lovely though the people were that I spoke to) was very draining. I've spent most of the past 48hrs on the sofa, with the Internet and computer games (and my partner). Fortunately, this Conference was at a time when I could roll it into my annual leave, so I have time to recover. It didn't really help that Bournemouth and my asthma don't mix well, especially with a hotel on East Cliff. I'd prefer flatter cities for Conference.

I'd like to be more involved with LD policy making, but preferably from my sofa, where I don't have to go anywhere and pretend that I can pass for a reasonably sociable human being.

* We're still being rather incoherent, split, and downright confused about how to present our extremely strong support for the EU, because every so often people whinge But The Will Of The Peeeeople... We're managing to clear the low bar set by the Conservatives and Labour, but frankly, toddlers can step over that bar nine times out of ten.

Book stoats

Sep. 20th, 2017 06:37 pm
hilarita: trefoil carving (Default)
[personal profile] hilarita
Apparently, when on holiday with less internet, I read books.

Raven Stratagem, Yoon Ha Lee (2017)
The second in the series. Once again, really, really horrific things are happening (mostly off-screen). Our main character from the first novel isn't our POV - we see them through others' eyes. It does quite a good job of misdirecting us, doing some very interesting plotting and politics and stuff. I don't think it's quite as good as its predecessor, but it's a pretty damn good book

All Systems Red, Martha Wells (2017. Novella)
Our protagonist is called "Murderbot"! It's great. Main story of conspiracies, survival, with a side order of AIs, augmented humans and personhood. Murderbot is a fantastic character to get to know.

The Last Good Man, Linda Nagata (2017)
Near-future thriller, looking at the way robots and drones are taking over military operations. Also, usual military morality stuff (when is shooting the shit out of things and/or people justified? what should you do when your people are captured by The Enemy (TM)). It's a pretty good example of the genre, if you like that kind of thing (which I do).

The Prey of Gods, Nicky Drayden (2017)
Set in South Africa. Proper SFF (with robots, AIs, and demigods coming to fuck your shit up). Comes with a mild caution that I can't comment on how sensitively the relevant cultural stuff with the demigods was handled - the (non-South African) author mentions sensitivity readers, so I'm going to guess it's not terrible :) . I found it very striking, quite gory, and I do look forward to seeing other stuff by them, though possibly not just before bedtime.

Undertow, Elizabeth Bear (2017)
I think this was probably the best of the things I read while away (the charms of the Murderbot not aside). It contains aliens, big business, exploitation, probability, and some fantastic world-building. Complex, full of compelling detail, and I don't want to spoil the plot, because bits of it are really interesting.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter, Theodora Goss (2017)
This is quite a good novel of the "let's stick Sherlock Holmes into anything set in the late 19th century" genre. It also draws on the early SF novels of that century, with the first character we meet being Dr Jekyll's daughter. It's generally fun, aware of its genre, but - pedants beware - there are 21st-century colloquialisms in the asides in the writing and Americanisms in the speech of 19th century Londoners. Including Sherlock Holmes. This means I can't wholeheartedly recommend it, because it's just Wrong.

I'm also very nearly through a re-read of Ann Leckie's Ancillary series (what would Fleet Captain Breq do?), and am looking forward to Leckie's new novel later this year.

Climate comms...

Sep. 20th, 2017 08:02 am
[personal profile] swaldman
This week, a new paper was published in Nature Geoscience that shows that the planet has not been warming quite as fast as most climate models have predicted, so far. There's a deficit of 0.3 degrees C. I'm no climate scientist, so I don't feel qualified to judge whether this methodology is good; it's passed peer review, but it'll be worth waiting a week or three to see whether any other relevant scientists disagree with the findings. This article has a dissenting view[1]. Either way, though, it changes little: If correct it gives a little more breathing room, and the point that is mostly being made is that it makes a 1.5C rise merely "challenging" rather than impossible... but we're still likely to breeze through and beyond that anyway, IMHO. It changes little in terms of the required actions.

