Uprooting

Summer came late and is leaving early this year, so it’s about harvest time now. This year, I did some radishes, onions, salad greens, carrots, green beans, jalapenos, bell peppers, basil, and tomatoes. Most of the carrots didn’t grow long roots, but I got a few. The rabbits got to the peppers and green beans before I did, while leaving the lettuce mostly alone — I realized when I had a dozen full heads that we just don’t eat that much salad, so a lot of it bolted in the end. Now I know what 4-foot tall red lettuce looks like.

Not planted this time were tomatillos, but I had a bunch of vines grow from last year’s seeds anyway. I have been pulling up most of those while keeping one large bush for possible salsa verde in a month or so.

Anyhow, I got enough produce to make a few jars of red salsa (when supplemented with some store-bought locally grown tomatoes), and I didn’t work as hard at it this year as previously, so I’m calling it a win.

In a few weeks I’ll be pulling up all the remaining plants, and trying to get a cover crop started, which is something I didn’t know about until recently.

In other uprooting news: I previously wrote a post about ending my engagement at facebook. I dropped that post, because the reasons aren’t actually very interesting and that bridge has plenty of water under it by now. But the outcome of all of that is that I’ll be starting at Amazon next week, in an actual, real live office. That last part is going to be a bit of a trial: after ten years of working from home, I’m not especially looking forward to commuting downtown, and it will certainly be a stress on the family to rearrange our schedules to accommodate that. But it will be nice to have non-virtual coworkers for a change, and I’m excited about tackling some of the challenges facing my new team.

In which I trained a neural net

The entire sum of my machine learning experience thus far is a couple of courses in grad school, in which I wrote a terrible handwriting recognizer and various half-baked natural language parsers. As luck would have it, I was just a couple of years too early for the Deep Learning revolution — at the time support vector machines were all the rage — so I’ve been watching the advancements of the last few years with equal measures idle interest and bewilderment. Thus, when I recently stumbled across the fast.ai MOOC, I couldn’t resist following along.

I have to say I really enjoy the approach of “use the tools first, then learn the theory.” In the two days since I started the course, I already built a couple of classifiers and got very good results, much more easily than with my handwriting recognizer of yore.

My first model was trained on 450 baby pictures of my children and achieved 98% accuracy. Surprisingly, the mistakes did not confirm our priors, that Alex and Sam look most similar as babies — instead it tended to confuse them both with Ian. The CNN predicts that I am 80% Alex. Can’t argue with that math.

The second classifier was trained on Pokemon, Transformers, and Jaegers (giant robots from Pacific Rim). This gets about 90% accuracy; not surprisingly, it has a hard time telling apart the robot classes, but has no trouble picking out the Pokemons.

I’m still looking for a practical application, but all in all, it’s a fun use for a GPU.

New Directions in Commandline Editing

Update: I finally isolated this to gnome’s multiple input method support. Shift + Space is bound by default to switch input sources, and it is in whatever the next input method is that unusual things happen. Turn that stuff off in the keyboard shortcuts! Find below the original post about the visible symptoms.

Dear lazyweb,

Where in {bash, readline, gnome terminal, wayland, kernel input} does the following brain damage, newly landed in debian testing, originate?

  • pressing ctrl-u no longer erases to beginning of line, but instead starts unicode entry with a U+ prompt, much like shift-ctrl-u used to do, except the U is upper-cased now
  • hitting slash twice rapidly underlines the first slash (as if to indicate some kind of special entry prompt, but one I’m unfamiliar with and I cannot get it to do anything useful anyhow), and then just eats the second slash and the underline goes away
  • characters typed quickly (mostly spaces) get dropped

This stuff is so hard to google for and it is killing my touch typing. Email me if you know, and I’ll update this accordingly so that maybe google will know next time.

Playing With Flash

I recently picked up one of these $10 CH341A USB flash programmers and a test clip. I didn’t really have any initial plans for that it but thought it might come in useful someday while messing with router bootloaders. This unexpectedly turned out to be a lot of fun so far and not a bad tool for the price.

Rummaging through my parts bin, I found a Winbond 4K SPI flash of unknown provenance, hooked it up, and read out the contents with flashrom. Turns out this was an AMI BIOS that I pulled from some motherboard way back when. Disassembling the BIOS might make a good rainy day exercise.

I tried using chavrprog to program an ATTiny13, which did not work at all. The chip did not appear to respond to any of the SPI commands. Oh well.

On a bricked router I had sitting around, I read the flash directly from the board using the test clip. I happen to remember the confluence of events that lead to me bricking this (writing bootloader to wrong partition), and could finally verify the damage on the flash dump. When I get a free moment, I’ll try bringing it back to life by reflashing a repaired image.

