Firsts 2018

Based on an idea from a G+ post, tracking the first times I did certain things in 2018. I’ll be updating it as the year goes on:

  • First Food: Kefalotyri cheese, a household standard my father-in-law picks up in Astoria (1 Jan)
  • First Liquid: some crazy blue tea (ginger) my wife got for Christmas (1 Jan)
  • First Drink: mimosa made with Lamarca prosecco (1 Jan)
  • First Meal: New Year’s brunch, mostly smoked salmon, shrimp and so on (1 Jan)
  • First Meal Cooked: albondigas soup, in new Instant Pot (17 Jan)
  • First Meal With Non-Family:
  • First Restaurant:
  • First High Five: My son, after a little spontaneous room cleaning (4 Jan)
  • First Low Five: My son, for trying electronic piano lessons for the first time. (1 Jan)
  • First Hug: My wife, who was sick. (1 Jan)
  • First Use of “Dad Voice”: To my son, who left the freezer door open for three hours. (3 Jan)
  • First Public Transport Taken:
  • First Aircraft Taken:
  • First Bike Ride:
  • First Boat Taken:
  • First Drone Flight:
  • First Visit to Someone Else’s House:
  • First Bare Feet in Body of Water:
  • First Security Update Applied: Patch to this web server for “Spectre” and “Meltdown” (18 Jan)
  • First Programming Language Used: Java (2 Jan)
  • First Programming Language Used Outside Work:
  • First Robot Task:
  • First Electronics Recycled:
  • First Lego Set Purchased:
  • First Lego Set Built: 70612-1: Green Ninja Mech Dragon, mostly watching my son build it
  • First Scavenger Hunt:
  • First Plant Harvested:
  • First Bill Payed: Water bill (3 Jan)
  • First Item Bought Online: Heavily discounted Monsterpocalypse game bundle (2 Jan)
  • First Item Bought in Store: cough medicine (2 Jan)
  • First Item Made With Own Hands:
  • First Kickstarter Backed: John Carter of Mars RPG (13 Jan)/li>
  • First Charitable Contribution:
  • First Regretted Purchase:
  • First Doctor’s Appointment: Flu shot for son (19 Jan)
  • First Injury:
  • First Illness:
  • First Movie: The Greatest Showman (2 Jan)
  • First TV Show: Star Trek, “The Naked Time” (1 Jan)
  • First Song: Something terrible on a New Year’s Eva show (1 Jan)
  • First Live Performance:
  • First Book to Read:
  • First Book to Finish:
  • First Roleplaying Game Played:
  • First Roleplaying Game Worked On: The Mortice System
  • First Board Game:
  • First Console Videogame: Lego Jurassic World, Wii U, with son (1 Jan)
  • First Mobile Videogame: Civilization VI, iOS (1 Jan)
  • First Computer Videogame:
  • First Software Downloaded: Lego Boost on son’s iPad, iOS (1 Jan)
  • First Software Purchased: The Dicenomicon +1 (23 Jan)

Why the “red equals sign” campaign drives me a bit nuts

If you’ve looked at a social network the last few days, you’ve probably seen the “red equals sign” logo show up, showing support of the marriage equality, currently being debated in the U.S. Supreme Court. While I intended to stay silent about this campaign, now that it has taken off, I can’t hold it in: this red logo campaign is driving me a bit nuts.

Not for any political reason, of course. It’s just… the compression artifacts… they are the visual equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.

The red equals logo uses simple, continuous blocks of pixels, in only two colors. Unfortunately, the most popular image compression technology in the world, JPEG, which was built to compress photographs, turns out to be hideously awful at compressing simple blocks of same-color pixels. It winds up creating weird bands of unintended colors around the edges of such blocks. For example, here is a version of the logo (3,183 bytes), compressed with really low quality JPEG settings (to exaggerate the effect).

Equality, with horrible artifacts

The artifacts become less noticeable, but still present (especially if you are overly sensitive to them, like me), using a high quality JPEG compression (generating a file that is almost twice are large: 5,517 bytes):

Equality, with slightly less horrible artifacts

It gets even worse. Because JPEG is lossy, these compression artifacts get progressively worse as you re-compress the same image repeatedly. So, for example, if you found a JPEG of the red equals on the net, then uploaded to to, say, Facebook, chances are that Facebook recompressed it again, making the artifacts worse.

A different kind of compression—portable network graphics or PNG—is, in contrast, is extremely good at compressing large blocks of same-colored pixels, particularly in a limited color palette. It shows no compression artifacts and, since it is lossless, you can re-compress it over and over with no quality degradation. And, as a bonus, this file is only 1,590 bytes:

Equality

In support of the red equals sign, feel free to link directly to the PNG version above (/images/equality.png) in blog posts, avatar icons and so on. Or, copy and distribute at will. Hopefully my server will keep up.

A reminder to European executives

To European executives:

When traveling in the United States, please remember one thing: porn is not real. No matter how much films from San Fernando Valley may lead you to believe otherwise, the maid does not magically want to have sex with you, no matter how naked you are. The pizza delivery guy is just there to deliver pizza. There is no sex in the champagne room.

As a European executive, you are likely rich, powerful and, well…European. Most American cities have no shortage of sluts and boy toys who may be happy to have some meaningless sex with you, but you need to go out and find them. They will not be delivered to your door.

At least, not for free.

