Helpy McHelperson: An advice blog

(Personal)

2012-02-10 17:07
Comment

Helpy McHelperson is my attempt to solve a crucial problem: I do not spend enough of my time giving people Useful Advice.

So I am starting. Advice, it shall be given! USEFUL advice. Already, I’ve helped many people, with problems ranging from disliking a restaurant’s music to being too angry to sleep.

Thus far, no complaints. Must be good advice.

Peter Seebach

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Rails: How to SANELY connect to an old database

(GeekStuff)

2012-02-10 13:48
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The world is full of helpful people advising that, to connect a model to another database, you just do:

class LegacyFoo < ActiveRecord::Base
  establish_connection "foo"
end

This is great advice, and it works. But if you have multiple models using the legacy database, it turns out there’s a problem: The establish_connection is per-class, meaning you have one established connection for each model. This means that you chew up allowable connections many times faster than you expect to.

Thanks to a very helpful IRC user (thanks, Scientz!), I now have a solution for this:

1. Create a new class:

class LegacyDatabaseModel < ActiveRecord::Base
  establish_connection "foo"
end

Store this in app/models/legacydatabasemodel.rb.

2. Convert all your legacy records to inherit from it:

class LegacyFoo < LegacyDatabaseModel
   ...
end

Now all your legacy records are sharing a single connection.

Peter Seebach

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How to be richer than you've ever been

(Personal)

2012-02-07 21:53
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Wealth is largely self-norming; while people tend to want more money, past some point (I think currently around $50k/year income in the US) it stops actually showing measurable effects on happiness.

Here’s why: Because wealth is largely relative, and you are always relative primarily to yourself. If you have a given amount of money, that is the normal amount of money. If you start to have less, you’ll feel sad and poor. Even though you may well have enough money to meet your needs — or at least, to meet what you would regard as your “unmet” needs if you had half as much as you do now.

Here’s the gimmick: You can manipulate the natural framing trends of the human brain substantially. You can make money change in its perceived value, and one way to do this is to immerse yourself in contexts where it has different values.

So let’s say you are a programmer, and you work in the midwestern US. According to the Internet, the average salary for someone in your position is about $50-55k annually. You might have some savings and such. Go look at your bank account. Doesn’t look great, does it? There’s people with lots more than that. Now, go look for some poor people. Ask around. Chances are good that you know someone who’s unemployed, or working at a fast food place. Artists are always a good bet, so are disabled people.

Find out what this person’s monthly rent is. Be prepared for a bit of sticker shock; when I did this, it turned out that the person I was talking to had monthly rent a little under a sixth of our monthly mortgage.

Now pay it. Don’t lend them the money, just pay their rent. Get your mind used to the idea that this amount of money is good for a month’s reprieve from the perennial fear of being homeless with nowhere to go.

Can’t afford that? Go to a cash machine, withdraw whatever your daily limit is, and wander around buying scruffy-looking people lunch. Go to the grocery store and offer to buy the groceries of the first person you see there with a little kid. Look at the amounts involved. A friend of mine was sorta panicked recently over losing food stamps — worth a princely $16/month. That is not a typo.

Now go look at your bank account. Man, you are rich.

It turns out that it costs less to keep your brain calibrated to this kind of money than it does to buy a new car every year, too. You can feel richer and more successful than people who earn a lot more money than you do. Oh, and you might save a few people from disaster. That’s always nice.

Peter Seebach

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Phishing continues to succeed, banks mystified.

(GeekStuff)

2012-02-07 02:17
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Here’s why phishing works.

Really. It’s that simple. If you have many domain names, and no easy way for users to identify which ones are legit, you are making life easy for phishers.

Every time you tell a customer to interact with a domain other than your primary domain, you are training them to fall for phish attacks. Period.

Peter Seebach

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My best sentence ever

(Personal)

2012-02-07 01:34
Comment [1]

I am concerned. We made a down payment on a lesbian and before it even shipped it got hit by a seagull.

