I was making a 3' × 4' board for our Saga game next month and I wanted most of it to be dirt terrain. So I searched for what people use for "dirt." Well, it turns out people do not seem to use actual dirt. Really!? Well, being a rebel, I choose to. I dug up some clay from the yard, baked it for an hour at 450 F so as to dry it and kill the bacteria, and then sieved it on to the board coated with near full strength wood glue. It worked out well. (I then sort of ruined it with coats of clear acrylic unevenly applied. Damn.) So, my question is, why don't people use actual dirt for dirt terrain?

Guidelines for presenting a document for discussion

The following guidelines are for presenting a document for discussion. They seem obvious, but it seems they are not in common practice in public policy fields, esp. the South Kingstown School District.

Revision number
What revision number is the document? The number should be (mostly) consecutive -- 1, 2, 3, etc -- but, when not, at least increasing. If an established document is being changed then consider using the software version system. Revision number must be in the footer of every page.
Revision date
When was the revision finalized? Use YYYY-MM-DD date format so as to avoid international date ambiguity. (Is "10/2/12" Oct 2, 2012 or Feb 10, 2012, or Feb 12, 2010.) Revision date must be in the footer of every page.
Revision history
Summarize how the document changed with each revision. The revision history is usually located in the front matter and presented as a table of revision number, revision date, revision authors, and revision summary columns.
Page numbers
What page am I looking at and how many pages are there in total? Page number and page count must be in the footer of every page.
Line numbers
Use line numbers to give the discussants a means to directly reference a portion of the sentence or the paragraph for discussion. Line numbers appear in the left margin of every page. Line numbers are consecutive across the whole document (and not just per page). It is common to only show every 5th or 10th line number. ¶ With online documents there are no fixed lines so use numbered paragraphs.
When content is changed change bars allow the reviewer to focus only on the changed content. With a long document, or one that has had intense discussion, not having to reread the whole document aids in moving along the document to completion. Change bars are usually placed in the left margin, but either is fine.
Table of contents
For a long document a table of contents, especially an annotated table of contents, is a guide to quickly understanding the overall structure of the document's content. A good table of contents can substitute for an executive summary.

Also of interest:

  • The International harmonized stage codes is a rather sophistated encoding of ISO's document development process. I just use WORKING (not yet draft), DRAFT (not yet final), FINAL.

Context and orientation for the draft strategic plan for 2015-2020

It was good to see so many parents at last night's School Committee meeting. Most were there to address the changes to the home schooling policy or in support of the dual language immersion program. Unusually, the chair (Maureen Cotter) asked that the parents addressing the policy change speak during that period of the agenda. I was not able to stay for that discussion: I really hope that all the parents were allowed to speak as as long as they needed.

The earlier part of the meeting was a first reading of the district's 2015-2020 strategic plan [1]. It is interesting to compare this plan with the 2010-2015 plan [2]. There no cohesion between the two. It is as if they were prepared for two different school districts.

During public comments I did ask for context to be added to the plan: What were the 2010-2015 goals achieved and goals unachieved? What are directions are we continuing in and what directions are we changing? I was heartened to hear Scott Mueller and Jonathan Daly-LaBelle​ reiterate this need. I was less hearted to hear Superintendent Stringfellow's defensiveness that this had already been covered in their retreats. She may have been speaking but clearly there was little communication. I have asked for the records from the July 21 retreat.

The draft strategic plan is a document for discussion, but its form does not aid that. I always find it bothersome when presented with a document for discussion that's content is not referenceable. Mr Mueller, nor any other Committee member, should have to fumble around to orient others to a specific part of the document. In a followup letter I noted that numbering lines or paragraphs is a feature of Microsoft Word and Microsoft Word is part of the $21,422.40 licensing fees authorized at the same meeting. Sigh.

[1] http://www.boarddocs.com/ri/soki/Board.nsf/files/A3ZRDX5D71B3/$file/StrategicPlanDraftNov2015.pdf

[2] http://www.skschools.net/Documents/SKSD%20Strategic%20Plan10-15.pdf

How are branches being used? A visualization

I really like the terminal for visualizations. There is something in its restrictions that gives it the right balance of detail for rough visualizations. The fixed width font, the ASCII character set, the small overall grid, etc, all help. I wanted to see how our developers are using branches over the last 180 days. This script gets the branches log and outputs a chart for days that had checkins by each developer. Note that a day without checkins by anyone will have no column in the chart.

The code is


date1=$(date -v -180d +'%Y-%m-%d')
date2=$(date -v -1d +'%Y-%m-%d')

svn log --revision {$date1}:{$date2} $svn | perl -e '
  my %D = (); # dates
  my %U = (); # users
  while( <> ) {
    if ( /\| (.*?) \| (\d\d\d\d-\d\d-\d\d) / ) {
      my $u = $1;
      my $d = $2;
      $D{$d} ||= {};
      $D{$d}->{$u} += 1;
      $U{$u} = 1;
  my @d = sort keys %D;
  my ( $l ) = reverse sort map { length($_); } @d; # max length
  for my $u ( sort keys %U ) {
    printf( "%*s %s | ", -$l, $u, $d[0] );
    for my $d ( @d ) {
      print $D{$d}->{$u} ? "*" : "-";
    printf( " | %s\n", $d[$#d] );



Sometimes you wonder how you didn't know something for so long. In this case, it is using a conditional expression in conjunction with a for loop.

perl -e '$mx = $_ > $mx ? $_ : $mx for ( 1, 6, 2, 3, 5, 4 ); print "$mx\n"'

Early morning interesting readings 2015-11-03

Early morning interesting readings:


Tim's response to my question as to whether I should tear my hair out at home or at tonight's School Committee meeting:

Challenge them on their policy regarding reptilians and shape shifters vis a vis chemtrails.

