Open Letter to the Trump-voting American Public

November 9th, 2016 No comments

Dear America,

What the actual fuck?

I am ashamed. I am appalled. I am stunned. And I am speechless. I am disgusted to be an American today.

America, you stand on the precipice of electing to arguably one of the most powerful jobs on Earth not a qualified (though flawed) woman, but instead a man who, among his other terrible attributes

  1. spouts science-denying rhetoric, including having many times remarked that global warming isn’t a man-made concern, that it is a hoax started by the Chinese, and that vaccines cause autism — for the record: it is, it isn’t, and they don’t;
  2. has failed virtually every business venture in which he’s partaken, including declaring bankruptcy at least four times;
  3. has neither military nor political experience of any significance;
  4. has repeatedly advocated for violence as a solution to disputes including suggesting using nukes on enemies preemptively (!) and encouraging his supporters to punch protesters at his rallies;
  5. has repeatedly insulted and belittled women, handicapped people, LGBTQ people, Muslims, blacks, immigrants and many others;
  6. has been endorsed and held to high esteem by the KKK for his intolerance;
  7. has encouraged his supporters to bully voters at polling locations; and
  8. has staunchly been an opponent of LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights.
Let’s not forget that his VP candidate, Mike Pence, is arguably just as scary or possibly moreso: He has been outspoken against both Roe v. Wade and LGBT equal rights, including advocating for repeal of same-sex marriage; and has even suggested using federal funding to pay for so-called  “gay conversion therapy,” a malicious, wholly unethical, and entirely ineffective practice which is already (thankfully) banned in five states, including California.
Any single one of these should automatically be a red flag for someone of such potentially high office. But Trump (and in some cases Pence) embody all of these failures as a person and more; and with Republicans appearing to be winning the House and Senate majorities too, you’ve effectively removed even the checks and balances that are in the government by design to restrict such power. In addition to this, Trump’s candidacy has effectively legitimized the bigotry, xenophobia, and intolerance that we’ve worked so hard to rid ourselves of over the past two centuries…I guess the thought is that if someone of Trump’s stature can do something so horrible or cruel and get away with it, why can’t John Q. Public too? But this “us versus them” mentality is exactly the sort of fear-mongering that Trump is succeeding in spreading.
Just look at his record: The only person Donald J. Trump cares about is Donald J. Trump. If you thought he could “make America great again” even though virtually every political and economic expert worldwide is telling you otherwise, or that he could fix our economy the way he “fixed” his businesses, you are both mistaken and ill-informed. If you thought he could fix our immigration policies by closing ourselves off from the world and dividing us, you are again gravely mistaken and need to relearn basic United States history. If you think he can fix our healthcare issues by repealing ObamaCare, leaving 20+ million Americans without a decent health insurance option, then you are literally dooming many of these — your fellow Americans! — to death or disability simply because they can’t afford treatment. And if you think for one moment that he even is remotely qualified or deserving of the role of President of the United States even though he knows so little of the Constitution that he would be sworn to uphold and defend, then you are deeply, horrendously mistaken and I pity just how ignorant you truly are.
Do I agree with every one of Hillary Clinton’s policy proposals and ideals? No, absolutely not! (For example, everything I’ve read about the TPP just makes me despise it more and more.) But when it comes down to it, she has a decent amount of experience and knowledge to succeed in the role of President, which would have put her leaps and bounds above Trump (who has none). In addition, she had the support of Senator Bernie Sanders, former presidential candidate (and arguably someone more suited to the job than even she). I would have hoped that would be enough for those who voted for him in the primary…? But I digress.
Oh well, the long night is over and the election is done, right? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. (Again.)
Congratulations, America. You’ve made your collective choice. I would have thought it to be a comparatively easy one, but apparently I have forgotten the error of your voting ways. In the 2000 and 2004 elections when you voted in George W. Bush and a GOP-heavy congress, you chose wrong; and those set us back many years of economic, scientific, and sociopolitical growth. I thought you had learned form those failures; but I was incorrect. A decade later and yet again you chose wrong. And the detriment to not only your own country this time, but to the rest of the world will likely be far in excess of anything we can imagine. This is going to leave a scar that time will not easily erase. I’d say to learn from history and not repeat this terrible mistake; but it seems you’ve twice failed to learn the lesson already.
We do have one saving grace, however: The electoral college is in place specifically to ensure that a dangerous candidate, even if victorious in the popular vote, does not become the elected president. I now urge the electors in those red states to do what’s right, going against the ignorance and idiocy of their own populace.
I hope you’re proud of yourselves, America. I’m not. I’m disgraced and disgusted by you. And when so many of you are willing to put such a dangerous and divisive man into power, I am truly scared of what the future holds for our country, for our world, and for humanity.
Categories: Politics Tags: ,

Open Letter to the VancouFur Convention: Bravo!

March 10th, 2016 No comments

Independent recently ran an article about how Syrian refugees in Canada got housed in [the] same hotel as VancouFur furry convention and the children loved it; and I felt this was particularly noteworthy not because of the perhaps obscure nature of such a convention, but because of the children’s experiences in it.

There are many furries in my groups of friends, both on- and off-line. Suffice to say, I know only a little of the furry community, as it’s not something I am a part of; but it reminds me a lot of the Brony community (of which I certainly am part) in some key ways: Sure, at a glance it may seem weird, crazy, and perhaps even from a misguided perspective, just wrong. But it’s nothing of these sorts at all. When you get down to its core, it’s just a group of people with similar interests being themselves and wanting to spread a message of tolerance and welcomeness, not the ones of hatred and fear that so many other groups try to promote in the name of so-called “righteousness.”

Amidst the culture shock of moving their lives to the other side of the world, these refugees have been welcomed with open arms and friendly attitudes. Many of their first post-move memories will be of these characters, just wanting to be playful and funny and pose for photos and whatnot — even memories of hugs being offered. These memories will not be ones of being prejudiced for their beliefs or hated for where they came from.