… No, really. It’s sort of a long story. I think this may well be the first time anyone I know has ever been hit by a bird. I gotta say, though, seagulls would have been among my candidates for birds likely to just sorta fly into people like it ain’t no thing.

Seagull don’t care.

Peter Seebach

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Monkeys and Robots

(Personal, Autism)

2012-02-06 14:40
Comment [4]

I’ve been reading a book on “Scrum” methodology. Interesting stuff, and a lot of it makes sense.

Then I got to this:

Use open working environments. Such environments allow people to communicate more easily, make it easier to get together, and faccilitate self-organization. When I walk into open team areas, I can immediately tell how the team is doing. Silence is always a bad sign.

The discussion continues from there, with various commentary on how people work in groups. This is really insightful commentary. There’s just one issue: I can’t conceive of how anyone could get anything done like that. You could put me in an “open plan” office, sure. I could probably get a little work done for a day or two. By the end of a week I’d be non-verbal.

Most mental disorders (and I’m using the term broadly; I recognize that it’s disputed) have the form of shifts of competence within the basic model of human life and society. Whether people are antisocial or depressed or incapable of paying attention, they are still basically people. They think like people. They have commonality of motivation. You can imagine what it’s like to be them.

Among the various cognitive abnormalities I’ve dealt with in friends and acquintances, autism seems to be unique in that it completely changes the nature of existence. It’s easy to understand that some people have easier or harder times reading, right? But it’s essential to our understanding of humans that reading is a cognitively-involved task, while speaking is natural and easy. And when you encounter people who can be to upset to speak or hear spoken language, but who can write fluently… that’s different.

Imagine that you were to replace all your social contact with friends with textual media; chat rooms, IMs, stuff like that. If you’re not autistic, this sounds lonely. For most autistic people I know, it sounds relaxing. No, I don’t feel isolated and cut off from my coworkers whom I see face-to-face every year or two. I don’t feel like I’m less connected to the guy whose face I’ve never seen than to the guy I’ve seen lots of times. To me, personhood is an abstraction. Bodies aren’t people; bodies are things which contain people. The person isn’t the body, it’s the pattern to the body’s behavior. And I can see that pattern just as well in writing or other actions as I can by watching the body.

So I’ve been thinking about this a lot. See. A lot of autistic people I know share the sense that it’s quite disconcerting to find yourself on a planet dominated by telepathic monkeys; moreso because the telepathy is unreliable, but so inherent to them that they often find it simply impossible to question its reliability. Of course, I also hear complaints about the frustrations of dealing with emotionally-distant robots who always have to be so rational and have no sense of nuance.

Tyler Cowen wrote about autism and economic behavior. What makes this interesting to me is that it hints at a new way of framing the question of how we should relate. Typically, I see people arguing either that autistic people are disabled and should be taken care of by more-competent non-autistic people, or that non-autistic people are dysfunctional and autistic people are better.

I put it to you that the answer is neither; rather, autistic and non-autistic people have complementary skills and qualities. Learning to relate effectively and well involves, not deciding who is right in general, but learning to take advantage of each others’ strengths. Learning to communicate is something that both sets of people can work on; learning to understand the differences and make use of them.

I sometimes ask some of my coworkers (I have awesome coworkers) advice on interpreting statements that have the look to me of statements which have political or social connotations I’m missing. They sometimes ask me for second opinions on the sorts of structural abstractions that leap out at me the way they see facial expressions. And rather than me looking down at them for being “fuzzy” or them looking down at me for being “cold”, we look to each other as offering complementary skills, allowing a mutually beneficial association.

Robot likes monkeys. Monkeys like robot?

Peter Seebach

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Stealing the declaration of independence

(Personal, Autism)

2012-01-31 12:58
Comment [1]

Tumblr is full of jokes about “steal the declaration of independence”, which are (Jesse informs me) references to a move called National Treasure in which Nicholas Cage intends to do this.

So, the thing is. It strikes me as really weird that people would care. We know what it says. It’s not as though, if someone steals it, we suddenly owe the UK 235 years of back taxes. We have really really good pictures, we have detailed records… It’s just a thing.

