Sunday, 14 September 2014

multi-address spam detector

I was doing a quick review of my Spam folder, which I do only rarely, as Gmail seems pretty good at removing only crud.

While running my eye down the list, I noticed two very similar emails.

Different sender names, slightly different text, but clearly the same spam.  These arrived at two different email addresses of mine.  I know email hosts can detect spam by seeing the same email sent to lots of different addresses.  Now I can, too.

Friday, 12 September 2014

film review: Gravity

Some argue this is science fiction (it is a few years in the future, after the launch of the Chinese space station Tiangong, and it won the 2014 Hugo Science Fiction award). Some argue that it is merely a techno-thriller. I argue that it demonstrates we are living in a science fictional world.

Dr Ryan Stone [Sandra Bullock] is a mission specialist aboard the shuttle Explorer, performing a repair on a Hubble instrument. The Russians blow up one of their old satellites, which causes a chain reaction of debris. This slams into the astronauts, and Stone is flung into space. She is rescued by mission commander Matt Kowalski [George Clooney], but that is only the beginning of their problems as they struggle to find safety.

This is slam bang high tech action. The special effects are great, with a real feeling of free fall in agoraphobic outer space and claustrophobic space stations. There are clever camera shots, that move from outside to inside Stone’s space suit helmet. And brilliantly, there is no sound in space, which adds to the terror. The cast is microscopic: 2 on-screen actors and 5 other voices in the whole film. This adds to the claustrophobia, and the focus.

What I love about Gravity, in addition to the realistic portrayal of near earth orbit, is the portrayal of Stone, as someone terrified by what’s happening to her, yet using her competence and training to excellent effect to save herself, because no-one else can.

 Superior stuff.

For all my film reviews, see my main website.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

TV review: Arrow, season 1

Oliver Queen [Stephen Amell], billionaire member of the Queen dynasty, has spent the last five years stranded on a tropical island, with everyone thinking he had died when his father’s yacht sank, along with his father Robert, and his girlfriend’s sister Sara. He’s just been found alive, and he has changed. He’s a man with a mission, to clean up Starling City. Using archery.
“My name is Oliver Queen. For five years I was stranded on an island with only one goal – survive. Now I will fulfill my father’s dying wish – to use the list of names he left me and bring down those who are poisoning my city. To do this, I must become someone else. I must become something else.”
The season has an overall arc, as the heinous plot Roger Queen was party to is slowly revealed. This arc is woven into bad-guy-of-the-week episodes, where the anonymised Oliver, known as The Hood or as The Vigilante, picks off the bad guys who have "failed this city", one by one. The timeline slices back and forth, to show Oliver’s transformation on the island, from spoiled playboy to hardened killing machine. This transformation is very well done: initially, I wasn’t even sure it was the same actor. But getting well-muscled, a cropped hair do, and a rigid stance, makes for a whole new Oliver.

This is entertaining, in a dark, violent, morally ambiguous way. Hell, it’s not even ambiguous: Queen has earned the name "Vigilante". For this reason, I actually find the island scenes more interesting, as I don’t feel quite so complicit in cheering on the homicidal psychopath cleansing the city of other homicidal psychopaths.

I find the “civic patriotism”, all the talk of “my city”, rather weird, though. This identification with current domicile is foreign to me: I’ve moved a lot in my life, and am not “rooted” to any one place. I’ve asked others, however, and they do claim to understand the feeling (of “my city”, not of turning into a random psychopath cleaning it up).

I’m looking forward to season 2, if only to find out the rest of the island story – oh, and also what Oliver does next in Starling City, having sort of fulfilled his father’s dying wish about it.

Worth watching.

For all my SF TV reviews, see my main website.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

interesting neighbours?

I've just spotted a van like this outside a nearby house.

Is this the non-covert UK branch of the organisation?  Otherwise, I would have expected the vans to be black.

And does that mean I have some surprisingly interesting neighbours?

Sunday, 31 August 2014

peak sun

We don’t have all the data for August yet, and today is quite sunny, but it’s not going to change these figures much.

These two plots show our daily solar power generation in kWh, month by month.  The first plot shows the actual daily values (with some jitter applied to the horizontal position, to prevent points overlapping).  The second shows violin plots (box and whisker plots of median and quartile statistics, overlaying a kernel density plot, which is a smoothed version of the jitter plot).

So it looks like summer is over!

Notice that August has a low outlier, for a very dark and cloudy day.  That was Bank Holiday Monday, of course!  Other months have had days as bad as this, but they weren’t outliers; other days in that month were poor too, and the overall interquartile range is high.  August days are relatively clustered around mediocre (so a small interquartile range), making the Bank Holiday a significantly bad day!

Saturday, 30 August 2014

book review: Losing the Head of Philip K Dick

David Dufty.
Losing the Head of Philip K Dick.
(aka Lost in Transit, aka How to Build an Android)
Oneworld. 2011

In 2005, a disparate group of computer AI and robotics researchers got together, and decided to build an android recreation of the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. They chose Dick because they had access to a huge archive of his writings and in-depth interviews, allowing them to build an Eliza-esque system that could converse in a Dick-like manner by drawing on this large database. The project went well, drawing in fascinated crowds, until the fateful day they lost the android’s head…

This is another of those “true-life fly-on-the-wall” tales of heroic scientific and engineering endeavour. It is an interesting, if somewhat pedestrian, recounting of a true story that could never be told as fiction, as it is too unlikely. Here the author is himself a researcher, rather than a journalist, so we get fewer of those irritating vignettes common to works that focus mainly on the people.

Yet there is a disappointing lack of technical detail. For example, we get a few transcripts of amazing conversations the android held with the public (although presumably heavily editied: there is a YouTube video of an actual “conversation” that is impressive, but less “intelligent”; there is also a website with some photos), but we get only a glimpse of what is going on inside the android’s “head” (the relevant computers are actually in a box to one side) at the time.

One interesting piece of technical discussion is about the so-called “uncanny valley” of near-lifelike, and hence creepy, robots. David Hanson, the developer of the life-like animated head, disliked the notion, so delved into the literature to find the evidence. Apparently, there was none: it was originally just an hypothesis, that then got taken up. Moral: always go back to the source material!

Moral 2: always make sure you have all your belongings with you when leaving the plane. The most I’ve left behind is a book. A head is a whole other problem.

For all my book reviews, see my main website.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

sequestering carbon, several books at a time XXIX

The latest batch:

This includes two copies of the Worldcon Souvenir Book, and some books recommended on BoingBoing (you’re not helping, guys!)