And that is a message that I believe the world needs to hear so much more of: Why must we hate each other because we’re different? Let’s instead embrace those differences. Work together. Play together. Laugh together. Grow together. Learn together. In doing so, we can learn more about each other, more about our own world, and more about our place as a humanity within the rest of this endless universe.

So to all the conventioneers and those involved in this VancouFur convention, I say thank you. Thank you for being so warmhearted. I’d imagine it’s an understatement to say that it was probably a difficult line to walk for a while; but thank you for showing by example how wonderful it can be to accept cultural differences, understand them, and welcome them. And perhaps a bit ironically, thank you for showing through your fursonas the goodness that can come of humans simply being kind to one another, not because it produces any sort of gain, but just because it’s the right thing to do. Well done!

Categories: Life, Uncategorized Tags:

Ingress: On Gameplay Goals And The Inefficacy Of Pineapples

January 28th, 2016 No comments

For those who might not know, I am an avid Ingress player. It is a fun augmented-reality game, which is to say that it overlays the map of the game onto that of the physical world; so in order to interact with items and points of significance in the game, you must be near them in the real world.

To make a long story short, the game has two teams, or factions, called the Resistance (blue) and Enlightened (green), for story reasons. The goal of the game is to capture and hold control points, called “portals,” and link them together to form triangular areas called “control fields”: areas surrounded by your faction’s portal links. Larger and more numerous fields give the faction more total points (in game terminology, “mind units”, or simply “MUs”). These are what determine your faction’s score, if they are still standing, at the end at the end of that cycle checkpoint (each 5-hour period of time when the servers tally the MU scores of each faction) . Players, called “agents”, use a variety of items that they acquire from portals by “hacking” them, to capture portals and upgrade them. Among these items are bursters (weapons used to attack enemy portals), resonators (which empower the portals and align them an agent’s faction), so-called “flip cards” (JARVIS viruses and ADA refactors, which forcibly convert a portal to be aligned to the Enlightenment or Resistance factions, respectively), and enhancements (called “mods”) to the portal itself, such as defensive ones like shields (which reduce some damage from enemy attacks), or utility ones like heat sinks and multi-hacks (which allow agents to hack gear from the portal more often) and link amps (which increase the maximum link range of the portal).

I had a provocation earlier tonight with some would-be allies which inspired this post, in that I had destroyed, captured, and created fields from so-called “pineapples” that they set up. It’s only recently that I’ve come to learn about this tactic (so named because they resemble the fruit in appearance); but in essence, one can capture an enemy portal, deploy all 8 low-level resonators onto it as close to its center as possible, fill its mod slots with otherwise useless things (like regular link amps), then use a flip card to transfer control of it back to the opposition. The goal of such a tactic is straightforward: resource denial. What could have been a reasonably well-defended portal is at any point later easy to destroy (since it has no defensive mods, and the resonators are all packed so close together). Furthermore, since it is low-level, it does not provide much useful gear. In theory, it forces the enemy to use their own flip card (which are rare) and destroy it before recapturing themselves, thereby expending weaponry and their own resources and time. While this may have been a viable tactic when the game first began many years ago, it no longer is. It is said in this game that the best defense is a good offense, and such a flawed tactic demonstrates this by failing to take into account five important aspects of gameplay.

First, portals provide equipment to both factions, and so forcibly keeping a portal at a low level serves only to reduce the total gear available in the game from that portal, thereby reducing item opportunity for nearby agents in both factions. And even when flipped, enemy agents can still upgrade all of the resonators, thereby producing a high-level portal from which any agent can then acquire good equipment. Admittedly, the portal will not be as farm-friendly without these hack mods to acquire items more often from it; but this detriment in farm is in fact a detriment to the farm of both factions.

Second, since the portal has all its resonator slots filled, it can still be used to create links and fields (albeit weakened ones), which add to the key scoring metric used in determining the victor at each 5-hour checkpoint.

Third, items which used to be very rare in game, including flip cards, are now much more commonplace thanks to the existence of MUFG capsules (which gradually duplicate their contents). Because of their steady duplication of items, the introduction of MUFG capsules is arguably the most significant change to the game in its entire history, even moreso than flip cards or ultra strikes. In fact, I have two of these so-called “muffins” full of flip cards, giving me one or two free JARVISes and a handful of free ADAs every day. Forcing an enemy to expend what are now reasonably commonplace items in order to destroy and recapture their portals is inherently counterproductive, as doing so gives the enemy faction AP and badge credits (two other scoring metrics in the game, used to increase agent levels).

Fourth, it fails to account for the existence of ultra strikes (high power weapons with a very small blast radius). Once flipped, pineapples by their design are almost stupidly easy to destroy with a few well-placed ultra strike blasts. And because the resonators are all very low level, this will work even through the mitigation of any shields that might have been installed. Again, all that this accomplishes is a bit of AP and badge credit gain for both sides.

Lastly, the goal of pineapples is usually to deny an enemy gear, and so it is done in small portal clusters that are known to be often enemy-controlled and used for farming (with mods like multi-hacks and heat sinks, which allow equipment to be gained from these portals more often). But one of the strongest defenses a farm has is specifically the fact that it is clustered: any portal whose resonators are attacked is likely to counterattack the offending agent, so by spacing resonators in the farm widely, any enemy agent that attacks them is likely to hit multiple portals and therefore be counterattacked just as widely. On the other hand, pineapples, once flipped, are easy to destroy with weaker low-range weapons (or, a few well-placed ultra strikes as noted above) rather than the more powerful but larger-range ones, thus reducing the total counterattacks done to that enemy agent. It is therefore more detrimental to the enemy agents to fully capture and deploy on their farm, and put on attack mods like turrets and force amps (which make the portals’ counterattacks happen more often and make them more powerful). And again, these can simply be flipped just as easily; and if an enemy did, he or she would not be able to replace these attack mods with hack ones, being just as counterproductive to their farm as pineapples were perhaps intended.

