Month: August 2020

On art … 2

Art is a way of seeing something worthwhile in everything. A way of understanding and experiencing the world. I remember seeing a painting of an old barn next to an overgrown field. It’s something I’d have dismissed if I’d seen it in person — just a collapsing old building. But the way the artist painted it? The dilapidation and decay were stunning. That’s how I’ve viewed the world ever since — from urban slums to Queen Mary’s gardens, there’s something wonderful to be found if you try.
It’s also a gateway to learning. It’s historical (how did someone think to slice up the stalk of a papyrus plant, overlay them, wet them, and allow them to dry to make a writing surface!?! How different would the world be if we were lugging around cuneiform tablets), scientific (how your eyes perceive frequencies as colors are combined, how rocks break as you carve them, visualizing the head of a drum as a song is played) … I’ve taught my daughter a lot of more traditionally “educational” things by making or experiencing art.
And it’s enjoyable — something doesn’t have to have a practical utility to be worthwhile.

On art

All levels of school have wrong approaches teaching art. I got the “Art History” memorize-these-slides approach in Uni — it is a about as effective an approach to putting someone off art as I could conceive.
 
My experience with primary school art education has had a focus on semi-realist movements. Worse, in the lower grades? Art seems to be a fancy name they’ve decided to give “fine motor skill practice”. There’s no attempt to convey that art has historical meaning and purpose (think Hogarth Beer Street / Gin Lane), is emotional communication, captures energy … that there’s a LOT to experience in art, and there’s a lot of yourself you put into art for others to experience. And this approach leads to kids thinking they are bad at art … which, yeah, you can have difficulty expressing yourself. But that’s got nothing to do with hand-eye coordination.
 
The idea of collaborative art is interesting — and it’s something that’s completely missing in art education. I was shocked the first time I was at an artist’s studio and saw all of the people doing Chihuly’s glasswork. A second of reflection, I realized there was no way one dude made the giant tree of lights from the White House Christmas display or all of the glass bubbles at the Kew Gardens. But I totally never realized there was an artist equivalent of a sous chef.
 
I’ve seen some art clubs with large projects (mural on the side of the school) take this approach, but that’s been a more pragmatic thing based on the project size than any attempt to include collaboration in art education. With more mature participants, I totally see how a collaborative approach would be beneficial. I’m trying to think of some way to pitch it to kids my daughter’s age (early elementary school) where “Ken is good at trees” gets heard as either “you aren’t good at trees” or “trees are super awesome, and I’m letting Ken do them”. Maybe talking through it and seeing what everyone’s into — like draw a base scene and then have each kid draw their favorite animal.

Android Outlook Message Sending Failure

I’ve been getting a strange error when trying to send pictures within e-mail messages from my Android phone. I say a strange error because there’s literally one entry that comes back when you search for MessageDeliveryFailedException f5f0 — and no pointer at all as to what might have gone wrong. Just a non-delivery report popping into the Inbox on my phone:

     Technical details
     MessageDeliveryFailedException: Could not deliver the message [len=70, data=50005…C090005] sent at 8/25/2020 10:06:28 PM.Failure code: f5f0

I’ve got a reverse proxy with an application firewall and suspected that was the source of my problems. Mostly because errors caused within the Microsoft Exchange system are generally easy to find online. An oddball error is going to come from an oddball source. And I was right — my application proxy log shows an error each time I attempt to send one of the failed messages.

Edited /etc/httpd/conf.d/mod_security.conf and upped the SecRequestBodyNoFilesLimit. Once Apache HTTPD was restarted, I was able to send my messages without problem.

Concerns About Defunding

A friend asked why phone bank organizers have been encountering liberal suburbanites who are concerned about the ‘defund the police’ movement. Why? Branding! Republicans are particularly good at it, and Democrats are stunningly bad at it. The de- prefix connotes removal and privation. They should use a re- prefix for the “again” connotation instead — reimagine, renovate, even restructure. It’s more difficult to come out against a positive-sounding slogan (think of the difficulty the BLM opponents have). I can explain why the death tax was a good thing, but I’d have to get someone to sit for ten minutes and listen to me. Someone advocating removing inheritance taxes just needs to yell “death tax” really loud. Saying ‘defund the police’ lets someone else say ‘save the police’.
 
And that encounters a problem of personal perception. There are a lot of people who are lucky enough to only encounter police as helpful public servants (or at least the pleasant/helpful experiences far outweigh the unpleasant one, creating the ‘few bad apples’ argument). Directing traffic when a tree fell across half of the road, cruising by when I was the only car in a park on Tuesday afternoon then letting me borrow a phone because I’d locked myself out of my car and my phone in it, coordinating the effort to return runaway cows to their field while the owner was on holiday, double-checking that my car seat was installed securely, getting in touch with the local business owner whose music was still blasting at 2AM because the employee cranked the outdoor sound system for closing tasks and forgot to shut it off when they left, providing road condition updates in the winter, letting me stop by and ask questions about the car-seat / booster seat regulations in a two-seater automobile, feeding and sheltering the dog someone found running down the street until the owner could stop by the station and pick it up, helping push the cars off to the closest car park after an accident, swinging by my house when a few motion detectors started going active while we were out of town for a weekend, alerting residents that a power line was down / truck in the ditch / multi-car accident on the main road, getting FexEx to stop delivery for an elderly neighbor who was rung up by Great-Nephew Timmy who needs bail money (cash of course) sent to this Nigerian prince (maybe I’m mixing my fraud, but you get the idea) thus returning the chap’s money. That last one? The Police Chief offered, for anyone rcv’ing such a call, that an officer would happily ring up the other police department, confirm the charges, and verify the appropriate way to send bail.
 
