Saturday, March 15, 2014

Place I usually recommend to people visiting London

  1. The Southbank Centre - I love this place. Besides libraries and museums, this superb cultural venue is another of those magical places where you're warmly welcome and where you don't need to pay to exist. Go to the 4th floor for a stunning view of the Thames from the balcony.
  2. The Barbican Centre - the same, plus weird architecture and suspended walkways. Ask at the information desk about the passages you shouldn't miss.
  3. Cyber Dog in Camden Market - just a really weird shop.
  4. Little Georgia restaurant with Georgian / Balkan cuisine in Angel and Broadway Market. Ask for the ajika and plum sauces, mmm.
  5. Dans le Noir restaurant where you eat in the dark. Expensive, but a truly memorable experience.
  6. Paramount Bar. Best view I know of Central London from above. 360° of classiness. Go at night, it's magical. And you just need to get one drink, so it's cheap - but don't eat in the restaurant unless you're relaxed about a £40-50 dinner. (Phone booking needed - make sure you specify it's for the bar only -, plus relatively smart attire. But they're not that strict, don't worry.)
  7. Hampstead Heath, Kenwood House and Brew House Cafe. Get lost in the woods, swim in the lakes, enjoy the wildlife. Gorgeous.
  8. Indian Veg in Angel. Cheap Indian vegetarian all-you-can-eat buffet.
  9. The Gate vegetarian restaurant in Angel and Hammersmith. Not as cheap, but worth it.
  10. Mr. Falafel, the best falafel wrap in the known universe! Just go, you won't regret it, to say the least.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Join the Quest for Truth. A call for interviewees in climate change research

Hey everyone!

I'm studying Sociology at City University in London, and as part of my 3rd year dissertation I've decided to try to understand more about people's interactions with science. In particular, I am focusing on what I call "the quest for truth". I define it as
the incessant, sometimes obsessive, pursuit of objective truth in relation to a contentious public debate. I am particularly interested in the issue of climate change.
For this, I am looking for people who have been on a quest for truth, or who are in the middle of it right now.

What do I have to do?

If you are or have been on a quest for truth, I would love to interview you, so that we can all understand this process better, and that maybe we can learn something useful.

More explicitly, the official criteria are:
  • you are informed about the debate in climate change
  • you proactively seek information about climate change, as opposed to occasionally engaging with the media or social circles
  • you have ‘changed camps’ at least once (e.g. from not believing to believing, from ‘we need to act now’ to ‘things will work themselves out’, etc.) OR
  • you are either indecisive or still doubting your position

Respondents will have access to the final research text once it's finalized. This will be my way of saying thank you.

But what exactly is this quest for truth?

I think that many people go through a process like this at least once. At least once we become so curious, so infuriated or so confused with an issue that we just have to 'get to the bottom of it'.

And then we start to dig: the more layers we uncover the surer we are we know too little. And the more confused we get, the more we dig.

News articles and television quickly prove insufficient for our informational needs, and books start to contradict each other, while scientific papers seem to wonder off in their own world. We find ourselves in the middle of bitter disputes over who is wrong and who is right; we find it quite curious that it is only us who haven't realised it's a 'fabricated' debate, that 'they' are merely obscuring the 'well-known' facts.

Funnily enough, then we start to find others who seem to be on the same journey - from overtly confused politicians to reporters who retract their statements to friends who identify with our journey. We uncover scandals, accusations, and fabrications. The more we read proselytizing between the lines the surer we are it's important to understand 'the truth'.

Of course, the quest for truth can be much easier: read the facts, adopt an informed opinion, done.
I did this myself when I was arduously researching the Church of Scientology. Much of the things I read confirmed my opinion, and there was such a small incentive to trust the others that it was a very easy decision to make.

I am not at all implying that I did the right thing, nor, generally, that there is a 'right' way to go on the quest for truth. In fact, I would do many things differently now.

But I am interested in the complicated journeys, in the ones which feel like bottomless rabbit holes, which make you sink deeper the more you struggle, like moving sands. Not only because they are longer and richer in valuable lived experience, but also because they are increasingly an integral part of our societies.

What kind of truths?

From 9/11 to Israel / Palestine, to how money 'really' work, to darwinian evolutionism, to whether humans are 'naturally' monogamous or not, to water flouridation, and not least to climate change, we seem to be engaging in more and more of these debates.

But people have been doing this all the time!

Of course, people have been debating since time immemorial. But now the sheer amount of information we have access to can truly make it a daunting task (a bit like Where's Wally); the media can influence us to a huge degree; the sciences are losing their golden polish of authority; politics is everywhere; and the potential consequences of many of these issues are overwhelming.

Not to mention that this process hasn't been studied nearly enough!

So don't wait any longer, contact me at mihai-george.chira.1 [at] , or leave a comment to this post.

