Saturday, November 30, 2013

Caturday Bonus Double Post: Cats into Cakes Part 3

I finally managed to make a fudge cake!  It was still disobligingly difficult to remove from the cake pans, which I could have solved by using parchment paper in the pans I suppose, but at least the cake was gooey and delicious.  

I put a generous helping of vanilla ice cream between the cake layers.

Served with fudge sauce, whipped cream, and strawberries.

The kitten is finally more obliging.

Caturday Post: Wild West Kitties take on a Tumbleweed and Find it Tasty

After doing his lawnmower goat thing Scaramouche then vomited up tumbleweed for a while, so that is the end of that particular toy.  

Friday, November 29, 2013

Close Encounters of the Wyoming Kind: Tools! For Great Wifedom!

The other day in the gym, my sister and I were setting up our aerial rig in preparation to working out on the silks  This involves assembling some steel beams and using a wrench to bolt them together.  It's fairly simple.

One of the more elderly gentlemen who take their morning constitutionals in the gym, seeing this, remarked that because we can use tools, we will make good wives one day.  I have many problems with his comment.  First, saying I use a tool is sort of a meaningless statement.  Humans are tool-using animals.  Not by any means the only animals that use tools, but it's a thing we do.  The aerial rig itself is a tool, we drove to the gym in a car, which is a tool, and earlier that morning I used a coffee grinder, an electric kettle, a coffee press, and a coffee mug.  Later that morning I used a computer.  But since tools for mechanical and/or manual labor are more stereotypically for men (Sojourner Truth and Rosie the Riveter be damned) than, say, the applicator I used for spreading sparkly green polish on my fingernails, they are more important, even though putting on nail polish actually requires significantly more muscle control and skill than turning a bolt with a wrench.  I mean, it's a wrench.  It applies mechanical advantage to a bolt such that I don't need much in the way of skill or muscle when turning it.  That's the whole point.   I am, however, a woman, so my ability to use a manly tool such as a wrench, particularly since it isn't a specially marketed pink lady-tool, is surprising and worthy of note.  

My other major problem is the statement that using a non lady-tool will make me a good wife someday.  What exactly non-gender-stereotyped tool-use has to do with forming a government-recognized partnership based on mutual love and respect I do not know.  I do know that he probably doesn't think of marriage in an egalitarian sort of way if he makes this statement, but I'm going to ignore that.  I have skills.  I have skills now.  I use skills to accomplish tasks now.  I am using my remarkable tool-using skills in despite of my ladyness in order to be an aerial dancer.  That's a skill to be proud of.  There is nothing wrong with marriage, and if it is implemented well, there can be quite a few things right with it, but to imply that this is the apex and end of accomplishments for a woman is insulting.  I am a dancer whether or not I am married, and that accomplishment is an accomplishment to be recognized that has nothing to do with marriage.  Come to that, my ability to use a wrench, is a skill (such as it is) that does not need to be modified by marriage.

What I'm getting at is that this man is refusing to recognize that I am a skillful person now in myself.  If in my life I marry, I imagine I will be rather skillful at that too, but it doesn't take marriage to make use of my skills and be a good person.  To imply, or blatantly state, otherwise is an insult.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Copy Machines Part 2: Now with More Gorillas

With great blogging comes great responsibility.  I must create content worth reading to make the web a little better than I found it.  So when I am informed by a darling reader in the comments that my copy machine emulation is flawed because I used a giraffe picture, I have no choice but to repeat the experiment with a gorilla picture, as suggested.

This is a mountain gorilla in Uganda.  The photo has a
resolution of 72x72ppi, the same as the giraffe photo. 

As suggested, my verticalstreaks error function has been modified to use prime numbers.

def verticalstreaks(img):
    width, height=img.size
    #print rand1, rand2
    for i in range(width):
        for j in range(height):
            if j%rand1==0 and i%rand2==0 and i+h<width and j+h<height:
                for k in range(h):
    return img        

Now for results.  I am just using this with errors that should be invisible to a casual copyist, because again, if you noticed problems you would try it again, right?

Copied 50 times. 

Copied 100 times.

Copied 250 times. 

Copied 500 times.
So there you have it.  

Monday, November 25, 2013

In Which I Support the Arts as They Should Be

There is life outside this little hamlet a few km left of center of nowhere.  Sometimes, we forget this, so accordingly, we went on a pilgrimage to Denver, to see actual art.  Also, a dear friend of mine from Peace Corps Tanzania who has earned my admiration for many feats of strength and capacity building, including, but not limited to, teaching comprehensive sex education to Masai dudebros and running a half marathon while suffering from giardia.

