Quotation

27 March 2015

Pi Day Trivia

On 14 March 2015 the Winnipeg Skeptics held a Pi Day celebration, which featured games, trivia, and lots and lots of pie.

Since not everyone could make it out and people seem to like this sort of thing, here's some pi- (and pie-) related trivia!

Question One
In the Star Trek episode "Wolf in the Fold", the Enterprise’s computer (spoiler alert) becomes possessed by the spirit of Jack the Ripper. (God, Star Trek was dumb sometimes...) How does Spock foil the evil computer? (Answer)

Question Two
The digits of pi go on forever in a seemingly random sequence, meaning that it falls into which class of numbers? (Answer)

Question Three
Who said, "If you wish to make an Apple Pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe"? (Answer)

Question Four
While pi is popular, a minority of mathematicians argue that a constant equal to 2π would make for a better circle constant, for a host of (I think very convincing) reasons. What do they call their "2π" constant? (Answer)

Question Five
How long has the Greek letter "π" been used to represent the circle constant? (Answer)

Question Six
This successful World War II operation, which involved persuading the Germans that the Allies planned to invade Greece by planting fake war plans on a corpse in Spain, was named after a suet pie. (Answer)

Question Seven
Pi Day (14 March) is also the birthday of which famous physicist? (Answer)

Question Eight
According to a band member, a vision involving a man atop a flaming pie influenced a famous band’s name. Which band? (Answer)

Question Nine
Some of the earliest attempts to understand pi involved trying to do something that has now become a euphemism for a hopeless or impossible task. What is it? (Answer)

Question Ten
In 2005 the world record for memorizing the digits of pi was claimed by Chao Lu, a Chinese engineering student. How long did he spend reciting pi? (Answer)



I was going to have some questions about radians, but I couldn't figure out how to formulate them in a way that was remotely entertaining. So... there aren’t any. You're welcome.

Answer One
He instructs it to compute pi right down to the last digit, a task that it can never complete.

Answer Two
Irrational numbers

Answer Three
Carl Sagan

Answer Four
Tau. Pi is defined as the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter; but it’s often written as the ratio of a circles circumference to double its radius (remember C = 2πr?). Tau is the ratio of a circle’s radius (rather than circumference) to its diameter, and it simplifies many common mathematical formulae.

Answer Five
About 300 years. It was William Jones who chose the Greek letter "π" to represent the circle constant in 1706. This choice was later popularized by Euler. Before the symbol's introduction, mathematics was a lot wordier, involving things like, "let x be the quantity which, when the diameter is multiplied by it, yields the circumference".

Answer Six
Operation Mincemeat, which was a British disinformation plan that persuaded Germany that they had accidentally intercepted "top secret" Allied documents. These plans were attached to a corpse deliberately left to wash up on a beach in Punta Umbría in Spain, and served to cover the actual Allied invasion of Italy from North Africa.

Mincemeat itself is a mixture of chopped dried fruit, distilled spirits and spices, and sometimes beef or suet. Originally, mincemeat always contained meat, but this is no longer the rule.

Answer Seven
Albert Einstein

Answer Eight
The Beatles. In a 1961 interview with Mersey Beat, John Lennon told the following story: "It came in a vision – a man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them, 'From this day on you are Beatles with an A.' And so we were."

Answer Nine
Squaring the circle. That is to say: constructing a square with the same area as a given circle using only a compass and straightedge.

Answer Ten
24 hours (and 4 minutes). So if you spent Pi Day eating pie, or doing anything at all other than reciting numbers, be grateful. In 2005, Chao Lu recited 67,890 digits of pi correctly, claiming the previous record from Hiroyuki Goto of Japan. Goto’s record was 42,195 digits. How useful is this? Well, for comparison, you could compute the circumference of a circle around the known universe with an error no greater than the radius of a hydrogen atom using only 39 decimal places.