"The Future of the News is [...]" without journalists

A colleague sent me this article written by the creative director of the New York Times Lab


What a load of crap. I can't believe that this creative director can be as uninformed as this article makes him sound. I am sure he has read lots about hypertext and other forms of prose or code reuse, so something else must be going on.

The role of a good journalist is to be able to create a new, coherent explanation of an event or circumstances as facts are continued to be found and updated. As a reader I am greatly appreciative of this story telling. Of having the news story structure and the facts in context of time and place. This is a skill that takes lots of practice. And it makes journalists expensive. "They" need cheaper workers. Since this is a people problem let's solve the problem, once again, with software.

Drones and remote infrastructure

I am very hopeful that the combination of drones, 3D printing, and information processing will combine to make a less intrusive infrastructure for our needs. That is, if you don't need to the build a highway to get materials and workers to a site to build a facility -- dam, bridge, breakwater, broadcast tower, etc -- the overall impact can be less and, moreover, hidden from sight. The whole job can be done remotely. Core77 has some useful information/videos related to this this week. See 4 Drone Projects Change the Comtemporary Landscape.

The downside, of course, is that vandals can also use the same technology to break infrastructure. I am currently waiting for the first instance of skyscraper graffiti.

Update: I did not have to wait long! The Drone That Will Change Graffiti: An Interview with KATSU.

Nihilist Password Security Questions


Innovation Powered by Technology education conference

At the last minute I decided to attend today's Innovation Powered by Technology education conference presented by RIDE. What I came away with was 3 really important facts.

The first is that SK has been foolish to go about its 1:1 initiate without first drawing insight and action plans from the many successes and failures of other RI districts. West Warwick, for example, has 4,000 Chromebooks since 2013 and yet we are struggling with 500 Windows 7 laptops.

The second is that the RI school districts do not seem to actively cooperate with one another on anything. When I asked what model could be copied from another cooperation I was met with silence. I find this very odd and sad.

The third was an unexpected reassurance from, of all places, Providence's Village Green Virtual charter school. (Think kids in cubicles. But read on.) The 4 presenters gave a very clear description of the school's methodology and its successes and failures. What was reassuring was that even with all the technology available teaching works best one-on-one, in workshops, and in interdisciplinary school-wide projects.

Oh, and a fourth fact. Never expect 800 people gathered in a single, concrete floored room, and seated at 100 banquet tables to be able to hear the presenters. The RI convention center really is a poor facility.

Where are the ducks?

Letter to the Town Council:

Where are the ducks?

I was distressed this morning to find that the Town has expanded the disc golf course at the Curtis Corner athletic fields around the small pond located between the tennis courts and the bike path. The peaceful walk in a small woods surrounding a pond with many its habitats is now gone. The island that once offered protection for several species of waterfowl is now vacant, having been cleared and bridged to hold a disc golf "target."

What once looked like

Now looks like

South Kingstown offers much in support of active recreation in the town. The "Parks & Recreation" department has quietly changed to just"Recreation." Not all recreation needs fields and equipment. Supporting a walk in the woods is a recreation and one that comes at almost no cost. This walk at Curtis Corner and the one at Old Mountain Field are the only 2 walks within the town. We are now down to 1.

I ask that you please reverse the expansion of disc golf course into the woods around the pond. (And not expand it further, elsewhere.) Remove the "targets." Remove the "tee boxes." Replant native underbrush. And leave it alone for a few years to recover.

Yours truly,
Andrew Gilmartin

"black eyes"

I have never seen this painting trick before. The figure's eyes are painted as though they were bruised, ie they have "black eyes." This really look effective on Dark Age folks. Source

I have a feeling that Matt and I would work together very well, but those around us would mostly like think our strong, perhaps heated, discussions as argumentative and determinantal to company health and moral. Wimps.

All government contractors to be restricted so that...

I had this crazy idea this morning. Got to share. I want all government contractors to be restricted so that

  1. The highest paid employee makes no more than 10x the lowest paid employee.
  2. No employee can have more than a 10% share of the company.
  3. The company is not to make more that a 10% profit.
  4. The employees have union representation.

Which answer goes with which question?

Gripe. In real-time group discussions -- Skype, Slack, HipChat, etc -- the interleaving of messages from the multiple participants will cause confusion when many questions are open and answers are given without context. Which answer goes with which question? So, when the question is "do we need to do X with Y" then answer "Re X with Y, yes" and not "yes". It takes so little extra time and, really, if you are that short on time then find another job where clear communication is not important.

It is easier to build a strong children than to repair broken adults

Original image can be found at INTRODUCING KIRSTEN RICKERT

Online texts for the introductory languages at the high school

My letter to the Superintendent regards 1:1 and online texts:

My son Owen is taking French II this semester. I asked why he takes his (heavy) French textbook to school when he could use the online version with his laptop. (As he could do in French I last year.) He said that French II did not have an online textbook. Student gossip was that the school bought Spanish textbooks instead. I asked Mr Mezzanotte about this and he explained that Spanish was now offered at the middle school (and so textbooks were needed) and that high school upperclassmen also take Spanish I and II and are without 1:1 laptops.

Spanish was 1 of the 4 1:1 pilot projects last year. This decision seems like a step backward and not a step forward for 1:1 at the high school. And, I would think, especially so for the pilot's teacher. An alternative would have been to send the Spanish I & II textbooks from the high school to the middle school, provide online textbooks for high school Spanish and French, and then provide laptops to the few upperclassmen taking introductory languages. Without addressing the mixed grade classroom any early success for 1:1 is really hampered.

What can be done now to provide online texts for the introductory languages at the high school?