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Alan De Smet

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How to stop seeing friends comments on third party posts on Facebook. [Oct. 18th, 2013|11:52 pm]
Alan De Smet

Facebook now shows you when your friends comment on third party's posts. This drags posts I never wanted to see from people I don't want to know in front of me. This is a good idea because fuck you, that's why.

To disable this:

1. Use the web site. It doesn't work from the iOS app.

2. Where it say "Joe Shmoe commented on this", hover over "Joe Shmoe".

3. Click the button labelled "Friends"

4. Click the menu entry "Settings..."

5. Under "What types of updates", deselect "Comments and Likes"

6. April fools, that setting doesn't actually do anything! It's a cruel joke. You can't do anything about it at all, because Facebook is awful.

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How not to ask a stranger a question by email [Apr. 3rd, 2013|07:55 pm]
Alan De Smet

Actual email thread from a stranger (name omitted):

From: Stranger
Subject: Urgent ?

Why don't you add the expiration date ?

From: Alan

To what would I be adding an expiration date?

From: Stranger

To ur website

From: Stranger


I despair for humanity.

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Awesome election results [Nov. 7th, 2012|12:17 am]
Alan De Smet

Results are still being counted, but it seems clear a lot of good things happened tonight:

Obviously, Barack Obama won a second term. I have a lot of problems with Obama (drone strikes, keeping Guantanamo open, targeted killings of Americans, and more), but Romney kept everything bad about Obama and added more (homophobia, anti-guaranteed health care). So, huzzah!

The polls were suggesting it was going to happen, but I'm surprised and happy that Tammy Baldwin, a Madison liberal, and a lesbian to boot, defeated Tommy Thompson, a man who was governor for 14 years. I was betting against Baldin, even as I hoped.

It looks like Maine, Maryland, and Washington have all voted in favor of same-sex marriages, and Minnesota has rejected adding homophobia to their constitution. Homophobia is on its way out; soon 5 states will recognize gay marriage. Five years ago I would have bet the turning point on gay marriage was 20 or more years away, but it's right now!

Finally, on the less critical front, Washington and Colorado have legalized marijuana. (Or more accurately, said that the state shall legalize marijuana, after setting up regulations.) It's not as essential as the other races and referendums, but it is a nice sign of sanity winning out. (Washington also voted to require a supermajority for tax increases, so don't worry about sanity being too dominant.)

All in all, a pretty sweet night.

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Republicans on rape [Oct. 23rd, 2012|10:36 pm]
Alan De Smet

Todd Akin, Republican candidate for Senator from Missouri, thinks "legitimate" rape victims are less likely to get pregnant. If they do Richard Mourdock, Republican candidate for Senator from Indiana, thinks God apparently wanted women to get pregnant from rape. Tom Smith, Republican candidate for Senator from Pennsylvania, understands the challenges of a rape pregnancy, because he thinks a daughter becoming pregnant from out of wedlock, consensual sex is similar.

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Spec Ops: The Line. Brilliant. Highly recommended. [Oct. 9th, 2012|08:01 pm]
Alan De Smet

I have now finished Spec Ops: The Line. I'm drained by the experience. I'm glad I played, and I highly recommend it. It's comparing apples to oranges, but this is the best video game I have ever played.

Spec Ops is a study, a deconstruction, of the modern military shooter, the broshooter. It is to the genre what Apocalypse Now was to military movies. The developer understands the genre on a deep level, deep enough to expose it and to challenge a player to seriously consider the genre and the implications of the stories the genre tells. It is a reflection on war, games, and the intersection. This is art. Great art. (Unfortunately opponents to the ideas that games can be art won't be able to see it, as it requires a strong familiarity with the language of the genre to appreciate.)

I can't talk about the game. I want to. Badly. But part of the brilliance of Spec Ops is being genuinely surprised by what happens. Even small details matter. I foolishly ignored advice to play it without looking at reviews or analysis, and I regret that decision. Fortunately the game is still powerful, in part because there are some details that weren't spoiled. I will say that it is a rock solid shooter in addition to its other elements; I was enjoying the gameplay up to the end. To an extent, that it is a solid shooter is essential to its effectiveness.