But all this is simply an aside: pineapples are not a viable long-term tactic in Ingress; and the only purpose they serve is to waste the time and resources of both factions, one in creating the pineapple, and the other in destroying it to claim it properly. The true issue that provoked this post was that in capturing and fielding from the pineapples that I mentioned earlier, I had teammates remarking to me in chat a few moments after the fact that they had “made those portals […] fucked up and ada’d [sic] for a reason.” That’s all well and good perhaps, but the entire purpose of the game is to capture, link, and create control fields from portals. This is exactly what I did between these 5 portals in question. And in doing so, I was reprimanded by members of my own faction for simply playing the game as it was intended. These agents even went so far as to accuse me of somehow being a double-agent, playing for the Resistance’s benefit. That crossed the line of being sensible discussion of tactics to one of inflammatory and blatantly false accusations, and it was that at that point that I stopped responding to any of the three agents involved. Tactical disagreements happen, sure; but I will not be unjustly accused of being something I’m not.

Because, after all, it’s just a game; and I’m not going to let myself stop enjoying something that for almost two years has forced me to get more exercise and visit more of my city, all because three ignorant agents from my own faction apparently don’t want me earning points toward our faction’s victory.

And if any of those three are reading this post, please take note of the following: Should you decide to continue making pineapples in those spots which have become part of my daily walking path between classes, I intend to keep upgrading them and making fields from them just as often. Whether or not I capture them first is dependent only on whether or not they are blue at that time. I do this not out of spite or malice; but rather as a way to earn points for myself and the Enlightened faction (which is, again, the entire purpose of the game).

Categories: Ingress, Technology, Uncategorized Tags:

Obituary: CurvyLooks

June 16th, 2015 No comments

Just over a decade ago, I took the reigns on a Fedora package called gnome-theme-clearlooks-bigpack. Among other niceties, it had many color themes and Cairo-enabled widgets for the Clearlooks (now Adwaita) GTK+ theme engine. But there was one and only one reason I took it: The Cairo_Curve theme.

This theme was a very smooth and rounded (thank you, Cairo rendering) but otherwise faithful reproduction of the Bluecurve color scheme and design philosophy (whether written or not) of just being simple and easy on the eyes for long periods of time. As you can imagine, this is great for people like myself who are using their systems for many hours at a time every day. As someone who used it on a daily basis, when it was orphaned I could not simply let it go unmanaged.

Time went on, as it so quickly does, and in mid-2007 I found myself a bit despondent: the upstream maintainers had all but vanished. What sources I had, I immediately mirrored onto my personal webspace; and I changed those in the RPM .spec file to match. I realized that if I cared about it enough, I should become the upstream contact myself.

And that is exactly what I did. That November, I ripped away every theme except for Cairo_Curve, as that was the only one I had any interest in, and formed the CurvyLooks project: A modest attempt to keep the Bluecurve-like color scheme and theme design for Clearlooks and essentially forward-port it to future versions of GTK+ as necessary.

Time again went on, however, and the chaos of life caught up with me. Newer GTK+ versions caused a few minor bugs (warnings about unused or invalid portions of the gtkrc file, for instance); but since it still more or less worked, I did little to fix them.

And time continued on. It was now July of 2011, and GTK+ 3.0 had just been released. I had already a release candidate of CurvyLooks that “worked” (though not well) together with the series of GTK+ 3 release candidates; but the distinction between “functioning” and “working well” can be a large one, as it was here. I fixed what I could of the theme drawing issues (such as opaque tooltips) and updated it to work with GTK+ 3 and the then-new Adwaita engine (which superseded Clearlooks). I released this as as CurvyLooks 0.4 RC2; and there it has stayed for nearly four years.

Except I also did something else. I also disabled the Dark theme, as I had become so accustomed to the idea of a bright background and dark text/foreground that it simply made no sense to me. In particular, some programs would use the Dark theme if it was installed, while others stayed with the “normal” variant; and that mismatch was rather frustrating.

A few short months later, I happily installed the Fedora 17 Beta and was thrilled with what I saw. In fact, the default Adwaita theme was almost exactly what I imagined CurvyLooks should be. I kept using that default but there was something…some je ne sais quoi about that Adwaita theme that broke my “easy on the eyes” rule. I couldn’t tell if it was that the contrast was too high or that the colors were not saturated enough or something else entirely but it just didn’t feel right. So I forced myself to try the dark theme. And I liked it.

No, scratch that. I loved it. Having long since grown accustomed to the light-on-dark theme on my Android phone, my UI tastes had changed rather drastically. To quote Morpheus from The Matrix: “Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.” I enabled the forced global dark theme and time went on once more…

It was now July of 2012. GTK+ uses Adwaita as its default and the theme is bundled as a gresource tarball file within the engine itself. Hoping to update CurvyLooks, I started by writing a simple gresource extraction script to unpack those files so that I could base my new CurvyLooks version on a recoloration of that theme. But having no need for the theme itself anymore, as a user of the Dark Adwaita theme, I simply did not have the patience to work through how to implement it for this new format of theme packaging. I focused my time and efforts elsewhere, in Fedora and in real life. Thus time slipped into the present…

I suppose this end is long overdue; but such is one of the great lessons about flexibility and power of Free software: Just because the original maintainers disappeared, as long as I was willing to put in the effort, I could keep the project running myself. While my contributions to it were small at best, it was fun, in its own little way, to go through the process of setting up and publishing my own work. But it was just “working” and rarely “working well;” and I could no longer give it the due diligence to make it as awesome as it once was.

It’s only fitting that I should let time slip, once and for all, into the future; but without CurvyLooks advancing with alongside it…(Unless, of course, someone else wants to repeat this upstream initiative and maintain it themselves!)

The Cost of Introversion

June 25th, 2014 No comments

Ask any good psychologist or neuroscientist to explain the contrast between introversion and extroversion, and you’re likely to be told something akin to this: Introverts expend energy in social interaction and recharge by having solitary downtime, while extroverts recharge by being social and lose energy when left alone or with little to do.

