Archive for the 'general geek' Category

The making of Which Three Birdies?

Since Stuart Langridge and I released Which Three Birdies, it has taken the web by storm, and we’ve been inundated with requests from prestigious institutions to give lectures on how we accomplished this paradigm shift in non-arbitrary co-ordinates-to-mnemonic mapping. Unfortunately, the global pandemic and the terms of Stuart’s parole prevent us from travelling, so we’re writing it here instead.

The name

A significant advance on its predecessors was achievable because Bruce has a proper degree (English Language and Literature with Drama) and has trained as an English Language teacher. “Which” is an an interrogative pronoun, used in questions about alternatives. This might sound pedantic, but if a service can’t make the right choice from a very limited set of interrogative pronouns, how can you trust it to choose the correct three mnemonics? Establishing trust is vital when launching a tool that is destined to become an essential part of the very infrastructure of cartography.

The APIs

The mechanics of how the service locates and maps to three birds is extensively documented. Further documentation has been provided at the request of the Nobel Prize committee and will be published in due course

Accessibility

The Web is for everyone and anyone who makes sites that are inaccessible is, quite simply, not a proper developer and quite possibly a criminal or even a fascist. Therefore, W3B offers users the chance to hear the calls of the most prevalent birds in their location, and also provides a transcript of those calls.

screenshot of transcripts

Given that there are 18,043 species of birds worldwide, transcribing each one by hand was impractical, so we decided to utilise –nay, leverage– the power of Machine Learning.

Birdsong to Text via Machine Learning

Stuart is, by choice, a Python programmer. Unfortunately, we learned that pythons eat birds and, out of a sense of solidarity with our feathered friends, we decided not to progress with such a barbaric language so we sought an alternative.

Stuart hit upon the answer, due to a fortuitous coincidence. He has a prison tattoo of a puffin on his left buttock (don’t ask) and we remembered that the trendy “R” language is named after call of a Puffin (usually transcribed as “arr-arr-arr”).

Stuart set about learning R, but the we hit another snag: we couldn’t use the actual sounds of birds to train our AI, for copyright reasons.

Luckily, Bruce is also a musician with an extensive collection of instruments, including the actual kazoo that John Cale used to record the weird bits of Venus In Furs. Here it is in its Sotheby’s presentation case:

a kazoo in a presentaton box

Whereas the kazoo is ideal for duplicating the mellifluous squawk of a corncrake, it is less suitable to mimic the euphonious peep of an osprey. Stuart listens to AC/DC and therefore has no musical sense at all, so he wasn’t given an instrument. Instead he took the task of inhaling helium out of childrens’ balloons in order to replicate the higher registers of birdsong. Here’s a photo of the flame-haired Adonis preparing to imitate the melodious lament of the screech owl:

Pennywise the clown from IT, with a red balloon

After a few evenings re-creating a representative sample of birdsong, we had enough avian phonemes in the bag to run a rigorous programme of principal components analysis, cluster analysis and (of course) multilinear subspace learning algorithms to learn low-dimensional representations directly from tensor representations for multidimensional data, without reshaping them into higher-dimensional vectors.

All known birds can now reliably be transcribed with 94% accuracy, except for the Crested Anatolian Otter-Catcher. We suspect that the reason for this is the confusion introduced by the Turkish vowel harmony and final-obstruent devoicing. In practice, however, this exception doesn’t affect the utility of the system, because the Crested Anatolian Otter-Catcher is now very rare due to its being extensively hunted in the 19th century. (Fun fact, the bird was once so famous and prevalent that the whole region was known as the Otter-munch Empire.)

Hopefully, this in-depth breakdown of how Which Three Birdies? works will encourage other authors of revolutionary new utilities to open-source their work as we have done for the betterment of all humanity. We’d like to thank the nice people at 51Degrees for commissioning Which Three Birdies?, giving us free rein, and paying us for it. The nutters.

