Freesteel Blog » 2007 » March
I just saw Becka off on the plane which she promises will be the last flight she will ever take: going 8 weeks away to explore caves in China (while I continue to work on the cave exploration software).
The last flight I took was to China in 2005, and before that in 2002 to New York (travel to and from the West coast by train and bus), and then there were quite a few flights before then. Now I live in the future; instead of the present as society attempts to force us to.
Politicians tell us not to worry about the future; they have it all in hand, and they’ll have it all ready and sorted out for us when we eventually get there. They’re lying. No class of people live more in the present that politicians, with their constant crisis management, limited and gorged attention spans, and no time for thought and reflection. They’re riding a wild horse down unknown forest tracks at an immense speed, and loving it. They don’t know what’s coming up next: a cliff, a river, a tree, a scout camp. They only know how to hold on, and stay on top, come what may.
I had no regrets leaving the airport, catching the bus home, where I’ve got 40 days alone of solid coding ahead of me, subject to an 8 day jaunt to Copenhagen by boat. It should be enough time to change the world.
We’ll see how long this feeling lasts.
It takes just one and a half pints of beer to give me a hang-over that I can remember for a week. I might travel and install myself in friends’ houses, working on my computer while they are out at work. Tonight I’m going to fix this terrible cutter location error pictured above. It’s a very good sign that the const scallop algorithm doesn’t crash when it receives such positional garbage from the lower level function. I think it’s to do with the end-points of edges being 1e-14mm different in z, causing my numeric implementation of the quartic solver to be unstable. At the limit, the differential ceases to be continuous, which breaks the theory somewhat.
I have so many instructions of what to plant where, here and in the allotment, there’s no way I’ll get it right. For the really important things, like watering her plants in her office, Becka has left me a paper on her desk: “Water the plants on [ ] 16 April and [ ] 8 May, and check the boxes when you have done so.”
On Saturday I spent the whole day at a marine radio course. There’s this big GMDSS thing coordinated by UN that binds all the satellites and radio systems and frequencies into one mutually reinforcing safety net for losses of life at sea. All ships above a certain capacity are forced to carry this equipment and be part of the system. It’s optional for smaller craft to have some of it, although if you don’t have anything like a radio, and something goes wrong, no one will know who, or what, or where you are, and your case won’t show up in the bureaucracy, and you’ll remain on your own until you die or float ashore.
This principle applies if you are a ridiculous kayaker around England, or you are an impoverished fisherman in Senegal who can’t afford the license, let alone the equipment, and you get run over by a trawler from the EU which is down there hoovering up all the fish for peanuts so that these tiny inshore boats have to go unreasonably far off shore to find any food, after the government has used the license money to pay off the banks rather than compensate anyone for depletion of stock.
If I was a billionaire I could cause all sorts of mischief by buying several thousand EPIRBs and distributing them to all the fishermen at risk, so that the whole first-world satellite warning system would be at their disposal when their tiny wooden boat leaked and sank 20 miles out at sea. The signal would be detected by satellite, and the ship that trashed them would be committing an offense if the captain didn’t log the distress call in his log-book along with an explanation for why he didn’t pick them up.
The equipment could also be available to the boat people escaping from Haiti. That’ll teach us. If some idiot jet-skier who runs out of petrol out at sea in Wales deserves to be saved, why not a family escaping from death squads in a hell-hole?
At the limit, the international search and rescue system would be completely bunged up with refugees, or would establish the policy that some idiot’s lives are worth more than other’s, which will start looking quite unfair. Fortunately for the politics in question, the equipment is expensive and generally unavailable — unlike mobile phones, which are not incorporated as part of the rescue system, and probably never will be because of this, even though there’s nothing technical that should stop them from having a distress button which the coast guard could pick up. This means people who try to paddle across the Channel usually sink without trace.
So that’s it. We can’t have EPIRBs in mobile phones, because too many people we don’t necessarily want to rescue carry them.
The Government Spending (Website) Bill has just been brought to my attention. According to the Lords Second Reading debate, it’s inspired by The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (We’re not allowed to have the word “Transparency” in an Act of Parliament, because that’s a slogan.)