Those are all things I know about the Township police having done in the five years I’ve lived in my current house — many for me personally. No, you shouldn’t assume everyone else has your experience; but your personal experience will inform your beliefs. And I’m happy my tax money is used to offer these services within the community.
 
Now, if you tell me that you want to restructure the police so there’s not an armed response to pretty much any of those scenarios? That’s a perfectly reasonable idea. Or, from a fiscal conservative’s standpoint, that it would be more cost effective to have some less-credentialed response unit available for non-dangerous situations. Certainly some police action should be eliminated. I used to get stopped just for driving into the “bad neighborhood” in my “nice car” as part of the perpetual war on drugs, and that’s about the nicest race/class profiling interaction you’ll ever hear about. But I’m also fairly unique in my social circle in that I ever had bad interactions with police. I call this the ‘few good apples’ problem — even when someone is aware of systemic problems and abuse, they want to save the good apples that they’ve personally encountered.
 
There needs to be a pithy phrase that conveys “You will still have someone to ring up if the home automation system says there’s motion in your house while you’re all out at dinner. But you’ll also have someone with mental health experience to ring up when grandma has a manic episode and is brandishing a large butcher knife because she happened to be slicing up a watermelon. You’ll also have someone with social work experience to ring up if your teenage kid runs away from home.”
 
Because, fortunately or unfortunately, the general public aren’t going to take half an hour and read through a nuanced proposal to address the issue (nor are they apt to put more time into understanding the extent of the problem than the videos they’re encountering in their FB feed). They’re *going* to judge the situation and solutions based on slogans.

First Outdoor Adventure

Our little girls had their first adventure outdoors. One advantage of getting chicks late in the year like this ? 90 degree days. Plenty warm enough for these little ones to enjoy exploring. We’ve got a fence around the hazelnut bushes, so Anya brought them into that grassy area. At first, they stayed close to one of “their people”.

But, as they spent a little time checking out grass and dirt near us, they started venturing around the yard.

On the Post Office

It bothers me every time I hear about how the post office needs to make changes to remain a viable institution. Back in 2006, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act specifically forbid the Post Office from offering non-postal services (Section 102). Previous Postmaster Generals had researched and documented all manner of other lines of business where they could leverage the fact someone was driving by every house in the US every day — the one I remember was wellness checks. If I paid the Post Office some fee, they’d knock on my mom’s door every day/week/etc and just check in. I think the idea of plastering advertising on the truck that drove through your neighborhood every day was floated (and I’m convinced privatizing the post office will yield ad-space on both stamps and the cancellation marks). Let cellular companies pay USPS to have cellular data collector units in trucks — I’d set up a system from Siemens at Alltel fifteen years ago and run up against an unexpected problem. We had assumed the data collector units would be installed in all of the repair trucks and collect data as the techs drove around to their repair jobs (and possibly we’d have to dispatch a ticket that was ‘drive out to XYZ tower’ just to gather data for an area where we didn’t have a good data set). The union rep, however, was adamant that these units that sent GPS tracking data would never be put into a truck to allow the company to micromanage the tech’s day. AFAIK, the whole installation got scrapped after a year or two because we couldn’t collect enough data to make it valuable. I expect we’d have paid the post office a few grand a month to provide transportation for cellular data collectors. Point being – there are a lot of non-postal services that could be offered at a small incremental cost to the post office. I understand the impetus of the law — if I were a company that’s business was contracting with cellular companies to drive their data collectors around, the post office would be able to underbid me. I’m paying someone and fuel to drive 50 miles — so an hour or two of time and a gallon or two of gas. At minimum wage, I’ve got 7-14$ in labor and another 2-4$ in fuel (which doesn’t include potential benefits for my employee, vehicle maintenance, administrative costs, etc). They are already paying for the person/driving/vehicle/administration, so their expense is 0. We’ve both got some advertising expenses to ensure the cellular carriers knew we offered this service. I’d be really upset to have my business go under because the Post Office was able to underbid me. But moving into lines of business that are specifically not profitable because of the labor/transportation expenses seems like a win all around.

The Post Office have been mandated to fund future retirement fees in a way no other company need to do. They’ve been prevented from diversifying their product offering to increase profitability. Funny how some people think the government should be run by a business — but, when it is run like a business and has the potential to provide beneficial services, pass laws to prevent operating like a business.

Connections Academy – Planner UI/UX Issues and Learning Module Voices

I was surprised at the voices used for the cartoon characters in Connections Academy’s learning modules. Anya paused her maths lesson to tell me the lion is shrill. And proceeded to mimic the voice. I had her play a little of it for me and, yeah, it’s awful. The ladybug in the language arts module is better, but that’s a terribly low bar. I’d expected there to be a few voices from which we could select — not just because someone may well find a voice objectionable, but also because some people have frequency specific hearing loss — someone with trouble hearing high frequencies isn’t going to be able to use these modules. I set up an in-browser audio equalizer and dropped out high frequencies. Makes it usable, but I’ve still submitted feedback with my observation.

Then there’s the planner. I’ve noticed a few UI problems in the Planner —

  1. I am frequently unable to save an event – in cases where something is not populated, the missing item is highlighted in red. That’s not what I’m talking about – I’ve got all of the required fields populated, nothing is highlighted when I click ‘save’. It just stays on the item creation form. I am able to cancel item creation, try again, and get an event created.
  2. When the purpose is set to “Enrichment”, items cannot be opened/edited/deleted.
  3. When creating a new item, expanding the “Recurrence” section produces an overlap between the “Description” field and the top line of the recurrence selection. The description field is on top, which renders the top half of the check-boxes unusable.

And more of a UX issue … while the event items can include half-hours, the credit hours field appears to be an integer value. It is auto-populated with a float. Which leads me to expect