If you have played at least a few modern military shooters, and enjoy the genre, I highly recommend this game. Avoid spoilers, including any reviews.

(Edited 2012-10-15: Adding missing "developer".)

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maximum power from an FFT [Sep. 19th, 2012|12:28 am]
Alan De Smet

Noted in hopes it will be useful to others. To people who actually understand FFTs, this is probably obvious, which may be why I couldn't find it clearly spelled out.

If you passed your FFT (Fast Fourier Transform) N samples, and the largest possible absolute value for a given sample is I, then the largest power you'll see in the output is N*I. (Of course, the FFT will hand you a pair of numbers, a complex number. So the power is sqrt(a*a+b*b) if a and b are the pair of numbers.

So, if you're running an FFT over 16-bit signed integer audio (values -32768 through 32767), and you pass in 4096 samples to your FFT, the largest possible power you'll get out is 32768*4096, or 134217728.

Armed with this knowledge, and the knowledge that you can get decibels with 20*log10(power), you can normalize your spectrum to 0 decibels (the loudest possible sound) with the following.

N = 4096
I = abs(-32768)
maximum_possible_power = N*I
maximum_possible_db = 20 * log10( maximum_possible_power )

this_power = sqrt(a*a+b*b)
this_db = 20 * log10(this_power) - max_db
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Kickstarter's terrible customer interaction [Aug. 2nd, 2012|06:30 pm]
Alan De Smet
[Tags|, ]

Kickstarter recently banned "Rewards in bulk quantities". Why? It's a mystery, because Kickstarter is an opaque box. As Fred Hicks notes, this is terrible for people trying to launch a product line via Kickstarter. But one thing that stuck out was the exchange between Playroom president Dan Rowen and Kickstarter. Reformatted:

Playroom president Dan Rowen: We got a message in our Kickstarter Message Inbox stating that were reported as having bulk prices… We inquired further because we weren’t sure what 'bulk' actually meant. Did that mean that no price breaks were allowed for buying multiple copies?

Kickstarter's response: You’ll find on our guidelines that we prohibit bulk rewards as well as rewards geared towards retailers in general.

In their reply, they failed to answer Rowen's question (please define "bulk") and invented a new rule prohibiting "rewards geared toward retailers." That rule still isn't in Kickstarter's guidelines.

This sort of terrible customer interaction was exactly what Eva and I encountered when Kickstarter rejected our project.

Kickstarter: When someone asks a question, be sure to answer it. Right now I'm seeing a pattern of being evasive. It makes me suspicious of you, it makes me distrust you. And most immediately, it's making me thing that IndieGogo is the better solution, especially now that they added a "fixed funding" option that essentially matches Kickstarter's "all or nothing" rule.

And on the matter of "bulk," you need to define it and justify it. And the justification better be good if you're going to screw over new businesses like this.

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Ubisoft allows hackers to invade your computer [Aug. 2nd, 2012|06:18 pm]
Alan De Smet
[Tags|, ]

Ubisoft, previously noted for locking innocent people out of games they played for while pirates suffered no such penalty, helped hackers invade your PC by installing a giant backdoor in a browser plugin that you didn't ask for, don't want, and doesn't provide you with any value. The immediate problem may be fixed, but the deeper problem remains: Ubisoft thinks they own your computer, not you, and will take risks on your behalf in their overreaction to limit piracy.
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Center for Copyright Information is consumer hostile [Apr. 4th, 2012|08:06 pm]
Alan De Smet

So the Center for Copyright Information is buying Twitter ads. Probably a good start, since if you're going to selling leeches as medical care you better have a good marketing campaign.

I checked out their site and quickly found a variety of things to anger up the blood. Some highlights follow. This isn't terribly well organized and is just ranting; the Electronic Frontiers Foundation has a more formal, more carefully researched response to the CCI.