16 March 2015

LUEE Episode 94: Free Will

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Gem is joined by Donna, Ashlyn, and Ian to talk about free will, determinism, and what it means to make a choice. Also on this episode, Donna sits down with August Berkshire of Minnesota Atheists to discuss the moral implications of a world without free will. We went a little long, but don't blame us: determinism exempts us from all ethical responsibility!

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism that is produced by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Note: Barium. Radioactive caesium decays into barium.

Links: Free Will: What is it? and Do we have it? (The Winnipeg Skeptics) | Free will (Wikipedia) | Phineas Gage (Wikipedia) | Unconscious cerebral initiative and the role of conscious will in voluntary action (Behavioral and Brain Sciences) | Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain (Nature Neuroscience) | A Brief Defense of Free Will | Discovery of quantum vibrations in 'microtubules' corroborates theory of consciousness (Phys.org) | Quantum indeterminacy (Wikipedia) | Uncertainty principle (Wikipedia) | Minnesota Atheists | Freedom Evolves (Wikipedia) | Freedom Evolves by Daniel C. Dennett (Amazon.ca) | Free Will by Sam Harris | Breaking the Free Will Illusion by 'Trick Slattery | Beyond Freedom and Dignity by B.F. Skinner (Amazon.ca) | Killing of Tim McLean (Wikipedia) | Li case exposes ugly truth about Tories (Winnipeg Free Press) | The Fallaway Slam Podcast (The only podcast that matters!)

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Listen: Direct Link | iTunes | Stitcher | RSS Feed

20 February 2015

Configuring Flask, uWSGI, and Nginx (Updated!)

This is an updated version of a previous post, which is preserved here.



In a departure from what I often write about, I'm going to talk a little bit about something that is tangentially related to what I actually do for a living: running a web server. So I'm going to give a brief tutorial on setting up uWSGI (in Emperor mode) and Nginx so that you can run one or more Python Flask instances on a server.

Installation
Flask
uWSGI
Nginx
Port Forwarding
Sources

Why? Well, I'm far from a pro at anything related to networking or web development, but I have been writing a few web tools lately just for fun. Initially, I had several different Flask/Werkzeug instances running in what was essentially a dev mode on different ports on my server, and I had each of these ports forwarded. But...


...this was ungainly, running multiple Werkzeug instances was inefficient, I didn't want to have to forward all of those ports, and damn it, I wanted to do things right. But, as this isn't my area of expertise, it took me a while to put all of these pieces together, because many of the examples that I was able to find were light on the details. I'm putting this here in the hope that someone else in my situation might find it useful.

Installation

So here are the relevant details. I'm running Ubuntu 14.04 and I'm using Python 3.4 (and 2.7.9), Flask 0.10, uWSGI 2.0.9, and Nginx 1.1.19. If you are missing any of these, you'll want to install them with your package manager of choice. For example:

$ sudo apt-get install python
$ sudo apt-get install uwsgi
$ sudo apt-get install nginx
$ pip3 install flask

Some caveats: First, if you're running Python 2.x, you'll want to ensure that Flask is available for it, as well. (You can try pip install flask, depending on your configuration.) Second, if you're planning to run multiple Flask applications using multiple versions of Python, you may have to build uWSGI core from source and specify which Python plugin to use for each application. Building uWSGI from source isn't the worst thing in the world; instructions for building the application and the necessary plugins are available here.

The goal here is to run multiple Flask servers on one machine without having to worry about port numbers and the like. We'll start with just one, and I'm sure that you can figure the rest out from there.

Flask

First you need a Flask application to run. How about this one? I wrote it a few months ago because I wanted to translate GET requests to POST requests. (At the time that I'm writing this, that particular application hasn't been updated to use Python 3.)

Navigate to the directory you'd like to install it to (probably /opt/ or /var/www/), then clone it. You'll want to verify that it runs locally on its own first.

$ cd /opt
$ git clone https://github.com/spurll/post.git
$ post/run.py

In a web browser on the same server, navigate to http://localhost:9999 and verify that the application is accessible. If you're running headless (as I am) you can always spawn the process to the background with post/run.py & and then curl localhost:9999 and verify that you don't get an error back. You can now kill the Python process.

