Monthly Archives: March 2013

There’s a robot in the future for all of us

I’m catching up on some reading this long weekend at the beach. I’m a few months behind in reading Wired magazine and am going thru the January issue right now. I just read an intriguing article on the coming “robot revolution.” I think that most of us don’t realize how much change the next couple of decades will bring. Even when I reflect on the accelerating tech curve thru the lens of my own 35 year career in IT I think I underestimate it. Robotics has brought us more reliable and more affordable products, and the service sector is next. Manufacturing will, between the combination of robotics and additive manufacturing (3D printing), require ever fewer employees. The service sector will be affected dramatically as these more flexible robots enter fields that have been thought the sole purview of humans. The Dilbert comic has been amusing for the last week or so as Dilbert’s programming job has come into the robotic crosshairs. I hope that the future does lean toward the Gene Roddenberry vision of people spending their lives doing what they want to do, rather than what they have to do, instead of any of a myriad dystopian views.

The lack of understanding of the magnitude of impending change is one of the things that irks me about politics today. Manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back, and services will take fewer people. I was reading in Thursday’s NYTimes that new radiologists are saddled with education debt and dim job prospects, due to technological change. We need better education in all disciplines, from STEM curricula to classics. STEM to help our kids compete in an increasingly technological world, and the liberal arts to make them better and more rounded people, to find satisfaction in music and arts in Gene’s future. We sure don’t need to shortchange education funding and basic research.

Continuing to battle Wiki spammers

Configuring the FF@ Wiki to hopefully grow and survive in a world of spammers (see my previous post about this) has been an interesting exercise. While I’ve used Mediawiki and other wikis for years, my efforts have been targeted toward wikis that while publicly accessible did not allow self-creation of login credentials. When I resurrected the FF@ Wiki, I set it up for ease of access to allow the community a low barrier of entry and was rewarded with all sorts of creative spam πŸ˜‰ . I’d not done anything with Mediawiki extensions, but when I went to look up configuration settings, I found the ConfirmEdit extension, and realized that it was already loaded in the version of Mediawiki I was running and that I didn’t need to install the bits, just needed to set it up in the LocalSettings configuration file to set up a Captcha. There’s a pretty big ecosystem of extensions for Mediawiki, and I need to spend some time looking at this. There may be something else interesting in that corpus that would be interesting for my use cases. More to do!

I wonder if my spammers are humans or bots? I deleted a round of spam pages on Friday, and then I didn’t have any more spam pages until today (Monday). It almost seemed that they took the weekend off! Odd…well, I didn’t make the Captcha process very robust, so if it gets defeated I may have to buff it up a bit with some more question Captchas. I like question Captchas; I’ve used them on some of my Drupal sites with good success. They have the ability to target a specific cohort that shares a particular set of knowledge, and have the advantage of accessibility, unlike visual Captchas!

#$%& Internet trolls & spammers

I recently revived and updated a wiki that I first created in 2007, which is focused on a group of Internet-connected flyfishers. I’d tried to get interest going in the project back in 2007, but the concept didn’t resonate with the group, and the wiki foundered due to lack of content. I’d just left it alone, and some software updates had broken it, and the wiki was non-functional. A couple months ago, I decided to fix it, updating the database and the Mediawiki software to support a more current version of PHP. I rolled it back out to the group to see if the intervening 6 years had created any more familiarity with the wiki concept. I tweaked the registration process to allow the community to read without registration, and by doing so, made it more public. The problem was that it got discovered by spammers. All was well, and then one day I a couple dozen spam pages. I tweaked the registration process to require a confirmed email for registration, and the problem went away for a while. Then, it seems it was discovered by smarter ‘bots that could deal with the registration process, or by human trolls/spammers. I spent an hour or so last night deleting spam pages, blocking users, and putting a “protect” flag on the main page. The issue is that if I raise the barrier to entry, I keep casual adopters in my intended community from dropping by and making the resource interesting. If I keep the barrier to entry low, it means that I have to engage in wiki hygiene to clean out the trash. It’s the nature of a wiki, and a commentary on the Internet world. Grrrr…

Loaded up for shad and nowhere to go…

It’s been cold this week, with temperatures 15-20F below average. Last night, it was in the low 20’s, heading for an afternoon high of 53. However, I was still planning to head to Weldon to try my hand at shad again, and hopefully better the good trip I made last week. I’d originally planned to go with a UNCG colleague, but issues arose at work and he couldn’t make it. As it turns out, that was not a bad thing. I loaded up this morning and left the house about 9AM, as I was planning to let things warm up just a bit on the 1:45 drive to Weldon before I got on the river. Got to the stoplight not far from the house and thought I’d check the water level, and it was at over 18,000cfs, which is over 4x as high as it was last week! They were pulsing water from the reservoirs upstream. The graph showed that they’d done that yesterday as well. The water levels probably would be down to 6,000 or 7,000 by noon or 1PM if they held to the same pattern, but I decided that given the cold temperatures (both air and water – last week the water was only 50F), uncertain fishing prospects, and about 3.5 hours in the truck and burning $35 of gas, I’d just turn around, stay home and enjoy a “staycation” day. Think I’ll do some yard work today. Not as much fun as fishing, tho πŸ™