On to the main event!  Actual art!  A dance show that is not a haphazard mess!  Momix' Botanica!  This is everything that art should be.  It incorporates "digital technology," or more meaningfully, projection technology, in a way that adds to the performance and delights the audience, beginning with the opening in which green lights dance on the curtain and form smiley faces, or birds, or stick figures, dancing or fighting with one another.  I have never seen moving lights anthropomorphized so perfectly.   A storm sequence alternately lit first the dancers, then increasingly enlarged projections of them on the screen behind.  At the end, to Azam Ali's beautiful rendition of "Aj Ondas" a dancer manipulated a giant sail on which changing flowers were projected.  Most of the time, though, the projection screen was just used for pretty easily changeable backgrounds.  It is so easy for projections to be used sillily, and I've seen that quite a lot, but this was projection done right.

The non-electronic props were used just as effectively, my favorite being the woman (possibly representing a jellyfish?) in a sort of headdress with long strands of light-catching something falling freely around her.  All she did was spin and turn, while the light-catching somethings spread out and spun the light with her.  It was beautiful.  Additionally, during the above-mentioned storm scene, men held and spun long (10 ft+) poles from which fluttered rippling silk for other dancers to leap over and under as the lightning flashed.  A group of mushroom women had amazing long pale green dresses with giant fluffy orange fluff at the hem, an orange fluff which could be raised for them to hide behind, or held at tutu level.  The fluff was moved up and down by (I think) strings attached to the dancers' hands.

The choreography itself constantly surprised and invited the audience to see movement in new ways or set up what appeared to be cliches, only to destroy them.  One of the very first acts was a woman on a mirror, dancing with her own reflection.  Simple, graceful movements, reflected and lit in gold, making her into constant symmetrical patterns both abstract and intimate.  Later on, we see a man sleeping in a forest, and a woman sees him and wants to approach.  Just as we think we are about to witness an Eve and Adam type scene, the woman's friendly dinosaur skeleton becomes jealous and eats her.  Which is a little disturbing.  More importantly, somewhere in the world, there are people whose job it is to create and operate a giant skeleton dinosaur puppet.  This world is beautiful.  Near the end of the show, a group of "centaurs," each composed of two dancers, one upright, one behind bent over, demonstrated amazing coordination in creating a horselike optical illusion.  Likewise, the dancing worms (pair acrobatics in soft green light) appeared wormlike, rather than human.

Overall, the performance was excellent.  Beautifully designed by an illusionist, and exquisitely performed by masterful dancers.  This is what art should be.  This is how to show us new ways of dance and movement while constantly delighting us with beauty. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Day After Caturday Post: Foam Quality

I just got back from trip to find my inbox containing emails demanding a Caturday Post.  I bow to the demands of my public.

Recently, we found ourselves in need of some crash pads, and went the cheaper (comparatively) route of buying foam and covering it with fabric.  Scaramouche tested the foam and found it dubious, but sittable.

Meanwhile, Tamerlane found a bug!

Friday, November 22, 2013

In Which I Judge Books by their Covers

Ebooks, they are useful, assuming you are not "purchasing" them from one of those evil corporations that have convinced people that renting the rights in such a way that it can be revoked at any time without warning, e.g. Amazon, is equivalent to purchase.  Ebooks solve many issues related to transport weight and availability.  In Tanzania, having a dear friend email me a collection of Star Wars ebooks was just as good as getting a care package.

I said all that to say that while I like and read ebooks, I prefer physical books, and I prefer them to be pretty.  Which is why I recently reread Wilde's Salome.  I normally wouldn't,  I prefer Wilde as the scintillating drawing room wit he displays in The Importance of Being Earnest. So, fine, that's not a play that challenges its audience in anyway, but on the other hand, it is a lot of fun and works for even not-so-talented companies because the writing will carry a bad production.  In this is art, that it is art even poorly performanced.  Such a pity that the prudish British killed Wilde for his genius.*  Anyway, below are pictures of the copy of Salome which is one of the most beautiful books I have ever seen.  Sunken relief, severed heads, peacocks, nudity, swords, it's got everything.  Found, of all places, in a library in the middle of nowhere, Wyoming.

*And, admittedly, for drawing some stripling youth into Sin, but let's be honest.  Had the stripling youth been a lass rather than a lad it would all have been fine, and Wilde hailed as the next mad, bad, and dangerous to know Lord Byron.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Computer Problems: A Lack of Blinking Lights

Warning: possibly incomprehensible computer words and a little navel-gazing

 I have a beautiful Alienware m18x laptop, the most important feature of which, besides the 500gb ssd, is the LED backlit keyboard.  I love this keyboard.  The lights can be set to specific colors!  In sections!  You have no idea how much I love this keyboard.

