June 28th, 2017
posted by [syndicated profile] newelementary_feed at 08:19pm on 28/06/2017

Posted by caperberry

A quick note to mention that Li Li, a winner in our recent contest, expanded his efforts and created a full set of capital letters in Gothic script (also known as Blackletter) using LEGO® pieces!

This image is just a taster - visit Li's blog, MOC Recipes, to see the full alphabet with a couple of building tips.

It's worth scrolling back in time to look at some of his earlier posts too; MOC Recipes is a great resource for techniques.

posted by [syndicated profile] dndwithpornstars_feed at 12:03pm on 28/06/2017

Posted by Zak Sabbath


Cruelly afflicted, the lycanthrope, or werewolf, is unfit to mix with our society. The stricken creature twitches and bends, staring into thin air, bestial even when shaped like you or I. They make their dens in blood-streaked rooms with broken windows, alone or in wretched, hierarchical packs, or—worse—are caged and used for sinister purposes by cruel malefactors. The condition lasts 7 years. Their malady synchronizes the shape of their lives to that of the moon.

Only during the night of the new moon and the day after can the werewolf wear a complete outfit of clothes, use human language, or imitate the selves of their former life—or at least drunk, forgetful distracted versions of them. Some even manage, during these 24 hours, to provision their dens with mounds of steaks or pay rent. Calm: 1, Knowledge: as former life -2 (minimum of 0).

During the 7 days and nights when the moon is waxing crescent, clothes become intolerable, and speech becomes increasingly impossible. It becomes irritable, growling at any presence like a guard animal. Its memory of the previous month returns over the course of the day and it will begin to hunt animals. Calm: 0, Knowledge: Animal.

On the night of the first quarter the werewolf schemes, looking for human victims for the coming feast days. It will be capable of both memory and forethought until the moon wanes gibbous. Calm: 0, Knowledge: Animal.

As the moon waxes gibbous for a week the creature’s demeanor is casually criminal and cunning. It will prowl by night, crawling along the rims of rooftops, eating fellow citizens.  Calm: 0, Knowledge: Animal.
During the night of the full moon the lycanthrope is ravenous, eager for flesh and homicidal beyond all reckoning, she also physically transforms in the night, taking the form of a wolf with 45 teeth until the sun rises.  Calm: Negative, Knowledge: Animal.

The week the moon wanes gibbous the subject is amnesiac, but filled with an inchoate remorse. It will avoid the light and whimper in corners. Calm: 0, Knowledge: Animal.

On the night of the third quarter the werewolf lies unable to eat moaning with a pain it cannot describe. Calm: 0, Knowledge: Animal.

As the moon is waning crescent, the beast becomes anxious and obedient. It will begin to bathe and groom itself to the degree it is able, some simple words and phrases come back to them during the 7 days. Calm: 0, Knowledge: Animal.

Typical Lycanthrope

Calm: See above
Agility: 5
Toughness: 8 (Starting toughness is always at least 7 for lycanthropes)
Perception: 7
Appeal: 1
Cash: 0
Knowledge: See above

Calm check: 4 (if the character only sees signs they’re dealing with a strange cannibalistic human or murderous wolf) 8 (if the character realizes they face a werewolf)

Exceptional lycanthropes can have Agility as high as 6, Toughness as high as 10 and Perception as high as 8.

Special Abilities:

Invulnerability: Lycanthropes can’t be reduced below 0 Toughness by ordinary means, including firearms, crushing, falling, fire, etc.

Bite: Does damage as an ordinary physical attack. Anyone bitten while the lycanthrope is a wolf will begin to take on the characteristics of a lycanthrope over the following week, gaining all the creature’s special abilities and, over the coming month, modifies the victim’s characteristics as follows— Agility +3, Toughness +6 (minimum of 7), Perception +5, Appeal -1(minimum of 0), Knowledge -2 (minimum of 0/Animal). Calm is 0 until the night of the full moon, at which point it is negative until the new lycanthrope feeds on human flesh, then it follows the lunar pattern above. A dose of wolvesbane will stop the transformation (and induce nausea and vomiting) if it is administered before the victim eats human flesh.

The lycanthrope fears silver as an ordinary animal fears fire. It can be harmed by weapons made from silver as if they were ordinary weapons.

The herb known as wolfsbane (aka Aconite, monkshood, devil's helmet, etc) repels lycanthropes and swallowing it causes Massive Damage to the werewolf as an intensity 9 attack.
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Posted by Christopher Jobson

As a finishing touch before glazing his wheel-thrown vases and bowls, ceramic artist Abe Haruya (previously) sets about carving the surface of each piece with various metallic tools. Many of the pieces are done freehand by sight, but some of the more complex scale-like patterns are first sketched with a pencil before Haruya carefully rakes across the surface to remove thin layers of porcelain. The videos have proven to be wildly fascinating to watch, garnering millions of views across Instagram despite a proportionally smaller following. You can catch a number of additional videos here.

Posted by Kate Sierzputowski

Image via Jordan Griska

Image via Jordan Griska

Reflecting its surroundings with a splintered and imperfect view is Jordan Griska‘s 2016 sculpture Wreck, a non-functional model of a Mercedes Benz S550 made entirely from reflective stainless steel. The piece, which is composed of nearly 12,000 individual parts, is meant to highlight both luxury and mortality from a removed perspective. While researching the work Griska referenced Andy Warhol’s series of car crash prints, connecting the sterility of his work’s stainless steel to that of a lithoprint.

“The sculpture mirrors the peak of today’s automobile industry by using digital technology and meticulous handcraft to subvert both utopian dreams and reality,” explains Philadelphia Contemporary in a statement about the piece. “Spectacular and haunting, Wreck captures the dual nature of American culture by contrasting wealth, freedom, and individuality with decadence, debauchery, and tailspin, as flip sides of the same coin.”

The sculpture was premiered last year at Philadelphia’s Pier 9 with Philadelphia Contemporary. You can see more of the New York-based artist’s works (including this completely reflective punching bag) on his website and Instagram. (via Visual Fodder)

Image via Jordan Griska

Image via Jordan Griska

Image via Jordan Griska

Image via Jordan Griska

Image via Jordan Griska

Image via Jordan Griska

Posted by John Scalzi

If you were waiting to hear if you were scheduled for July and have not heard from me, a) Sorry, b) Yup, they’re all scheduled.

Still taking queries for August.

posted by [syndicated profile] johndcook_feed at 02:03pm on 28/06/2017

Posted by John

You can subscribe to my blog by email or RSS. I also have a brief newsletter you could sign up for. There are links to these in the sidebar of the blog:

subscription options

If you subscribe by email, you’ll get an email each morning containing the post(s) from the previous day.

I just noticed a problem with email subscription: it doesn’t show SVG images, at least when reading via Gmail; maybe other email clients display SVG correctly. Here’s what a portion of yesterday’s email looks like in Gmail:

screen shot of missing image

I’ve started using SVG for graphs, equations, and a few other images. The main advantage to SVG is that the images look sharper. Also, you can display the same image file at any resolution; no need to have different versions of the image for display at different sizes. And sometimes SVG files are smaller than their raster counterparts.

There may be a way to have web site visitors see SVG and email subscribers see PNG. If not, email subscribers can click on the link at the top of each post to open it in a browser and see all the images.

By the way, RSS readers handle SVG just fine. At least Digger Reader, the RSS reader I use, works well with SVG. The only problem I see is that centered content is always moved to the left.

* * *

The email newsletter is different from the email blog subscription. I only send out a newsletter once a month. It highlights the most popular posts and says a little about what I’ve been up to. I just sent out a newsletter this morning, so it’ll be another month before the next one comes out.

Posted by Derek Lowe

For many complex diseases, you’ll find that there are a couple of hypotheses floating around them that are hard to prove and hard to disprove: one is that they’re actually caused by some (as yet unrecognized) infectious agent, and the other is that that they’re actually an autoimmune/inflammatory disorder. You can also recognize that these two can have features in common, as seen in something like Guillian-Barré syndrome, where a (usually innocuous and often hardly noticed) viral infection or other stimulus can lead to a sudden autoimmune crisis. A whole list of conditions have had such explanations attached to them, more or less persuasively: Alzheimer’s, obesity, various forms of arthritis (with little doubt on the autoimmune side), diabetes (Type I, certainly, but even Type II), multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and more. Those links lead mainly to autoimmune explanations, but infectious-agent hypotheses are found quite easily as well, and going back many years.

A new paper adds what might be strong evidence to the Parkinson’s explanation. It’s been known for some time that there’s an association between the disease and MHC (major histocompatibility complex) alleles although (at the same time) having another autoimmune disease doesn’t seem to raise the risk for Parkinson’s itself. That’s interesting, in that the brain has mostly been thought of as an “immunoprivileged” compartment, but it’s also been increasingly clear that this doctrine is not as solid as it might be. Many CNS conditions have an undeniable inflammatory component, and it’s also quite possible that they lead to less-restrictive blood-brain barriers (or perhaps it’s the latter leading to the former?) In 2014, a paper came out (from some of the same authors on the current one) on MHC expression in postmortem neuronal tissue from Parkinson’s patients suggesting that catecholinergic neurons might be particularly vulnerable to autoimmune attack in this population.

The latest work extends this line of evidence by looking at specific peptide sequences from alpha-synuclein, which is a protein famously noted to be aggregated in the neurons of Parkinson’s patients. It turns out that T-cells from such patients (and not from controls) recognize these peptides, and this process appears to drive a cytotoxic immune response. This would tie in very well with the MHC genetic connections, and may well be putting us towards a better, more comprehensive explanation of the whole disease.

In general, for diseases that seem to have both a genetic susceptibility component and an environmental exposure/history one, you’d have to think that there could well be an immune system mechanism involved. That’s the part of our bodies that most clearly responds to our own environmental exposures (thus the possibility of vaccination), and is (at the same time) genetically unique to each individual. Add in the way that immune system is capable of inflicting major continuing damage to whatever cell population it targets, and you have the scope to explain almost anything. But without hard data, that explanation isn’t worth much – just saying “Must be some autoimmune thing” doesn’t advance the field. Now, with Parkinson’s the hard data may well be coming in.

Posted by Tony Finch

EBL: a block list of spam reply-to email addresses.