Flask is now set up!

uWSGI

First, test that uWSGI will run your application correctly on its own:

$ cd /opt/post
$ uwsgi --socket 127.0.0.1:9999 --protocol=http -w run:app

In this case, run is the name of the Python source file that contains our application (/opt/post/run.py) and app is the name of the Werkzeug/Flask application object contained in that file. Verify that the application is accessible again from http://localhost:9999 as above.

If everything is working correctly, kill the uWSGI instance. It's now time to configure uWSGI's Emperor mode. This allows us to essentially have one master process that oversees all of our web applications, starting (and restarting) them when needed and logging as appropriate. You will probably have to install a few plugins, too, using your package manager of choice. (Note that if you want to support multiple Python versions, you may need to build these plugins from source, as mentioned above.) Assuming you want to use the standard plugins:

$ sudo apt-get install uwsgi-plugin-python
$ sudo apt-get install uwsgi-plugin-http

By default, your uWSGI master configuration file will probably be located at /etc/init/uwsgi.conf. Edit it with your editor of choice (I'm a Vim guy, myself):

$ sudo vim /etc/init/uwsgi.conf

It should look something like this:

description "uWSGI"
start on runlevel [2345]
stop on runlevel [06]
respawn

env UWSGI=/usr/bin/uwsgi
env LOGTO=/var/log/uwsgi/emperor.log

exec $UWSGI --master --emperor /etc/uwsgi/apps-enabled --die-on-term --uid www-data --gid www-data --logto $LOGTO

You can change the location of the Emperor's log file by changing the LOGTO environment variable. You can also modify which user (--uid) and group (--gid) the Emperor will run as.

Now it's time to configure the applications. Your application-specific configuration files (in this case, for the POST program that we installed to /opt/post/) will probably be found at /etc/uwsgi/apps-available/. Create a new file there and call it post.ini. It should like something like this:

[uwsgi]

# Variables
url_mount = /%n
base = /opt/%n
app = run
callable = app

# Plugins
plugins-dir = /usr/lib/uwsgi/plugins
plugins = python,http

# URL Script Mounting
mount = %(url_mount)=%(base)/%(app).py
manage-script-name = true

# Generic Config
pythonpath = %(base)
socket = /opt/run/%n.sock
module = %(app)
logto = /var/log/uwsgi/%n.log

Here, url_mount is the mount-point for the application (for example, if you're running the application at http://www.yourserver.com/post, the value would be /post), base is the base directory of our application (the directory that contains the module we want to run), app contains the name of the module to run (in this case run, for run.py), callable is the name of the Werkzeug/Flask callable application object (if you don't supply this, uWSGI will assume that it's called application), and socket defines the location of the socket you'd like Nginx to use when communicating with your uWSGI server. The %n references the name of our file (sans extension) to maintain consistency.

You'll need to ensure that the location of your sockets (in this case, /opt/run/) exists and that the appropriate user (in this case, www-data) has write permissions.

This configuration assumes that you want to run your program using the modules installed on your system's Python. Plugins might prove to be an issue. You'll want to point plugins-dir to the appropriate path, and make sure that you have the appropriate plugin. If you're running Python 3.x (or you want to specify a specific Python plugin for uWSGI for some other reason), you can point plugins at something like python34 (which you may have to build) instead.

To run the application in a virtual environment, you can add a line defining home:

home = %(base)/virtualenv

Where virtualenv is the directory containing the Python virtual environment you'd like to use. (In our case, that would be at /opt/post/virtualenv/, if we were using a virtual environment.)

Once you're ready, create a symbolic link to place the post.ini file you've created in the apps-enabled directory:

$ sudo ln -s /etc/uwsgi/apps-available/post.ini /etc/uwsgi/apps-enabled/post.ini

You can start the uWSGI process (if you haven't already) like this:

$ sudo service uwsgi start

As soon as your Emperor process sees an application configuration file in apps-enabled it will start up a uWSGI instance to serve requests for that application. If you'd like to set up additional Flask applications at this time, simply install them and create uWSGI configuration files for each (and don't forget to link them to apps-enabled!). If you're having trouble, take a look at the logs (which are probably in /var/log/uwsgi/).