So there’s this sort of disconnect where the huge emotional weighting seems crazy to me. Yeah, it’s all old and valuable and stuff, but so what? This is like those religious people who wouldn’t burn a copy of their holy book to keep someone alive in the cold. Dude, it’s just a thing. Turn off your symbolism processing for a few seconds and think like a rational animal.

Living on this planet is like being surrounded by people who absolutely must run away if they see a hawk silhouette, and if you ask them why they do that, there’s a 50% chance they run away because they thought about one.

Peter Seebach

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Discrimination, fairness, and making comparisons

(Personal, Politics)

2012-01-30 18:31
Comment [4]

So there’s this guy in Tennessee, part of their legislature. He says stupid stuff, like claiming that it’s virtually impossible to transmit HIV through heterosexual sex (not true).

A restaurant refused him service because of this. Some people are trying to spin this as being hostile to the religious beliefs of Catholics (he apparently is one), but this is not reasonable; the Catholic Church does not teach that HIV is only spread by gays, for instance.

There’s a lot of questions here. Is it permissible for restaurants to refuse people service based on something other than health risks, ability to pay, and so on? Everyone seems to agree that refusing service to black people because they’re black is not-okay. Religions, probably also.

Public behavior, though, gets into a different category. Clearly you can refuse someone service based on bad behavior they’ve engaged at within your facility before, and I think most people would expect this to extend to things like, say, personal clashes with staff. If a host refused to seat someone who had, say, previously beaten up a member of the host’s family, it might seem a bit weird, but it’s clearly not a civil rights violation.

And that’s the thing. The restaurant’s behavior may be annoying, and you might think it’s wrong, but I don’t think it’s a civil rights violation. The odious behaviors the Senator has engaged in are not membership in a protected class, they’re consciously chosen decisions to do things — and very harmful things at that!

Honestly, I think it’s sorta cool. The chances are that at least one person will die as a result of someone believing the very bad medical advice our hero has given the world; I mean, people do assume that Senators don’t just make up stupid stuff, or cite to advice columns from the 1980s as evidence about medical claims.

Fundamentally, I don’t see anything wrong with this that wouldn’t also be wrong with refusing to host the KKK or some other group whose bigotry is further from the mainstream’s comfort zone. It’s still bigotry, it’s still destructive of society, and I am glad to see people refusing to pretend that it’s normal or acceptable.

Peter Seebach

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Comment [4]

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Canon Vixia HF S30 works fine with Mac

(GeekStuff)

2012-01-28 20:54
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Attempts to research this failed, so I went to National Camera and checked it out. Yes, the S30 works fine with Mac. The dozens of badly-done fake blogs selling software to allow you to copy the stuff off it are, so far as I can tell, meaningless; it works fine.

That said, it is easy to see why people would be confused, as it’s easy to plug the camera in and not see anything, or see only still photos.

What you need to know:

1. There is a camera-vs-play button; using this toggles the camera between a camera mode and a playback mode, and the latter also turns on USB connectivity.
2. USB connectivity shows only the data for the mode the camera was in; if you had it in still photo mode, you see photos, if you had it in movie mode, you see videos.

So far as I can tell, given that, the camera works fine for iMovie/iPhoto. I would know more, but I don’t have one. Someone buy me one and I’ll update this post. Thx.

Peter Seebach

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Guys, guys. This is stupid.

(GeekStuff)

2012-01-27 22:51
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So, I wanted to add tumblr to my Android tablet.

There is a tumblr app for Android. So I searched for tumblr in the Market.

I have hundreds of results. Not one of them is the app whose name I typed exactly. This is because the search does not give any preference to an exact match. So everything that has the word tumblr anywhere in any part of it is an equally good candidate.

This kind of crap is why I don’t consider Android a remotely credible competitor to iOS. The people maintaining the Android ecosystem have given no thought at all to making it even possible to do very simple things like “I want to look for an app with a particular name.”

(Or maybe the app exists but won’t work on this tablet. Who could tell? There’s no way to find out from here.)

Peter Seebach

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