Posted by Tony Finch

Why have all 95 of England's high-rise towers tested so far failed fire safety tests?
posted by [syndicated profile] twentysidedtale_feed at 09:29am on 28/06/2017

Posted by Rutskarn

One of B&G: Caribbean!‘s most transparent influences is Captain Blood, a character made famous by an Errol Flynn film that still sets the standard for half-assed Irish accents. Captain Blood is the classic tale of a doctor branded traitor by a kangaroo court and dispatched to Port Royal as slave and political prisoner. Before long he and some former revolutionaries escape in a boat, steal a ship from the conveniently attacking Spaniards, and are so successful in carrying out acts of noble piracy across the New World that the now-famous Blood is pardoned by the English usurper, William of Orange, and appointed the new governor of Port Royal. And under his righteous administration, no-one was ever unjustly enslaved in Jamaica again, probably.

It’s a classic movie, and when they get around to re-making it I’ll probably go re-see it. But you know what I’d rather watch? The movie where a grandma is indentured for forty seconds, falls in with a bad crowd, breaks some kneecaps, scores some headshots, wins a horse racing championship with a pocketful of hand grenades, and then parlays a literally undefeated career of gambling into an entire island’s worth of thriving rum distilleries and miscellaneous business enterprises.

And if that’s too much trouble, I’ll settle for thirty seconds of Diana Rigg wearing this costume.

It turns out that when you climb the tax brackets in this game, you unlock a higher “merchant reputation” or something. When the morning after my big win rolled over, said reputation instantly skipped like four levels. When the next morning rolled over, it skipped like four more. I think I literally advanced too much for the game to process at once. I’m currently a “Chairman.” Of what, and by whose leave, remains unclear. All I know is that I definitely deserve to be in charge of whatever it is I’m now in charge of.

Which would at least include my new flotilla of ships snapped up cash-on-the-barrel at ports around Hispaniola—and you better believe every deck of them has been decked out. This whole game I’ve been pressing my nose up against the greyed-out “buy upgrades” button in the shipyard menu, hoping against hope that someday I’ll unlock the ability to pay craftsmen for services. Well, “that day” happened after all. Every single upgrade tier just popped literally overnight. It’s Christmas(!) in the Caribbean(!).

So I took all my newest purchases to the shop and blew their slots on the likeliest looking improvements. With their iron scantings and fat culverins and reinforced timbers and silken lines, my ships represent the absolute best fully-upgraded vessels a merchant ranking can buy in this videogame. Without exception, each and every one of them fucking sucks.

See, there’s just one problem. This game has two different reputation systems, merchant and military. A high merchant rep only allows you to buy innocuous things, like powder magazines and cannonball heating furnaces and foreign mercenaries. To buy something as dangerous as a medium-sized ship, you first need to prove yourself in battle against…whomever, I guess?

“Hey, can I order a frigate?”

“Sir, do you really think I’m going to sell a dangerous warship to a stranger?”

“Would it help if I’ve sacked San Juan for no reason?”

“You know, I thought your horde looked familiar! I’ll draft the paperwork.”

At least, that’s my best guess of how it works. It’s not like this game’s documented. Assuming I’m right, I’m left with two related problems to solve: I need a better ship, and I need to raise my military reputation. The solution to both seems pretty straightforward: like you’re actually supposed to do in these games, I’m going to join a faction, follow orders, grind through about a million sensible battles, and carefully build my reputation and standing through service of the good and virtuous King Diez.

You’ve heard of him, haven’t you? King Diez of House NUTS?

Seriously, I’m just gonna find pirates with awesome ships and pick really stupid fights with them. And what have we here?

“Sixth-rate frigate” sounds like a good starting point over the first-rate waste of money I’m currently bobbing around in. Let’s get into it.

As I’m growing more literate in this game, it’s getting to the point where I can actually read a lot of strategic information from screens like this. Take the line that says “There is a light breeze blowing from the north.” From this data, I can tell you with absolute certainty that I’m going to start off engaging them from the south.

I’m also getting the hang of naval combat. Note the little icon by the minimap in the top right. You can click and unclick that option to switch what kind of ammo you fire; when it’s glowing, like it is right now, your ships will fire grapeshot that damages crew more than it harms the hull. This is ideal for when you want to capture a ship, not sink it like my flotilla is about to fucking do anyway OH WHOOPS


Well, there goes the whole point of this engagement. Might as well wring the maximum XP out of it and board the next ship. At least this time, the boarding parties are hilariously uneven in my favor.

The fight consists of me swinging over to the other ship and clicking my mouse exactly twice. As mortal combat goes, it’s pretty serene. From an actuarial standpoint the battle is less hazardous to my crew than about thirty seconds of breathing air in the tropics.

Right up until the resolution screen, apparently. That’s when my crew decides to LARP the last scene of Hamlet.

Sometimes this game makes me feel like I’m in one of those really bitter D&D campaigns. A DM sets a gratingly tedious obstacle. A player starts basically cheating, which is hilarious. Then the DM starts basically cheating back, and it’s the worst thing ever.

Oh, yeah, forgot to mention—I picked up some named crewmates earlier. I have a Dutchman named Vanhouten, a Frenchman named Frogling, and an Englishman named Baron Blighty Fishandchips of Arse-on-Buttock.* What they lack in compelling characterizations, they make up in warm, warm bodies for my waterborne murder mills. They level up pretty much all the time, and every so often I remember to pop over to their character page and cash in like eight unspent attribute and skill points at a time. Someday I’ll really get my act together and look at their inventory screens. This is unfortunately how I play all Mount and Blade games.

*I think I’m making this one up, but I’m not going to bother wading through my party screen to check. 

This next ship also has, like, two guys. Both are hiding in the crow’s nest. There is literally nobody on deck. We could just start sailing away and see how long it takes for things to get awkward.

Two of my guys manage to die in the amount of time it takes for me to climb the ratlines and skewer this dumbass. Meanwhile, as my own “sharpshooters” fill the air with gunsmoke and embarrassment, his one remaining guy remains conspicuously alive.

I am a reasonable captain. I’m gonna give my man over there like five more seconds before I throw this.

Five seconds later, I’ve won! And I gained some




Posted by Grant Watson

After discovered a fossilized reptilian claw in the Amazon, geologist Dr Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno) puts together an expedition to return and find further evidence of the previously undiscovered species. Along with ichthyologist Dr David Reed (Richard Carlson), the wealthy Dr Mark Williams (Richard Denning) and scientist Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams), Dr Maia returns to the jungle – onto to discover that the amphibious reptiles may not be as extinct as he had believed.

Released in 1954, Jack Arnold’s Creature from the Black Lagoon acts as an unusual little coda to the Universal Monsters franchise. By 1950 the original films had all but dried up, spare a few Abbott and Costello parodies. Those earlier films had also been dominated by a common sense of tragedy, whether Imhotep’s desire to reunite with his one love, or Laurence Talbot unwillingly transforming into a werewolf, or Frankenstein’s monster’s futile search for peace and acceptance. By contrast Creature from the Black Lagoon is a straight-up monster movie. Its comparative simplicity is one of its core strengths. Asides from its genre and the studio which made it, it is arguable that the film doesn’t really belong among the Universal Monsters group at all. If anything it is a rather convenient line in the sand, marking the point where the more gothic and atmospheric horror of the 1930s and 1940s gave way to the hideous monsters and mutants of the post-atomic 1950s.

That the film is not only remembered today but actively celebrated comes down in large part to the titular creature. It is a masterpiece of design and special effects: a spiny humanoid fish person, it appears not only on land but underwater too. It is never less than completely effective. The film’s underwater sequences are a particular highlight of the film, as Reed and Williams Scuba-dive around the depths of the lagoon in confrontations with the creature. The creature is unexpectedly elegant in these sequences, and presents a sharp contrast to its more cumbersome and awkward movements when sneaking around above the surface. It never looks anything less than iconic.

In this respect the film foreshadows later monster hits like Alien and Predator, which have both sustained long-running movie franchises based essentially on production design more than anything else. The creature here returned for two sequels, but in all honesty it is bizarre that Universal Pictures have never managed to get a remake out of the gate.

The film does an effective job of pitting Reed and Williams against one another. One wants to capture the creature alive for further study. The other wants to kill it first. At first it is very easy to side with capturing the beast, but as the body count rises killing the creature starts to become a much more understandable option. That is about as complex as the film gets, however, as the characters are broadly drawn and the plot does not extend much beyond the cast travelling to the black lagoon, getting their boat stuck, and fending off the creature’s advances. At 79 minutes it is all kept to a fast pace as well; given the time constraints one would not want a more complicated narrative.

The original theatrical release was in a 3D format, however modern-day releases on DVD and blu-ray stick to a two-dimensional version. More than 60 years after it was made it remains a hugely entertaining monster movie with more than a few moments that really capture the imagination. This is a pulp classic with good reason.

Posted by cks

While looking at my Referer logs here one day, I would up stumbling over SvennD's Tuning of ZFS module. I have ambivalent feelings about its suggestions in general but there is one bit that I have a strong reaction to, and that is the suggestion to substantially increase zfs_dirty_data_max_percent. This setting controls how much asynchronous buffered writes ZFS will allow you to have before it forces processes doing writes to slow down and stop.

To start with, write buffering is complicated in general and it's not clear that having any substantial amount of it helps you outside of very specific workloads and relatively specific disk systems. The corollary is that it's pretty hard to give generic write buffering tuning advice unless the default settings are somehow clearly inadequate or wrong, and if you believe they are you should probably write up why.

On Linux specifically, there is at least some evidence that giving the kernel too much buffered writes has bad effects, and further that the kernel's default settings are too high, not too low. It's not clear how the kernel's general dirty_ratio setting interacts with ZFS's zfs_dirty_data_max_percent, but dirty_ratio defaults to 20%. If 20% is too high for non-ZFS IO, and ZFS is controlled only by its own setting, moving that setting from 10% to 40% is probably not what you want. Things get worse if the two settings are additive, so that the general kernel will give you 20% and then ZFS will give you an additional 10% on top of it. Even if they're separate, you may have problems if you have active ZFS and non-ZFS filesystems on the same machine, since then ZFS is taking 10% and extN is taking 20%.