The uWSGI Emperor is now set up!

Nginx

We're almost there!

The default configuration file for Nginx should be located at /etc/nginx/sites-available/default. Feel free to edit this one, or create your own. By default, Nginx will point requests on port 80 (the default HTTP port) to /usr/share/nginx/www. If you'd like to point them somewhere else (such as /var/www/) you can change that here. Here's a brief Nginx configuration file that you can use to run connect your uWSGI server to the outside world:

# server unix:///path/to/your/site.sock; # For a file socket.
# server 127.0.0.1:9999;                 # For a port.

upstream post {
    server unix:///opt/run/post.sock;
}

server {
    listen 80;
    server_name your.server.url;

    access_log /var/log/nginx/access.log;
    error_log /var/log/nginx/error.log;

    root /var/www;
    index index.html index.htm;

    # GET to POST
    location /post {
        include uwsgi_params;
        uwsgi_pass post;
    }
}

Replace your.server.url with the URL for your server (you can use localhost for testing purposes). This configuration assumes that you'd like your application to be accessible at http://your.server.url/post. If you'd like it to take the place of the main page at http://your.server.url/, modify the location appropriately.

Note that current versions of uWSGI no longer support the (long-deprecated) uwsgi_modifier1 30; to pass this mount information on to uWSGI, so if you're running multiple applications (or don't want to host your application on /) you will probably want to pay attention to the script mounting information for uWSGI above.

Once you're done, create a soft link to /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/ for each of the entries in /etc/nginx/sites-available/. Now you can start your Nginx service.

$ sudo service nginx start

Every time you modify the Nginx configuration file, you'll have to restart the it.

Port Forwarding

If you're running this server from your home or office and you need external access, don't forgot to forward port 80 so that Nginx is accessible. Instructions for your router are probably available here.

Sources

I used several sites while putting this all together. If you're stuck, they may contain additional information that I neglected to include here. Here are the most helpful of the bunch:

Deploying Flask on uWSGI
Multiple Django and Flask Sites with Nginx and uWSGI Emperor
How to Setup Nginx
uWSGI Example Configuration

I also had some help from my friends and colleagues BCJ and Curtis when I was initially setting up Nginx. Thanks, gents!

03 February 2015

Ideological Boundaries

I'm writing a book. Maybe you'll read it someday. If you're at all interested, I hope that you'll have that opportunity, and I hope even more that you'll enjoy it. The process of writing it is difficult, and it's rewarding, and it's exhausting, and occasionally it's even fun.

It's a novel. And there are people in this novel—characters, I mean—with whom I don't agree. It's hard to be fair. I was never really tempted to throw up a bunch of straw soldiers that I could easily knock down, but it's still difficult to be fair when discussing philosophical or ideological positions that I don't share, especially when these elements aren't the focus of the narrative.

But it's important to be fair. There's a group of people in this book who started off as the enemies, the "big bads", the primary antagonists of the story. It was easy to outline. But as I wrote it, I realised that these people weren't people: they were one character—one guy—just repeated over and over, copied ad nauseam. No nuance, no disagreement, only a clone army, dressed differently but marching in ideological lockstep. That's dangerous, and it's boring, and it doesn't make for much of a good story.

It's not all fixed now (I haven't even completed a first draft: nothing's fixed!), but at least I'm aware of the problem. And when and if the book is published, I look forward to hearing from everyone how unfairly I have portrayed those who disagree with me.

I was thinking about all of this last night as I was polishing up a chapter that I was especially proud of, and over lunch today I happened to stumble upon this really excellent video from Hank Green, in which he discusses polarizing ideological monoculture, and the important diversity that thrives in boundary zones.