The basic deal of this proposed legislation is that:
The Treasury shall create, or cause to be created, a publicly searchable website containing information about expenditure by all government departments and executive agencies. Access to the information on the website must [be free and]… within 30 days of the date on which the expenditure was incurred.
The government’s initial response was that the websites they’ve recently been making are so crap they’ve been told not to try to make any more.
I’m sure a little further down the line we’ll hear the other excuses about how it would disproportionately costly to publish what is in effect the straight-forward bank-statement sent with their monthly bank balance, and the usual commercial confidentiality horse-nut, since certain commercial interests might be damaged were the public to find out just how much of a rip-off they were giving.
For at least 30 years, politicians have been shouting “tax-payers’ money this”, and “tax-payers’ money that”, but the State still believes that after it has appropriated our money from us, it becomes theirs, not ours, which means we don’t have a right to know how it is spent, let alone have any actual say in the matter.
Now I’m not one of those who believes there ought to be no taxes; there are a lot of essential things which require sustained collective action, and there are presently no other institutions which come close to implementing them. However, what I object to is the money being squandered. Or — worse than being squandered — large quantities of surplus money falling into the hands of people who become sufficiently empowered to completely pervert the course of democracy.
This — to be frank — is the main issue with surplus cash. It’s not about the greed, the fine wines, fast women, and fat yachts; it’s the spare capital which is then often invested in effective lying in order to obtain the next tranche of stolen cash, no matter what the consequences it leaves behind in the process. That’s where it gets evil.
Anyway, I might as well stop now, since I have just witnessed the finest rant against a politician I am likely to see all year. More like that please.
How the heck would anybody know? But I’ve got this email back relating to my dogged FOI requests to Bristol City Council alluding to this entity fabricated for the purposes of sucking up money while filtering out public accountability through a series of confidentiality clauses. There’s a simple principle here. It’s the public’s money, so the public has the right to know how much is spent, and what they’re getting for it. Any attempts to hide this information is an admission that the public isn’t going to like what they see, when they eventually get to see it.
I find that governments know instinctively what the public does and does not want them to do; that’s how they know what to hide and what to publicize. Ergo, if they publicize everything, there’s a good chance we will get more of what we want.
So, here’s what I got back from T.S., Corporate Complaints Manager of Bristol Council on 6 March (copying a 7 February email that got lost in my spam folder):
I am now in a position to respond to your complaint made in accordance with the “Fair Comment” complaints procedure.
However, before responding to the points you have raised, both in your complaint of 25 January 2007 and your email to K.A. of 24th January 2007, it would appear that there is some confusion which I should first address.
You say in your request of 3 December 2006 that Bristol City Council entered into a contract…with Northgate Information Systems through the body Skanska Education Partnership. This is not correct. Bristol City Council have a contract with LEP (The Local Education Partnership Programme). The LEP have subcontracted to Skanska and Skanska have subcontracted to Northgate. As a result, it would appear that the details you are seeking are of the sub contract between Skanska and Northgate.
In your request of 3 December 2006 you go on to request “details relating to the Council’s consideration to accept such confidentiality requirements in the contract it signed with Northgate”. As stated above, I can confirm that there is no contract between Bristol City Council and Northgate.
Unfortunately there may have been some confusion, as M.O. has confirmed that Section 41(Information provided in confidence) and 43 (Commercial Interests) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, apply to requests made for the charges for the provision of ICT services to each school. However these exemptions have been applied to information contained in the contract between Bristol City Council and LEP (that is held by Bristol City Council), rather than between BCC and Northgate (as requested, but which does not exist).
In relation to the contract between BCC and LEP, section 41 is engaged, as the Council has entered into a contract with LEP confirming that this particular information will not be disclosed. If we were to disclose this particular information, this could be an actionable breach of confidence. I can also confirm that section 43 is engaged as disclosure of this particular information would prejudice the commercial interests of the parties involved. Although the City Council wishes to be transparent and accountable to the public, it would not be in the public interest to disclose this information at this time as the Council would make itself vulnerable to an actionable breach of confidence and the commercial interests of the parties involved would be prejudiced.