(Given this, I should probably permanently turn my dirty_ratio down to 10% at most, and reduce dirty_background_ratio as well, since I have a mix of ZFS and non-ZFS filesystems on my ZoL machines and I've had problems in this area before, although they got fixed.)

(Some experimentation suggests that writes to ZFS filesystems don't change nr_dirty and nr_writeback in /proc/vmstat, which may be an indication that the kernel's general dirty_ratio et al don't apply to ZFS IO and the two settings are completely separate. Unfortunately on a casual look I can't spot any ZFS kstats for how much pending writes there are.)

Next is that tuning ZFS write behavior is complicated in general because ZFS has a significant number of controls and they interact with each other in somewhat complicated ways. ZFS on Linux has some discussion of this in the zfs-module-parameters manpage, complete with ASCII art diagrams. zfs_dirty_data_max_percent is only one part of ZFS's write tuning; if you change it, you may well want to adjust other parts as well.

(Tuning of ZFS module suggests changing some additional write parameters, but it doesn't discuss how they're related to each other and I think it's wrong about zfs_vdev_async_write_min_active because of what it means.)

Finally, there is the issue that a traditional weak area of ZFS on Linux has been its management of memory not being entirely well integrated with the general kernel memory management. Although things have gotten better here, I'm still not sure it's a good idea to let ZoL potentially hold a substantial amount of memory for buffered writes (especially since I'm not sure they count against the ARC size). This is definitely an area that I would want to experiment and be cautious about, especially on a machine that was doing anything else that wanted memory.

posted by [syndicated profile] dg_weblog_feed at 05:00am on 28/06/2017

Posted by diamond geezer

It hardly seems possible that London's favourite cablecar is five years old today.

The Elizabeth Air Line, as it's officially known, has carried millions of happy travellers above the Thames since it was opened on 28th June 2012 by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Shuttling high between terminals at North Greenwich and the Royal Docks, this £60m investment is unquestionably the most direct means of travel between the two locations, and offers views of Silvertown no other mode of transport can match.

During the Olympics the Elizabeth Air Line was ideally placed to carry spectators who happened to have tickets for the gymnastics and the weightlifting on the same day. Since then it has become the vital connector for an astonishing number of regular commuters, said by some to be approaching single figures.

Journeys between Royal Victoria and North Greenwich, previously only possible in 7 minutes via DLR and Underground, can now be made in 10 minutes via a deliberately slowed-down cross-river ride. Anyone with a home amongst the hotels of the Royal Docks and an office on the North Greenwich peninsula will know just how essential the cablecar has become.

The Elizabeth Air Line has added much needed cross-river resilience, ensuring that if the Jubilee line is ever suspended an alternative link is available, so long as there are no high winds or thunderclouds close by. Even better, cyclists can now pay to take their bikes on board, rather than being forced to ride for free through antiquated Victorian foot tunnels two miles downstream.

The cablecar's commitment to its commuters is clear. Every weekday morning the system opens up at 7am to transport Londoners with jobs to go to, rather than cutting overheads by waiting until mid-morning when the tourists drift in. Likewise shift workers are well placed to benefit from the Air Line's extended evening operations, often running as late as 11pm, when crossing times are extended to 12 minutes to prioritise relaxation over speed.

One particular masterstroke, which ensures the capsules never get too busy, is that the Air Line has never been made part of the Travelcard network. Every cablecar flight is charged on top of the daily price cap, along with any added bolt-on extras like a visit to the Elizabeth Air Museum or a ride on a boat. Lists of fares displayed outside the two terminals cunningly list all prices in reverse order, in the hope that tourists will shell out the full £23.10 and help subsidise the crossing for the rest of us.

Another clever plan is that the Elizabeth Air Line still has ticket offices, despite all the ticket offices on the London Underground having been closed. What's more it has three ticket offices for two terminals, including a stall in the station concourse at North Greenwich where a salaried operative stands underneath a redundant gondola and tries to flog boarding passes to lost tourists. Add in the staff clustered by the gateline, the staff upstairs ushering passengers into their pods and all the maintenance crew, and it's clear the cablecar remains an impressive job creation scheme.

It's always exciting to take the DLR to Royal Victoria and see how many more Air Line adverts have been shoehorned into the station, or to take a tour down the Jubilee line and see the cablecar promoted on walls, arches, platforms and former ticket office windows. There may still be several Londoners who don't realise what an invaluable part of their everyday travel this innovative link might be, so it's only right to make sure that every potential user is fully informed.

Only those who've made the effort to visit the quayside of the Royal Docks will know what a vibrant and exciting destination it can be. The hotels are welcoming, the conference centre occasionally puts on non-trade events, and for refreshment there's always the Tesco Express and the halal hot dog stall by the terminal. The cablecar genuinely wouldn't have had the same level of success had it been connected to anywhere else.

Over the last five years the cable car has been used by a total of eight and a half million passengers, which is almost exactly equal to the population of London, so we've probably all been once. What's more, annual ridership is running almost steady at 1.5 million passengers a year, and is absolutely not slipping back as certain unkind commenters have suggested, except perhaps by about 4% year on year.

Stand and watch the queues, as I did yesterday lunchtime, and you'll see just how busy the cablecar can be. I spent 15 minutes tallying the passengers flying into the Royal Docks terminal, and there were almost 15 of them, which is nearly one a minute. Only once did I count nine consecutive empty capsules, even in the height of midsummer, helping to confirm that this multi-million pound transport investment was definitely public money well spent.

It's been an amazing first five years for the Elizabeth Air Line, now firmly established on the tube map and irrefutably the finest cablecar in the capital. Today is surely a good time to stop and ask yourself how Londoners ever got around before this invaluable connection was built. Next time you visit for your regular daily flight, be sure to raise a glass to its unrivalled success.
posted by [syndicated profile] the_angriest_feed at 12:32pm on 28/06/2017

Posted by Grant

It is 6 October 1990 and time for the next episode of Twin Peaks Season 2.

Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and Truman (Michael Ontkean) attempt to question the awakened Ronette Pulaski (Phoebe Augustine). Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) meets Laura's secret friend Harold Smith (Lenny Van Dohlen). Audrey (Sherilynn Fenn) remains trapped at One-Eyed Jacks for a third straight day.

So: one plot thread at a time. Donna heads out on Laura's old Meals on Wheels route. Her stop is to an old lady who fusses over being given creamed corn when she didn't want it. No problem: her tuxedo-wearing grandson teleports it across the room and into his hands. There is no explanation given for this, and Donna seems surprisingly calm about it. It is also the beginning of a worrying trend for Twin Peaks that will come to cripple this second season: weirdness for its own sake. In the first season, even when things got delightfully surreal, there was a sense that the supernatural elements were informed by something behind the narrative. This is the first episode where it really feels like things are getting made up for their own sake. It is not a development I like.

It is at Donna's next stop that she meets shut-in Harold Smith, who turns out to have shared a secret friendship with Laura before she died. Harold is creepy enough to make you want to run screaming out of the nearest door. There is something about Lenny Van Dohlen's intense staring that exaggerates his already unsettling demeanour and makes him look like someone that should be on some kind of police register. At any rate he represents yet another potential clue as to Laura's killer.

Cooper and Truman question Ronette, which is not a particularly helpful exchange as she is too traumatised to speak. There is a delightful business with getting stools to sit at the right height: the actors were having the trouble apparently, and Lynch simply left the footage in. It is this kind of strange small detail that I think I like the most about Twin Peaks. It gives it such a distinct pace and tone that is unlike other dramas of its time.

Later Cooper is visited by Major Garland Briggs (Don Davis) and given a message sent from outer space that reads "the owls are not what they seem". Here we are again, with weird things happening simply because they do. It is a bizarre experience watching the series begin sliding off the rails in such a profoundly sudden manner. Only two episodes ago things were going so well.

There is even a weird interminable song played by James (James Marshall) as part of the incredibly tedious James-Maddie-Donna love triangle storyline. It drags on for so long. In all truth it probably only lasts two minutes, but it feels like thirty. Later on Maddie has a stunningly frightening vision of the elusive Bob (Frank Silva) approaching her through the Palmer's living room. The scene is pure nightmare fuel from beginning to end.

Who knows what was going through the minds of the show runners when these second season episodes were made. It really does feel like they lost sight of what was making the series work so well, Network interference is an obvious answer: Season 1 was shot and completed before a single episode went to air, giving the executives no change to significantly interfere. We know that Frost and Lynch were forced to reveal Laura's killer - they never wanted to ever explain it - so maybe all of this pointless weird silliness was a network command as well. Whatever the reason, the series is taking a sudden nose-dive in quality.
June 27th, 2017
posted by [syndicated profile] datagenetics_feed at 12:00am on 27/06/2017
posted by [syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed at 11:09pm on 27/06/2017

Posted by John Scalzi

Hey! I’m going to Denver Comic Con this weekend! I’ll be on panels and signing books! Here is my schedule!


Laughter in the Face of Disaster (Friday 6/30 11AM Room 407),

Military Scifi an Institution (Friday 6/30 3PM DCCP4 – Keystone City Room),

Fight the Power! Fiction for Political Change (Friday 6/30 4:30PM Room 402),

The Writing Process of Best Sellers (Saturday 7/1 12PM Room 407),

The Hardness Scale – Is Fiction Better Squishy or Solid? (Saturday 7/1 3PM Room 407),

Economics, Value and Motivating Your Character (Sunday 7/2 11AM Room 407).


Friday 6/30 from 1PM-2:50PM at Tattered Cover Signing Booth 2,

Saturday 7/1 from  10:30AM-11:50PM at the Tattered Cover Signing Booth,

Sunday 7/2 from 2PM-4PM at Tattered Cover Signing Booth 2.

Come see me!

Also, thanks to Sisters in Geek, who collected up this information in this article on my and other authors’ schedules, so I didn’t have to. You’re the best, Sisters in Geek!