Here at Brucecamp, business and politics don’t mix

You don’t change the world by sitting around being a good person. You change the world by shipping products and making money.

As I wrote in my seminal management book Listen to me because I’m rich, white and clever, IBM wouldn’t have made a shitload of money in wartime Europe if they’d engaged in endless navel-gazing about politics. Their leadership told the staff to Stop Running in Circles and Ship Work that Matters, and get on with compiling a list of people with funny names like “Cohen” or “Levi”.

So here at Brucecamp, we’ve decided that it’s best if our productbots (formerly: employees) do not discuss the sausage machine while we push them into the sausage machine. As I wrote in our other book It doesn’t have to be full of whimpering Woke retards at work, “if you don’t like it, well, there’s the door. Enjoy poverty!”. And that’s all we have to say on the matter. Until the next blogpost. Or book.

In other news, Apple are wankers and I bought a sauna.

“Facebruce strongly disapproves of data leaks” – Bruc’s statement

A statement from our CEO and Founder, Bruc:

At Facebruce, we strongly disapprove of the recent data leak of 50 million account details. There’s nothing more important to us than your data. Really, nothing. Have you any idea of how much we could have charged people for the information about you that is now out there, available for free, on Torrent sites and on Russian servers?

We had a deal almost signed to show messages to all people who fast during Ramadan, saying “Want some free money? Just send us your home address!”, paid for by “Patriots for the Second Amendment and Jesus”. Of course, it isn’t the money that drives us, it’s that Facebruce is facilitating community by introducing two groups. At Facebruc, we love spreading love and connection, so need to raise a little money to run the service.

So, please, trust us with your data, and click ‘Like’ to keep our engagement figures riding high as our share price!

Next on feed: LGBT+ folks! Send us your address to get a free Rainbow Pride t-shirt! (sponsored by Westboro Baptists)

At Facebruce, we strongly disapprove of genocide. Our official statement.

A statement from our CEO and Founder, Bruc.

“Look, I”m fed up at people complaining about Facebruce allegedly “facilitating” genocide. Since we began, we’ve always been about connecting people–initially some nerds to chicks we rated as hot, but now it’s about connecting everybody. We’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony.

Unfortunately, not everyone wants to sing in perfect harmony. Some people, we are shocked to learn, aren’t actually very nice people. How were we at Facebruce to know what would happen when our algorithms repeatedly recommended members of The Hutu Machete Enthusiasts Club also join the Death To Tutsi Cockroaches group?

We’re not in the content policing business. There’s simply too much of it. And anyway, we’re just a platform. We already have thousands of servers running 24/7 to weed out pictures of nipples (women’s nipples, to be precise) so your Auntie Martha doesn’t clutch her pearls, because offending people in high ARPU markets leads to a drop in engagement.

So there was literally no way for us to know that the Death To Tutsi Cockroaches group was not simply a pest control company. I even went so far as to attempt to verify this, by walking around the HQ trying to find an African person to ask whether cockroaches are a problem, but there was no-one matching that description in the boardroom.

Facebruce is about building communities. We are very active in the GraphQHell community and the Reactionary community. In fact, only last week, we offered free afterhours use of a meeting room in our fifty storey gold-plated HQ to host a meeting of GraphQHell Engineers Against Killing Rohingyas, and even sponsored $100 of pizza for attendees. This shows that we’re taking real action and putting real resources into counteracting Hate Speech on the Facebruce platform.

So that’s cleared up then. Be sure to press “Like!” to demonstrate engagement.”

Next on Timeline: Why Covid is a hoax – evidence from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion!