Also M.O. was to forward you details of the contract, which were not deemed to be commercially sensitive. However the contract to which M.O. referred, is again the contract between BCC and LEP. Of course we can send you this information if you require it, however it would now appear that your request related to a contract between Skanska and Northgate, rather than BCC and LEP.
I can also confirm that we do not hold a copy of any contract between Becta and Northgate therefore the exemption quoted in accordance with section 21 (Accessible by other means) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 was unnecessary. Quite simply the Council do not hold this information, so are unable to disclose it to you, however this information may be accessible to you by other means, if you were to approach Becta or Northgate for a copy.
It has been confirmed by J.M., Senior Solicitor, involved in this matter, that the issues of confidentiality and Freedom of information were considered and addressed in drafting the contract between BCC and LEP. However we are unable to provide you with written documentation of this as any documents relating to this specific point are contained within the many un-indexed boxes storing the very large number of documents relating to this matter and it is estimated that to locate and provide you with this information would exceed the appropriate limit (18 hours). I can confirm that approximately five hours have already been spent dealing with your requests.
I would suggest that you now direct your request towards Skanska or Northgate for details of the contract between these organisations. I apologise for any confusion and confirm that any further request made for information held by the Council relating to its contract with LEP will be responded to appropriately, within the time limit, subject to relevant exemptions.
It’s that final paragraph that pisses me off more than all the rest of it put together. T.S. suggests that I direct my request to Skanska or Northgate, knowing that such a request is a complete waste of my time since these are private corporations which have no duty of accountability to the public, in spite of the fact that they thrive on significant quantities of public money from which they make vast profits whilst delivering substandard services. So it goes.
I remain in pursuit of the pricing agreement called a “Service Order” apparently signed in July 2006 whereby Northgate Information Systems is to supply Bristol City Council with ICT equipment worth at least £8.9million, as announced in its press release of 4 July 2006.
By law all government procurement contracts above the value of £100thousand must either go through the European tendering system, or fall within the terms of a framework contract, such as that signed between Becta and Northgate which was belatedly announced on 27 September 2006. I hold a copy of this contract and, whether or not Bristol City Council holds a copy as well, I have reason to believe that, given the size and lack of compliance withe OJEU regulations, the deal with Northgate is bound by it.
Bristol City Council’s resistance to my right to know this information is on record. So far I have been told of confidentiality clauses for which the justifying paperwork has been lost, received responses only at the statutory limits, had my statements of fact deliberately misunderstood, been cited exemptions which do not apply, and been recommended to divert my inquiries towards private bodies where it is known they will fail. I have also been made aware of what I consider to be a series of shells, such as “Local Education Partnership” and “Skanska Education Partnership”, about which there is no available public documentation, and through which public money is channeled in the absence of public accountability.
So, without further ado, I am requesting, under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the following information which “transparent and accountable” council would have outlined on its website in the first place:
1. A copy of the full contract as it stands between “Bristol City Council” and the “Local Education Partnership”, which Tim Sheppard’s told me was available to FOI users in his email to me on 6 March 2006.
2. The list of people on its governing body, evidence of legal independence of the council if there is any, and any available accounts so far, and an explanation of what it means for it to have a “commercial interest”.
3. All relevant details of the statutory duties of the “Local Education Partnership” in relation to the Freedom of Information Act.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions. I would be happy to receive any part of this information at the earliest available opportunity via email or hyperlink if it gets posted up on your webpage.
I spent the weekend down in London at Rufus’s Open Knowledge event doing a thing on the UN and mixing with the great and the good in the internet revolution in the dark ceiling paint peeling room of the Limehouse Town Hall, one of very few stolen buildings. This was the place we had an event a couple of years ago, where the amazing Open Street Map project was announced. This is where stuff really happens, away from the billion dollar scams that is the hallmark of the Information Technology software industry.
With regards to hardware, the corporations seem to do work that’s second to none. The processing chips, the memory, the speed, the continuing adherence to Moore’s Law is little less than extraordinary. We undoubtedly get access to the best computing hardware that could be made by humans anywhere in the world. The military-industrial complex doesn’t stop us; I remember export controls for 16 bit processors they had in the 1980s that was rumoured to have had an affect on the Sinclair QL. We laugh when anyone tries to convince us that the computing hardware that controls the hundred-million-dollar-per-shot cruise missile is better than what can be bought at the corner store. It goes like monetary hyper-inflation. Pretty soon we’ll all be millionaires. Except that the processing cycle doesn’t get devalued in order to conserve our real wealth.