Forced medicine

A woman in Massachusetts was just found guilty of attempted murder for withholding cancer medication from her autistic son, who has since died. Go read that article for the specifics. No, really. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

OK, so, there are a number of question raised by this case, some of them moral/ethical questions, some of them legal. But, before the sound and fury about this case (which I predict will only last about three days in the mainstream press) abates, I want to concentrate on this question: instead of withholding the drugs for her own reasons, suppose the woman withheld the drugs because she could not afford them. Would she then still have been found guilty of attempted murder?

I suspect a lot of people would say no, reasoning that a jury would find that, even if she wanted to provide the drugs, she couldn’t get them anyway, thus absolving her of the responsibility.

Now, suppose you agree with that. What this verdict then means is this: the state can now force you, under penalty of imprisonment, to consume medication if you can afford it. It is no longer your choice to consume life-saving medication, or to make that choice for your children. If you can afford it, you must purchase and use it, or go to jail. At least, this is true when (as is typically the case) your children are assumed not to be able to make legally binding choices for themselves.

Or, maybe it doesn’t mean that. Instead, maybe it means that the state now considers there to be a legal difference between choosing to consume life-saving medication for yourself vs. making that choice for your children. But if it isn’t the parent’s choice, whose choice is it? The only other possibilities are the child or the state. If it is the child’s choice, then the child has just been given a legal mandate to control the spending of others for his own benefit (“Ma, the doc gave me a prescription for a new Audi. Pony up!”), and if the others don’t like it, they can go to jail. If it is the state, then the state is now making medical and moral choices for its citizens. Neither of these two alternatives is all that palatable.

Another thing bothers me about this case. The state charges that Kristen LaBrie caused the death of the child by withholding the meds. The child is dead because, as the state would have you believe, his medicine was withheld. Then why is the state charging her with attempted murder? If you believe the state, then isn’t it full-on successful 100% genuine murder?

It’s likely that the attempted murder charge was used because it has a much lower burden of proof for the state, and the prosecutor didn’t think he could make a full murder charge. If that is the reason, then it suggests that this whole case is some sort of political wet dream agenda from the D.A.’s office. “Sorry Ms LaBrie. Nevermind that your son was autistic, had leukemia and died, you need to go to prison so that I can prove something to someone, somewhere.” The whole thing sickens me.

I may have more to say about this later. Right now, my neighborhood watch officer is telling me it’s time to take my soma.

The Last Shuttle

When the space shuttle Atlantis returns from its final mission later this year, the space shuttle program will officially be over. A group of documentarians from the San Diego Aerospace Museum are trying to capture the last days of the program in a film called The Last Shuttle, using a number of different technologies. They have started a Kickstarter project to raise some of the money to do this. They are a bit far from their goal, but still have a couple days left. I’ve kicked some money their way. Please do the same.

Tea leaves

Some days, the Google News home page overflows with stories that tell you more about the future than you want to know. Today is one of them, though the stories seem, on the surface, innocuous.

First, a pair of stories out of China (one about a strike, one about a pay raise following some suicides) suggest that China’s standard of living is starting to rise. I’ve mentioned before that this will probably slow its growth a bit, as it will raise costs, making Chinese labor correspondingly less attractive to foreign businesses.

Next, I hope you’ve got your plans for a warmer world ready, as the warm seas look to make this hurricane season a doozy. An added wild card this year will be to see how these storms churn all that oil leaking into the gulf around.

More depressingly, the “global economic meltdown” is causing doctors in eight African countries to turn AIDS patients away. You will see “triage” like this a lot more often in the future. During battle, combat medics have to make choices about where to spend their limited resources and time to best effect. When things get bad, the first to get passed over for care are those who probably won’t make it even with care, the mortally wounded who have not yet died. It’s a crappy choice, but a moral one, because it means that care instead is given to someone with a fighting chance to survive. If you can treat them all, you will, but if you can’t, you pick to save as many as you can. It won’t be long before that happens on a global scale, and you can see it starting with this story in Africa. When health care is rationed, assume that those with incurable, terminal illnesses will get abandoned first. And, of course, Africa will get the shaft, as always.

On the more upbeat side of healthcare, a study shows a correlation between brushing your teeth and reduced heart disease. I bring this up because it points to something that I’m guessing will start happening a lot more often: connections being discovered between things that don’t seem like they are connected, but are. (In this particular story, the connection may be that inflammation anywhere does things to your blood.) One reason this will happen with more frequency is that people are now actually looking. That is, rather than looking for cause and effect for a particular ailment, research is now being based on the notion of “well, we have all these huge data sets from various places, let’s mash them together and see if they tell us anything”. One such project takes the human genome data, information about drug interactions, and data on connections between diseases and certain genes, and builds “neighborhoods” of related information. This might reveal that a drug that treats one disease, for example, might wind up treating something that seems totally unrelated. This kind of thing will totally change medicine in your lifetime.

A quick primer on the health care bill

Until I get my more substantive post on the state of health care up, here is a quick primer on how the “sweeping health care overhaul legislation” will impact the nation.

Before bill: Health care degrading by the day due to unneeded, unwanted interference from corporations lining their own pockets. Hospitals closing because of it. Doctors no longer able to afford to practice. Government racking up debts for reasons mostly unrelated to health care.

After bill: Health care degrading by the day due to unneeded, unwanted interference from corporations lining their own pockets. Hospitals closing because of it. Doctors no longer able to afford to practice. Government racking up debts for reasons slightly more related to health care.