In Your Inbox

So I’m diving deep into this blog in 2020. That’s the plan at least. Various daily updates, new features, interviews, maybe even a podcast. Part of this is a bi-weekly email newsletter. I started this idea five years ago, simply called “Interesting Stuff.” On that first try, I put out four emails over six months and then in March 2013, I stopped.

Well, I’m bringing the idea back. And in fact, issue #5 went out on the 29th. You can see what was in it here.

No Bullshit. No Spam. No selling email addresses. It’s just another way for people to get updates on what I write and for me to share cool things from around the web. The most commercial thing I might do is include affiliate product links, but when I do I’ll openly disclose the affiliate nature of the link.

Want to get this in your inbox? Sign up for it. Next issue will be in two weeks.

Two fascinating links I came across nearly simultaneously.

Center for Policing Equity – A new organization I was introduced to by Adam Savage, via his YouTube video of favorite things for 2019. This is an organization dedicated to partnering with police organizations to remove bias from them. The organization’s tagline is “Data Science for Justice.” I need to do more research before I officially recommend them for donations, but definitely interesting.

Second, a video by Tom Scott, who is among my favorite ‘infotainment’ channels on YouTube. I find his videos highly informative and entertaining. This video is no exception. As a coder I had seen the ISO date functions, but I didn’t know what it was and had never used them. Now I know.


WordPress: Post Types vs. Post Formats

I am far from a WordPress expert, as this post will highlight. However, I am a hobbyist and an out of practice one at that. This past week I’ve been messing around with the template here on the site.

In doing so, I ran into a problem and it took me a while to google properly and figure out the issue.

The issue was that I use custom post formats for various things on the site. I have a format for the movie/book/tv reviews, a format for links, the format for normal posts, etc. But I was really struggling to figure out how to get WordPress to change display information for the different things.

The core of my problem was I kept trying to use get_post_type(). Like the definition of insanity, I tried it over and over expecting something to change somewhere.

I did this because in my mind these are different post types. To avoid confusion, I’ve properly referred to them above as formats but in my mind those are different types of posts. However, every time I would try to use get_post_type(), it always only returned ‘post,’ regardless of if I had set it as ‘link’ or something else. So I kept banging my head on my metaphorical desk.

Well, it took until Sunday morning (watching Manchester City vs. Sheffield United) for me to properly Google fu my way to an answer. WordPress parlance is that the above are post formats and not types, and the correct command is get_post_format() (reference link.)

Returns the post format of a post. This will usually be called in the the loop, but can be used anywhere if a post ID is provided.

I wanted to share about this here because the first several answers when Googling don’t highlight this difference well enough or at all. If I lost hours trying to solve this issue, then I’m sure there are others doing the same thing and hopefully I can save someone else a few hours of their time.

Film Media

Review: Daybreak

My Netflix binge continues as I churn through this over just two days. It’s one part Zombieland, one part Mad Max, one part Adventureland, and one part Ferris Buehler’s Day Off.

3/5 Sunflowers.

52 things I learned in 2019 – Tom Whitwell shared some interested tidbits from the year. I’d seen a number of these, but others were completely new to me.

Media TV

Review: Lost in Space (S2)

Netflix dropped season 2 of their Lost in Space series on Christmas and last night I finished it. I think I’d honestly prefer if the series was a monster of the week, more close to what the original had been. But, that said, I have really enjoyed the show and was engaged all through the second season. 4/5 space robots.


My Fixture Picker

As is well known, I am an avid soccer fan. I love watching it and watch games from around the world. On average, I will watch 20+ hours of soccer a week. Admittedly, that time is not focused solely on soccer. I am usually having it on in the background while I do other things.

For example, this morning I watched Arsenal vs. Chelsea, two teams I am not a big fan of, face off. While watching them, hoping for a meteor to strike the stadium, I did a major revamp to a little tool I built that helps me identify games to watch.

Simply titled, “Fixture Picker”, it looks at upcoming matches in a number of leagues and identifies ones which I will likely enjoy watching. It does this in a few ways:

First, I’ve built a database of the teams in each of the leagues and assigned each team two values: My interest in the team and their relative place in the league’s standings. The latter of these is one I hope to automate in the near future, but I haven’t found a data source I can pull this from. So, for the time being, every few weeks I go in and spend 15 minutes updating the various league standings.

The system first combines the ratings of the two teams, and then combines that with looking at the difference between the teams. The idea being I want games featuring higher ranked teams and ones which are closer ranked.

Secondly I have assigned various leagues a modifier. There are certain leagues I am more eager to watch than others.

Next, it looks at if I’m interested the teams (are they my chosen teams in various leagues or do they feature players I am keen on?)