Posted by Christopher Jobson

Japanese designer Haruki Nakamura has a knack for creating all kinds of interesting paper objects from puzzles to kirigami toys. One of his best designs is this awesome squeezable paper puppet that reveals a sheep wearing wolf’s clothing. Also check out his penguin bomb, a type of automated paper puppet called a karakuri that has hidden inner mechanisms. Nakamura sells all of his designs in an online shop, but currently only ships within Japan. (via GIF87a, Grape)

posted by [syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed at 07:35pm on 27/06/2017

Posted by John Scalzi

We interrupt this Tuesday afternoon to bring this fresh stack of new books and ARCs that have arrived at the Scalzi Compound. What here is a book you would like in your possession? Tell us in the comments!

posted by [syndicated profile] sumana_feed at 06:52pm on 27/06/2017
One of Changeset Consulting's clients is working on modernizing a legacy web application; we're improving both its structural underpinnings and its user interface and outgoing APIs. It is like we are Chief O'Brien in the first season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, surveying and retrofitting Terok Nor. But that's not a fair comparison; O'Brien has to not only grapple with alien engineering approaches, but with the resentful and deliberate trashing the Cardassians inflicted on the station before handing it over. I haven't seen Stargate Atlantis but perhaps that's a better analogy; with every component of this long-asleep lost city that we resuscitate, a new console or room shimmers to life. Which is pretty rewarding!

The original authors wrote this application in Java. I've never worked on a Java application before, so the last few weeks have been quite an education in the Java ecosystem, in its tools and frameworks and libraries. We're improving the installation and deployment process, so now I'm more familiar with Ant, Gradle, Maven, OpenJDK, JDBC, Hibernate, and WildFly. I've gotten some API documentation in place, so now I know more about Spring and Javadoc.

As I was explaining to a friend this weekend, the overwhelming thing isn't Java as a language. It is a programming language and you can program in it, fine. The overwhelmption is the seemingly endless chain of plugins, platforms, and frameworks, and the mental work to understand what competes with, supersedes, integrates with, or depends on what.

Imagine you come to visit New York City for the first time, and wish to visit a specific address. First you need to work out where it is. But you do not have a map; there is no unified map of the whole place. Surely you can figure this out. Watch out: if someone doesn't tell you what borough an address is in, it's probably in Manhattan, but then again maybe not. There are multiple streets with the same name, and "31st Street and Broadway" in Queens is quite far from "31st Street and Broadway" in Manhattan. The avenue numbers go up westwards in Manhattan, eastwards in Brooklyn, and northwards in Queens. And so on.

You ask around, you see sketches of maps other people have made on their journeys, and eventually you feel pretty confident that you know the rough distance and direction to your destination. Now, how do you get there from your hotel room?

You probably don't want to walk all the way; for one thing, it's illegal and dangerous to walk on the freeways. This is why we have the subway (express and local), and buses (express and local, both privately and publicly run), and government-regulated taxis (street-hailable cabs and private car services), and bike rental, and commuter rail, a funicular/tram, car rental, ferries, and so on. Also there are illegal rideshare/taxi services that lots of people use. You try to learn some nouns and figure out what sort of thing each is, and what's a subset of what.

A MetroCard works on some of these modes and not others, and some transfers from one ride to another cost you nothing, and you can't use an unlimited-ride card twice at the same station or on the same bus within 18 minutes.* You can bring a bike on some MTA-run services but not all, not all the time. There are whole neighborhoods with no subway service, and whole neighborhoods with approximately no street parking. At rush hour the trains get super full. Service changes at night, on the weekend, and on holidays. Cars and buses get stuck behind accidents and parades. People and signs in Manhattan refer to "uptown" and "downtown" as though they are cardinal directions; they often correlate to "north" and "south" but not always. Metro North trains terminate at Grand Central, but Long Island Railroad trains terminate at New York Penn Station, which is named after Pennsylvania because it's where you can catch a train to Pennsylvania,** and there's a Newark Penn Station too but over a crackling loudspeaker those two station names sound very similar so watch out. And so on.

You're lucky; you find a set of cryptic directions, from your hotel to the destination address, based on a five-year-old transit schedule. It suggests you take a bus that does not exist anymore. Sometimes you see descriptions of travel that you think could be feasible as a leg of your journey, and you read what other people have done. They talk about "Penn Station" and "the train" without disambiguating, refer to the subway as "the MTA" even though the MTA also runs other transit, talk about "the 7" without distinguishing local from express, and use "blocks" as a measure of distance even though some blocks are ten times as long as others.

Aaaaagh. And yet: you will make it. You will figure it out. New Yorkers will help you along the way.

The decades-old Java ecosystem feels overwhelming but this application overhaul is like any other task. Things are made of stuff. Human programmers made this thing and human programmers can understand and manipulate it. I'm a human programmer. I made Javadoc do what I wanted it to do, and now the product is better and our users will have more information. And every triumph earns me a skill I can deploy for other customers and groups I care about.

* Just long enough for you to enjoy a little break from the podcast you're making with President Nixon!
** Also see St. Petersburg's Finland Station.

posted by [syndicated profile] johndcook_feed at 06:30pm on 27/06/2017

Posted by John

In applications we’d like to draw independent random samples from complicated probability distributions, often the posterior distribution on parameters in a Bayesian analysis. Most of the time this is impractical.

MCMC (Markov Chain Monte Carlo) gives us a way around this impasse. It lets us draw samples from practically any probability distribution. But there’s a catch: the samples are not independent. This lack of independence means that all the familiar theory on convergence of sums of random variables goes out the window.

There’s not much theory to guide assessing the convergence of sums of MCMC samples, but there are heuristics. One of these is effective sample size (ESS). The idea is to have a sort of “exchange rate” between dependent and independent samples. You might want to say, for example, that 1,000 samples from a certain Markov chain are worth about as much as 80 independent samples because the MCMC samples are highly correlated. Or you might want to say that 1,000 samples from a different Markov chain are worth about as much as 300 independent samples because although the MCMC samples are dependent, they’re weakly correlated.

Here’s the definition of ESS:

\mbox{ESS} = \frac{n}{1 + 2\sum_{k=1}^\infty \rho(k)}

where n is the number of samples and ρ(k) is the correlation at lag k.

This behaves well in the extremes. If your samples are independent, your effective samples size equals the actual sample size. If the correlation at lag k decreases extremely slowly, so slowly that the sum in the denominator diverges, your effective sample size is zero.

Any reasonable Markov chain is between the extremes. Zero lag correlation is too much to hope for, but ideally the correlations die off fast enough that the sum in the denominator not only converges but also isn’t a terribly large value.

I’m not sure who first proposed this definition of ESS. There’s a reference to it in Handbook of Markov Chain Monte Carlo where the authors cite a paper [1] in which Radford Neal mentions it. Neal cites B. D. Ripley [2].


[1] Markov Chain Monte Carlo in Practice: A Roundtable Discussion. Robert E. Kass, Bradley P. Carlin, Andrew Gelman and Radford M. Neal. The American Statistician. Vol. 52, No. 2 (May, 1998), pp. 93-100

[2] Stochlastic Simulation, B. D. Ripley, 1987.

Posted by Tony Finch

How not to do things with words: The BBC sub-committee for the invention of new words (1935-1937).

Posted by Kate Sierzputowski

Moscow-based bakery Kalabasa takes a more abstract view of cake decorating, mounting its confections with stiff swipes of chocolate that look like painted brushstrokes. The colorful cakes and cupcakes are each decorated with layers of the crisp painterly gestures, and often drizzled with similar colors to tie together the whole production. You can view more of the artistic treats in a variety of shades on the bakery’s Instagram. (via Design You Trust)

posted by [syndicated profile] clivethompson_feed at 02:43pm on 27/06/2017

Posted by Clive

Drawing of a computer logic loop by John von Neumann in a 1947 manual
Above, a logic loop drawn by John von Neumann in his 1947 manual on how to program an “electronic computing instrument”. Why are ticks so prevalent in 2017? Because of the ecological domino effects of a 2015 surge in acorns. Gripping photos of food from the famine surrounding a vanishing Lake Chad. A study of Google searches suggests that Americans are way more racist than they generally admit; it also finds an ominous surge in searches for DIY home abortions. “Neural networks for hackers”, a cool new MOOC by @sknthla. How Russia has been using Ukraine as a testbed for cyberattacks. And … a maglev elevator that can move both vertically and horizontally!


posted by [syndicated profile] wavewithoutashore_feed at 03:00pm on 27/06/2017

Posted by CJ

…was one of those days.
Living on a corner has its moments: we face a cross street and there is a major city arterial running past our west side that never stops: it serves the Maple Street Bridge; and of bridges that cross the river, there is the Monroe Street, the Washington (you really can’t count the Lincoln, which carries little traffic) and that’s pretty well it for the downtown—so we get traffic, it’s a one-way street, and downhill, and people speed like fiends.

I was out feeding the fishes and noticed a very heavy engine parked near our fence, in the most-used lane. Fire truck. This deserved a look—and opening the gate showed not just the fire truck but a police b&w, an ambulance, a badly wrecked black car—front left turned to tinfoil—facing diagonally the wrong way on the one-way; another black car facing the opposite, correct-way diagonal—if he hadn’t been 10 feet off the road and up in a thick growth of juniper on the side of the house across the street. There was besides, a white car parked diagonally at the point of our corner, going the wrong lane onto our street, and two other cars stopped on our street going the right way. There were people all over talking to the officer in charge, while the monster fire engine and ambulance served as barriers. I don’t know if anybody was taken in the ambulance: the officer was talking to everybody, and did open the back door of the ambulance to talk to someone, but if it had been serious, I’m sure the ambulance would have moved on.
Anyway it was a warm day in the 80’s, and about 8 people were camped on a brick retaining wall waiting. A wrecker showed up to move the black car, there’d have to be another to fish the second car out of the bushes, and over all, it was a wild day on our street. Hard to figure who was at fault, but the energy that sent the car into the bushes was considerable: Jane thinks, and I concur, that that car was rear-ended, and that speed likely played a major part in it. A car trying to pull out from our street’s stop sign is another possibility. The physics of it all posed quite a challenge.

Then half our kitchen floor samples arrived, and they’re exactly what both of us wanted. Grey mottling like weathered old limestone. And waterproof. The catch is—somebody didn’t pack the box right, somebody else dropped it, and every single piece has a corner too damaged to use. So that has to go back to Home Depot as unusable. But I think we do have our floor color and pattern. It’s really pretty and does not show the ‘repeats’ that can drive you visually crazy.

