Social vs. effective safety

The appartement I live in is equipped with a smoke detector, the problem is is, this thing is way to sensitive, and triggers as soon as there is a slight burn, like say when the toasts are getting slightly blackened. Having a fire alarm go off while trying to have breakfast is quite annoying, having the system fire up every now and then basically reduces the value of the signal. Unsurprisingly, nobody reacted when the alarm went off.

It seems car alarms, and even the metal detectors at the airport follow the same pattern, cranking up the sensitivity and create a lot of of false positives and degrade the quality of the signal, but they make people feel they are addressing the problem, or at least doing something. Add to this the many panels instructing people to avoid doing things everybody knows is a bad idea (gee swimming while high is bad, who would have known) or explaining things nobody will have the time to read when the times come – do you really thing that in an emergency, people will have the time to read CPR instructions.

The interesting thing is, those actions are social constructs, the people installing setting and operating those system are probably not the ones who want such devices, or such settings on the devices, but society dictates it. In other words, those alarms and warnings are there not so much for practical reasons than for safeguarding some social illusion. While doing things for the sake of some social facade is not new, I think I prefer building temples and monuments instead of erecting disclaimer billboards…

Iron Man

Iron Man

Yesterday I was feeling lazy, having not done much beside doing my shopping, laundry and swimming a little bit – the complex I’m in has a small swimming pool. So I decided to go to the movies, second time in a week, this has not happened to me for years. I went to see Iron Man.

The only Iron man comic book I have read was the one written by Adam Warren, which was interesting. The plot felt a little to artificial, with reversals every x pages. Reading that book, I was mostly wondering why they went to the trouble of having somebody redrawing everything in a more normal comic book style, as this felt like an Adam Warren thing anyway. As expected, this was hardly canonical stuff. In short, I did not really know what to expect of the whole Iron Man franchise, what I expected was just a summer movie with larger plot holes and even larger explosions and special effects. In the end I liked Iron Man more than the fourth Indiana Jones, probably because in the second case, I did not have any expectations.

The movie itself is centered around Johnny Stark, a billionaire playboy selling high-tech weapons. He gets captured by some bad guys, who force him to build a weapon. Instead he builds a iron suit to escape. In the process he realizes that his creations are also used by the bad guys, and tries to do something about it, mayhem ensues (with of course, impressive special effects). The fact I liked in the movie is that main character is self centered and megalomaniac, this means he spends little time in the movie brooding and instead builds stuff, and although he realizes some things during the movie, he basically stays the same. So in the end, this was a good “pop-corn movie”.

Playing with content aware resizing

I while ago, I wrote an entry about content aware image resizing, as there now is a free Seam carving GUI, I played around with it a little bit. The following picture I took in San Francisco, the original is 3264 × 2448 pixels, I then used the tool to resize the picture to resize it to 2000 × 1200 pixels. I resized both pictures to the width of this blog so they are easy to compare.

View from San Francisco - Original

The interesting thing is that although the second image was strongly resized – more than a third of the width and half the height were removed – the second picture looks nearly normal, there are some strong distorsions on the building on the side and the cars. The algorithm also did the right thing in the sense it zoomed on the interesting features of the picture, the main road, the pier and the bridge.

View from San Francisco - Content Aware Resized


Excession by Iain Banks – Cover

When leaving for a trip, I always forget stuff. As this seems unavoidable, I just concentrate on not forgetting the critical stuff and make do for the rest. The thing I forgot when I left for the United States was a book given to me by a friend. A Iain Banks book. Upon receiving it, I thought “That will be a nice read during the trip” and forgot to take it with me. This was kind of frustrating beside the fact that I had forgotten something, people kept on saying good things about Iain Banks, so I wanted to read one of his books. Luckily there is a nice used books store in Mountain View, so bought “Excession” for cheap and read it.

Excession is set in The Culture, a galatic environnement where technology is sufficiently advanced to have solved most material problems. The Culture is host to both human beings, extra-terrestrial creatures, but also drones and AI, in particular ships. The story thus resolve around humans and ship interacting with entities outside of “The Culture”. Excession in particular describes the conspiracies surrounding the appearance of an Outside Context Problem, an object which shows mysterious capacities beyond the technological capacities of the Culture.

Excession’s narrative is quite classical for science fiction, with many parallel stories running in parallel, each describing one protagonist, either a human or a AI ship. Par of the narrative is the exchange of messages between the sentient vessels. I found the story interesting and the writing quite good, although I must admit that I found the electronic format tiring (the fixed width font used in the book is horrible). In conclusion quite a good book, certainly not as ground-breaking as Adam Robert’s Stone, but a good classic.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Yesterday, I saw the fourth Indiana Jones movie. I would normally not go for an action movie so early after its release, but this was organized and paid for by Google. While the movie was fun to watch, it is in my opinion nothing special. There are cases where I spend the movie waiting for the real plot to start, in this case, this was more the reverse, I enjoyed the introduction more than the main part of the movie.