But when it comes to software, something goes badly wrong. The work that some corporations do in the realm of software would, if they were designing chip circuits, be like crayon pictures on the wall of the kindergarden class. The six-year-olds are doing the best they can, but it’s not worth a million dollars, is it? At least not this year.
After a very cheap curry nearby, I stayed the night in the flat of the guy who does the New Zealand version of TheyWorkForYou, and in the morning got shown Upcoming.org, and the book Secrets and Lies, which I have temporarily confiscated from him. The book is based on a large quantity of secret PR documents leaked out of a pro-logging company, and may have cost the Right-wing parties the 1999 election. I’ve just read the chapter where a stick of dynamite was taped to a helicopter, reported by everyone as a bomb in spite of the fact that there was no detonator (like mistaking a bare engine in a wheelbarrow of gasoline for a “car”), and blamed on the “eco-terrorists” who were camping up in tree houses that were later smashed to pieces by said helicopters battering them with a huge log dangling underneath. I had no idea of any of this. I had been in New Zealand in 2001 near the time and actually witnessed this bizarre helicopter tree operation from from a hired kayak in a lagoon on the west coast.
I’m trying to get my idea accepted of contracting out all historical political research into wikipedia. There is now an improved List of tree-sits. Keep on going. It’s kind of sad how the Native Forest Action website stopped all action the moment the campaign was won. Surely there was something this resource could be linked forward into to keep the lessons of history alive. They will need them in the future.
Tuesday, March 13th, 2007 at 11:03 am - Machining
Yes, I’ve been driving myself nuts building up yet more machining strategies for people who can find out what’s wrong with them by return of post. Not such a good mood when you have a nasty hang-over from just one and a half pints last night. Then, because it’s Tuesday, I’ll have to endure yoga at lunchtime. This is a picture of a specially constructed model someone in Denmark has been making to give the algorithm a hard a time as possible. Still, we haven’t worked out an automatic regression testing system to make sure that what has been proven to work, stays working for the rest of time, because that’s way too hard. You can only do that when the system has become stable enough to be able to write programs to run it, but once you get there you never can see the point of regression testing code that you don’t believe is going to be further changing.
Horizontal machining is a strategy for detecting all the perfectly horizontal areas in a model and facing them off with some sort of flat-bottomed tool. It’s done by first scanning through the list of triangles and adding up the areas of the (nearly) flat ones according to (approximate) z-height. This gives a sequence of candidate z-values. Now go through this list and make a z-contours for your toolshape slightly above the z, and slightly below the z, and return the difference of the two areas. This leaves you with all the flat-bottomed pockets that disappear at that level, as well as all horizontal shelves.
Send these contours over to some other part of the system and some kind of 2D area filling toolpath strategy provides the result.
This strategy is also used for machining a model where there are lots of little terraces. There are flaws in its use here. When the terrace is narrower than the tool diameter, you still get a closed contour such that the tool will go along it twice, along the inside and back along the outside, unable to tell that once is enough. Also, when the terrace is narrower than the tool corner radius, no part of the tool can be touching it, since when the tool is against the wall, its flat is further away than the width of the terrace. I imagine one normally uses a slot drill for this job.
What you really want to be using in these cases is the pencil milling operation, because that gives one pass. Also, if the tool corner radius is bigger than the width of the terrace, you get a pass that’s slightly lower to put the tool in the place where it is at the same time in contact with the wall and the edge of the terrace. The z-value of this pass will go up and down according to the precise width of the terrace.
Alternatively, there’s probably a derivation of the Adaptive Clearing strategy that gets in there and does multiple passes if required, and single passes on narrow shelves, and skips it when the corner radius doesn’t reach it. I got too much other stuff on my plate at the minute to bother doing that. Maybe later in the year.
My previous post about a futurologist who talks a lot about the future while conveniently omitting to mention the one huge factor that is really going to define the immediate future of the species has showed up on a blog aggregator at his university. That means he might have read it. Uh-oh.