We got Jane’s car to the repair shop—it’s got some problem that’s not the battery. Won’t start. This means we have half the garage free to put junk in and we have called for a dumpster to be set in our drive so we can do a major house and yard cleanout. Yay! Jane found our city will rent you one and pick it up. And this is what, after a move inside OKC, then a move up here to one apartment, then to another apartment, then to this house—all inside eleven years—we desperately need.

The blood pressure is now in the normal zone on both numbers thanks to that new med. And I got to the eye doc to order a pair of distance glasses. I tried all the frilly pretty frames the assistant showed me, wanting larger lenses for general viewing, and all of them were a no-go down to ridiculous. I finally said, y’know, what I look best in is aviator glasses, never mind they’re always in the ‘men’s’ section. Put them on, and the assistant looked highly surprised, and said, “You’re right!” Yep. Those look right on my face. The Harry Potter look makes me look like an owl, the cat-eye makes me look like I need high heels, leopard tights, and a bun with a pencil stuck in it, and some of the others defy any description but awful. So aviators it is.

And out of the blue last evening, thunder, a lot of it, driving sideways rain (unusual in the PNW, where rain usually mists down over several days) and then the sky lit up vivid orange shading to pink. Sunsets are very unusual in the Inland Empire. But the lowering sunlight managed to push through those storm clouds in a way I’ve never seen in ten years up here. And ours are generally ‘sea’ clouds, filmy and silky and not the clumpy ridged sort you get from horizon to horizon in Oklahoma that make the sky look like a bed of coals. Ours looked on one horizon like a forest fire, intense orange, and overhead it was cotton candy pink billows. Really unusual. We don’t get the violent weather up here as a rule, so we don’t get the sunsets that go with them. But last night we did.

Posted by Derek Lowe

Well, maybe. I have to admit that my first reaction was disbelief. Merck has come out this morning with a statement that its long-running outcomes trial with anacetrapib, their cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) inhibitor, had positive results. Specifically, they say that the trial. . .

. . .met its primary endpoint, significantly reducing major coronary events (defined as the composite of coronary death, myocardial infarction, and coronary revascularization) compared to placebo in patients at risk for cardiac events who are already receiving an effective LDL-C lowering regimen. The safety profile of anacetrapib in the early analysis was generally consistent with that demonstrated in previous studies of the drug, including accumulation of anacetrapib in adipose tissue, as has been previously reported. Merck plans to review the results of the trial with external experts, and will consider whether to file new drug applications with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other regulatory agencies. The results of the REVEAL study will be presented at the European Society of Cardiology meeting on Aug. 29, 2017.

This area has been an expensive wasteland for drug development since 2006, when Pfizer’s torcetrapib (the company’s biggest drug development effort ever, at the time) unexpectedly failed in Phase III. In the years since then, every single other CETP inhibitor has failed as well. They didn’t all raise cardiovascular mortality like Pfizer’s compound, but they sure didn’t lower it, either. Merck persevered with their compound, though, in the face of all these results, and the REVEAL study is a real cardiovascular whopper: 30,000 patients, with the first participants dosed back in 2011, all of them diagnosed with cardiovascular disease and all of them given a statin for LDL lowering. Some of them have been getting anacetrapib on top of that statin dose and others have been getting statin and added placebo.

So this is really the first positive outcomes result ever seen in CETP, thus my surprise and the surprise of most observers. But it’s not time to declare victory yet, because there are a lot of things to think about in that Merck statement:

  1. You will note that the company says it will “consider” whether to file an NDA. On the one hand, that’s appropriately cautious language, but at the same time, companies usually announce that they’re marching ahead to NDA filing after announcing positive results. This makes a person wonder what the magnitude of these positive results might have been. It’s certainly possible that the trial came out nominally positive, but not positive enough to give anacetrapib a chance in the (crowded) cardiovascular market. It’s all about effect size.
  2. Some observers this morning have wondered if the positive trial outcome is due to the compound’s effects on HDL (which is raises) or on LDL (which it lowers). I think that’s impossible to say at this point, but it’s worth noting that Eli Lilly’s compound did both of those and had no effect at all on cardiovascular outcomes. Since all these patients were already on atorvastatin, you also have to wonder how much effect on LDL anacetrapib could pile on, and what the clinical implications of that would be. But it’s certainly still possible that the HDL-raising effects, which are the main reason that everyone piled into CETP in the first place, aren’t doing anything.
  3. Note the statement on the safety of the drug. “Generally consistent” is appropriate language, although not a ringing endorsement, and it’s interesting that the statement specifically mentions the accumulation of the drug in adipose tissue. CETP inhibitors are famously greasy molecules, and it’s not surprising that they would do something like this, but it’s not a desirable feature.

So we’re going to have to wait to see if this clinical trial turns into anything more than an eventual trivia question. Merck might well be finding themselves in the position of King Pyrrhus (“Another victory of this sort and we will be completely undone”). I wondered back in 2011 if that might not be the outcome, and I certainly wasn’t alone. Merck’s stock went up in premarket trading on this announcement, but I think that’s premature. The history of this target should tell us that no one should count a CETP victory until every last bit of the news is in.

Posted by Colossal

All-in-one: puzzle, toy and fully fledged musical instrument, UGEARS has just launched one of their most ambitious mechanical models yet—Hurdy-Gurdy, now on Kickstarter. Based on the obscure but beloved folk instrument which derives its sounds through a crank-driven wheel that rubs against strings like a violin, the UGEARS Hurdy-Gurdy is a DIY wood model that lets you construct and play it yourself.

Inspired by the art of medieval craftsmen, the new model comes with everything needed for assembly including incredibly precise laser cut wood components, strings, and instructions. To help with easy assembly, the pieces are designed to lock together without the need for glue or adhesive while remaining fully mechanical. All UGEARS products are built from eco-friendly, sustainably sourced plywood.

In addition to the instrument, UGEARS is offering a wide variety of additional models as part of their expanding Mechnical Town series that now includes a Tram Line Model, Rail Manipulator Model, a Robot Factory Model, and a number of smaller toys including a yet-to-be-announced “secret” model.

The Hurdy-Gurdy model launches today and you can mix and match a variety of reward options right now on Kickstarter.

This post was sponsored by UGEARS.

posted by [syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed at 01:18pm on 27/06/2017

Posted by John Scalzi

Memory and language: Two concepts that Desirinia Boskovich had in mind for her novella Never Now Always. And now, here she is, to remember to you, in words, why they were important to her story.


There are key moments and motifs in fiction that we latch onto as readers, and as writers. Symbolic scenes that loom large for us because they connect in some deeper way with our own buried nightmares and past traumas.

For me one of those moments is in C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair, where every single day, bound to that chair, the prince remembers how much he’s forgotten. Fleetingly, he understands he’s a prisoner and also that he can do nothing about it, imprisoned equally by his own enchanted brain.

I was just six or seven when I read this and the horror of it simply overwhelmed me and then infiltrated me: that moment when you know, and simultaneously know the knowledge won’t last.

I think it terrifies me because the vulnerability and powerlessness of that moment is so crushing and absolute.

In Never Now Always, I set out to explore the terror of that moment. And also to face it and conquer it, putting my characters in the same predicament, yet giving them tools to fight.

So the story centers on Lolo, a child who finds herself trapped in a mysterious labyrinth under the supervision of a horde of voiceless alien Caretakers. She is surrounded by many other children, but none of them know how they ended up there, or what happened before. And as the Caretakers subject the children to psychological experiments focused on trauma and memory, their ability to form short-term memories is limited, too. Everything they learn, or think they learn, just slips between their fingers like water.

Then Lolo hits on the concept of writing — scrawling drawings and pictographs as simply as possible, designed to represent these fleeting pieces of story to her future self. Hoping that she stays the same, that her perception persists enough from day to day that when she sees those scribblings later, she’ll still know what they mean.

For me, as the writer of the novella, it was more complicated. The deeper I got into the story, the more I realized how truly challenging it would be to tell a story where the mechanics of narrative are broken, where one thing doesn’t always lead to another and pieces of story don’t necessarily add up.

In some ways every scene felt like a first scene. There are gaps in this story, and continuity errors.

But I also realized that while I wanted my reader to feel somewhat disoriented, I could not let them remain as disoriented as the characters, because that would really not be an enjoyable story to read.

So I also ended up depending heavily on language to do the work — I tried to anchor everything in touch and taste and feelings, always in the present tense, a language reinvented for children whose sense of time is confined to a narrow slice of perpetual now. Everything that’s happening to them is happening in the immediate, and the present is the only moment that matters.

And in that perpetual now is where I think my characters — and I, myself — find redemption and solace. Because love is deeper than language. Because my dog doesn’t need to remember all the days of his life with me to know that with me he’s loved and safe and home; “yesterday” and “tomorrow” don’t actually mean anything. As always, my dog is wiser than I am. So I gave Lolo a dog, too, to help her figure it out.

In the end, the story returns to the one idea I find most comforting: that in this world and the next, life after life, we always make our way back to protect those who’ve protected us, and to be reunited with the souls we’ve loved.

I hope it’s true.


Never Now Always: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

posted by [syndicated profile] johndcook_feed at 12:00pm on 27/06/2017

Posted by John

The average number of operations needed for quicksort to sort a list of n items is approximately 10 times the nth prime number.

Here’s some data to illustrate this.

|    n | avg. operations | 10*p(n) |
|  100 |          5200.2 |    5410 |
|  200 |         12018.3 |   12230 |
|  300 |         19446.9 |   19870 |
|  400 |         27272.2 |   27410 |
|  500 |         35392.2 |   35710 |
|  600 |         43747.3 |   44090 |
|  700 |         52297.8 |   52790 |
|  800 |         61015.5 |   61330 |
|  900 |         69879.6 |   69970 |
| 1000 |         78873.5 |   79190 |
| 1100 |         87984.4 |   88310 |
| 1200 |         97201.4 |   97330 |
| 1300 |        106515.9 |  106570 |
| 1400 |        115920.2 |  116570 |
| 1500 |        125407.9 |  125530 |
| 1600 |        134973.5 |  134990 |
| 1700 |        144612.1 |  145190 |
| 1800 |        154319.4 |  154010 |
| 1900 |        164091.5 |  163810 |
| 2000 |        173925.1 |  173890 |

The maximum difference between the quicksort and prime columns is about 4%. In the latter half of the table, the maximum error is about 0.4%.