Get that dream tech gig by solving Mike Taylr’s Silicon Valley whiteboard interview question

Like every other thought-leader, I follow Mike Taylr on social media. Ever since Shingy left AOL, “Mikey” has moved to the top spot of everyone’s Twitter “Futurist Gurus” Twitter list. This morning I awoke to read Twitter abuzz with exictement over Mike’s latest Nolidge Bom:

Of course, like anyone who’s ever sat a maths exam and been told to “show your working out”, you know that the widely diverse interview panel of white 20-ish year old men is as interested in how you arrived at your answer as in the answer itself. Given Mikey’s standing in the industry and the efficiency of his personal branding consultants, this question will soon be common for those interviewing in Big Tech, as it’s an industry that prides itself on innovative disruption by blindly copying each other. So let’s analyse it.

It’s obvious that the real test is your choice of marker colour. So, how would you go about making the right decision? Obviously, that depends where you’re interviewing.

If you’re interviewing for Google or one of its wannabes, simply set up a series of focus groups to choose the correct shade of blue.

If you’re interviewing for Apple or its acolytes, sadly, white ink won’t work on a whiteboard, no matter how aesthetically satisfying that would be. So choose a boring metallic colour and confidently assert any answer you give with “I KNOW BEST”.

If you’re interviewing for Microsoft, the colour doesn’t matter; just chain the marker to the whiteboard and say “you can’t change the marker, it’s an integral part of the whiteboard”, even after it stops working.

If you’re interviewing for Facebook or one of its wannabes, trawl through previous posts by the panellists, cross reference it with those of their spouses, friends and their friends to find their favourite colours, factor in their Instagram posts, give a weighting to anything they’ve ever bought on a site they’ve signed in using Facebook, and use that colour while whispering “Earth is flat. Vaccines cause cancer. Trump is the saviour. Muslims are evil. Hire me” subliminally over and over again.

Good luck in the new job! May your stocks vest well.

Don’t put pointer-events: none on form labels

The other day I was tearing my hair out wondering why an HTML form I was debugging wouldn’t focus on the form field when I was tapping on the associated label. The HTML was fine:

<label for="squonk">What's your name, ugly?</label>
<input id="squonk">

I asked my good chum Pat “Pattypoo” Lauke for help, and without even looking at the form or the code, he asked “Does it turn off pointer events in the CSS?”

Lo and FFS, there it was! label {pointer-events:none;}! This daft bit of CSS breaks the browser default behaviour of an associated label, and makes the hit target smaller than it would otherwise be. Try clicking in the “What’s your name, ugly?” text:

Try me, I’m good



Try me, I’m crap



I’m jolly lucky to have the editor of the Pointer Events spec as my chum. But why would anyone ever do this? (That line of CSS, I mean, not edit a W3C spec; you do the editing for the sex and the glory.)

Once again, Pat whipped out his code ouija board:

And, yes—the presentation had originally been Material Design floating labels, and this line of CSS had been cargo-culted into the new design. So don’t disable pointer events on forms—and, while you’re at it, Stop using Material Design text fields!

The clown in Steven King's IT down a storm drain, saying 'We all float labels down here Georgie"

Cloning a live WordPress site to work on locally

I’m doing some changes to this WordPress site and wanted to get out of the loop of FTPing a new version of my CSS to the live server and refreshing the browser. Rather than clone the site and setup a dev server, I wanted to host it on my local machine so the cycle of changing and testing would be faster and I could work online.

Nice people on Twitter recommended Local By Flywheel which was easy to install and get going (no dependancy rabbit hole) and which allows you to locally host multiple sites. It also has a really intuitive UI.

To clone my live site, I installed the BackUpWordPress plugin, told it to backup the MySQL database and the files (eg, the theme, plugins etc) and let it run. It exports a file that Local by Flywheel can easily injest – simply drag and drop it onto Local’s start screen. (There’s a handy video that shows how to do it.)

For some reason, although I use the excellent Make Paths Relative plugin, the link to my main stylesheet uses the absolute path, so I edited my local header.php (in ⁨Users⁩ ▸ ⁨brucelawson⁩ ▸ ⁨Local Sites⁩ ▸ ⁨brucelawsoncouk1558709320complete201905241-clone⁩ ▸ ⁨app⁩ ▸ ⁨public⁩ ▸ ⁨wp-content⁩ ▸ ⁨themes⁩ ▸ ⁨HTML5⁩⁩ ) to point to the local copy of the CSS:

link rel="stylesheet" href="http://brucelawson.local/wp-content/themes/HTML5/style.css" media="screen".

And that’s it – fire up Local, start the server, get coding!

If you’re having problems with the local wp-admin redirecting to your live site’s admin page, Flywheel engineers suggest:

  1. Go to the site in Local
  2. Go to Database » Adminer
  3. Go to the wp_XXXXX_options table (click the select button beside it in the sidebar)
  4. Make sure both the siteurl and home options are set to the appropriate local domain. If not, use the edit links to change them.

Maslow’s hierarchy of me me me

When I was in Thailand recently, I was wondering whether the ever-popular Maslow’s hierarchy of needs triangle had ever been tested against Asian cultures, in which the emphasis is on family and community rather than individualism.

When I asked on Twitter, Daniel pointed me to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need: Psychology Myth Busting #1 by Joe Leech who concludes

Self-actualisation, the idea of people becoming the best they can be is a very individualistic idea. Asian cultures are about the community and family that is collectivist in focus. Placing this very individual goal at the top highlights Maslow’s background, a man living in the individualistic USA.

There is also little evidence that the model is the same for men and women.

Nevalina pointed me to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: An Islamic critique which concludes

It is the basic line of the Islamic approach to strike a balance between material and spiritual needs in any situation of human existence, in times of saturation and need, stability and change, health and illness, happiness and distress. A model of a hierarchy of the different needs like Abraham Maslow’s can therefore not give credit to the reality of the interaction between material and spiritual aspects of the human being in different life situations, even if the spiritual aspect was to be named first.

It’s said that Maslow was influenced by the Blackfoot tribe of native Americans, but misunderstood them. In Maslow’s hierarchy connected to Blackfoot beliefs, Karen Lincoln Michel writes up a lecture presented by University of Alberta professor Cathy Blackstock at the 2014 conference of the National Indian Child Welfare Association.

“First of all, the triangle is not a triangle. It’s a tipi,” Blackstock said. “And the tipis in the Blackfoot (tradition) always went up and reached up to the skies,” she said.

Another difference noted by Blackstock is that self-actualization is at the base of the tipi, not at the top where Maslow placed it. In the Blackfoot belief, self-actualization is the foundation on which community actualization is built. The highest form that a Blackfoot can attain is called “cultural perpetuity.”

So it looks as if a white academic male in hyper-individualist America thought that everyone in the world is like him. What a surprise. I hereby rename his over-exposed diagram as Maslow’s hierarchy of me me me and forbid you from ever using it again.

One weird trick made me a better coder/ speaker/ product person

One trick that made me a better programmer/ speaker/ product person: relax. This sounds counter-intuitive in an industry where all-night coding sessions are seen as a virtue, and you’re supposed to have umpty-nine side projects on Github that you do in your spare time. (And we wonder why older people, women with children and people with disabilities are under-represented…)

But for me, resting is when ideas come. The best ideas come in the shower when I’ve not long woken up, or on a Friday evening when I’m drinking wine and listening to music. Your mileage may vary, of course; that’s why I titled this “made me a better programmer”.

When I tweeted this, Phillipp replied

I would go even further and say “rest good!”, because many people are aware of taking a break, but their breaks aren’t resting at all. They still allow to be flooded with information constantly…

This is an excellent point. One of my favourite ways of relaxing is reading. But I’m reading material of my choice, not being waterboarded by the information firehose of Twitter or the web. And if I’m reading, it’s because I want to — I could equally well be listening to music, or writing and recording music.

I advise reading eclectically, about anything that interests you. Even if you’re reading about particle physics, neurology, history or fiction, you’re seeing how other people present information, which can help you be a better presenter. And so many new ideas come from the unexpected collision of different disciplines that that the more widely you read, the more chances you have of seeing parallels and comparisons that others haven’t seen.

For me, relaxing is when ideas come; reading (and talking to a range of people ) is where ideas come from.

Bonus tip: always wear groovy shirts. A groovy shirt makes a groovy mind.

How to set up a website: a guide for the alt-right

I was saddened to read the alt-right describing Facebook and YouTube’s removal of Infowars as “simultaneously purg[ing] him from the internet“:

I assume Mr Tracey has not heard of the World Wide Web, which Tim Berners-Lee invited the public to try 27 years ago yesterday:

(Alternatively, perhaps Mr. Tracey has heard of it, and is simply distorting the facts to mislead people – surely not?)

Anyway, this new-fangled “World Wide Web” allows anybody to make what we in the trade call “a website”.

Mr Jones’ Infowars site already has one, which hasn’t been “purged” by anyone. (I won’t link to it because, well, ewwwww. Don’t “wah wah censorship” at me; my website, my rules.) But, as a service to alt-right frothers everywhere, here’s how you can set up your own.

You could go to wordpress.com where, for as little as £3 a month, you can host your site with a custom domain name (so www.horriblebullshit.com instead of horriblebullshit.wordpress.com). Alt-right people will need to exercise a little verbal continence to comply with their user guidelines:

The following activity/material isn’t allowed on WordPress.com … Illegal content and conduct.
… you cannot post a genuine call for violence—or death—against an individual person, or groups of persons … Don’t share someone’s personal information without their consent.

Note that these pretty laissez-faire terms of service do not curtail your free speech; WordPress.com is a business and isn’t obliged to take your money. The American first amendment applies only to the government.

As an alternative to WordPress.com, Wix allows you to make your own pretty website with a drag and drop builder, and host it with them for a small amount of money. Again, a modicum of decency is required; you can’t publish stuff

which may be deemed as defamatory, libelous, obscene, harassing, threatening, incendiary, abusive, racist, offensive, deceptive or fraudulent, encouraging criminal or harmful conduct.

Squarespace and Weebly also allow you to build and host websites (although I haven’t tried them. I used to work for Wix).

Tumblr will host your content and videos, with community guidelines:

Don’t encourage violence or hatred. Don’t make violent threats or statements that incite violence, including threatening or promoting terrorism. Especially don’t do so on the basis of things like race, ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, gender identity, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation.

I think such rules on a website that somebody else owns are entirely legitimate. As clause 19 of Terms of Service on Alex Jones’ Infowars website says

If you violate these rules, your posts and/or user name will be deleted.

Remember: you are a guest here. It is not censorship if you violate the rules and your post is deleted. All civilizations have rules and if you violate them you can expect to be ostracized from the tribe.

If you don’t want to trust a third party with your data, good on you! I’m all for an web of independent authors. (Or perhaps you can’t even muster up the good manners to be hosted by one of these services, in which case, bad on you. Have a good hard look at yourself in the mirror.)

It’s very easy these days to register a domain name (Google it), set up the free, open-source blogging WordPress software, choose any of thousands of free themes, and publish to your heart’s content, especially if you choose a host that specialises in WordPress hosting. You might have to pay slightly more, and do a little bit more work to make sure all software is updated and secure — but that’s a price I’m willing to pay in order to own and control my own content.

So there you are, alt-right folks. I’m an atheist liberal, so I despise the divisive nonsense you excrete. But I love that the Web allows everyone to publish, and wouldn’t want you to feel left out because you’re misinformed by people like Michael Tracey who don’t understand the web.

Of course, it’s perfectly possible no-one will visit your website to read how Bin Laden faked the moon landings in order to draw attention from the fact that Marilyn Monroe was a CIA-funded muslim who invented income tax and fluoridated water in order to seize your guns and pollute your precious bodily fluids. But that’s freedom.

Happy hating!