The problem is that I have GNU/Linuxified this laptop.  The proprietary manufacturer program for changing the LEDs only works on Windows.  It's hard to find nice GNU/Linux programs for changing the lights that weren't built specifically for a Debian distribution.  I am running Fedora, not a Debian distro.  Fortunately, nice and really smart Germans have noticed that the backlit keyboard is a usb device and reverse engineered all the operating codes that Alienware won't just release.  Other nice people have provided some example C code free for download that is easily alterable.  The only problem now is that the it's an 8-bit color system, which I so don't know the codes for, but Wikipedia has the color chart for that.

Someone told me if I put GNU/Linux on this machine I would spend half my life trying to get the lights changed.  It really only took a few days of reading the internet and sporadic work, attempting the manufacturer program through WINE and a VM, trying to get alienfxlite.jar to work, discovering that the pyalienfx package won't work because libusb on Fedora is different from the one on Ubuntu, and by the way unless you download libusb-devel you won't get the necessary header files.

So if anyone else is wondering if the lights on an Alienware will still work under GNU/Linux, the answer is yes, but you have to use C to write directly to the USB device.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fabulosity for a Tuesday: Mavis Batey

One of the last survivors of Bletchley Park has passed away.  The Boston Globe has a lovely piece written about her.  She is quoted as saying that neither her legs nor her German were good enough for her to be Mata Hari.  But more fortunately for posterity, she participated in the cryptography project of the century.  Rest in peace, Ms. Batey.  The work of you and your colleagues helped to bring us the information age.  

Sunday, November 17, 2013

In Which I Make my Cats into Cakes: Part 2

I was going to turn my droll Scaramouche kitty into a chocolate fudge cake with vanilla ice cream and fudge sauce and some strawberries on top for his cute pink nose.

But he is a cross and disobliging cat and I had difficulties.

I lost against a chocolate cake.  This is humiliating.  In Tanzania, I could make a chocolate cake with nothing but large sauce pan like pans and a hot plate.  How is it harder with a real oven and real cake pans??  Not to mention actual butter and eggs that I can just break into batter without worrying about rottenness or fertilization.

The kitty is not sympathetic.  
I will be wallowing in feelings of cake-related inadequacy if anyone needs me.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

In Which I Make my Cats into Cakes, Part 1

In my continuing descent into crazy catladydom I have decided that I should makes cakes that express my kitties.   

My world-conquering Tamerlane is sweet and orange and adorable. 

We made a sweet orange cake and filled it with orange custard. 

We covered the cake with sweet orange frosting.  

And we made the cake pretty. 

Yes, I offered some to my sweet baby Tamerlane, and he did indeed enjoy his own cake.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Questions that Keep Me Awake at Night: Copy Machines

How many times can you make a photocopy of a photocopy before losing legibility?

Not having an actual photocopier that I can abuse, I'm going to have to emulate this, which means I am going to actually have to have some sort of understanding of copy machine resolution and what sort of generation loss I can expect.  That's the hard part.  The easy part is building an emulator, which will be a Python script that take in some jpg or whatever, applies an entropy function, and outputs the resultant jpg or whatever.  Turing bless the PIL [Python Imaging Library], which is going to do all the heavy lifting in the code without making me bother my pretty little head about the details.

I selected a sample photocopier to emulate on the extremely rigorous basis of the first thing that came up at Amazon when I searched for a copy machine. The important thing to note here is that the photocopy resolution is 600x600dpi.   Because I don't understand the complexities of dpi vs ppi, I am going to claim that in this case, there is actually a 1 to 1 conversion.  That's true in some cases at least  Feel free to tell me in the comments how wrong I am for making this assumption.  The image below is 72x72 ppi, thank you GIMP print resolution feature.  It is well within the resolution limits of my imaginary copier.

Now, what can go wrong with in the process of copying?  The digital process of storing and copying an image should not have any inherent generation loss, provided the resolution of the image is not above the resolution of the copier.  There is some evidence to suggest that sometimes characters will change into other characters depending on what sort of compression algorithm is being used.  Xerox claims that this can all be avoided by changing settings.  Since this isn't a Xerox machine I'm emulating, I think I'm going to ignore this.

Based on that pinnacle of internet research,, the process of copying is complicated and involves a lot of different things like lights and toner all working properly.  I don't know how failure of any one piece translates into image quality when copying.  So I got the user manual for this copy machine and looked at the trouble shooting section to see what commonly goes wrong and came up with the following list and hacked together some functions that will produce each effect.