What’s going on here? Why should quicksort be related to prime numbers?!

The real mystery is the prime number theorem, not quicksort. The prime number theorem tells us that the nth prime number is approximately n log n. And the number of operations in an efficient sort is proportional to n log n. The latter is easier to see than the former.

A lot of algorithms have run time proportional to n log n: mergesort, heapsort, FFT (Fast Fourier Transform), etc. All these have run time approximately proportional to the nth prime.

Now for the fine print. What exactly is the average run time for quicksort? It’s easy to say it’s O(n log n), but getting more specific requires making assumptions. I used as the average number of operations 11.67 n log n – 1.74 n based on Knuth’s TAOCP, Volume 3. And why 10 times the nth prime and not 11.67? I chose 10 to make the example work better. For very large values on n, a larger coefficient would work better.


Posted by Shamus

The Steam Summer Sale is going on, and yet somehow I can’t find any games to buy. Even at these giveaway prices, I don’t see anything that strikes me as interesting. I’m sure there are games that would interest me, but finding them means going through the hassle of finding the gems amid the swirling garbage pile that is the Steam storefront.

A Library of Neglect

I really dislike that you can`t see the summary of a game in your library. If you want to know what it is, you have to visit the store page.

I really dislike that you can`t see the summary of a game in your library. If you want to know what it is, you have to visit the store page.

It’s not that I need more games. I have 604 games in my Steam library. Of those, 185 of them are completely unplayed. Almost a third of my library consists of games I have never even launched. This is in addition to a couple of dozen games that I’ve played for less than five minutes.

I suppose I need to give some context for these numbers.

A small percent of my games library came from review copies of games. That was pretty common back in 2010 or so when I was putting up content three times a week at The Escapist, but now it happens about three times a year. (And never for AAA titles.) Maybe it’s because I’m no longer part of the Escapist, or maybe it’s because marketing is really focused on video content these days. In any case, I’d guess review copies account for less than 5% of my library.

I write about games for a living, so of course my needs are going to be a little different than those of the average consumer. I might buy a game I know I won’t like if I think I can get an article out of it, or if I’ll need it for screenshots, or if I just need a better understanding of how the genre works.

I’ve actually played some of those 185 ignored titles, except I played them on a console. When I got rid of my PS3 and my Xbox 360 died, I picked up a few favorites on the PC while they were cheap, just in case I ever found myself in the mood to play them again.

A lot of my games came as part of bundles. For example, at some point I must have purchased the Prince of Persia collection. That’s five more games in my library, and five more games that (as far as Steam knows) I’ve never played[3].

The Storefront Feels Like a Warehouse

On the left are the cliffs of Day-Z clones, and on the right are the foothills of indie side-scrolling platformers.

On the left are the cliffs of Day-Z clones, and on the right are the foothills of indie side-scrolling platformers.

So yes, my library numbers are inflated and distorted. But even with such a large backlog of titles I still find myself drawn to the Steam storefront, only to be rebuffed by the hassle. Every week or so I dig through the Steam storefront looking for something interesting, and I always come up empty. Steam has a “discovery queue” supposedly designed to help you find new titles, but as far as I can tell it’s just a service to show me an endless catalog of half-finished open-world multiplayer PvP survival sandbox games with crafting and abominable graphics. I’m sure there are good games in this massive list, but I have no way to find them.

As of this writing, there are over 15,000 different games on Steam. That is not a small number! The Steam storefront is a great example of the long tail in action: A handful of blockbuster titles, a few dozen popular ones, a few hundred niche titles, and then thousands upon thousands of shovelware titles, achievement dispensers, abandoned projects, asset flips, horrible clones, and other dross that doesn’t interest anyone. If you’re like me, then perhaps 1% of the Steam catalog is interesting to you, and the rest is just noise. Finding those needles in that great big haystack requires really robust browsing tools.

Sadly, Steam’s storefront is not robust. It’s a frustrating, convoluted mess that’s always trying to sell me the same dozen things, with very crude tools for digging through the other 15,000.

Let’s Go Hunting for Games

Image by the talented 1041uuu. Click to visit their page.

Image by the talented 1041uuu. Click to visit their page.

I enjoy good pixel art. Sometimes I’ll buy a 2D pixel art game just so I can gaze at the artwork. How can I search for a game with good pixel art?

First you need to find the link to search by tag. The link for this seems to move around a bit sometimes, but if it’s not on the front page then go to the drop-down menu at the top, go to “Games”, then go all the way down to “See Popular Tags”. Once you’re on that page, switch over to the tab that lists global tags instead of the useless page it has you land on[4]. The tags are listed in order of popularity, not alphabetically, so good luck finding what you want. It’s probably best to just hit Ctrl-F and search the page for it. Which sort of makes you wonder why you had to click through three different pages if you were just going to end up typing what you wanted into a search box anyway. Why not just make searching by tag a thing on the front page? Aside from searching by genre, it’s your only tool for searching for unknown titles in a desired style, so it really ought to be easy to find and convenient to use.

In any case, once you find your tag you can click on it and you’ll be taken to a page that will show you all of the new releases and top sellers in that category. This is pretty daft, since if I wanted to see new releases and top sellers I could have found them on the front page! Why would I dig all the way down here if I was looking for things found on the surface?

You’re probably ready to jump in here and tell me I’m doing it all wrong, because there’s a “better” way to get to your tags. But that’s part of my gripe. There’s three different ways to do everything, and they all lead to pages that seem to be the same idea with a different implementation. You might find a button that promises you’ll be able to “See all 958 titles” in Pixel Graphics. (Or however many are in your chosen tag.) That sounds promising, but it actually takes you to this stupid page:

Give it a rest, guys. At this point, the game is already owned by everyone who might possibly care about the game and is physically capable of playing it. The market is filled. I`ve clicked past it a hundred times. Show me something else.

Give it a rest, guys. At this point, the game is already owned by everyone who might possibly care about the game and is physically capable of playing it. The market is filled. I`ve clicked past it a hundred times. Show me something else.

Ignoring that this page is now burning two large chunks of real estate trying to sell me the same game that was already prominently featured on several previous pages, look at these useless tabs. Is there any appreciable difference between “New and Trending” and “New Releases”? Wouldn’t top sellers just be a mix of “Trending” and “Specials”? Most importantly, what do I click on to view ALL? Let’s assume I’ve already seen the hot items and I just want to browse the catalog of 958 titles it hinted at on the previous page. You can’t do that from here.

But whatever. Fumble around long enough and you’ll find a list of games with the desired tag. What you’ll get is a listing with many, many pages to thumb through. I’m not sure how Steam chooses the ordering, but it seems to be another page driven by popularity. Which means page 1 is going to be the same crap it’s already showed you six times in the last two minutes. Page 2 will be the same thing, except it will be the darlings from last month. Page 3 will still be popular stuff, except a little older. Basically, if you’re looking for something you haven’t seen before then you’re going to need to tediously step through this list a page at a time until the new stuff shows up.

This list has always made me uneasy. Sometimes I’ll see an item on Page 1, then again on Page 2. Is this two different versions of the same game? Or is Steam shuffling the list as I browse? I’ve even had it list the same game twice on the same page. It’s absurd. Worse, it makes me worry that the new stuff I’m looking for has been moved to one of the previous pages where I won’t encounter it.

Does Cities Skylines really need to be listed on this page twice? I mean, it was ALREADY listed on page 1! It`s bad enough you`ll only show me 10 at a time like I`m browsing the internet in 1998. Can you not waste so much space on repeats?

Does Cities Skylines really need to be listed on this page twice? I mean, it was ALREADY listed on page 1! It`s bad enough you`ll only show me 10 at a time like I`m browsing the internet in 1998. Can you not waste so much space on repeats?

But fine. So we’re painstakingly paging through this giant list that may or may not be in a deterministic order. Now we just need to find something interesting. You can hover over a title to get a summary, but the summary doesn’t actually tell you what you need to know. It shows you rotating screenshots, but not the text describing the game. You need to click through if you want to know what it is. Am I really supposed to click through on all 900+ entries, read the desription, and then hit the back button to return to scrolling the list? Can’t we have some sort of info box that can be expanded to show more, as you find on Netflix / Amazon? These pages are not particularly fast and this process is already slow enough as it is.

Or maybe you’ll see something you know you’ll want. Sadly, you can’t just add it to your cart from this listing like you’re shopping at Amazon. You must click through to the page for the game in question. And adding it to your cart will take you to yet another page. In the past this would prevent you from going back to the list with your tags and search terms intact, so if you wanted to keep shopping you’d need to start over and find where you were in the list. That seems to be fixed as I write this, but I can’t promise it will stay fixed.

This is a simple thing I’m trying to do. This is like walking into the bookstore, going to the “Sci-Fi” section, and browsing the available titles. This task should be easier and faster on a computer, and instead it’s a mess of UI dysfunction and hassle.

Some people dislike that Steam offers so much crap. They would rather Valve hired someone to curate the list and scrape out all the asset flips and shovelware. Other people want an open storefront where any bedroom programmer can compete with the AAA studios. I have no idea what Valve’s goals are, but they seem to be failing both groups. We don’t get the convenience and clarity of having a small catalog to sort through, because there’s 15,000 titles of dross. But we also don’t get the benefit of having an open storefront because browsing that dross is inconvenient to the point of outright deterrence.

I’m not asking that Valve put the crap on the front page. But I think we can do better than we’re doing now. It should be possible to please both groups. We just need a clean, possibly-curated front page with all the big sellers, and then a few basic search tools for sorting through the deep parts of the catalog.

And because I know people will bring up GoG in the comments:

What About GoG?

DRM free, sane pricing, and consumer protection. GoG has all the policies I want. Sadly, they don`t have the GAMES I want. (That I don`t already own.)

DRM free, sane pricing, and consumer protection. GoG has all the policies I want. Sadly, they don`t have the GAMES I want. (That I don`t already own.)

I like GoG better in almost every way. It’s a better game client from a nicer company. I like that their game listings show 25 entries instead of Valve’s embarrassingly limited 10, and that you can browse through additional groups of 25 titles without needing to reload the entire page.