Also please send this page to anyone you think might have been on a quest for truth, especially in climate change. We all know people like this, and they ought to be put forward. And please share this article on Facebook and Twitter.

Much appreciated!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Shocking quote of the day: black men and education

"The relationship between ethnicity, literacy and numeracy is very strong and specific cases extremely negative; for example, being Black and male appears to have a greater impact on levels of numeracy than having a learning disability."

from EHRC.

At least I'm learning interesting things in my Race and Racism course.

Monday, June 28, 2010

ActionScript: the htmlText, CSS and embedded fonts fiesta

Actionscript is usually great for simple font embedding and rendering purposes. Use the text property of a TextField with an embedded font and a TextFormat, and it works great. If, however, you want to get all ninja and use htmlText with CSS with embedded fonts, you're in for a bumpy ride.

Firstly, you may experience the unnerving phenomenon of text not appearing at all, as soon as you set the embedFonts property to true on the TextFormat object. Fear not, for Flash nuisances are easily tweakable. Check your css file and wherever you have more than one font enumerated in the 'font-family' property, just make it one single font name: the font you embedded. In the article linked above, adobe mention:

If using CSS styles to set fonts for TextFields, set the font-family CSS property to the name of the embedded font. The font-family property must contain a single name and not a list of names if you want to specify an embedded font.

What this might do for you is to show regular text, but completely omit formatted text (bold or italic), or simply replace it with unformatted text. If that happens, you have probably not embedded all the font faces. Read this article to find out how to embed all versions of a font (regular, bold, italic and bold-italic) within the same font family. If your embedded font already has these formatting inside the font file, try these tricks. If you're using the Flash IDE, it should be really similar. This forum thread might help.

The next problem which is very likely to occur is for the font to look aliased (i.e. blurry, hard to read). The solution is simply to create a TextFormat object with the font defined in the CSS style and assign it to the defaultTextFormat property of the TextField. Makes sense, right? No! I found this after considerable digging. Let me know if it works for you too.

if you're using multiple SWFs or RSLs and have issues with fonts, check out Alex's great post about that.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Work needs to be questioned

As part of researching issues around poverty for an essay at university, I have conducted 3 online interviews and 2 offline ones, plus a focus group with 9 participants (all members of my extended family).

The questions I asked are these:
  • What do you think is the cause(s) of poverty in the world?
  • What do you think are the obstacles to eliminating poverty?
A number of interesting answers surfaced, which I will probably discuss at another time. What I wish to point out at this time is one thing which was not mentioned: working, or the institution of wage-labour. The assumption appeared to be that it is a constant of life, a given, or at least that any attempt at altering it is incomprehensibly futile.

Black (1985) makes a strong statement (at times too strong) about the negative impacts of work and imagines an alternative, ludic world in his The Abolition of Work. I will argue that an essential omission from his discussion is poverty.

Novak (1988) convincingly argues that poverty is endemic to capitalism. In feudalism, people would usually be in the possession of the means through which they produced the food and other necessities. They owned the tools and the animals with which they worked the land. Subservience to the feudal master meant that they payed taxes and levies from the surplus they produced (and sometimes way above that). Nevertheless, Novak emphasizes that these people were more in control of the means of survival than are most workers today.

--to be continued--

Friday, January 15, 2010

Flex 3 ProgressBar in polled mode stops working when it reaches 100%

The ProgressBar component in Flex 3 (I am using SDK ) has 3 modes of operation: event, polled and manual. For a project I chose to use the polled mode to display the upload progress of multiple files using two ProgressBar components: one for individual files, and one for the overall progress.

The problem was that while the overall progress bar worked correctly, the individual file progress bar completely stopped working when the first file finished uploading. I checked the numbers, and they were fine, so the problem had to lie with the component.

The explanation is that the timer used to update the progress bar is stopped once the bytesLoaded property equals bytesTotal. Adobe will most surely call this a feature, as it saves resources for most use cases, when the progress bar is used to track a single operation at a time. However, in my case it turned out to be a bug, since I needed to track multiple operations. Had I been aware of it, I would probably have engineered my code to use the event or manual mode. But Adobe have either not documented this, or have hidden it very cleverly.

The solution in my case was either to prevent the timer from stopping or to restart it after the progress reached 100%. I did not want to keep it going indefinitely, as that would have cause the kind of resource leak which Adobe tried to prevent. So I looked in the ProgressBar class for instances where the timer was restarted, and it seemed that the best way to force a restart would be to toggle the mode property itself when a file finished uploading:

this.currentFileProgressBar.mode = ProgressBarMode.MANUAL;
this.currentFileProgressBar.mode = ProgressBarMode.POLLED;

There would have been other alternatives, of course, but this worked best in my project.
One of the alternatives is to use the BetterProgressBar component in the CleverPlatypus framework, which simply adds a value setter to the progress bar, as you would expect it to have anyway.