  • uneven printing
  • white specks
  • vertical streaks
  • smudges or spatters appearing
  • printing is dark
  • bottom edge has smudge marks
  • portion of the page not printed

None of the individual functions will produce much of a noticeable effect.  If something went horribly wrong, you would redo the copy, right?  The question is, I think, how quickly small accumulating errors lead to completely terrible resolution.  The only assumption I need to make here, is how often such a small error will occur.  I am going to claim an error happens 4 times out of 10.  If this seems arbitrary, that's because it is.

Now for my emulator.  At each copy pass, there is a 40% probability that an error will occur.  An error will be chosen at random from the above list.  Each error has an equal probability of occurring in my emulation.

Below are my results

Copied 30 times. 

Copied 50 times. 

copied 100 times. 
copied 500 times. 

If I adjust the numbers such that visible (to the casual eye) errors are made by the error function, illegibility happens a lot faster.

Copied 10 times. 

Copied 20 times. 

Copied 30 times. 

To make this smell like science I'd have to fiddle with a lot more of the variables, but I think I'm bored at this point.  So I'm going to leave this as is.

Copied below the fold is my code, for anyone interested.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Thought

If I was the person hanging out on the Bridge of Eternal Peril, or the Sphinx, or whoever else asks travellers questions they must correctly answer or die, there have to be better questions than trivia or riddles.  To whit:

  • What is your full legal name and date of birth?
  • What is your social security card number?
  • What is your credit card number including security code? 

People whose job it is to beriddle the unwary have bills to pay just like everyone else but no clear source of income.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Caturday Post: The Stars of Kitty Television

There is a bird feeder in the back yard.  I am not that interested in birds, but my pampered house pets are.

I sincerely hope the birds engage in soap opera like drama and expository dialogue. 

"We would know exactly who the father of Alex's baby is if only Brian hadn't
fallen into a coma at the exact moment of revealing the name!"

"No matter, Gus is secretly a necromancer, and a coma is close enough to death for him to
enter into Gus's mind and extract the secret in a perilous and allegorical journey."
But Regina, Gus's jilted lover, is conjuring a powerful spell to trap Gus in the mind of
Brian where he hovers between life and death.
Just beyond the boundaries of the known world, evil lurks. 
An evil that plots to rend the very flesh from their bones and render all their petty machinations useless.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

In Which I Lecture on Sustainability and May Have Gotten Some Kid Arrested While I was Only Attempting to Shop

I try to mind my own business, I really do.  But then earnest young high school children accost me in the parking lots of stores attempting to sell cheap consumer goods as a fundraiser for their service trips to South America to spread love and god and build things.  Being me, I asked them about their project's sustainability and community involvement.  This confused them.

There were actually two of these earnest young people, one in the parking lot of each store I visited.  The first just looked confused about sustainability and started talking about how these trips built lots of character.  Like I care about her character.  What do these trips do that does any sustainable good?   I never did figure out exactly even what service was entailed by this service project. This first kid also avoided my question about whether she would learn anything about the language or culture. I finally just said I couldn't contribute to that kind of project and went onto store number two where awaited, unbeknownst to me, sales pitch number two.

This second conversation I was a little more prepared for, and the boy doing the selling here was a little better at conversation, or at least he actually asked me what I meant by sustainability.  I talked about community involvement and gave the example of Peace Corps monuments, the name we give to those things that volunteers build when the community isn't involved and then those things just sit until they break.  My interlocutor said there was only a very little interaction, specifically, this group does a play with a group of children, but it's mostly about spreading love and the idea that everyone in the world is one family.

Umm, great, but if you want to demonstrate love and respect and monofamilialness, actually interacting with people in an appropriate way for their culture is probably a good start.  Figuring out if they really want your service project is a good continuation.  You would never, for example, just show up at some strangers' home and build a gazebo on their lawn, right?  It would be weird, and there's a good chance the strangers would be angry and/or very confused.  If you want to help people by doing something for them, you need to first have some kind of relationship with them so that you have some idea of what they want or need, and you will ask first even if you are certain they would love a gazebo on their lawn.  Part of respecting people is respecting that they know what they need better than you do and are capable of expressing these needs.  Yet somehow that basic part of respect gets lost in a lot of development work and groups of people will just show up in the developing world for a week or two and build something and then leave again, feeling good about themselves and talking about their built character or increased faith or whatever.

I was trying to come up with a tactful way of telling this kid that his organization represents everything wrong with development work when some police officers showed up, told the kid he was breaking the law and to go to their partners' vehicle on the other side of the parking lot.