But GoG isn’t interested in an open storefront, which means they have a much smaller catalog. It’s a good place to go if you want the classics of yesteryear, but it’s not a good place to look for offbeat indie fare. Yes, GoG doesn’t have ten thousand Day-Z clones, but it’s also a place without the screwball meme-spawning insanity of Goat Simulator, the surreal silliness of I Am Bread, the satirical amusement of DLC Quest, the one-note joke of Five Nights at Freddy’s, or the polite adequacy of Good Robot. Steam has a terrible system for dealing with fringe titles, while GoG makes no effort to offer fringe titles.

In the coming weeks I’m going to go through those neglected titles in my library, spend a little time with a few of them, and report my findings. A lot of them are mystery games that I don’t remember buying, so this should be amusing.

posted by [syndicated profile] fictionmachine_feed at 07:10am on 27/06/2017

Posted by Grant Watson

Three friends run a failing Chongqing hot pot restaurant constructed out of a disused underground bomb shelter. When they attempt to make an illegal extension of the restaurant into an adjacent shelter, they accidentally knock a hole into the vault of a bank down the road.

Yang Qing’s 2016 film Chongqing Hotpot is nominally a comedy, but to be honest it spends an awful lot of its running time being a relatively serious combination of action and drama. The violence, when it occurs, is surprisingly blunt and rather bloody. Tonally the film wanders all over the place, either unsure if it should be funny, warm, touching, confronting or cynical or simply disinterested in being pinned down to a single style of movie. To an extent the film’s vibrant use of colour and constant energy help to paper over the cracks, but this haphazard structure does stop the film from being as good as it could be.

There is a strong sense of English filmmaker Danny Boyle about much of Chongqing Hotpot, particularly through the bold use of colour and the immensely stylish manner in which several of the film’s key scenes play out. The film begins with a bank robbery, one shot and timed close to perfection, but the subsequent film then struggles a little to match its momentum. The opening scene does reveal a hole in the floor of a Chongqing bank vault, but the revelation as to how the hole got there in the first place lacks a similar intensity. While the film does loop back to a tense siege in the bank against the city police, the sections in the middle do not compare very well.

Part of the problem with the film’s middle section is just how tired some of the storylines and characters feel. There is Liu Bao (Chen Kun), a problem gambler who strikes up a romance with former schoolmate Yu Xiaohui (Bai Baihe). There is Xu Dong (Qin Hao), harried by an unseen wife over the telephone and unwilling to fully commit to operating the restaurant into which he has invested. Then there is Four Eyes (Yu Entai), the meek nerdy cook who holds the three men together while running the business. The actors uniformly play their roles well, but they are all playing to stereotypes. When Bao finds himself owing a few hundred thousand yuan to local gangster Brother Seven (a pretty entertaining Chen Nuo), the cliche counter simply smashes through the roof. The film’s climax suffers similar tonal problems to the rest of the film: what begins as a deadly serious siege and improvised sting operation shifts unexpectedly into quite dark violence before descending into a particularly brutal and farcical mass fight scene.

With measured expectations Chongqing Hotpot is a pretty entertaining film: it looks great, and the cast work the script to the best of their ability. It is just a shame that with a slightly more original and innovative screenplay, an enjoyable caper could have been a really great film.

posted by [syndicated profile] dg_weblog_feed at 07:00am on 27/06/2017

Posted by diamond geezer

The furthest north I have ever been
Gulffoss waterfall, Iceland
64°19′34″N 20°07′16″W
(28th June 2011)

Most tourists to Iceland take the Golden Circle tour. It stops off at Þingvellir, the volcanic rift valley where Iceland's parliament first met, which is the third furthest north I've ever been. It stops off at Geysir, the whooshing geothermal fountain from which the word 'geyser' is drawn, which is the second furthest north I've ever been. And it stops off at Gulffoss, the double cataract on the Hvítá river, where a raging torrent drops 10m and then another 20m into a deep gorge. Coachloads of tourists disembark to follow the track to the waterfall's edge, held back by nothing more than a blue rope, or nip up onto the cliff beyond for a spectacular overview. I did that, and that's the furthest north on the planet's surface I have ever been. How about you?
posted by [syndicated profile] dg_weblog_feed at 06:59am on 27/06/2017

Posted by diamond geezer

The furthest west I have ever been
Point Reyes Lighthouse, Marin County, California
37°59′44″N, 123°1′24″W
(23rd April 2006)

30 miles up the coast from San Francisco, almost severed from the mainland by the San Andreas Fault, is the talon-shaped Point Reyes peninsula. At its point is Point Reyes itself, a rocky promontory and an excellent whale-watching site, assuming there are any and the fog isn't too thick. And right at the very tip, accessed down a breath-sapping 308-step staircase, is a lighthouse you may know. Built in 1870, and technically sixteen-sided, this is the lighthouse featured in John Carpenter's classic 1980 horror film The Fog (as the location of the remote studio where DJ Stevie Wayne spins her records). As it's still a working lighthouse you can't normally get inside, just stand outside, weather permitting, overlooking the waves. I did that, and that's the furthest west on the planet's surface I have ever been. How about you?
posted by [syndicated profile] dg_weblog_feed at 06:58am on 27/06/2017

Posted by diamond geezer

The furthest east I have ever been
Gedenkstätte Berlin-Hohenschönhausen, Berlin, Germany
52°32′30″N 13°30′5″E
(7th June 2015)

During the Cold War, East Germany's main Stasi prison was hidden in plain sight in the East Berlin suburbs. Fresh inmates were led down empty corridors to their cells to endure months of solitary existence, a tactic which encouraged bonding with their interrogator when they finally met. One entire wing of the prison was given over to interrogation, with each room identically decorated with wallpaper, lino and furniture to remind prisoners briefly of home. The guided tour of the prison complex is both illuminating and chastening, especially when you imagine the devastating human cost of all that happened here. I did the tour, and the interrogation room in the photo is the furthest east on the planet's surface I have ever been. How about you?
posted by [syndicated profile] dg_weblog_feed at 06:57am on 27/06/2017

Posted by diamond geezer

The furthest south I have ever been
All Star Music Resort, Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida
28°21'29"N 81°35'24"W
(6th August 2000)

I was fairly certain the furthest south I'd ever been was Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, but I checked, and Walt Disney World in Florida is quarter of a degree nearer the equator. I had to check again to discover which constituent part of Walt's entertainment complex was furthest south, confirming that it definitely isn't the Magic Kingdom, and that that Hollywood Studios beats Animal Kingdom beats Epcot. But it turns out the garish accommodation of the All Star Music Resort took the crown, specifically the 'Calypso' block emblazoned with giant bongos and maracas, where I learned that pancakes and sausage was a perfectly acceptable breakfast. And round the back was an extensive car park, which is where we left our Chrysler convertible, and that's the furthest south on the planet's surface I have ever been. How about you?
posted by [syndicated profile] no_award_feed at 02:11am on 27/06/2017

Posted by Stephanie

This is not a panel write up; it’s more of a rambling meander of panels I was on and panels I witnessed and thoughts I had along the way. It includes recommendations. But all of it is talking about Asian (mostly Southeast Asian) science fiction, fantasy and horror.

Thanks to Creatrix Tiara (sorry, Adeline coined this term!), I’m referring to Oz-based PoC involved in SFFH as Fae of Colour and I have no regrets. Hopefully you also have no regrets.

Do you know much I love Asian SFFH, specifically Asian horror? I love it so much, and I can talk about it at basically any time, riffing off from any topic.

One of my favourite things over the whole weekend was how much Mia and I got to talk about Asian horror. We started this great conversation late on Friday night, on a panel with Devin Jeyathurai, about Asian SFFH. This was a panel that Mia as local GoH suggested as a way to just ramble about Asian SFFH. Yes, good!

It was so amazing, words cannot describe it but this is a blog post and I’ll attempt to do it justice. We talked a lot about how horror is not considered a genre when you think about Asia, in large part because the things that are classified as horror in the west are actually just a daily part of life. The telling of ghost stories is very social. We talk about them all the time, like a description of the car that overtook us at the lights or the reason we rejected that house in the cul-de-sac, like the aunty who always compliments your hair.

Mia spoke about finding Australians and people in general less superstitious when she moved to Australia; nobody saying ‘excuse me’ to ant hills. She BEAUTIFULLY described ghost stories as being stories about neighbours you never acknowledge but you know are there. It’s true. I talk a lot about how the unspoken spirits and ghosts rule my family life (the ghosts of Alzheimer’s and accidents; the spirits of bankruptcy and the fire in the oven that never lights first try). It’s a bit like following superstitions just in case, which Mia, Devin and I all agreed we do; but it’s a bit like knowing the ghosts believe in you.

Anyway as a result horror and fantasy can’t be a separate genre from anything else; in this way lots of things that are classified as fantasy in the west might not be in Asian genre. Wuxia is mainstream media in China and diasporic countries, but the fact that there’s flying and ridiculous things means it’s considered more fantasy in the west. In the Philippines, top mainstream dramas are often fantasy.

Tiara tweeted her personal thoughts from the floor in our panel, which I am linking to cos she grew up Bangladeshi in Malaysia and also is excellent.

Mia is compiling a big post of the recs we made during this panel, so stay tuned for that. I will link it here when it exists.


I had a costume for the Masquerade. So many people were going as superstitions, I bought a bagua and was going to dress in silver sequins (like a mirror) with red and green stripes, and the bagua attached like a fascinator to my head.

I think I’m hilarious.


I joined a campaign recently, my first ever tabletop gaming experience. It’s Call of Cthulhu, and it’s set in 1920. My character is a 31 year old Chinese-American woman, an average pharmacist but a pretty good exorcist, who believes her success hinges on her understanding of all ghosts as effectively fitting into a Taoist framework.

To that end, when she walked into a cave under a house and there were spikes with human heads on them, and in the next room was an organ made up of human heads, she passed all her sanity checks and said, “oh, shit, I didn’t realise it was so easy to gain entry into the gates of Hell,” because I definitely got a vivid picture of Haw Par Villa in my head at the description. Beside me, my (white) BFF, who I forced to visit Haw Par Villa on her first visit to Singapore, giggled at the realisation, despite not having made the connection herself.