But what is this “energy”? Sure, it’s easy enough to intuit. Clearly, extroverts are always so outgoing, very talkative, and need to be with other people. They excel at group situations and meeting new people, and become antsy and frustrated when left alone for any length of time. Introverts, on the other hand, function much better in one-on-one situations or with small groups of people they know, and tend to dislike smalltalk when it’s just to “network” with new people. In addition, introverts love having solitude for periods of time to recharge their internal batteries.

This analogy of charging/expending energy, while a bit oversimplified, is an accurate one. So then, why are large social situations so “costly” to an introvert? And why can they still “recharge” even when in large groups of close friends/family?

Let’s take a step back from this for a moment and look at how we interact in this society. We all wear our proverbial masks every time we step into the real world: hiding the reality of who we are and letting everyone see only the selves we wish to show.

As an introvert myself, I’ve come to theory that this “energy” cost in social situations is merely the necessity to ourselves of maintaining these masks. As we wear the masks and keep our internal filters and censors active, we expend more and more of our mental energy.

At least for me, this is why I “recharge” by spending lots of times with my close friends: Even though I’m being very social and involving myself with other people, it is with friends to whom I’d trust unfalteringly. I don’t have to keep any of my internal filters going or some such. I can just be me. I don’t have to hide who or what I am.

My theory isn’t very good at explaining the other side of this analogy, though. If this is the case, then why do extroverts lose energy by being alone and recharge by being so social and active? This is already beyond my understanding, and something I’d be mildly interested in researching further…But that’s a topic for another day!

Categories: Life, Science, Uncategorized Tags:

Some moments will haunt you; the right ones will inspire…

April 4th, 2014 No comments

[Originally posted as a Facebook note on April 4; retroactively posted to this blog days later. Note to self: I should really use this instead of FB Notes…]

To those who rejoice every time I change my Facebook relationship status for April Fool’s, your wanting to celebrate my intrapersonal success is very much appreciated. So I mark this as a success in its own way.

I’m not normally sentimental about these things; but this is a one-time specialty. Today, April 4, 2014, marks the one-year anniversary of my first date. Ever.

While I don’t want to write a sappy romance novel here or anything, suffice to say that asking her out in the first place was so ridiculously far out of my comfort zone, and was only thanks to the encouragement of amazing friends. Even though the end result of that date may not have been what I ultimately hoped, it forced me to break free from my comfort zone to really try to find my own happiness, rather than waiting for it to find me as I had done for so much of my life. To this day, I am eternally grateful to my friends for their advice and encouragement (and not just in relationship matters); but moreso I am grateful to my date (nameless here, for her sake) for her acceptance.

We all wear our proverbial masks every time we step into the real world: hiding the reality of who we are and letting everyone see only the selves we wish to show. But with her, it was as though I was reconnecting with an old friend, and that quick rapport of common interests and passion for technology really made that mask unnecessary.

Maybe it started as a simple infatuation; but for so long I had been lost (and often still am) in my own internal dialogue: constantly interpreting, analyzing and over-thinking everything. Ration, logic, and reason seem to work so beautifully for everything else in life; but not for such as these. My choir director so often advises to “listen louder than you sing”; and this seems so apropos to matters of the heart as well. When I asked her out, it was the first time in forever that I had seriously listened to my feelings louder than that dialogue. I broke free of wondering about how the question would be taken, free of the worry of negative result, and just did.

That initial crush is gone; and I am uncertain of the feelings that remain (some emotions defy analysis) …but I do know this: I am, and want to be, a better person by her having been (being?) in my life.

I’ll end this introspection here; I won’t celebrate this anniversary any more than this simple post, because its significance will fade as I grow to understand and embrace these more intricate emotions, bit by bit.

Categories: Life Tags:

2013: The Year of One Blog Post

January 1st, 2014 No comments

“♫ 525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear…how do you measure a year?”

“Seasons of Love” (Rent)

As I begin writing this, 2013 will end within the hour. I suppose it’s only fitting to post something introspective on my blog, seeing as that’s how I am as a person. It’s hard not to be lost in my own thought sometimes. It’s comfortable in my own mind.

This past year has certainly had its ups and downs. I’ve sadly grown apart from some friends, but have made many new ones. Some of my friends have married or become engaged — and I couldn’t be happier for them! — and from my friends and the friendships we have I’ve learned so much more about others and about myself. I wish I could truly say everything I learned was good; but through good and bad I’ve become a stronger and better person. I’ve had successes which they have celebrated with me, and hardships which they’ve helped me through in more ways than they know. (It is here where I take another swig of this Smirnoff in toast to your awesomeness, friends!)

2013 has certainly had its milestones: first date, first time driving freeways, first metal concert, first time in Europe, first lucid dream, and so on. I could copy/paste so much more from my diary; but suffice to say I’ve made many significant choices about my life and the man I want to be….no, the man I am becoming. In the same vane, I’m sure 2014 will have its own torrent of emotions, insights, and personal growths. I venture into its unknown with an open mind and an eager heart.

So long, 2013 — It’s been a blast!

(Hey, it just ticked midnight! HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!)

Categories: Life Tags: , ,

Poem: Insomnia’s Caress

December 4th, 2012 No comments

Having trouble sleeping for whatever reason, so I wrote a short freeform poem to help my mind relax a bit. I call it “Insomnia’s Caress.”

Insomnia’s Caress
©2012 Peter Gordon

Rest betrays my weary soul;
Eyes shut, mind wandering.
Finding neither dream nor rest,
I wonder if it occurs at all.

Hours pass, until the dawn
When light breaks through the veil
I awake to the noise of day,
and rise from the embrace of sleep
to face the world, another time anew.

