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Sunday, 14 July 2019 Dereel
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Understanding Trump supporters
Topic: politics, technology, opinion Link here

Question on Quora today: “If you live outside of the United States, what do you personally think about Donald Trump?”.

Just the thing I like to answer:

Like nearly everybody outside the USA, my feeling towards Trump is a mixture of amazement, contempt and fear. Amazement that the USA could elect such a person to rule them, contempt for his behaviour, and fear for what he might still do to the world economy.

Of course I got a comment from a Trump supporter:

All that matters is the American workers. And $ is not the only thing of importance. I would hate to live in a nation where most citizens only elect those who will increase their incomes. It would be worth some sacrifices to get factories back here, even if we have to pay more for products. MADE IN AMERICA! And Trump is defending our sovereignty. We need to close our border to the south to stop the barbarian invasion. Don’t want to wind up like Europe, but there is some hope with them because they are shutting down borders to the hordes of savages trying to enter.

Clearly a well-balanced perspective. So I answered like that. And got an answer: “Thank you”.

So: did he get the better of me, or did he really miss my point and take it as a compliment? I think that Hanlon's razor applies here.

It's also interesting to note that the comment was tempered with the realization that things are not as rosy on the financial front as Trump once claimed. Has he been able to dupe them yet again?

Smart kitchens?
Topic: technology, food and drink, general, opinion Link here

A few weeks ago HowTo Geek had an article on “smart bedrooms”, which I tore apart. They're at it again, this time with smart kitchens.

The same nonsense? Not necessarily. I really don't see significant applications of independent, non-standardized technology in the bedroom, but it's already there in no uncertain terms in the kitchen. And I've already argued against interoperability in the case of refrigerators. So it was worth reading.

But it immediately became clear that we weren't looking in the same direction. They start off with a “smart speaker” and a “smart display”. OK, I've been using laptops in the kitchen for decades. What's the advantage of their devices?

With a smart speaker, you can set multiple named timers to keep track of your food cook times.

Yes, we have that too. Just conventional timers. Is it really easier to set a time via a “smart speaker”? Possibly, but I don't have enough confidence in the interface to bother to try them out. Maybe I can simulate something on a laptop, but I haven't found the need.

It goes on:

If your recipe calls for a measurement you don’t have, you can ask for a conversion, like “how many teaspoons in two tablespoons?” or “how many cups in a liter?” when you need to convert to another measuring system.

No, that way madness lies. How can a smart speaker tell me how many teaspoons there are in 2 tablespoons? That depends on where the recipe comes from. And if I have a recipe in archaic units, I first spend some time sanitizing it before I start cooking and find myself in a bind.

But then it gets better: with a smart display you can show the current state of the timers you set. That implies that with a smart speaker you have no idea what's going on between setting a timer and it completing. Sorry, that's a great disadvantage compared to a $5 digital timer, and confirmation of my lack of confidence in the technology. There are other things too, none of them confidence-inspiring:

And they can speed up the grocery list. Rather than spend an hour or two once a week looking through what supplies have to determine what you need to buy, you can make a grocery list as you go. Every time you use the of something [sic], you can tell Google or Alexa to add “ketchup” or “cumin” to the shopping list.

And you can't just write it down on a pad? Arguably it means that you don't need to dry your fingers, but again I don't see enough advantage.

Next they go on with “smart lights”. I've already mentioned that in my article on smart bedrooms.

That was the first half of the article. What kitchen-related stuff is there? Almost nothing. But now it starts. A “smart oven”. Yes, I've thought of that too: have a computer control the individual heating elements and monitor temperatures in different places. I'm sure that I could find useful things to do after a bit of experiment.

Ah, but that's not what they're talking about. Their smart oven is a glorified toaster oven:

What's the advantage? No guesswork?

Most smart ovens look like an oversized toaster oven and work off similar principles. Typically they house a camera pointed at the food you place in the oven. Artificial intelligence examines the food, recognizes the ingredients, and then determines an optimal temperature and cook time. Some smart ovens have automated cooking programs; you choose the dish through an app, and it walks you through steps and finishes up the cooking for you.

