Author Archives: qsf

The great moral dilemma of the age

In the case of doubt over a particular item, is it a greater sin to recycle that which we ought not to recycle, or to leave unrecycled that which we ought to recycle?

Setting healthy boundaries for your child’s use of fire

Here’s a thoroughly enjoyable piece in the New Yorker, providing guidance for concerned Palaeolithic parents. Extract:

You don’t want to be the bad guy, but you also want to make sure that your child engages in other activities, like mammoth hunting and the gathering of rocks and bones with which to make tools. So, how do you set appropriate boundaries for your child on fire usage without jeopardizing the family unit so crucial to the survival of the species? Here are some tips…

The Reasonable Man

Until a few hours ago, I knew nothing about Jordan Peterson, but picking up on the attention he’s been getting, I watched his interview in Channel 4. It’s fabulous stuff.

Cathy Newman, the interviewer, is so desperate to be offended, to be the victim, that she keeps trying to put words into his mouth. It’s almost as if she’s trying to be a caricature of everything that’s bad about modern reporting, and modern political correctness, but she’s apparently serious.

And with astonishing patience, for half an hour, Peterson just keeps coming back, again and again, with facts, with logic, with reason, with intelligence, with sanity.

I once found myself at an event being followed around by a woman who adopted much the same approach, though she knew nothing about me and we had only just met. But she had clearly come with the intention of finding a man to be insulted by, and I was her victim for the day.

I wish I had handled the situation as expertly as Peterson does; in the end, I just had to leave the event early, because when people are so desperate to be offended, I sometimes get the overwhelming mischievous urge to give them what they want, even though I might misrepresent my opinions just for the fun of winding them up! I thought it better to depart before she reached that point.

The follow-up interview with Joe Rogan is worth watching, too.

I don’t know anything about him other than this, I’m not sure whether I’d agree with him on other things. I haven’t read his book.

But I certainly plan to do so now.

A healthy glow

Here’s a little video selfie of me breathing. Pretty exciting stuff, eh? The reason I look so strange is that it’s taken with a thermal camera: the white and yellow areas are warm, the blue and black ones colder. I haven’t decided whether or not it’s an improvement on my normal appearance.

One reason for our interest in this at the Lab is that you can clearly see my nostrils getting cooler as I breathe in, and warmer as I breathe out. So a thermal camera is a pretty straightforward way for a computer to measure my breathing rate.

But I had some fun playing with the camera at home, too. Pointing it at my hall floor showed glowing tracks where the hot pipes run under the tiles, allowing me to see how the radiators in different rooms are connected up.

When I was looking around upstairs, I noticed some light patches on the floor and wondered what they were. It took me a moment to realise that Tilly had trotted up behind me to see what I was doing, and had silently departed, leaving only warm paw-prints behind her as evidence.

Quote of the day

A nice quote from Horace Dediu (an industry commentator who, amongst other things, does some very good podcasts):

Those who predict the future, we call futurists. Those who know when the future will happen, we call billionaires.

Roses are red

I came across a thread on Twitter with geeky poems on the ‘Roses are red…’ model. So here’s mine:

Roses are #ff0000
Violets are #0000ff?
I think violets should be
More like #ee82ee
Don’t you?

Mmm.

A possible solution to slow or unresponsive Hue lights

They used to say that there are two ‘internet of things’ systems that ‘just work’ out of the box: the Sonos sound system, and Philips Hue lighting. I’m fortunate enough to own both of them, and I would add the Honeywell Evohome heating system (though one of my friends has had a few complications with an unusually large installation).

When we moved house recently, though, my previously-faultless Hue system seemed to become a bit less reliable. Admittedly, we have rather more bulbs now (33 and counting), but that’s nowhere close to the limit it can handle. Our bulbs are always powered, so the cunning mesh networking should make sure that nothing is out of signal range. Yet sometimes lights weren’t obeying their commands promptly, switch presses needed to be repeated, and things generally seemed, well, a bit sluggish. I was beginning to think it might be time to wipe the configuration off my bridge and start again from scratch. It probably does have a lot of accumulated junk on there…

And then I did a little research and realised something that I should have thought about earlier.

Zigbee (the wireless networking used by Hue and a variety of other systems) runs at approx 2.4Ghz: the same frequency range as Wifi. Like Wifi, it has a number of channels, and if your wifi router and your Zigbee hub have overlapping channels, they can interfere with each other. I found this useful diagram online (apologies for not knowing its creator):

‘802.11b/g’, in case you don’t know it, is part of the technical standard popularly known as Wifi, so the green labels show Wifi channels, and the blue bars show Zigbee.

The number and availability of channels vary depending on your country, but they will be similar to the above. Although Wifi has about a dozen channels, the nearby ones overlap substantially, so most installations only use 1, 6 or 11: if both you and your neighbour are using Wifi channel 1, you won’t make much difference by switching to 2 or 3; you need to go at least as far as 6. Go much further than 6, and you’ll start interfering with your other neighbour on channel 11. Usually, these days, wifi routers are pretty good at picking their channel by finding the least congested space, though you may need to reboot them from time to time to encourage them to do so.

Anyway, one thing that had changed in my new house was the Wifi. And when I looked, sure enough, my Wifi router was on channel 11 and my Hue hub was on a Zigbee channel that was rather too close for comfort. By going into the Hue app and looking at the settings for my Bridge, I was able to change the Zigbee channel to number 15, and things are going a lot more swimmingly now!

Hope that might help someone else…

iOS tip of the day

When you’re setting up your fingerprints for Touch ID, take the time after registering each one to go in and give it a name. Then if you find one finger becoming unreliable, you know which one to delete and reprogram.

A suggestion for 2018

Here’s my thought for the year:

It’s much more important to read things with which you disagree than to read things with which you agree.

Merry XYZmas

If, like me, you have been pondering linear algebra on a Christmas afternoon (and, frankly, who hasn’t?), or if you know anybody who is learning it for the first time, then I highly recommend Grant Sanderson’s YouTube channel, 3Blue1Brown where he makes all kinds of mathematical ideas easier to understand through some clever visualisations.

In particular, his Essence of linear algebra course is a wonderful presentation of the basics. Do you have vague memories of matrix multiplication and of phrases like ‘determinant’ and ‘eigenvector’ but have no idea why you learned them or what they did? Then this is the resource for you. Not only is it good revision, but it explains them in a different way from the way you might have learned them originally, which can help you get a better understanding than you had before.

Oh, and if linear algebra isn’t your idea of a fun way to spend Christmas, don’t worry. There’s Essence of Calculus as well.

Oh Deer

Spotted this morning just behind my in-laws’ house in Michigan.

Caian coffee

There’s a nice post about the coffee pot webcam on the Gonville & Caius College website this morning. Thanks, Lucy!

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser