Friday, July 25, 2014

Re: NPR.org - The Confounding, Enigmatic 'Ode To Billie Joe'

Love this song. It fits in my favorite genre--non-love-song ballads (depending on your definition of ballad). American Pie, Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald are two classics. Downeaster Alexa, while nowhere close to that league, is a somewhat more recent example. Fancy by the same singer is also a good example.

Bobbie Gentry rarely gave interviews and disappeared from public life in the mid-1970s.

(why on earth do they have her posed next to a Victrola, or whatever you call that ancient record player?)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Goldfinch vs Downton Abbey

I really enjoy the great BBC miniseries, such as Downton Abbey and Selfridge. I know many people accept that fact that they are really just extremely high-class soap operas, but I don't. I think they could do better.

A characteristic of the soap opera genre is a huge number of plot twists. That is a big part, I guess, of what keeps people hooked on daily dramas, for months and years on end. And while sprawling, multi-character stories such as Downton Abbey will always have lots of plotlines and subplots to work with, I think fewer would be better..The surprises cease to be surprising--while the audience may not be able to guess exactly what direction the twist takes, they can usually predict the twist well before it arrives.

Closely related to the high number of plot twists is the implausibility. There are so many, and they come so fast, that most of the time, there is not enough set-up done. "Hand of God"appears with annoying frequency, to sweep the story in the necessary direction. Very unfulfilling, to me.

I recently read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. In the exposition of the book, she spends more than 20 pages, painstakingly fleshing out the improbable, so that is it no longer implausible. She spends many more pages setting up that incident, and then connecting it seamlessly with the rest of the plot.

Now I'll agree that the genre of a traditional novel is much different than a multi-year miniseries. The former will be much more linear. My only point is that if the miniseries cut the plot twists by half, and spent more time refining those that remain, the result would be much more satisfying, in the long-term.

Internet of Things: Security for Cars (and other critical stuff)

Security is a major concern regarding the internet of things. If your car's software can be updated remotely, what kind of risks does that create for malicious tampering? Or to take a less dire example, if your thermostat can be set remotely, what if a hacker tries to alter your setting? I have a couple of thoughts on safeguards. 

For less acute risks, such as the thermostat, every device should have a physical disconnect switch. So the person with physical control of the device, can instantly, indefinitely disconnect it from the internet. For more serious risks, such as autos, the ability to perform a remote update needs to be controlled. No wireless--software updates should only be installable via a physical port.

Inherited income regression to the mean?

NYT: "According to a recent study, if your income is at the 98th percentile of the income distribution — that is, you earn more than 98 percent of the population — the best guess is that your children, when they are adults, will be in the 65th percentile."

Seems much more of a regression than I would have thought.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Feature Idea: Turbo-Warm-Up Mode for Stovetop Burners

Is there any point to the top 40% of the range on an oven burner, if you aren't trying to boil water? For a burner that has positions 1-10, rarely so I cook above 5, maybe 6 if I have peanut oil. The only reason I turn it higher is if I am heating a pot of water, or to rapidly bring the burner up to speed. The latter occasionally causes problems, such as when I get distracted and don't turn it down soon enough to the desired, steady-state cooking temp.

So the feature I want is for the stovetop to automatically reduce the burner temp. This could be done one of two ways. Super-ideal, the burner would sense the temperature, or some proxy for it, such as electricity flow, and turn itself down when the desired setting was reached. Really, same as an oven works, when you think about it. Challenges to that are, first, the sensing technology, integrated into the burner/stove-top, probably involves additional cost. Second, the mechanical burner position will no longer correspond to reality. Not sure how to get around that, other than electronic controls--which are not necessarily a plus.

The variant would be timer-based. When you turn the burner to the very highest setting, only, that is turbo-heat-up mode, and only stays on a preset time, maybe 2 minutes, after which time it assumes you want an "average" medium-high temp. This avoids the need for the burner-integrated sensor, and it kind of solves the dial-setting issue, too.