So faced with that finding, how to communicate it without either causing the denialist community to go "THE MODELS ARE WRONG! WE TOLD YOU SO! IT'S ALL A HOAX!", or causing the more moderate politicians to go "Phew. We have time. We can ignore this and let the next government deal"? And at the same time not being perceived as hiding less alarmist news? The first author made an excellent effort in this article, which IMHO is a really good example of giving an honest and straightforward lay explanation of a scientific study.

Did it help? Not really. It's escaped the front pages for now, perhaps due to the ongoing series of natural disasters in the Carribean and central America, but the usual suspects have still written what you'd expect. Scientific American has a reserved and balanced take. The Guardian is more optimistic, but warns us that "politics is still not easy". The BBC presents so many views that it's not clear what, if anything, they are concluding. Both of these note the possibility that the original article's conclusions about 1.5C being easier to hit may be wrong. Meanwhile Dellingpole, in The Sun, is spinning this story as "I WAS RIGHT!", saying "a tiny bunch of ­scientists got their sums wrong and scared the world silly with a story about catastrophic man-made global warming." Meanwhile an MP who is a member of the Commons Science and Technology Committee - and also a trustee of the denialist GWPF - complains in the Mail that "There has been no word of apology, no sign of humility. Remarkably, they carry on preaching their diehard gospel. With their habitual arrogance, they argue that the lower levels of global warming mean that we now have even more time to implement their radical policies."

Hmm. Yeah. Whether or not this study proves to be correct in its conclusions, we'll be hearing about it from denialist groups for the next 5 years or more. But I don't think there's anything that one can do about that; keeping quiet about such results would be far worse.


[1] AIUI nobody disputes the paper's direct findings so far, but some are doubtful about its import - some say that there is a natural cycle which has had a cooling influence in recent years, but will have a warming influence in future ones. Superimposed on the overall warming trend, this could apparently explain the discrepancy without changing the urgency of the problem.

Smart meter sagas

Sep. 13th, 2017 02:32 pm
[personal profile] swaldman
Scottish Power - through their subcontractors Actavo - wanted me to have a smart meter. They sent me a letter offering this, and asked me to call Actavo to arrange an appointment.

I did that. Actavo said that they couldn't do it because the meter was too high up (it's above a door).

Scottish Power kept on texting me, roughly once a week, asking why I hadn't contacted them (I had).

Eventually I contacted Actavo again to make the texts stop. This time they said they could do it. They arranged an appointment, saying an engineer would be there between 12pm and 4pm.

On the day, emptied the cupboard with the gas meter, waited in, and nobody showed. At 4:30pm I called them and they apologised profusely, offered me £30, and made a new appointment for the same times another day, saying that they had noted on the system that I had been let down and that it would definitely happen the next time. I put everything back in the cupboard.

The next appointment came, but no engineer did. At 4:10pm I called, and they said he was on his way and would be there in ~15 minutes.
He turned up at 5:15pm. He apologised and said that as he was meant to finish at 5 there was no way he could do the job, but he would have a look at the system and make sure it was possible. It was. He went away. I made another appointment. Realising that the problem is that the engineers are booked to be busy all through the day with no contingency[1] - so the last appointment is often missed - I booked a morning. I put everything back in the cupboard again.

On the third attempt the engineer did show up! He speedily removed my old meters and installed new ones, and then discovered that Scottish Power's comms system was down, and so was unable to commission them. He assured me that somebody would phone me to arrange a short appointment for commissioning.

So now, instead of my old dumbmeters, I have two new dumbmeters, which do exactly the same job as the old ones but with more blinkenlights. It's been two weeks since the last visit, and I have received no call about commissioning.

At this point I've given up being proactive. If they want my meter to be smart, they'll need to do something about it.


[1] Actavo have presumably decided that paying £30 compensation for missed appointments and allowing no contingency works out better for them than allowing time for things to go wrong. Sure, it pisses off Scottish Power's customers, but they're not Actavo's customers, so why should Actavo care?

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