Google Reader diaspora, trying So far so good

I’m playing with Feedly as a replacement for Google Reader. My first reaction was “o my gosh, this is such a busy interface” but I was able to quickly figure out how to set the feeds to display in compressed mode, which is much easier to scan without distraction (IMHO). The great thing was the ease of entry. Simple login with Oauth with my Google credentials and automagically picking up my Google Reader feed configuration without even having to set up an account @ Feedly! I figured out that bookmarking a post equaled “starring” a post in Reader. I’ve attached Twitter and Facebook, tho I’ve not tried sending anything thru those interfaces. I’m using it with Chrome and iOS right now, but overall, this looks like a quite viable alternative. There are some things I see already that I like better than Reader, such as the breakdown of historical posts by day. So, I give this a cautious thumbs up…

The Quiet Man for St. Patrick’s Day

It’s just about time to pull out the DVD to watch The Quiet Man (John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald and Ward Bond). It’s got the best fistfight scene in any movie ever made πŸ˜‰ Coffee and Irish whisky ready! It’s an annual tradition; my wife and I have been watching this for probably 25 years. Of course, we know most of the best lines! We’ve invited the next door neighbor over to watch with us. We’ve got appropriate weather today, overcast, windy, a bit damp and about 50F. It’s a nice soft night to talk a little treason πŸ˜‰

Shad 2013

Headed to Weldon, NC, to fish the shad run on the Roanoke River today. It’s been a cool spring, and I had wondered if it was too early. Preliminary reports were that some shad had been caught last weekend, so I loaded up the pontoon boat and headed to Durham to pick up my regular fishing buddy Sam and his son Bryan. It was a cold morning with lows below freezing, so we weren’t in a big rush to get there. Arrived about 10:15, and started to fit out the boats. The river was running about 4,100 cfs, which though low by historical standards is a nice level to fish. The river at Weldon is dam controlled, with a series of three large reservoirs just a few miles upstream. I took the water temperature, and it was ~50F, which is a bit cool. The air temperature was headed for 60F under sunny skies. We crossed the river and beached the boats on the big island across from the launch, and headed for a rock island in the “Little River” (where the river splits with about 90% of the water going down the main branch and the rest down the Little River). We’ve done well on this rock in years before, and today was no exception. Just after I waded over, I caught this nice shad.


While I caught this one on an orange fly, pink proved to be the color of the day. We caught fish at a modest pace, but steadily, with each of us catching 12-15 fish. They really aren’t at Weldon in huge numbers yet. I’m heading back in a week and I’m hoping for a really good day. However, we certainly caught enough to have a nice day. One highlight was seeing an osprey fly right past us with a freshly caught shad in its talons:


We saw an otter swimming in the river as well, but he always dove below the surface before I could get the camera out. The shad we caught were of good size; I caught this one, the largest any of us landed (not the best picture as the fish rolled in the sand as I was unhooking it):


A great day of fishing, catching and fellowship…

joel with shad 3-15-13


After a conversation with some colleagues about WordPress security, I decided to install and activate Wordfence on one of my blogs today. I’m using the free version, but it appears to have some nice features. I’ve just started poking around a bit. Some of the logging features are quite interesting, in particular the human v. computer taxonomy. My scan was clean except for one URL I’d highlighted in a post a couple months ago. I looked at the current info on it and took the option to leave it in the post and ignore it on future scans. Overall, a good first impression for Wordfence. I give it two thumbs up!

Oh no, Google Reader is being retired!

I’ve been a happy user of Google Reader for years, but apparently I was one of a shrinking number of folks using it. I tried many RSS readers over the years, but I liked the simplicity of Google Reader and that it was web-based, with my subscriptions always in sync. Today, Google announced that Reader is being terminated July 1, 2013. I guess I’m in the market for another web-based RSS reader. I’ll have to start looking around at options. This was a great service, and I’m sorry to see it go…


Decisions, decisions…Chrome OS Beta Channel or Stable Channel?

I’ve been generally happy with keeping my Chromebook on the Chrome OS Beta channel to get slightly faster updates. There’s finally a bug in the beta (Version 26.0.1410.28 beta) that’s “bugging” me πŸ˜‰ tho, since it’s now broken Hangouts. This beta was released on 3/7, and the beta releases have been about a week or so apart (other than during the calendar year-end period). Hopefully, this will get fixed by the end of the week. Going from stable to beta will cause an immediate update, but going from beta to stable requires a USB restore (or waiting until the stable build catches the beta, which might take 2-3 weeks or more). I think I’ll just live with it for a few days. Hopefully I won’t see too many of these bugs that break something that I use. If so, I might drop back to stable.