From "From Where I Sit" (Backup link), the page their Twitter ad links to:

Last July, I learned that after two years of negotiation the nation’s largest content companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) under which they planned to educate consumers about ways to enjoy content legally and avoid the pitfalls of illegal content distribution.


I was intrigued because, despite their divergent interests, these parties were working hard to build a multi-stakeholder solution that would address the needs of consumers and content owners alike, while avoiding government intervention.

If this is designed to address the needs of consumers and content owners alike, why weren't consumers at the negotiating table for these last two years. Also, how do the nation's largest content companies have "divergent interests?" They all pretty much want the same thing: the most draconian copyright laws they can get. Negotiating didn't take two years because they disagreed, it took two years to figure out what they could get away with.

From "Frequently Asked Questions" (Backup link):

The alerts will also inform consumers of the potential dangers of illegal file sharing, including their increased risk of exposure to computer viruses, spyware and other malware, and identity theft.

You know what has pretty much the exact same risk? Browsing the web. Apparently CCI is taking plays from the conservative anti-sex anti-abortion playbook, implying that rare events represent serious threats and demanding abstinence where simple protections are highly effective.

These alerts will be similar to current credit card fraud alerts. Today, when fraud is detected on a consumer’s credit card account, the credit card company notifies the consumer by an email, a text message or a phone call. Like credit card fraud alerts, Copyright Alerts are intended to be educational for consumers.

A credit card fraud alert is hardly "educational." By that standard your car alarm going off is "educational." Copyright alerts are threats.

Under this system copyright holders will notify a participating ISP when they believe their copyrights are being misused online by a specific computer (identified by its Internet Protocol (“IP”) address which indicates the connection to the Internet).

An IP address identifies a specific computer in much the same way that a street address to a building identifies a specific person inside. Sure, maybe only one person lives there, but it could be shared by several people. Heck an entire apartment building with hundreds of occupants might be sharing a street address and an IP address.

Alerts will be non-punitive but progressive in scale. ... For subscribers who repeatedly fail to respond to alerts, the alerts will inform them of steps that will be taken to mitigate the ongoing distribution of copyrighted content.


Once a consumer has failed to respond, mitigation measures might include temporary reductions of Internet speeds, redirection to a landing page until the subscriber contacts the ISP to discuss the matter or reviews and responds to educational information about copyright, or other measures that the ISP may deem necessary to help resolve the matter. These steps will only be taken after multiple alerts and a failure by the subscriber to respond. This system consists of 4-6 alerts, at the discretion of each ISP.

It's non-punitive, they may just cut off your ability to browse the web.

Also, who is paying for your internet service? Is it the CCI? I doubt it. No, you do. So why can the CCI have your service restricted? There is no legal obligation from internet service providers to do this. Any ISP that agrees to this has decided that a third party is more important than their very own customers.

...some subscribers may not realize that their home network is insufficiently secured, so facilitating neighbors or other unauthorized users to access it and use it for these purposes.

The CCI has essentially declared having an open wireless network (which is legal and very convenient for guests) can get your internet crippled.

No. This alert system does not, in any circumstance, require the ISP to terminate a subscriber account. This alert system is intended to notify and educate the subscriber.

If the goal is just to notify and educate, why the mitigation measures. Are you saying that I can simply call the ISP, say, "Yup, I know what's going on and don't care" and they'll turn off the internet restrictions? HA!

Before a Mitigation Measure is imposed, a subscriber may request independent review. To request an independent review, there is a $35 filing fee, which is waivable by the independent review body. This is a non-exclusive procedure, and any subscriber may choose to challenge any action in a court of law.

If you feel you've been unfairly or unreasonably targetted, don't worry about it, you can just spend more money to get the internet service you thought you were paying for in the first place.

Since most subscribers do not download or upload pirated content, the vast majority of subscribers likely will never see a Copyright Alert.


This might be true if you ignore the "download" part. It's actually a bit odd they mentioned it, since if you just download something with absolutely no uploads, you are simultaneously very hard to detect and even harder to sue; all of the file sharing lawsuits to date have been about uploading, not downloading.