On a different model, unbricked router, reading out the flash on the board didn’t work. Applying power to the flash chip powered up other components on the board, so I’m guessing I’d have to desolder this flash chip in order to read/write it. Maybe worth retrying after spending a few weeks practicing SMT rework.

Planting time

With the terribly cold and gray winter finally starting to abate, I’m going to start my indoor seeds this week. Nearly same setup as last year: I’m sowing the head-start seeds indoors, to go under basement grow lights in a couple of weeks when they have sprouted. A new addition is this heating mat, which I had to laugh at because of the prominently featured cannabis leaves on the package. I wonder just what the distribution of carrot growers to “other” is, now that it’s legal here.

For any curious persons or LEOs reading, no, I’m not planting weed. I’ll be starting basil, tomatoes, peppers, and lettuce in flats, and hopefully it will be warm enough to direct sow carrots and radishes. Beans should come a little later. Can’t wait!

2019 Crossword Tournament

The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament starts this weekend. Once again, a version of my xword webapp is being used, with only a few minor changes since last time (sorry).

I did almost no puzzling last year, so I’ll give it a go, but I’m not expecting to finish in the top 100 this time around. Good luck to anyone participating!

More filler

I noticed some HTML5 crossword construction apps have sprung up over the last year, so I no longer have first mover status on that. Also their UIs are generally better and I dislike UI work, so it seemed reasonable to join forces. Thus, I sent some PRs around.

It was surprising to me that the general SAT solver used by Phil, written in C compiled to asmjs was so much slower than a pure Javascript purpose-built crossword solver (mine). I assumed the SAT solver might make certain search optimizations that could overcome the minor optimizations related to mine being only a crossword solver. So, yay, my code is not that bad?

In these apps the filler runs as a web worker so even when slow it isn’t too noticable (except for hogging a core).

Anyway you can try out my filler today with Kevin (filler code is here, which is exactly the code in my own app except with some janky whitespace because I stripped out all flow annotations).

Peak 2018

I almost let the second half of 2018 go unblogged (are people still saying blog?). It’s not that nothing interesting happened in all of that time, but real life has been ultra busy. Did I mention that Sammy turned one and is on the verge of walking?

The garden delivered tons of produce this year, enough that I didn’t really keep up. I gave myself a crash course in canning, making four jars of tomatillo salsa and six jars of habanero jam. Maybe fewer peppers next year?

I harvested around five bowls of tomatoes, many of which are taking up space in the freezer right now.

And at least four of these basil bowls, mostly frozen pesto at the moment:

This is what it is all about: pizza with homegrown basil, homegrown tomatoes, and sourdough crust from locally cultured yeast.

Anyway, happy New Year!

Another one about plants

Here’s what the garden looks like right now. Compare to this time last year.

We had our backyard professionally landscaped last fall, and the landscaper decided to put in an empty bed next to the house instead of incorporating my unsightly DIY planter box into the design. But that area gets sun only half of the day, so I planted both this year, reserving the landscaper-approved bed for the experimental plants (mostly tomatillos and some extra basil). In the photo you can see the tomatillos in the background on the right: they have grown as tall as I am, with plenty of flowers but no fruits yet. Still, the pollinators are visiting so that could change:

Meanwhile, there are baby tomatoes and baby peppers everywhere, and lots and lots of basil. Having eight basil plants means making pesto every other week just to keep up. I picked my first jalapeno yesterday. Although I tried hard to label all my plants this year, I found that one of my intended habeneros was a mislabeled poblano. No worries, poblanos are great. Looking forward to stuffed peppers next month.

We have a family of wild rabbits living near the house, so I stayed away from lettuces or other rabbit-friendly fare. Perhaps I’ll try lettuce in the planter box next year since it is high enough it might evade their grasp. I planted a few onions in the lower bed to keep the rabbits away from the other plants, having heard that they hate the smell of onions. Naturally, onion stalks are the only thing they’ve eaten so far.

This is still the quiet times before the Japanese beetles. Once they show up a few weeks from now, they will require thrice-daily purges, a not so fun task.

Posting on posting

After several years of working at popular infosec startup, I’ve now moved on to giant tech company. It was pretty crazy watching the former grow from “hey, we have a cool idea” to a company with hundreds of developers — at turns gratifying to see people describe your software as life-changing, and incredibly stressful when a bug landed on the top of Hacker News.

In the new gig, I’m working on Linux wifi again, so, apologies in advance. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do a bit more work upstream now that it is kind of my job. And yes, this post exists just to break up what would otherwise be a long string of consecutive garden blogs.