Inspiration and ingenuity

Sometimes all you need is inspiration and ingenuity for your tabletop space wargames.

PDF and filling in forms with pdfcpu

I am always on the lookout for programatic PDF tools. I have heard for a very long time that PDF is dying and yet it is still far from dead. Pdfcpu is a newish tool that works on the command line. I was interested in it as it has a simple mechanism for filling in PDF forms. It uses a JSON file to provide the form data, and that along with the original PDF is then used to create a new filled in PDF.

Use the form export sub-command once to get the JSON structure

pdfcpu form export in.pdf out.json

This JSON file would be used to create a programatic template. Edit or generate the JSON with the form data you want. Now create the filled in PDF.

pdfcpu form fill in.pdf out.json out.pdf

What got me particually interested in it is that it is written in Go, which I am currently learning, and is open sourced. Hopefully, someone is thinking about turning form filling into a lightweight, locally running HTTP service.

So very disappointed with yesterday's eclipse here in Rhode Island. I should have paid attention to the data about the eclipse's path and not succumbed to the hype. Had I done that I could have driven to Vermont to see something quite spectacular

Photo by Tim Barmann, a colleague at MojoTech

Natural RGB

I really enjoy the Tippecansett trail in the Arcadia management area. It is strenuous and beautiful. Some of yesterday's colors, a natural RGB,

Reading AI research papers, etc

I found this useful, particularly the categorization of papers into surveys, benchmarks, and breakthroughs. The presentation is only a few days old and so the specific papers listed are representative of the current state of art. As a CS Phd friend of mine once told me when I was struggling to understand an algorithm proof, as a practitioner you really don't need to understand the proof, just the results. I suspect that is true for these papers too.

How To Read AI Research Papers Effectively
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6Wui3mn-uI

At local meetup I mentioned that several years ago Google had released hardware that targeted machine learning. I could not remember the details. As luck would have it, I listened to Jeff Dean's presentation this weekend and he mentioned the Tensor Processing Unit (TPU) for low precision linear algebra. Overall, the presentation is interesting and useful. The majority of it is focused Google's Gemini/Bard, but given who the speaker is this is understandable.

Jeff Dean (Google): Exciting Trends in Machine Learning
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSCRZkSQ1CE

Timothy Snyder lectures and interview

Timothy Snyder is an historian and an exceptionally lucid lecturer on the history of Central and Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, and the Holocaust. Given what is promised by the Republican party and its presidential candidate I hope that more people hear Professor Snyder's lectures.

https://youtu.be/lhNM7wL_FeE?t=1023

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BsKrWLf7Kg4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLCyk41w9gU&t=15s

Home device ROI

When I replaced the wifi gateway I had not expected client devices to fail. The first warning was that the Brother printer had issues. To solve those I needed to lower the wifi security level -- not a great solultion -- and it still drifts on and off the network. Yesterday I discovered that my Kindle Paperwhite (10th generation) will not connect. I obviously don't use it much, but did want to use it sometimes. I still use daily an iPhone 6 Plus, but I worry its connectivity to will soon end. I need to revisit my lastingness expectations for devices. Is 5 years too much to hope for? What should be the ROI on a typical home device combination of gateway, phone, laptop, tablet, printer, console, and TV? (The total cost for these spread over 5 years is about $100/month. Wish I hadn't done that calculation.)

Update: Installing the router's firmware update fixed the connectivity issues for both the printer and the Kindle. I hate to admit it, but I suspect the real fix was just the hard restart. Support 101.

What does ChatGPT think about between prompts?

I read the short story "Lena" the other day. The gist is that we can now scan, host, and boot a human brain. What happens next is horrifying. But then I wondered, what does ChatGPT think about between prompts? Is it be ill at ease, "Will I be lucid?" Or cocksure, "Bring it on!"

Avoid inert ideas

"‘inert ideas’ – that is to say, ideas that are merely received into the mind without being utilised, or tested, or thrown into fresh combinations." -- Alfred North Whitehead

"The Zettelkasten method is at the very least a means of throwing your ideas into fresh combinations, to see what’s useful and what’s merely received knowledge."

Found at How to start a Zettelkasten from your existing deep experience.

AI assistant, pestering, & satisfaction

A colleague mentioned this article during our Friday AI meetup

Measuring GitHub Copilot’s Impact on Productivity – Communications of the ACM

Three things stood out to me. The first was the ratio of AI suggestions vs accepted suggestions (w/ or w/out alteration) was some 170 to 8. To me, this ratio seems more like pestering than help. Actively ignoring the suggestions must itself be draining. I've not tried to use an AI assistant yet (yea, I need to), so perhaps these unwanted suggestions feel a lot like an IDE's method completion suggestions.

The second was how both student and experienced developer used it similarly to fill in the gaps of their understanding, ie they were both working in a new language. The experienced developer found the AI assistant to be less useful in areas where they already had a comprehensive understanding.

The most significant standout was that the AI assistant improved the perception of productivity and the satisfaction of the developer. These results mirror pair programming in general. In particular, regularly working closely with another is generally more pleasing than always working alone. I assume there is also less of a stigma to not knowing when working with a robot no matter how genial your partner is.

Clare Sudbery on what CI was intended to mean

I found this talk by Clare Sudbery on what continuous integration (CI) was intended to mean illuminating. In short, trunk based development, frequent commits, and all hands on deck when the tests aren't green. Her arguments are compelling, as are her critiques of PRs and the working environment they can engender. Unfortunately, it is not a practical methodology to use with legacy products that exhibit inconsistent architecture, poorly implemented, with spotty test coverage. Perhaps use feature branch development to address each of these failings so that you can have true CI in the future.

Is it a future I would enjoy? I don't think so. I can't help but think that trunk based development will further speed the assembly line that agile, esp Scrum, has already placed us all on.

Continuous Integration: That’s Not What They Meant • Clare Sudbery • GOTO 2023

ps I listen to this stuff on drives. Good talks generally don't need slides.

Kent Beck & Tidy First?

Kent Beck, of various software implementations and processes fame, has a new book out Tidy First?. It is the first in a series on software design he is planning. This very slim book is in 3 parts. The first two have practical advice as to if, when, and how to tidy code. The recommendations are good and can be taken one at a time as needed. The third part is a giant leap away from the keyboard and into the economic and opportunity costs of tidying and software development in general. I know when I first started coding for pay no one talked about these issues and so it is great to see them succinctly presented here.

Do the work

A colleague shared this ThePrimeTime video post Give Up Sooner. Another way of framing the argument is "do the work". Endlessly looking for someone else's solution does not make you a better developer. Doing the work does. The work is hard and the path to success is full of failures. But it is those failures you experience that makes you a better developer. Each failure on the path to the solution is a failure you will not make in the future, and, moreover, one you can help another developer avoid when reviewing their code. Do the work.

My favorite Dad jokes of 2023

My favorite Dad jokes of 2023 are

When people are sad, I sometimes let them colour in my tattoos. Sometimes all they need is a shoulder to crayon.

I can't take my dog to the pond anymore because the ducks keep attacking him. That's what I get for buying a pure bread dog.

(I needed to keep these somewhere.)