And then out of that there are four classifications which it comes back with:

  • Must Watch – Two top teams in a league where I’m interested in at least one of them.
  • Should Watch – Involves at least one team I’m interested in, or is two evenly matched teams in the top half of the league
  • Can Watch – The vast majority of games
  • Should Avoid – The system sees no reason for me to watch this game

Prior to today, I had imported the calendars of various leagues, and relied on the database of games for looking at the schedule. But this was a manual process and required me to review schedule changes or accept a certain amount of misscheduled games.

This morning’s update was to begin making use of a data source where I could abandon the manually built match database and instead pull from the data source. Needless to say, this is a very exciting update to the system.

Future updates I want to make to my fixture picker:

  • Automate pulling the team’s place in the standings
  • Refine the algorithm for identifying matches
    • Use data from previous meetings
    • Betting data?
    • Flag teams with notable injuries, etc.
  • Improve the looks, it’s very ugly right now
  • Expand the tool to cover more leagues (Mexico, NWSL being the primary two)
  • Add email updates to make sure I don’t miss must watch games

But why?

This isn’t a critical tool. I could easily look at the matches for a day and pick them on my own. This was just a fun side project to give me something to fiddle with and work on.

In many ways I see programming as a hobby and like a carpenter or artist, I just want something to work on and play with. If it ends up being something I can use, then all the better.


Picture in Picture

Picture in Picture, sometimes called PiP, is way older than most people realize. In fact, next year the technology is 40 years old. It was first introduced by NEC in a television they sold in 1980. It didn’t catch on at the time and it became a staple of TVs with the adoption of cable, in my memory, in the late 90s.

To me, it was a tool to help avoid commercials prior to the arrival of DVRs. When the show I was watching would go to commercial I could swap to this other channel and keep what I was watching in a smaller window covering part of the screen. Then, when I saw the show return, flip back. Nice and easy.

On the laptop, I often will nest windows and have streams going as I work on other things. Or I will use it to watch multiple soccer games that are going on simultaneously.

Multitasking does not work. To many people, multitasking is about the belief that your brain can gestalt these multiple input feeds simultaneously like the fabled Sherlock Holmes. But repeated studies have proven we simply can’t do this.

But I will not stop multitasking or running multiple streams of simultaneous information. I do it not because I want to absorb it all simultaneously, but because it is about having continuous feeds of information so I can change my focus and have zero delay in receiving new inputs. When I’m watching multiple soccer games it enables me to catch big game moments out of the periphery of my attention to switch my focus to with zero lag.

This is a common setup for me in the midst of soccer season.

But also, I use Picture-in-Picture technology on the laptop while working because I have professional work reasons for watching streams or videos while accomplishing other things. And, up to recently, this was done via Windows’ nesting of windows to allow them to share screen real estate. That wasn’t always ideal because Windows’ system requires you to use entire vertical segments of the screen. Example:

Red is wasted space when all I care about is the blue portion on the right hand side.

So then I would try to just make it a small window and find some Windows bit of freeware or whatever that would let me make a specific window “Always on top” but those were often buggy because it isn’t a feature that Windows makes easy to do (for, I assume, reasons of concern over spam. Imagine always on top pop ups as a special level of hell. 🤢)

Thankfully my era of hardship is at a close. With Firefox 71.0, they have introduced a feature for picture-in-picture on any in-browser video player and I am legitimately excited about it. I was so excited I made a tweet which used all capital letters and read, upon reconsidering my tweet, like something a young child would exclaim in excitement on Christmas morning. I’ve since deleted the tweet and decided to instead turn this excitement into this blog post. And as I’ve written this post, I’ve been enjoying a video by my friend Sean “Day[9]” Plott in the corner:

As a person who’s primary job function is using, managing, and watching online video, this feature in Firefox is truly exciting to me. There used to be a community extension that offered close to this function but it was incomplete and sometimes buggy implementation, and then it went away altogether when Windows or Firefox changed security settings.

But now it is back and better than ever. The implementation in Firefox has, thus far, proven to be rock solid. And I am loving it. Yay, picture-in-picture and multitasking.

Media TV

Review: The Mandalorian

As much as I was underwhelmed by Rise of Skywalker, The Mandalorian was very much something I enjoyed. At first I was convinced it should have been a movie rather than a TV series (well, streaming series) but over the eight episodes of the first season, I realized the homage it was paying to the Westerns of old and I settled in to enjoy where it took me. 5 out of 5 Mandos.


The Power of Language

Sometimes I am overcome with fascination that the unique entity which I am making repeated series of sounds at, and they make different sounds in return to me, is a feature that we can comprehend and make use of. Language fascinates me as a central powerful part of our lives. It isn’t without its problems, and each language is unique in its benefits and drawbacks. But, it is quite amazing.

It is also amazing how the languages we use and what they represent, can mean for how we think.