Creative Commons License
Insomnia’s Caress by Peter Gordon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Categories: Life Tags: , ,

Happy Equestrian New Year (And: Thank You, Lauren Faust & MLP:FiM Team)

October 10th, 2012 No comments

Dear Lauren Faust,

Two years ago today aired the series premiere of this show you created: a show that would forever unite millions of fans – both men and women, adults and children alike, myself included – and change their lives for the better. From the inspirational characters to the wonderful artistry, from its excellent musical numbers (thanks Daniel Ingram) to the brilliant voice acting work all around, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has touched the hearts of so many, so quickly. And I your fan, cannot thank you enough.

To be honest, if two years ago you’d have told me I’d today be a fan of My Little Pony, I’d probably have laughed and made some snide, sarcastic retort. But since then, these colorful and playful bunch of magic ponies have stolen this geek’s heart.

I must admit feel a bit like Twilight Sparkle in the “Winter Wrap Up” episode: I can’t draw or do anything artistic at all; I am not imaginative enough to make fanfiction; and I won’t even dare to attempt a Pony Music Video or any such feat, since it would probably just be a waste of bandwidth. So how do I be a productive brony? I hope in lieu of anything fancy or creative, these words will suffice to demonstrate some iota of that gratitude.

In closing: Thank you, Lauren Faust. And thank you to the wonderful team of artists, voice actors, musicians, and other staff behind My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. It’s been an absolutely fantastic first two seasons, and I eagerly await many more. (Oh, lest I forget, and thank you to all the creative fans who make the wait pass by with amazing art, videos, stories, and other media!)

If you would please, a brohoof!

(Pinkie Pie brohoof)

Aleedye’s Brohoof by ~MacchiatoJolt on DeviantArt (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Peter Gordon

Fedora Planet Feed

October 6th, 2012 No comments

Oops. It seems when updating my .planet file earlier, I copy/pasted the feed for my whole blog, and not solely the Fedora category as intended. I’ve adjusted that now, so the next time Fedora People runs it’s feed grabber, you should see this instead of my previous couple of posts (which were both not very Fedora-related). That doesn’t mean I’m any less interesting though — Feel free to read my blog at its full website for more! =)

Categories: Fedora Tags:

Passion, Not a Ph.D., Makes the Professor

October 5th, 2012 No comments

It has been said more than once that a good teacher knows the subject matter, while a great teacher is passionate about it. And nowhere is this statement more true than at a university level, where things like high class sizes, tenure, publications in academic journals, and other research opportunities can often cause professors to become rather lackadaisical about their teaching.

For a lot of professors today, a significant majority of their teaching comes down to their lectures. And while a professor may be very knowledgeable about that subject, if he or she does not know how to lecture well, it is ultimately the students who suffer. I’ve had a physics professor, for example, with a Ph.D in his field and decades of experience under his belt. He’s certainly a well-learned expert; but when he gave lectures, he spoke in a very soft, monotonous voice. And with run-on sentences everywhere, it seemed like he never paused to even take a breath. Not to mention that English wasn’t his native tongue, so he spoke with a slight accent. (This one I can’t fault him for; but that doesn’t mean it detracted from his lectures any less.)

Even when I was sitting in the front and center of the class, it was a mental strain to pay attention. Not only that, but his lectures were almost entirely him simply reading from his Powerpoint presentation, which he would post online after each class meeting. So in addition to the effort required simply to pay attention, there was always the mental trap of just reading those presentations on my own, outside class. Combine all of this, and it’s clear to see to how 9 shots of espresso could not keep me awake in that class. In fact, I had to withdraw from it; and I ended up taking Chemistry instead, the following semesters.

On the other extreme, I’ve had professors who are obviously passionate about their classes — for example, asking questions of the students, providing real-world examples, inviting lots of discussion, and really just having fun talking about the coursework. (And for the more awesome engineering professors, this often involves quite a bit of hilarious puns.) This happens even in more extracurricular things, too.

For instance, as part of my university’s Men’s Chorus, I find myself grinning from ear to ear after every rehearsal. Our conductor is fantastic. He’s so emphatic about the music we sing, and so emotive about everything we do in rehearsals and in our performances, from proper vocal technique to really nailing those more obscure rhythms and lyrics, and sometimes even to life in general. He’s also very encouraging and approachable. He clearly enjoys being at each rehearsal. And he clearly wants us to be better singers, and certainly, better people both on- and off-stage. He sincerely wants our choir to be more than just the sum of its voices — and you can see it in his mannerisms, his energy, the determination of how he teaches. (I suppose that in some ways, it’s a bit of an irony that one of my all-time favorite teachers is in a subject far removed from my majors.)

I hope that my fellow students (and former students) have had professors on that better end of this spectrum. For now, I’ll just have to hope that those end-of-semester evaluations are given their due considerations…

LaTeX: Adding Your Own Paired Delimiters

October 5th, 2012 1 comment

I’ve come to use LaTeX extensively for typesetting my Mathematics homework. It just makes things so beautiful. And like the XHTML/CSS split, it really does encourage strong separation of content from presentation. One of the things I first hated about it though, is that I grew quickly tired of using \left and \right with brackets, parentheses, or anything that needed to be automatically be sized to its content.

And, as any good engineering student might, I sought to encourage my own laziness by finding a clever shortcut. After a few minutes of searching Google, I came across the DeclarePairedDelimiter command in the mathtools package. Its usage is fairly self-explanatory, as I’ll let the following demonstrate.

First, you need to load the mathtools package in your document header:


Then you can create your own paired delimiters with the DeclarePairedDelimiter command:


Finally, you can use these new commands in math mode to more easily group your expression. (Append an asterisk to make LaTeX automatically insert the necessary \left and \right commands when you need the delimiters to resize according to their content.)

If \(a \lt 0\) and \(b \gt 0\), then \(\abs{a} = -a\),
and so \(\abs*{\frac{a}{b}} = -\frac{a}{b}\).
The norm of a vector \(v\), denoted \(\norm{v}\), is
defined by \(\norm{v} = \sqrt{\innerproduct{v,v}}\).

As a nice bonus, it increases readability of the LaTeX source tremendously, since it gives those grouped expressions some semantic name rather than just being a bunch of formatting. For instance with the above delimiters, \left\lvert \frac{a}{b} \right\rvert is more to type, and a lot less obviously an absolute value, than the simpler \abs*{\frac{a}{b}}.