I decided it was probably best for me to clear out at this point, since I was interested neither in complaining about being solicited to nor in protesting for the rights of someone to bother people in parking lots.  I do wonder if the fact that this kid was of Asian origin and male while the other was white and blonde factored into why the police showed up for this kid and not the other.  Of course, I don't know that they didn't show up for the blonde girl; that they didn't do it while I was there doesn't tell me anything necessarily.

Running errands is usually significantly less eventful.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Weathering the November in my Soul

The San Francisco opera has recently presented the opera Moby Dick, by Jake Heggie, and PBS kindly offered free streaming.  It was a snowy drear November Sunday, so I watched it.  I've never actually read the book, nor do I intend to, but it seems good opera fodder, being the tale of an essentially stupid quest spearheaded by a selfish egotist and almost everyone dies.  Actually, because of that, I had high hopes for it being the next (or, in my opinion, first) great American opera.  After watching it, well, it's really no worse than any other American opera.  Okay, so the composer does that annoying thing where he acts like structure just isn't important, and pleasing harmonies and cadences are just so last century, so the music ends up sounding like one long discordant recitative.  He does, however, discover motifs (or maybe themes, I'm not really clear on the difference) near the end of the first act.  Three of them!  Only fancy! With chord resolution, even!

What kept me watching was the incredibly wonderful staging of the SF opera, which magnificence foiled even the film crew, who were doing that thing where they try to zoom in on only parts of the opera at any given time, when a stage production is designed to be seen as a whole and from a distance.  Seriously, the staging was that amazing.  Normally the stage was just a ship's deck, but with clever use of lights and probably a projector the stage could become awash with waves while white light outlines of boats took shape and moved around the back of the stage.  The singers would perch on seats on the back wall itself while the boats took shape around them, creating a glorious illusion.  When the boats broke apart, the singers, tumbled down dramatically from their perches.   The cabin boy, after being briefly lost at sea (why was the cabin boy on a whale boat in the first place?), swims across a sea of blue light on wires. Wonderful!  When a whale was being rendered, a giant whale shape hung over the stage against a fiery moving backdrop (projection?) like a door to hell.  My only disappointment in the staging was that Moby Dick never actually shows up more than as a giant projected eye, which is kind of like having The Ring without a dragon onstage.

Plotwise it's what I expected.  Our megalomaniac tenor captain is fierce with a complete disregard for human life and a tendency to wave muskets at his almost mutinous first mate, Starbuck, who understandably thinks this whole white whale obsession is dangerous and stupid.   Greenhorn/Ishmael is kind of stupid and inexperienced.  Queegueg has a tendency toward chanting and sprinkling glitter about.  The crew engage are largely an indistinguishable mass, but sometimes they brawl over racial tensions.  Pip the cabin boy appears to be everyone's favorite with lots of drollery and a tambourine, though he incomprehensibly goes insane after his brief experience overboard.  And of course, no one gets out alive except for Greenhorn/Ishmael on his coffin.

There's an emphasis on religion throughout, but as unfocused as the music, which may be in itself a point.  The unfocused emphasis, that is, I really hope the music is not supposed to make a point.  Greenhorn/Ishmael starts out complaining about Abrahamic religions in response to Queequeg's chanting, telling him that Lents and Ramadans are pointless and keeping him (Greenhorn/Ishmael) awake.  Since Queequeg is identified as a pagan, which in this case seems to mean non-Abrahamic religion, this is a little odd.  Whatever.  After Queequeg rescues Pip from the ocean, Greenhorn/Ishmael decides to convert to his "pagan" friend's religion.  Starbuck, meanwhile, is dogmatically insisting on what things the Christian God does or does not approve of, which, conveniently, all line up with what Starbuck does or does not approve of. Ahab baptizes a harpoon in the name of Satan (who has started caring about whales?  Did I miss something theologically?) but then almost discovers humanism when he looks at Starbuck and says looking into the eyes of a man is better than gazing upon God.

Oddly, everyone describes whales as very dangerous, or in Ahab's case, the terrors of the deep.  Since the whales are only dangerous to those who are provoking them by sticking harpoons in them in order to render their fat and make money, this seems disingenuous.   I'm sympathetic to people who need to make money, but not to people who just make war on whales.  Seriously, Moby is described as killing lots of people but all of these people were trying to kill him first.

Moby Dick is a decent enough way to spend a dreary snowy day, but it's not music that I will remember or want to hear again.  Try again, American composers.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Caturday Post: Strategy for a Snowy Day

Scaramouche has an eminently logical solution. 

Tamerlane has a catnip fish.