Later, when the party walked into a cave full of smoke and incense and a giant fucking snake statue, she said “We have to get out of here, there are definitely live snakes in here,” because I am from Penang, I know what happens when there’s incense and a snake statue.

The DM was confused, both times. I had to break character and explain it in more detail.

The point of this story is that Asian horror is the best, even within a Western, racist (LOVECRAFT, YOU SHIT) framework.


I did a panel with one of my favourite white boys, Grant Watson (who took the photos on my Haw Par Villa piece, incidentally). We had, since the previous Continuum, been planning a panel on Journey to the West, coming at it from our different perspectives: me, having been brought up on various chapters and then encountering the BBC-dubbed Monkey with confusion; and him, his first encounter with Sun Wukong having been the BBC-dubbed Monkey, which has led him to a lifetime of wuxia and appreciation of Asian movies and tv. After the announcement earlier this year of Netflix’s Journey to the West adaptation, we thought we’d change the framework a bit and ramble, still about our different approaches, but also about whitewashing and what it means to have a Chinese story adapted by people who aren’t Chinese.

I like to use this example, now: when Grant linked to an article about the new adaptation on his facie, comments included people who thought it was based on a Japanese story, and people who denied its religious connotations. (Imagine thinking Narnia isn’t religious, you know?)

So it’s important to talk about the wheres and the whys and the hows.

Anyway this post is very long, in summary my favourite written translation is the Yu, but the Waley is common and perfectly acceptable in the absence of the dollars required to purchase the Yu. Journey to the West uses monkeys as an allegory for human foolishness, and the book is a Buddhist text and a satire about human bureaucracy, and incidentally it’s also my favourite road trip story. Its ubiquity in Chinese culture (and in the diaspora) is what makes it so fun and easy to adapt; every chapter is a story in itself.




It’s cultural, the different ways we think about hauntings. I had this thought during the Horror in the 21st Century panel, when Michelle spoke about a great second hand black dress, and how a friend commented ‘what if someone died in that?’ My notes have a little 哈哈 in them – in Chinese horror, in Chinese life, it’s not unusual to wonder if someone died in it, but the death doesn’t matter – the life can change the spirit of the dress as well. It took a decade for my very traditional mother to get over her fear that my love of op shopping might lead to my spiritual possession or my haunting by some old Australian bad spirit.

So the thing I was alluding to in yesterday’s post is how frustrating it was – after I had such an amazing weekend talking about Asian horror just constantly (not necessarily always in public, just riding on a cushion of SEAzn horror), to end up in a panel (Horror in the 21st Century) on my last day that was ostensibly about horror but actually just about Western horror. It was incredibly dispiriting to hear people wonder where modern themes are going with current “global” politics – the implication being Europe and America and Australia – when there have been changing themes in Asian politics for the last 20 years! Similarly, to hear there is a recent rise in religious horror – when, again, the religious themes have seen a rise in various Asian countries for the last two decades, not just the last two years.

One example I can address is the May 1998 riots in Indonesia, which were massive and awful and violent, and I have multiple friends who came to Australia to escape them. Following the unrest of the Tragedi, Indonesian ghost stories and ghost hunting changed format and focus, and reflected the greater interest in Islam through the incorporation of Quran and concepts into ghost stories. For example, many hantu like pontianak and penanggal are now understood through a framework of being djinn rather than hantu. And YouTube and apps have become the most popular tools, not only of ghost hunting but also of telling stories of hantu. Isn’t that fun? Isn’t that a great look at modern themes of horror due to global politics? Isn’t that a great look at the rise of religion in horror? Fuck, yes!

The 21st Century technology example I can speak to is another Indonesian one, which is funny because I think my knowledge of Indonesian horror is pretty patchy. There’s been all sorts of exciting technological shifts in Indonesian horror in the last century. Reading the Quran has become a literal tool in video games – you defeat the ghosts and djinn through literally reciting it out loud, and it reduces the hit points on the djinn. This is an intertwining both of technology, and an increase in fundamental Islamic spirituality since the turn of the century in Indonesia. There’s also been this increase in the use of twitter as storytelling tool, and youtube as a way for ghost hunters to connect. Cool yeah? Great look at changes in horror stories since the turn of the century? Use of politics in horror? Yessss.


To end, my personal horror story: I woke up at 0400, my phone ringing, a withheld number. I had four missed calls. I answered; it sounded like background. I hung up and it rung again; ‘Stephanie,’ said my father, who hasn’t spoken a word in two years. ‘Dad?’ I said, into the phone at 0402, ‘are you okay?’ There was mumbling, nothing distinct, but it was my Ba. As I swiped across to my call screen, my phone rang again; I hung up. I called his nursing home; asked the nurse to check on him. ‘He’s asleep, and moving.’ It wasn’t until morning, until I woke up fully and saw I’d missed another five calls from ID withheld, that I realised she told me that so I knew he wasn’t dead.

‘What do you think happened?’ asked my friends in the weeks after. I didn’t know; I haven’t known, except that I assumed he was calling from the middle plains, and I kept expecting a call from my sister to tell me he was gone.

At Continuum, I related the story to Mia, after she mentioned the proliferation of Philippines call centre horror. ‘Oh, shit,’ she said, her hand on my arm. ‘You couldn’t say what he needed to hear, and he went back to his body.’ And I knew.

I’m not religious, not really, and I’m not spiritual, not really. But I’ve lived with spirits and ghosts and monsters my whole life, and it took another Southeast Asian to tell me exactly what was staring me in the face. And it’s true. The ghosts are our neighbours.


Further Reading:

  • I wrote this 8000 word essay and I love it to death, come back to me after you’ve read it: Sympathy for Lady Vengeance: Feminist Ghosts and Monstrous Women of Asia. It’s about GHOSTS and FEMINISM.
  • ALSO BY ME: I wrote a wuxia story which you can find in Behind the Mask: A Superhero Anthology; the fantasy element is not the wuxia, it’s the dirigibles 😀 😀 It’s set in Melbourne early 1900s.
  • By Cassandra Khaw, Rupert Wong: Cannibal Chef. With thanks to L Chan, from whom I stole the descriptor ‘like Constantine Ah Beng’ to talk about it.
  • Comfort reading for both myself and Mia: The House of Aunts, by Zen Cho. I actually paused to read it again after I linked it here.
  • Rubik, by Elizabeth Tan. I haven’t read this yet but I’ve heard great things, and Mia and I are friend’s with the author’s sister (which I mentioned to Mia on the panel, and she SCREAMED with surprise).
  • Lontar Journal, the Southeast Asian Journal of Speculative Fiction.


Posted by cks

Suppose that you have a complicated mail system, as we do, one with several MTAs and machines involved and mail coming in from multiple directions (inside users, inside machines, outside machines, etc). You would like some always-on precautions (such as ratelimits) that will keep you from being overwhelmed by genuine problems while not harming either normal operations or temporary surges. This sounds hard, but I recently realized that there is probably a general mechanism that will work for it.

If you look at it from the right angle, a multi-machine, multi-MTA environment is a bunch of distributed queues. At an abstract level email moves through this system in much the same way that things move through other multi-hop queue-based systems; everything is queues. We have a lot of experience with queues in programming and system design, and to condense things a lot, we have learned the hard way that simple queue-based systems can easily fly to pieces under overload (for example, see this article).

One of the classical ways of protecting queueing systems from explosive failure under overload conditions is backpressure. When one queue is overloaded, it pushes back by no longer accepting new queue entries. This pressure may ripple back immediately through the system, or it may lead to other queues hitting overload later and pushing back. Backpressure works, and it's often considered essential in robust queue-based distributed systems.

You can see the conclusion here: our multi-MTA setup should be able to apply backpressure. When the queue on one machine gets to be abnormally big, it should start deferring all attempted incoming email (with SMTP 4xx responses). When this happens on an edge machine, such as the external MX gateway, this will naturally push back against the ultimate source of the traffic. When it happens on our central mail handling machine it will probably wind up causing queues on the edge machines to start filling up, which will prompt them to put backpressure on incoming messages. If we set the queue sizes reasonably right, we should be able to not block ordinary mail, deal with temporary surges, and automatically slow down real problems (especially sudden bursts of messages).

Or at least that's the theory. In practice there are tradeoffs involved in not holding email yourself. For the external MX gateway, applying backpressure to senders leaves us at the mercy of their policies on retries and message expiry. On the optimistic side, from the sender's viewpoint backpressure is basically the same as graylisting, and given that graylisting is reasonably common it's very likely that senders cope with it these days. For mail submission servers the issues are more complicated, because mail clients may have various issues if we don't accept their email. However we're already sort of prepared to deal with them since we've already deployed some ratelimiting. We could also limit this backpressure to the mail submission machine that handles unauthenticated connections, since today these tend to be from internal machines (users should be switching to our authenticated SMTP submission machine). Internal machines are historically the most likely source of a sudden flood of email that we want to push back against, and they should mostly handle backpressure. Only mostly, though; there are probably some systems that are not actually using mailers and so will probably just drop deferred email on the floor.

(Clearly the solution for those special systems is a special mail submission machine or IP address that's only used by them and by nothing else. This machine would always accept email, no matter how broken.)

On top of these general practical issues, there is the issue that I don't think Exim has any easy way to do things based on the current queue size. Exim has some load limiters, but these are based on system load average and connection counts. Nor does it look like Exim exposes the current queue size as a variable (or condition). One could probably ${run} a command to look at it, but that seems like a hack at best.

Posted by Christopher Jobson

Photo © Sébastien Michelini

In a unique collaboration between French fashion brand Pigalle and design agency Ill-Studio, the Paris Duperré basketball court was recently redesigned and repainted with a vibrant new color scheme. The narrow basketball court is nestled between two apartment buildings in the 9th arrondissement and has become a backdrop of sorts for unconventional color schemes, the first of which appeared in 2015. Photos courtesy Alex Penfornis and Sébastien Michelini. (via It’s Nice That)

Photo © Penfornis Alex

Photo © Penfornis Alex

Photo © Penfornis Alex

Photo © Penfornis Alex

Photo © Penfornis Alex

Photo © Penfornis Alex

Photo © Penfornis Alex

Photo © Penfornis Alex


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