Happy hacking!

Categories: Science, Technology Tags: , ,

An Open Letter to Ken Ham (And: Thank You, Bill Nye)

September 4th, 2012 No comments

(I don’t normally post rants like this, but every so often I come upon something so frustrating to refrain from doing otherwise. Apologies for the tone.)

This is an open letter to Mr. Ken Ham, and a response to his YouTube video, “Ken Ham Responds to Bill Nye ‘The Humanist Guy’“, since comments are disabled there. Time indices with the quotations are approximate, and mark the end of that quotation in the aforementioned video.

Mr. Ham:

Before I even respond to the video content itself, I want to address one tiny issue: Comments are not enabled on your video. Why would this be? I believe that this is due to the fact that you KNOW in your heart that what you’re saying is neither sensible nor rational; and you simply want to prevent people from flaming you or posting any form of rebuttal to you as a reply. Well, thank goodness people like me have websites where we can post just about anything we want (within legal limits, of course). And here is my rebuttal to you, good sir: YOU ARE AN IMBECILE. Now, let’s examine the content of your video, and I’ll explain to you why I feel this way.

“In fact, Bill Nye doesn’t really understand science.” (0:57, 2:39, 2:42)

Things like this are stated multiple times throughout your video. And I must admit, I am a bit speechless. I don’t even know where to properly begin responding to that. Let me get this straight, then: Someone who doesn’t understand science could earn a Bachelor of Science degree (emphasis mine) from a private, well-reputed, and highly-accredited Ivy-League university? Someone who doesn’t understand science can develop a hydraulic pressure resonance supressor that’s still used in 747s today? Someone who doesn’t understand science can host his own TV show specifically teaching science to a young audience? Someone who doesn’t understand science can make a sundial that also helps with camera color calibration for the Mars probes? Look at Bill Nye’s record through academia and his professional career. OF COURSE that man understands science. He is a scientist. He lives it every day!

“I mean, Bill Nye himself actually is not a scientist. He studied mechanical engineering […]” (1:23)

Well, let’s see here. According to a Google Definition search, the word “scientist” means “A person who is studying or has expert knowledge of one or more of the natural or physical sciences.” So, let’s see if this applies to Bill Nye…is mechanical engineering a natural or physical science? Well, in fact, yes. ME is in essence the science of physical processes and how to apply them for benefits in technology. And does he have expert knowledge of it? Well…he has a Bachelor’s degree from Cornell,  three Honorary Doctorate degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Goucher College, and Johns Hopkins, many years of hands-on experience working for Boeing and as an aeronautics consultant, multiple scientific patents,  and has one of his inventions on the Mars rovers and another in most 747s still in use today (Source). I’d say that qualifies him quite well as an expert. So yeah, he’s an expert in the physical sciences. So, he is a scientist, by your own words. You’re 0-for-2 so far Mr. Ham.

“Bill Nye has an agenda […] to teach them they are the result of evolutionary processes; that they came from slime over millions of years.” (0:53)

“You can divide science into historical science that’s talking about the past, or observational science. That’s the science that builds our technology.” (1:07)

All science is “observational science.” This whole “historical science” talk is nonsense. Bill Nye is a scientist; and science is inherently observational. Science tries to learn and impart knowledge of the truths of the universe; and how do we do this? Through the scientific method, with painstaking attention to detail in reasoning and evidence. We observe what happens in nature and try to understand every tiny piece of the how and the why. And with the multitude of evidence we have for it — fossils, genealogy, tracing disease patterns, microbial growth, etc. — the theory of evolution is quite a sound one. (If you want proper historical science, try a field like paleontology or archaeology.) You’re 0-for-4 so far…

“I mean, the word ‘science’ means ‘knowledge.'” (0:58)

And Mr. Ham scores a point! Oh good. So you are in fact able to produce some iota of reason from that hole in your face.

“He says if you deny evolution to children, they’re going to have problems, because we need engineers. Well wait a minute. Engineering…and evolution? What has evolution got to do with engineering?” (1:19)

I’ll see your irrationality and raise you a “lolwut?”

The problem with denying children evolution is that in so doing, you’re denying them the very concepts of how to think critically. Of how to properly infer knowledge from some data. Of how to support that knowledge with further tests and experiments. Without these critical thinking skills, any attempt at studying engineering will fail before it can even begin. (Heck, I’d wager good money that most of the entire point of engineering is about finding clever solutions to problems in various related fields, like electronics, aerospace, fluid dynamics, architecture, etc.)

“I hope he did not apply any of his evolutionary principles to any of Boeing’s airplanes.” (1:32)

Well, in fact, he did. Not evolutionary processes. But sound technical and scientific principles. And with those he helped develop a hydraulic pressure resonance suppressor for the 747, still in use today.

“I’ll tell you what is real abuse, what is inappropriate for children: When you take generations of kids and you teach them that they’re just animals; [that] there’s no God; you’re a result of millions of years of evolutionary processes.” (2:12)

Call it abuse if you want, but I’ll repeat what I wrote above: Science is about finding and teaching the truths of our universe. Nothing more.

So you then proceed to acknowledge that we can observe and measure radioactivity while at the same time mentioning that bones and fossils aren’t found with photos or timestamps, so we couldn’t know how old they are. But of course, that same radiation-based technology couldn’t, you know, tell us how old those fossils are! (Le’ *gasp*!)

“He doesn’t teach children how to think critically.” (3:06)

Do you actually believe this? Seriously? A scientist who devotes his LIFE to educating the future generations of scientists…doesn’t teach them to think clearly? Are you really this daft?

“If evolution is true, I mean, it’d be so obvious to the kids that it’s true; but it’s not.” (3:29)

Apparently you are that daft! So, let me get this straight…according to you, stuff that’s true is obvious to school children? Hmm…let’s try this. The square of the length of the hypotenuse of a triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides after subtracting twice the product of those two side lengths by the cosine of the acute angle between them. (This is the law of cosines, straight from trigonometry.) This is absolutely true; but is it obvious to children? Heck no. In fact, it’s barely clear to the math students when they first see it.