Anyway, to avoid boring all the legions of readers of this blog who aren’t interested in anything except the machining algorithms, I’ve put a link to the machining category on the front page of the site, where I also wondered about changing from the too short “FAQ” to the too long “Frequently Asked Questions”, and then settled on “Freq. Asked Questions”.
I need to get out more.
Well, hello there. I’ve been exploring the podsphere since late last December and, since I like Science Fiction, I have run my ears through the huge number of free podcasts by Cory Doctorow, copyfighter and eco-tastrophe extraordinaire.
There are some good ones (Visit the Sins), but most unfortunately subscribe to the usual techno-myth of a future in which we become immortal beings after our brains have been uploaded into computers for back-up, emulation, and pleasure-seeking downloads into other meat-puppets.
It’s just not a good idea anymore, but it’s interesting because it’s the only future that could overcome our problems, such as the paradox of exponential economic growth, the dwindling stock natural resources available for exploitation, and the mounting evidence that the free ride Mother Nature has been giving us for the last couple hundred years is suddenly going to end. Whatever your views are on the rates of technological improvement, it should be pretty clear that we’re going to hit trouble far sooner than the time when the first person is able to duplicate themselves into a cyberspace simulation on a matrix of bunkers rammed with nuclear powered computing machinery.
That much was entertaining. However, what really got on my tits about these podcasts were the five minutes of idle chatter at the start where Mr. Doctorow does what he can to make the listener feel inferior and envious of his life, and of the way he can give the same speech over and over again which people want to hear, get passes into secret clubs in Disneyland, and generally have a cool time jet-setting around a world where everybody loves him.
There are some people who actually put in the months of thankless effort to write the free software information products to which people like him refer to, and I can tell you that none of what he has ever said has done anything to encourage them.
Well, after five podcasts I’d just about had enough of this, when I suddenly had an idea. I wondered: What if there was a sufficient information among this useless babbling to reconstruct the Cory Doctorow travel itinerary for the whole of the year 2006?
Doctorow is a Canadian national who, until December 2005, was employed by the Electronic Freedom Foundation to work out of London as an all-round advocate, able to represent the voice of the consumer at the WIPO conferences in Geneva. He gave up this job at the start of the year to become a full time Science Fiction writer, and then moved to Los Angeles in July to take up a one-year appointment at the University of Southern California as the US-Canada Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in a “Center for Public Diplomacy”– obviously because they thought that what he writes is more than just cheap SF trash that people might claim it was in order to accuse them of reading too much sense into it. So…
Futurologist (as long as the future doesn’t mention global warming), electronic consumer advocate, and all-round Mickey Mouse sell-out, Cory Doctorow’s travel plans of 2006
2006-01-01 began with his family on holiday in London.
2006-02-13 flight to Boston via Amsterdam after original route was canceled by bad weather. Returned for a London speaking engagement six days later, after giving a talk at Olin College, and being a Guest of Honour at an SF convention. (11826 km)
2006-04-1? flights from London to Brisbane, presumably including a return flight to Cairns for a dive on the Great Barrier Reef, followed by a trip to Melbourne, and then to Sydney on consecutive days to give popular talks, and then a return journey to London via a four day trip to Disneysea in Tokyo. (38971 km)
2006-06-30 fly off for a quick four day holiday in Rome. (2896 km)
His 2007 podcast season commenced with a many part reading of his novel about jetlag.
Let’s see, that’s at least 37 take-offs and landings, and 193,000 kilometres, composed of (approx) 2 short, 5 medium, 7 long, and 23 extended haul flights, which comes to at least 28 tonnes of carbon and other pollution in the upper atmosphere. Add another 7 tonnes for being an average rich white guy, and we’re up to approximately 35 tonnes, 80% of which is flying. Given as the total needs to be less than one tonne for the environment on which we depend to survive, we’ve got a little bit of a lifestyle problem here.
Now folks, there are two kinds of futures we can talk about; there’s the fake one which we like to imagine, where our grandfather gets cured of cancer at the hospital and lives forever, and then there’s the real one which we will all eventually be living in, whether we like it or not.
