Blog: January 2018

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Onkelos ben Kalonymus and the Romans (Avodah Zarah 11)

(From the "daf bits" series.)

The mishna (a couple pages ago) listed some of the gentiles' festivals that are considered idolatrous, including some having to do with kings. The g'mara then goes on to talk about various gentile kings, including the following story.

When Onkelos son of Kalonymus, a Roman (and maybe a nephew of Titus), converted to Judaism, the emperor sent soldiers to arrest him. Onkelos told them scriptural verses and they, too, converted. The emperor sent another group of soldiers, telling them not to say anything to him. As they were leaving, Onkelos said "let me just tell you an ordinary thing", and proceeded to explain how, unlike an earthly king, the Heavenly King carries light before His people, citing the pillar of fire that led Israel. (With earthly kings, others carry torches for them but they would never carry torches for their subjects.) They, too, converted to Judaism. The emperor sent yet more soldiers, telling them not to enter any conversation with him. They took hold of him, and on the way out he touched the mezuzah on his doorpost and said: a mortal king dwells within and has guards without, but the Holy One Blessed be He guards without while His servants dwell within. They, too, converted, and the emperor sent no more.

Onkelos went on to write a translation of the torah (with a little elaboration) into Aramaic, the common language of the day. Targum Onkelos is printed alongside the Hebrew in many editions today for study.

I've long felt that the ones who quietly inspire are much more effective than the ones who go out and preach trying to win people over to their view. "Show, don't tell" is about more than writing.

What would be different if humans had broader visual spectrum?

Somebody on Worldbuilding (about developing fictional worlds) asked how having a broader range of vision, into the infrared and ultraviolet, would affect what people see. Having a tiny bit of relevant personal experience, I answered: Read moreā€¦

Computer slowdowns everywhere

This morning while I was having an uncomfortable annual preventative exam, the technician apologized for something taking so long and said the computer was slow today. I asked "you got the patch for the Intel thing?" and she gave me a blank look; she hadn't heard of the Meltdown/Spectre problem. I gave her a super-high-level summary and suggested what she could Google for later.

She asked me how much things would slow down and I said it's hard to tell -- could be 5%, could be 30%, could be worse -- depends on lots of things. She got a look of horror on her face and said "if it's that bad, we're going to have to change how we schedule appointments!".

Wow. That kind of effect had not occurred to me. I mean, there are computers with affected chips in everything these days -- medical equipment, air-traffic-control systems, sensor networks, self-driving cars... I presume that many of those systems will have to get patched, and that hardware replacements are big productions that won't happen until current systems reach the end-of-life mark, and that the consequences of slower execution could matter in some of those use cases. (Car: "stop at that red light... oh, that was back there".) Even if it's "just" diagnostic scans taking longer, what happens, logically and financially, when providers can see fewer patients per day?

I asked if the machine she was currently using was networked. It's on the facility's network only, as I expected. I said that perhaps their IT people will opt for securing the network and not applying the patch, but to myself I wondered if that opens them to liability claims or regulatory problems. It's also possible that some of these machines are specialized enough that they don't have the affected chips. I know next to nothing about embedded systems, specialized equipment like mammogram scanners, and so on.

I assume that in time this problem will be dealt with or worked around. I've already seen recommendations suggesting which patches to take and which to disable to walk that balance between reduced effects and security. I'm not trying to paint a picture of doom and gloom here. I just wonder how some of the bumps along the way will manifest.

Link round-up

Some stuff has been accumulating in browser tabs. Some of it lost relevance because I waited too long (oops). Here's the rest.

This article explains the Intel problem that's going to slow your computer down soon. I don't know much about how kernels work and I understood it. I do have some computer-science background, though, so if somebody who doesn't wants to let me know if this is accessible or incoherent, please do. In terms of effects of the bug, you're going to get an OS update soon and then things will be slower because the real fix is to replace hardware, but you probably want to take the update anyway.

This infographic gives some current advice to avoid being spear-phished. It has one tip that was new to me but makes a lot of sense: if you have any doubt about an attachment but are going to open it anyway, drop it into Google Drive and open it in your browser. If it's malicious it'll attack Google's servers instead of your computer, and they have better defenses.

Sandra and Woo: what the public hears vs. what a software developer hears.

This account of one hospital's triage process for major incidents blew me away. I shared the link with someone I know in the medical profession and he said "oh, Sunrise -- they have their (stuff) together" -- they have a reputation, it appears. Link courtesy of metahacker and hakamadare.

I was one of the subject-matter experts interviewed for this study on Stack Overflow's documentation project. Horyun was an intern and was great to work with.

From siderea, the two worlds, or rubber-duck programming and modes of thinking.

The phatic and the anti-inductive doesn't summarize well, but I found it interesting. Also, I learned some new words. "Phatic" means talking for the sake of talking -- so small-talk, but not just that. Social lubricant fits in here too.

Rands on listening for managers.

From the same source as the "phatic" post, a story about zombies made me laugh a lot.

From Twitter:
Three logicians walk into a bar. The bartender says "Do you all want something to drink?"
The first logician says "I don't know."
The second logician says "I don't know."
The third logician says "Yes."