A few months ago I came across an article that discussed how colors aren’t universal across languages. English speakers are well acquainted with blue, red, yellow, black, pink, etc. But what if your language lacks a word to describe the color?

The Candoshi tribe, a native culture in the Amazon, appears to academics to lack even a word for ‘color.’ They don’t teach their children the colors of the rainbow because they do not have words for individual colors. But this phenomenon is rather unique in the world. It is much more common for languages to define color and have unique words for some sections of the color spectrum.

How does someone without a word for blue, learn to see it as something unique among its neighboring defined colors? Without a word for blue, it would be seen as just a shade of green perhaps, or maybe violet. Initially this was a hard concept to wrap my head around. Obviously blue is different than green, how can anyone not see that?

Brief aside: In fact, orange is among the most recent additions to the English language, as far as core colors are concerned – having joined the lexicon in the early 1500s.

The turning point for me was realizing that this is a generalization issue; the brain relies on language to grow be more specific.

Consider an event that I think many of us have participated in, or at least witnessed: debates over shades of colors. Is this a forest green or army green? Is this napkin white or mother of pearl? For us, this tricks us into thinking it is a different situation from what I described above, it isn’t different other than being about a smaller slice of the color spectrum and seeking proper definition for it.

But, what if we don’t use known words for a color? “Is this forest green or juka?” For me, this helps me understand the discussion. As soon as you and I agree that juka means ‘army green’ we have now given ourselves a word and a unified understanding.

But if I, sitting at my laptop, decide to call army green ‘juka’ and not tell anyone else, it might eventually reach the point of usefulness. Eventually.

How can someone express themselves properly if they don’t have the words to do so? Conversely, how can someone be understood without having the right words to express themselves? Up to now, I’ve described colors. But think back to childhood and learning what your emotions were.

As your much younger self comes to understand your brain and what it is that you are feeling about this world around you. It was common to grow frustrated over difficulty communicating with those around you. And yet, you probably didn’t get frustrated – if you didn’t know the word, then it was likely you found yourself getting angry.

If you’re a newborn baby and you’re in some pain or discomfort from your diaper being full or your stomach being empty, your only real option is to cry. It was up to your parents to learn what your different cries were for, but also it was up to you and your developing brain to develop those different cries and build that simple language between you and your parents. Then there were your coos of pleasure, your giggles of surprise and joy. Until eventually you learned how to operate your mouth and form ‘ma ma’ or ‘da da.’

Tolkien (2019) movie trailer

While some facts here might be of interest to you, this was mostly a musing that I felt driven to write and explore after finally finishing watching the (sadly, disappointing) Tolkien movie from earlier this year. There is a scene where Tolkien is sitting with a young lady he fancies and they have a discussion about the ‘cellar door’ being a beautiful word in Tolkien’s opinion. Edith, the young lady played by Lily Collins, says “A word isn’t beautiful just because of its sound. It’s the marriage of sound and meaning.”

I could use machine learning and massive data to study English, survey tens of thousands of English speakers, on what words they found beautiful and then begin generating nonsensical and new words aimed at being as beautiful as possible. And while it may sound beautiful, it wouldn’t be beautiful until there was a meaning attached.

If we come up with the most beautiful word ever and it is used to define gruesome ways to murder someone, people won’t use that word for that meaning. If people want to use that word, they will give it a new shared definition and use it under the new meaning, thus making it beautiful.

This is the ever evolving reality of language and communication. Words are created, old words gain new usages over time or perhaps fade away, unique meanings for words fall out of favor, all in an ever changing landscape which keeps Merriam-Webster a viable business (in addition to their excellent social media skills.)

What MW does in an unofficial fashion for the English language, some languages have an official central governing body. French, for example, has le Académie Française. For better or worse, also to varying levels of control, they attempt to oversee changes in the grammar of French, as well as adding new words to the language.

Photo by Nitot on Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.5

The reality of language though is that it is defined by its speakers. If the French speakers in the world decide to adopt a new piece of jargon, or a loanword from another language, then it is de facto (an English loanword from Latin) a part of the French language regardless of what l’Académie says.

English is a difficult language. I am a fan of the saying that English is actually three languages in a trench coat. Or, another great quote about English: “[English doesn’t] just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.” The difficulty is in the final 25% of learning the language, there are so many exceptions and things that just require memorization which make it a difficult language to learn.

And the wonder of language is that you don’t need to get to 100%. Languages have hundreds of thousands of words, but to communicate for simple daily life, you only need a few hundred or a thousand words. And that is an amazing feature of language, we can understand each other with only a tiny fraction of completeness.

And that is, while imperfect, a power of language. Neither side has to be perfect and still, from that, perfect understanding can still come out of it. But, it only benefits you to learn more, eventually you might get to understand the color ‘blue.’