Cory Doctorow will say and do whatever he can to make Cory Doctorow’s life more interesting and fulfilling. However, there will be people in a 150 years time who are not Cory Doctorow who, when thumbing through his literature which might have just got out of copyright by then, are going to say, “My god, what were people back then thinking when they took this stuff seriously? Not a single person in any of his audiences bothered to ask him about how climate change fitted in with the future he was laying out.” He seemed like he really enjoyed his four day visit to the re-creation of Renaissance Venice in Tokyo Disneysea, but did he ever wonder where was the model of the early 21st century New Orleans?
Why didn’t anyone at that Singularity Summit one-day conference in May, to which he flew at the cost of £2300, shout: “For godsake Cory, we’ve got broadband in the home, and we’ve got high speed tele-presence and high-definition interactive videos, so why the hell didn’t you phone yourself in? It’s not like you came here to go diving in the sea. It’s just your words and your face, and if you’re not prepared to use this technology on which you have staked the meaning of life, why should anyone take any notice?” For that money he could have hired a meat-puppet to wear a humiliating Cory Doctorow mask and helmet-mounted camera, microphone and speakers to go round the room being him for the day, moving by joystick control. But no one thought of it. Maybe he’ll be one of those guys condemned in his futuristic stories as one who doesn’t upload his character into cyberspace and dies as a mortal because he can’t imagine life any other way.
Man, this species is doomed. We have some good simulations of physical reality — not quite as detailed as to the level of neural processes — but they’re called climate models. And we take no notice of them when they challenge life as we know it. Between official government predictions, which are all self-serving lies, and modern Science Fiction which can’t get beyond one overwhelming singular fantasy irrespective of the fact that we are going to continue to exist nowhere else but on this planet through all the rough times ahead, we simply won’t know what’s hit us. What’s wrong with you people? Please pay attention. Demand more from your heroes than simply cheaper and smaller Disneyland products.
Oh, and podcasters: please give the date in all your podcasts, since it’s a pain to keep having to reconstruct this information from elsewhere.
Monday, March 5th, 2007 at 3:50 pm - Whipping
My two weeks in Cambridge is now complete. The first week was getting the drop-cutter code into a good enough state, and the second was spent getting distracted by people when I was really trying to work on Tunnel. I was keeping house for my 94 year old grandfather who was getting radiotherapy treatment for a stubborn cancer on his scalp. The treatment involved getting picked up by a taxi at around 8:30am, receiving a 15 minute fraction, returning from the hospital before midday, eating lunch, finishing the crossword, and talking quite a lot. There were so few side-effects I wondered if he was being treated with a placebo.
Francis, the other half of publicwhip and former employee of NC Graphics, came over for lunch several times. The mood was subdued because of the sudden death of Chris Lightfoot the week before, with whom we would always go out to lunch whenever I was in Cambridge. His funeral came on Friday, attended by a couple hundred individuals — a turn-out suggesting that this was no ordinary 28-year-old. Francis was one of the six carrying the coffin. Everyone wore smart clothes, except me. Chris was pretty untidy too in his life, so I could say I was respecting that, unlike everybody else.
Chris was a programmer, among other things (he helped set up my server seagrass on which this freesteel experiment is hosted). The funeral was right proper Christian service. I remember one part of the tribute, which went:
Chris was often very critical of the code he encountered, although there were some programs which he evidently approved of. One day his friends got together to work out what was the difference between code he liked and code he didn’t like, and the best approximation they could come up with was to measure how much of the program Chris had written himself, and if it was more than 50%, he liked it.
I think we’ve got our whole memorial response the wrong way round. When someone dies, we should hold an event where we discuss how horrible the person was, and how much better we are without them, so that they will not be missed.
I guess that’s why they theme is a little more subtle: “Giving thanks for the life of…”. We are comparing it to the world in which he had never been born. It’s all a bonus, even if it is short-lived.
I spent all of Thursday morning banging in bolts into the concrete floor of Francis’s bike shed out the back of his house, which has a roof and no bike stands at all. It took three hours to drill six holes for the Sheffield stand which cost me £84. Francis went out and bought a bike that afternoon so he would have something to lock to it.