That sounds so far from anything that could work that I'd really like to try it. But only if I could return it, because I'd almost certainly do so. You can see the lack of relationship to reality with:

If you’re the kind of person who can never remember how long it takes to hardboil [sic] an egg, you’ll appreciate the simplicity of putting an egg in your oven, choosing hardboil in an app, and walking away.

Hard boil an egg in a toaster oven? What have these people been smoking? And their “smart oven” has a significant disadvantage compared to a real oven: it's far smaller, and almost certainly doesn't have the flexibility of a real oven.

And then there's a smart faucet (a US American word for tap):

With Google Assistant or Alexa integration, you say things like “dispense two cups of water” or “turn off.”

It would be interesting to see how accurate these things are. Certainly they're (currently) clumsy—even the article notes that, contradicting itself:

The voice commands aren’t very intuitive. For Alexa, you’d say, “Tell Delta to dispense one cup of water.”

I can just imagine the frustration of trying to find the right incantation to turn the tap off while it continues to spray water everywhere. And how do you control the temperature? This very positive article describes their favourite in some detail. No mention of temperature control. Some other “smart faucets” do have temperature control, but they're not voice-operated.

And gradually they're running out of ideas. Smart scales?

For recipes that originate outside the U.S., a smart scale may come in handy. They usually connect through Bluetooth and give you a readout on your phone or tablet.

Why only for recipes that originate outside the USA? Presumably because the US Americans use volumetric measure. But what's the advantage? More technology, same result as a conventional scale that displays directly.

And, apart from a cleaning robot, that's it. At least they specifically advise against smart refrigerators, though not for same reasons that I reject them: they're concerned about security aspects. Somebody might see the size of your truffles and break in?

In summary, what useful ideas are there? Maybe a dictation system for the shopping list. If the smart ovens came in the same format and flexibility as conventional ovens, and if they allowed direct control (not just an “app” written by somebody who doesn't know what I want), they might be useful. Internet access to check on things, just barely possible. The smart display does that, in order to show you, far too late, a YouTube video of a recipe similar to the one that you're currently cooking. A laptop can do that too, but I've never found a use for it in the kitchen.

And what's missing? At the very minimum, temperature control. It would be really nice to find something that would fry steaks correctly without careful observation, or bring food to the boil and then simmer at a constant rate. But that's too complicated.

So, once again, with the possible exception of dictating shopping lists, a useless set of tools designed by people who don't cook, and nothing that I didn't have 20 years ago. A pity.

Monday, 15 July 2019 Dereel Images for 15 July 2019
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Pension adjustments
Topic: general, opinion Link here

There has been a certain amount of talk about pension increases in the Australian media, and on checking I see that pension rates have increased slightly in the time that we have been receiving the age pension, though it's marginal. So when I received a surprising amount of mail today, the two from Centrelink (the intuitively named Australian Social Services) looked exciting.

Ha, ha, not for you. Pension down by $7 per fortnight (the bizarre time unit they use). Thank you, Centrelink. This kind of fluctuation (it also goes up) seems to happen several times a year for reasons that they're too polite to explain, but I can't recall it ever being very different from the current levels, though maybe we're at the lowest rate right now.

But wait, there's more. Another letter from the deutsche Rentenversicherung. Change in pension. Another 33.95 € per month, along with details of how to complain if you're not happy („Rechtsbehelfsbelehrung“, literally "Rights be-help instruction") and a certificate to be filled out („Lebensbescheinigung“, literally “life certificate”), to be filled out by a Justice of the Peace who has never seen me before, but not by my General Practitioner.

That more than makes up for the shortfall with Centrelink, and in fact we don't have any financial concerns. But somehow it seems that we're getting more and more money from Germany and France, and nothing much seems to change in Australia. Can I be bothered to go back 5 years and see what things were like then?

This page contains (roughly) yesterday's and today's entries. I have a horror of reverse chronological documents, so all my diary entries are chronological. This page normally contains the last two days, but if I fall behind it may contain more. You can find older entries in the archive. Note that I often update a diary entry a day or two after I write it.     Do you have a comment about something I have written? This is a diary, not a “blog”, and there is deliberately no provision for directly adding comments. It's also not a vehicle for third-party content. But I welcome feedback and try to reply to all messages I receive. See the diary overview for more details. If you do send me a message relating to something I have written, please indicate whether you'd prefer me not to mention your name. Otherwise I'll assume that it's OK to do so.

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