The reason for this, without spoiling to much of the plot, is that Indiana Jones is an old professor, World War Ⅱ is finished. The first part of the movie takes place in the United States dominated by the cold-war and anti-communist paranoia. The contrast between the old guy and the new world gave the movie some interesting depth. Once the scene is set, the rest of the story happens in some exotic jungle with dangerous creatures, complicated archaeologic traps and a team of really bad guys with lots of stuff. The bad guys are Russians instead of Nazis, not that it matter much. There is some interesting character development, but in the end, the main part of the movie reminded me to much of the second movie with its improbable traps and bogus indigenous people.

English accents

Amy Walker, an actress doing twenty four various accents in English. Funny, but it is a shame there is no asian accent, and the French accent is not very good in my opinion.

Found by the way of the Swiss Miss blog.


Bell of Calltrain  Locomotive

Regular of this blog might have noticed, I’m kind of a train fan. So it was with some curiosity that I took the Caltrain line that goes from Mountain View to San Francisco. I was somehow surprised by the low frequency of the trains: on Saturday, there is only one train per hour, and no express service. Still the train was quite full. The train is also far from fast, it took 95 minutes to do roughly 60 kilometers, so an average speed of less than 40 Km/h. While the train stopped at every station, the track is quite straight so it would be possible to go faster, but would probably involved straighter rails and electrical engines (the current trains are diesel engines): despite the low speed, the ride was quite bumpy.

One strange thing I had in the train going to San Francisco was a type of two level train I had never seen. Instead of having a single second deck, there were two second deck galleries, basically a mezzanine inside the wagon with a single seat on the window side. This is called a gallery car on wikipedia. The funny thing is that with this arrangement, you can see (and hear) people from the top deck from the lower one. The reason for this arrangement is that the wagon did not have a lowered chassis, so so the lower deck was still higher that the bogies of the train, this means there is not enough headroom for two full decks, instead, the space over the head of passengers in the lower deck. The other funny thing is that some locomotives have a visible bell.

If you put all this together, you really get the impression that the whole system is basically based on technology from the early eighties and was never really updated, quite a contrast for Silicon Valley.

Train Arriving at the Mountain View Station

San Francisco

San Francisco, Nice Gardens


Yesterday, I went to San Francisco. As the weather was beautiful I crossed the city center by foot, taking pictures.

Hier, je suis allé à San Francisco. Comme le temps était magnifique, j’ai traversé le centre ville à pied en prenant des photos.

J’avais déjà été une fois à San Francisco durant mon dernier séjour à Mountain View, mais c’était simplement une sortie un samedi soir pour manger pour aller aux Quais (Piers), on avait vu une zone très touristique et les lions de mers qui se sont installé dans ce coin, mais c’était un peu tout. La première fois que je visite une ville, j’aime simplement flâner à pied, et voir l’allure générale de la ville. San Francisco est un mélange intéressant, la texture générale, l’odeur est pour moi celle d’une ville méditerranéenne, mais avec plus de parcs et de jardins ouverts sur l’extérieur, avec des gens qui bronzent ou jouent dans les parcs, avec une influence chinoise qui déborde largement du «China Town». En général, c’est une ville qui m’a beaucoup plu.

Un caractère est né.

Eszett Majuscule

Si le monde des sinogrammes compte des milliers d’habitants, l’alphabet romain est bien moins peuplé. L’apparition d’un nouveau caractère romain est donc une chose rare.

Le nouveau venu n’est autre que la version majuscule de l’eszett (ß). Jusqu’à ce jour c’était un des rares caractères qui n’existait qu’en version minuscule. La raison pour cela est que c’est un caractère qui ne se trouve jamais en tête de mot, et l’écriture allemande traditionelle (Fraktur) n’admettait pas la capitalisation de mots complets. La question d’une version majuscule était discutée depuis le XIXe siècle, le caractère a été standardisé par le consortium Unicode le quatre avril 2008, avec le n° de code 1E9E. J’ai appris la nouvelle par le biais de l’excellent blog de Michael Kaplan qui est une mine pour qui s’intéresse aux problème d’internationalisation.

Cette standardisation ne vas pas avoir un grand impact dans la vie de tous les jours. D’une part l’usage du eszett est limitée (il n’est pas utilisé en Suisse-alémanique par exemple), de l’autre le caractère n’est pas encore présent dans la majorité des fontes. Enfin le code-point affecté ne se trouve pas dans la plage Latin-1, donc son usage requiert un encodage complet d’Unicode, comme Utf-8. Néanmoins c’est toujours un petit plus dans la richesse et la diversité de la typographie occidentale.