Okay, maybe you’re not so much a fan of mathematics so let’s try another one – this time from the realm of chemistry. The rate of diffusion or effusion of a gas is inversely proportional to the square root of its molecular mass. This is Graham’s Law, straight from a high school or college chemistry course. Again, this has been experimentally shown to be true; but is it obvious to children? Minus a few child prodigies here and there, I’d say this is definitely not an obvious result to kids.

 “You have to do what Bill Nye the Humanist Guy wants. You have to protect them from hearing anything about creation. You totally indoctrinate them. You brainwash them. You don’t teach them to think critically at all.” (3:50)

Indoctrination. Brainwashing. Those are some pretty good terms for teaching creationism.

“Isn’t it interesting how Christians are not frightened to teach their children about evolution?” (4:10)

Apparently you’re trying to make them so. And if not, why even have this argument at all?

“[…] and see why you don’t want Bill Nye ‘the Humanist Guy'” teaching your children.” (4:36)

God-willing, I’d love to have Bill Nye teach my kids science. When I was a boy, he was one of a few who really helped inspire in me a deep appreciation for mathematics and sciences, and I would come home from school eager to see another episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy on PBS. (Even nowadays, I try to catch episodes of Bill Nye’s Solving for X when I can. Sure, they’re usually topics I already know quite well, but he covers them in such neat ways, and has very clever and humorous demonstrations to show them.)

So, in closing, I’d like to repeat my opening remark: Mr. Ken Ham, you are an imbecile. It’s people like you that are holding back our society. Holding back our scientific progress. Stop with your lies and stop spreading FUD about things of which you know seemingly so little. Please disconnect your computers entirely from the internet, and make it a better place in so doing.

I would also like to end this open letter by extending a personal debt of gratitude to Bill Nye. If you are reading this, Mr. Nye, thank you for all that you’ve done for science. And thank you for standing up to religious weirdos like Mr. Ham over here. *thumbs up*

Respectfully yours,

Peter Gordon

Categories: Science Tags: , ,

Cherry-Picking With Git, For Fun And For Profit

February 23rd, 2012 3 comments

(This is more as a reminder to myself in the future, rather than a full-fledged posting.)

As I learn more about Git and how we use it in Fedora packaging, I keep discovering cool new things about it that I love. One particular aspect that I’m quickly growing to adore is the feature to cherry-pick between commits in related branches. Suppose I’m currently working on the master branch of a package which is kept in sync with f16 and f17 branches.

Now, a new version comes up or I make a patch to fix a bug. After committing the changes to master, I can easily copy those commits to the release branches with a simple cherry-pick operation:

$ fedpkg switch-branch f17
$ git cherry-pick master

This copies the most recent commit from the master branch into the current one. (See the Git documentation for more information on specifying commit IDs.) Compare this to CVS, where we had to manually diff the devel/ branch directory and apply that to each branch by hand…it’s so much nicer with Git. 🙂

Then it’s a simple matter to push the changes to the Fedora repository and run builds for them through Koji, by running fedpkg push and fedpkg build in each branch. Sweet!

Also, the fullscreen mode of WordPress’ new post editor is fantastic – I owe someone a beverage for that.

Now to get some sleep, so I can finish this Algorithm Analysis project tomorrow. Ta for now!

Categories: Fedora Tags: , , ,

Bugzilla Spam, Ahoy!

August 2nd, 2011 No comments

In an effort to organize my Fedora bug squashing, I’ve been going through all the bugs assigned or CC-ed to me on Fedora’s Bugzilla. The first thing I’ve done is to remove myself from the CC and Assignee of many bugs whose packages I no longer maintain or have interest in. Unfortunately, if you’re on these bugs CC-ed or otherwise, you’re about to get an influx of 200+ automated email notifications from bugzilla about these changes. My apologies! 😮

CurvyLooks 0.4 RC1: Almost GNOME 3-ready!

April 10th, 2011 No comments

After over three years, CurvyLooks has an update! Yes, folks – this time it’s for GNOME 3 support….well, almost. It is based heavily on the Adwaita GNOME theme (in fact, simply copied verbatim in many parts). Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to adequately set the menu item and notebook-tag coloring, so those parts still look a little bit ugly. I’ve been trying to tweak the Adwaita theme on a trial-and-error basis to see how to do this, to no avail. Contributions welcomed! 😉
Also, I need to post more often on here…this I have decided.

Silence is NOT Golden!

October 13th, 2010 No comments

It’s been a long long while (6+ months! Eep.); but to quote the great Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “I’m not dead yet!” – and neither is this blog.

So, what has this geek been up to recently? On the one hand, my search for a decent [part-time] job is…well, it’s still ongoing. On the other, I’ve been very busy with classwork, family obligations, and other real life duties.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on updates to several of my packages in addition to new goodies (such as the successor to the GNOME Music Applet, Panflute). I apologize for the rather lengthy delays in these! But, I should be able to get to all of them sometime within the next several days or so. (Git still puzzles me slightly, so please bare with me as I slowly resume my packaging duties.) And lastly, I would like to shout a huge THANK YOU to all those who have helped triage and maintain my packages during my brief hiatus. Now, to finish this Deluge update…

Slight E-Mail Hiccup

March 1st, 2010 No comments

Having grown more than a little bit tired of how slow Evolution is at filtering emails, I decided to try the new Thunderbird. (I say “new” because I have not used it since it was version 1.5-ish.)

Unfortunately, I accidentally decided to have them both open at the same time – my understanding being that IMAP is okay with multiple simultaneous connections. Apparently this is not the case between Thunderbird and Evolution, as I quickly discovered. Something clashed with something else somewhere along the code, and now much to my dismay my Inbox is empty. (Oops.)