But, anyway, if you've ever watched a video on YouTube that violated copyright, maybe a few minute clip a television show, that angry Hitler clip from Downfall, or been Rick'rolled congratulations, you've downloaded pirated content! Try to find someone who uses the internet who hasn't done any of those things.

19. Isn’t this just about ISPs trying to reduce online traffic?

No. The fastest-growing segment of web traffic is legal online content, and the CAS will encourage subscribers to experience it.

Notice what they didn't say that legal online content was the largest share of traffic, just that legal content is the fastest growing. It could very well be that 95.0% of all traffic is copyright infringement and that legal content is growing 0.5% a year, faster than anything else. That's an unlikely situation, but their avoidance of actual traffic numbers makes me suspicious.

20. Isn’t the distribution of copyrighted content driven by the fact that consumers can’t get legal movies and music online?

There are many legitimate options for consumers who want their movies, TV shows and music online and on the go.

So where exactly can I watch Game of Thrones again?. Kiss my ass.

In addition to exposure from violating copyright law and published policies, viruses, malware and spyware described above, the use of P2P applications can expose a consumer’s bank account numbers, tax returns, and sensitive health information to other P2P users.

Of course you can also expose that information to other people using applications like your email client or your web browser. In related news, I assume the CCI wants to ban automobiles, since their use can and does kill people.

From their front page (backup link):

Content Theft Costs America: More than 373,000 Jobs

Copyright infringement is so terrible absolutely nobody works in the content creation industries (jump to 2:52 in the video)

Content Theft Costs America:


  • Some $16 Billion in Lost Wages
  • $2.6 Billion in Lost Taxes

$2.6B in lost taxes. $16B in lost wages. So people working in the content industries pay about 16.25% in taxes. I wish my tax rate was that low.

From "The Facts About Copyright Infringement":

According to Congressional testimony, the number of hackers searching for sensitive records rose by nearly 60 percent in one year and, of the consumers who had inadvertently disclosed sensitive information over P2P networks, unauthorized third parties had accessed that information in nearly 87 percent of cases.

This is the equivalent to reporting that thieves checking for unlocked cars rose by 60% in one year, and that 87% of people who left their cars unlocked had things stolen from them. Sounds scary, but if only 0.00001% of people leave their cars unlocked, this is a non-problem.


Ultimately, if viruses, identity theft, and legal damages were serious threats, oneline copyright infringement would have dried up. The only reason the industry is so keen on the CCI is because the risks are incredibly low. The CCI isn't offering balance. They're don't care about helping consumers. The CCI wants to scare people. They want the ISP you pay for to work for them, not you. They want to stop people from legally sharing the internet service they pay for. The CCI is willing to conspire against you and spread falsehoods to accomplish this. That's not honest or ethical.

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Roman Candle Fitchburg has terrible delivery service [Mar. 30th, 2012|11:48 pm]
Alan De Smet
[Tags|, ]

It took a half-dozen incidents, but I've learned to not get delivery from the Roman Candle in Fitchburg. This is frustrating. I love Roman Candle's pizza. I love their roasted red pepper soup. But the delivery service is terrible.

We place semi-regular orders for our Friday night gaming group. Over the course of several months, we've had drivers show up missing parts of the order on several occasions. On one occasion we called to check on an order 90 minutes after we made the order. They assured us the order was almost ready to go. They called back a few minutes later to tell us that they had just run out of soup. They knew we wanted soup for 90 minutes, but it didn't occur to them to ensure they could fulfill the order. Today I was on hold for 15 minutes before I was able to reach someone. The driver arrived missing part of the order again.

No more delivery from Roman Candle in Fitchburg. A friend passes by the Roman Candle in Middleton on his way to game. If we want Roman Candle and can schedule in advance, we'll order pickup from Middleton and have out friend grab it. Otherwise we'll do without, because we can't trust the Fitchburg branch.

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