Long story short, if you sent me an email since Saturday morning (which was the last time I thuroughly checked my email) that you need me to read and/or respond to, please resend it.  Thanks.

ThinkPad T500: Initial Fedora Report – Marvelous!

September 14th, 2009 3 comments

Well, after receiving my ThinkPad T500, I set about tweaking the pre-installed Windows Vista, and spent most of the weekend attempting to get it dual-booting Vista and Fedora nicely. For better or worse, neither Fedora’s GRUB nor Windows’ BCD bootloader would accept booting the other OS properly. I came to realize that I hadn’t used or needed to use Windows in over 5 years (even the server at work is CentOS), so It’s highly unlikely that I will need it in the foreseeable future. Just in case though, I can always run it in a VM. So, after burning the Product Recovery Discs, I wiped it all and installed Fedora on this wonderful machine. 🙂

I configured it with 4 partitions:

  1. /boot (about 500 MB)
  2. Swap (about 5 GB)
  3. / (FS root, about 35 GB)
  4. /home (the remaining ~210 GB)

As far as the hardware goes, everything appears to work out of the (quite literal) box. The processor’s throttling is automatically handled by cpuspeed and ACPI. The LCD was automatically detected at the appropriate resolution (WSXGA+, 1680×1050) and DPI (129), and graphics (integrated Intel GMA X4500HD) work very well – 3D, Compiz, and everything. Virtualization extensions (so-called “VT”) were disabled in the BIOS by default for whatever reason, but enabling them took only a few seconds and KVM works wonderfully (running an Ubuntu 9.04 virtual machine for a Linux class).

The TrackPoint(tm) and TouchPad both work splendidly, although the TrackPoint does take a lot of practice to get comfortable with. I’m tempted to disable the touchpad in the BIOS, since I don’t actually use it for pointing (and I often erroneously swipe it with my palm while using the so-called “nipple mouse” of the TrackPoint); but I do use it for the scrolling, so I’ve not yet found a happy medium. Suggestions appreciated.

The hard disk (Western Digital WDC WD2500BEVS-0) and DVD burner drive (HL-DT-ST DVDRAM GSA-U20N) are surprisingly speedy. I’ve already burned two copies of the Fedora 11 LiveCD and several data discs (backups) with no problems. The Bluetooth works well, and I can easily send and receive files to and from my phone through the included Bluetooth stack. The wifi  (Intel WiFi Link 5300 [AGN]) works beautifully with the included iwlagn driver, enabled by default. Also, NetworkManager makes connectivity trivial. (Thanks, devs!)

The firewire and PC Card slot also seem to work – they are autodetected and drivers loaded. However, as I have no firewire- or PC Card-based devices, I cannot verify their functionality.

I have come to quickly love the GNOME Power Manager stack. According to it, the battery on a full charge should last me about 5 hours. It keeps track of how much charge the battery has, how quickly I’m consuming or charging it depending on if I am plugged into AC power, etc. It even shows me a graph of my recent power history! Wonderful little tool. With the help of Intel’s fantastic PowerTOP utility, I’ve increased that computed estimate to nearly 6 hours. (!)

With regards to multimedia, things worked beautifully without me even trying. The built-in webcam works perfectly with Cheese, and the built-in sound works for both playback (surprisingly loud at maximum volume!) and recording (not fantastic quality, but it’s very good at eliminating surrounding static and other noises). I can’t wait to try video-calling someone with the recent Empathy enhancements!

All of the hotkeys – brightness-switching, volume control, playback/navigation, etc.) work as expected, and ACPI (with GNOME Power Manager) even automatically suspends when I close the lid – wonderful!

I’ve also noticed that the machine stays colder in Fedora than it ever did while running the preinstalled Windows. Maybe this is only subjective though, as I never checked the actual temperatures in Windows. Or perhaps Linux/Fedora is better at staying in deeper C-states for longer intervals. In either case, I can work with it directly on my lap quite comfortably.

One of the main reasons I decided upon the T-series instead of a similar R-series laptop was weight. Even with the battery installed, it is only about 5.5 pounds. (That’s about 2.5 kilograms for the rest of the world who use a less-insane system of measurements.) This is quite comfortable to carry with me around school and work without tiring my shoulder.

The only thing which I’ve been unable to test, aside from the firewire and PC card slots, is the dual-screen capability. According to the included manual, it should be capable of using the DisplayPort interface to attach a secondary screen (such as a projector) and automatically resize appropriately, with [Fn]+[Spacebar]. I suppose that if this does not yet already Just Work(tm), it will be fixed by the time I need to worry about actually using it though.

Overall, I love this laptop, and am extremely happy with my purchase decision. In fact, the only qualm I have with this wonderful computer is that it’s not yet decorated! Oh great lazyweb, doe anyone know where I can get stickers for GNOME, Fedora, Linux/Tux, et al., to adorn it with? 😀

Also: A huge THANK YOU to all of the developers who helped make my first Linux-on-a-laptop experience an absolutely wonderful one. I love it when things work so simply and effectively!

Fedora 11: Recent 965 Update Breakage

September 10th, 2009 2 comments

Those who have compiz (“Desktop Effects”) enabled on 965 GPUs should be very wary of today’s xorg-x11-server-1.6.3-4.fc11 (FEDORA-2009-8766) update. For some reason or another, it makes Compiz prone to crashing when starting up. The solution to this is to revert to 1.4.3-3, or to temporarily disable Compiz. The latter can be done by changing the GConf entry. Switch to a virtual terminal from the GDM login screen by pressing Ctrl + Alt + F2, then login and run the following command:

gconftool-2 --set /desktop/gnome/session/required_components/windowmanager --type string 'metacity'

Again, this does not actually fix the problem in the Xorg/Compiz stack. It instead  disables Compiz entirely (reverting to Metacity – the default GNOME window manager).

This will workaround the bug until it can be solved properly. Note that any attempt to re-enable Compiz once logged in will also recreate this crash. So, it’s best to just leave it off until this is fixed.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: