Yesterday, I was at IndieWebCamp. Tired after a long train journey home. It’s always fun to hang out with Tantek and Jeremy. Feeling inspired to build things.
Since IndieWebCamp, I’ve been working on two things: firstly, my own blogging and microblogging system. Started building it in Rails last night on the train (having difficulty convincing myself that the Jekyll/Octopress world actually fits what I need), building a possible place to put my stuff post-Tumblr. Have a few really big ideas but am planning to start small, get things looking good, and exactly how I want them. Hopefully while avoiding the second-system effect. It won’t be as bad as my PHP and XSLT monstrosity of yesteryear. It’s in version control for a start. There’s lots that’s broken about it at the moment: as fun as web programming is, doing it without web access is a pain.
I find when I’m programming in Java or Scala, the more explicit awareness of types does actually help me in one important way: less Googling. I was on the train on the way home and didn’t have Internet access (my phone had under 10% battery life left, and I had no charging cable, so no wifi tethering for me). When doing things like Rails or even HTML/CSS, I find myself wanting to look things up on Google. Perhaps I’m a bit rusty. When I have the equivalent of JavaDocs or man pages on my machine, that need goes away.
This is one of the things I can’t quite fully endorse about dynamic land: methods that don’t actually tell you what they expect as arguments without their documentation, and their documentation is often online and often awful. Last night, I was playing around with Ruby, specifically with Geokit (I’ll explain why in a second). The lack of type annotations is weird. Here’s some code:
This Geokit function takes a latlong and turns it into a bounding box based on radius. The radius? What exactly is that? Well, it’s a number. Duh. A number of whats? Humans don’t tend to think in WGS84 map distance, we tend to think in things like metres, yards, miles, kilometres and so on. I don’t actually care how many public toilets there are within 0.2 whatevers, I care about what’s within walking distance, so, like 500 metres, say. From the word radius, I have no clue what on earth this is supposed to take. (Perhaps we need some of F#’s units of measure to solve all our problems.)
So, why was I pissing around with geo?
Well, the other indieish thing I’m thinking about trying to is build atop of OpenStreetMap. The interesting thing about OSM is only partly the maps. The other part is that it’s basically a massive slightly-confusing-to-edit wiki of points of interest. The metadata model lets you express everything from pubs to restaurants to loansharks. You can represent all sorts of useful data about venues in OSM including opening hours, whether venues have free or paid wifi, whether they have lavatories, whether they are wheelchair accessible (see wheelmap).
Well, if we want an “indie web” alternative to services like Foursquare and Facebook Places… OpenStreetMap may provide the basis for that database. That’s what I might be noodling on for a while.
Internet Brands to Wikitravel admins: go to hell!
For a while, the contributors to Wikitravel have been in rather a mutinous mood. A proposal has been made on Wikimedia Meta called Wiki Travel Guide which has asked the Wikimedia community to incubate and eventually run a travel guide site.
The Wikimedia community seems to have been broadly but cautiously receptive to the idea, and the Wikimedia Foundation board have approved the creation of the travel site.
Part of the motivation for doing so is the ownership of Wikitravel by a company called Internet Brands. Internet Brands own hundreds of websites but have a history of, well, not ingratiating themselves particularly well with the communities they’ve purchased. Back in 2007, Internet Brands bought Jelsoft, who make the popular vBulletin PHP message board software. They then promptly played bait-and-switch on the licensing of vBulletin, forcing users to upgrade in order to continue getting support. This caused some anger with customers, who took to the message boards to complain. Internet Brands responded by banning their own paying customers from the customer message board. Smart move guys. See this post by econsultancy.
The original developers of vBulletin then went on to start a new competing message board software, XenForo. Internet Brands responded by… suing the developers. Here’s the announcement on XenForo’s site. There’s lots to read about it. Needless to say, vBulletin’s former customers aren’t too happy about Internet Brands…
Which brings us back to Wikitravel. The bulk of the administrators want to leave and move to a Wikimedia hosted competitor. Internet Brands aren’t happy about this. The Wikitravel contributors are simply exercising their right to fork, which is legally granted to the users by the Creative Commons license.
Internet Brands has responded by attempting to sue Wikitravel administrators. The Wikimedia Foundation have filed a countersuit to defend the Wikitravel volunteers from this kind of intimidation from Internet Brands.
On Wikitravel, Internet Brands have been furiously trying to shut down any discussion about the now seemingly inevitable WMF-hosted fork. Here is a diff with a thread. Below I’ve excerpted a few posts:
It seems like the editing of sitenotices on every language has been blocked, even to bureaucrats. This seems like an attempt to prevent people from announcing the move to wikivoyage, but the sitenotice shouldn’t be blocked just for that reason. Alot of the sitenotices on other languages are very outdated and need updating anyway. –sumone10154
One of the users that was banned by IBobi (Paul O’Brien from Internet Brands) responds to his ban:
Thank you for that clarification Jc8136, I think it is important that anyone reading this understands that. This is in a way what I am getting setting out to say with the “Rogue Administrator” commentary. However it should be clarified and understood that he is not actually a Wiki Project administrator in the ‘normal’ sense of it. He is able to readily access the system because his employer (IB) own the servers upon which this travel Wiki project (currently known a Wikitravel) is hosted.
Really he has currently just become a Troll with administrator level access.
I am quite disappointed, not just for the project but also because I actually thought he was smarter than this. I guess I was wrong. By the way, I am still blocked, it may just be yet another server error, or maybe the Rogue Administrator has a backdoor that stays un-logged.
I sort of imagined they were running the servers out of an old laundry cupboard in their garage so I would be surprised if there was room for a backdoor. Indeed for me there is not even a front door at the moment, I am coming through a split in the formica panelling, not sure where IBobi is coming from. –Felix505
People were pointing out the idiocy of Internet Brands…
Internet Brands could have chosen to ride out these events and maintain the goodwill of the former contributors, or it could have chosen to stifle dissent and discussion in a futile attempt to delay the inevitable. The two options are mutually exclusive, and it is now painfully clear which one has been chosen. More’s the pity. –LtPowers
IBobi’s user talk page is also worth pursuing. IBobi has been protecting pages furiously to prevent discussion and desysopping and decratting people, even going so far as to remove bureaucrat status from Evan Prodromou, one of the founders of Wikitravel.
Evidently, Internet Brands doesn’t particularly want the Wikitravel community any more. Oh well, I’m sure they will be made welcome by the Wikimedia community. Heh.
I’ll leave the final comments to Sertmann, one of the Wikitravel former admins, who posted the backstory on the XenForo forum:
Short backstory, the relatively small core community of regular contributers and administrators have been thinking about forking for a while, since we received nearly no tech support, many of them denied or taking years, no mediawiki upgrades from 2007 to 2011 leaving us vulnerable to sort of abuse, see this example or this one for a good show of IB arrogance, even though they eventually budged. This is despite a promise they made when they purchased the site from the founders, that they wouldn’t interfere with the community.
They also promised a major advantage of being owned by IB would be substantial resources for development and better servers, yet despite this, we have lived with a misconfigured database for years, often at months at a time making the site nearly unusable, especially for us patrolling the site and doing mass edits to keep the site clean. We lost a lot of valuable contributors this way, and those who remained were increasingly unable to keep up with spammers since the site was running so slow that simple tasks as reversions took 30-40 seconds per click, rather than the 1-2 seconds it takes on Wikipedia. Saving an edit in some of the largest articles would take minutes. When you have to vet 100-200 edits per day, this builds up a lot of frustration. We cried foul, IB promised improvements, nothing happened - and this repeated itself again and again and …
At some point we started to discuss the possibility of a fork seriously, and left a bot crawling on the site, so we would have a backup plan in case we actually went through with it. But forking of course has a price, and rebuilding all the linkjuice (that we justifiably have/had, since its all original content, a full 26.000 pages of it) that drives in casual contributors would take years. So we kept putting it off, until a user involved with both Wikitravel and high level Wikimedia staff opened a door to Wikipedia, and a opportunity to get away from IB incompetence while remaining relevant opened up.
At one point the IB learned about this and went to Wikimania to talk us out of it, having been feed lie upon lie upon lie, we didn’t bite, and they were rather shocked to learn we had a full, up to date, copy of the site with the full contribution history preserved (a requirement to forking while adhering to the CC-by-SA license). Their reaction was to shut down all discussion taking place on site, blanking and protecting user pages with users explaining why they retired and where they could be found, making frivolous legal threats for users stating an opinion, banning the most revered admins and contributors without them breaking a single term of service or site policy, etc. etc. etc. etc.
We then learned recently that they had actually sued an administrator and a contributor, as individuals, this was before Wikimedia stepped up and went into the legal fray, so we were all pretty shellshocked. The Wikimedia foundation rising up to this, is for me, pretty much a Deus ex machina moment, and boy do I hope they suffer, at the very least, irreparable damage to their reputation so they can no longer buy up any more online communities.
The Religious Right have warned that if gay marriage is legalised, it’ll lead to the denormalization of databases.
While Drill Instructors inherently and naturally instill fear in recruits, the reliance on yelling and screaming no longer is seen as being an effective means to developing the critical thinking, collaboration and self-confidence the Army seeks to imbue in every single soldier. Dressing down a recruit is seen as the last resort of effective leadership.
In most professions, salaries below the poverty line would be cause for alarm. In academia, they are treated as a source of gratitude. Volunteerism is par for the course - literally. Teaching is touted as a “calling”, with compensation an afterthought. One American research university offers its PhD students a salary of $1000 per semester for the “opportunity” to design and teach a course for undergraduates, who are each paying about $50,000 in tuition. The university calls this position “Senior Teaching Assistant” because paying an instructor so far below minimum wage is probably illegal.
It ain’t what grade you get, it’s what you do with it
I’m feeling in a wise elder mood today. Perhaps it’s because because Facebook insists on showing me photographs of friends from school getting married or, as it did yesterday, a photograph of a school friend holding his wife’s baby bump. I, of course, am using the fact that I cannot legally get married as a great excuse for why I’m both single and spending my days arguing with stupid people on the Internet rather than being a proper grown-up. Ha ha, only serious.
Anyway, it’s A-level results day for kids in England. So I figure I should give some advice for the people getting their A-level results today and potentially trotting off to university next month. I shall, of course, give this advice in the only way I know how: ramblingly.
I did my A-levels about ten years ago. Hell, that’s a long time. Here’s the thing though: I never really planned anything. I just sort of fell into it. Some people seem to have it all worked out. They wanna be a doctor or a scientist, so they do maths and biology and physics and get straight A’s and get into Cambridge. Or they want to be a writer so they do English and history and a foreign language, and get straight A’s and trot off to Oxford.
I didn’t really know what I wanted to ‘be’. There was always the potential to be a computer programmer, I guess, but… I don’t know why I didn’t see that as a viable option at school, but I didn’t. My school had a careers advice lady. I went and had a slightly uncomfortable interview with her when I was about 14 and trotted out a few ideas and she gave me some advice, but nothing that really stuck out. So I just bumbled along.
I took five courses at AS level: Law, Business Studies AVCE, English Language and Literature, Biology and the mandatory ICT AVCE.
I dropped the Business Studies AVCE after a few weeks, and wished I could have done the same with the ICT AVCE. Curriculum 2000 was a bloody stupid idea in forcing people to do these ghastly pseudo-vocational courses (they didn’t really contain any useful vocational skills, but they did have all the academic difficulty trimmed away). It didn’t help that the Business Studies course was filled with a bunch of the same arseholes that I hated from previous years at school.
As for ICT AVCE, well, I had an absolutely crazy mental teacher for this called Penny Rowden. She combined a complete inability to teach the subject with a complete inability to understand computers or IT. She did wander around the classroom singing “Anarchy in the U.K.” by The Sex Pistols. Eventually, I decided to not bother turning up for this piece of shit course and would go hang out in a nearby cricket pavilion with a similarly disenchanted student.
I was similarly horrible at AS Biology. In retrospect, I had some attitude or something that made me not like it. Can’t remember why. It’s a shame, because we had two teachers: one was absolutely astoundingly awesome, the other was a creepy old perv who used to hit on the girls when he wasn’t reciting bad jokes about adenosine triphosphate. Anyway, I got a U in AS Biology, and promptly dropped it.
Which leaves Law and English Language and Literature. Lang & Lit was a course offered as an alternative to a full English Lit course, and had a much wider range of texts. While the pure Lit students were poring over every word in Hamlet, we had novels, TV screenplays, poems, short stories, diaries and speech etc., and there was much more of a focus on the mechanics of language. I had to read Angela Carter’s book of feminist fairy tales, The Bloody Chamber. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some feminist reappropriation, I just couldn’t stand the way they were written (which is strange: I later borrowed a collection of Angela Carter’s non-fiction writing and she’s a great journalistic writer). It was a weird and strange course, sort of an A-level in English Literary Miscellany. But I had great teachers. I had a guy called Mr Stewart, who was the school’s resident disciplinarian, but when he wasn’t shouting at people, he was challenging A-level students Socratically to understand the works of the metaphysical poets.
I had another great teacher called Mr Hill, who used to shock the younger students by reading absolutely anything. Some crappy teenage magazine article about the Spice Girls? He’d read it just as proudly and openly as he’d read Keats in order to, I don’t know, teach some moral lesson about how language is everywhere.
Law was great fun too. It allowed me to bring out the inner pedant, and taught me how to draw subtle distinctions. The teacher was a fantastically sharp woman called Mrs Short who didn’t take any shit from anybody.
In the evening, I started taking evening classes in photography. A lovely retired woman called Inga taught them, and I did the GCSE in a year, and the A-level the second year. It was enormous amounts of fun, plus I learned a lot. I miss Inga dearly as a friend — she died a few years ago and I went to her memorial service. She was probably the best teacher I ever had precisely because she wasn’t full of shit.
At the end of all that lot, I had a B in Law, and C’s in English and Photography. What can I say? I’m a lazy pupil. All the other guff the school tried to make me do under the guises of the government’s stupid Curriculum 2000 bollocks? Didn’t bother. ICT AVCE? Bollocks to that. Key Skills Qualifications? Bollocks to that. I haven’t missed not having them in the slightest, nor have university admissions departments, nor have employers. They were idiotic then and they are idiotic now. So are most of the government schemes to change qualifications: the endless parade of new “diplomas” are basically the government polishing up a turd to make you believe it isn’t a turd anymore.
I trotted off to study photography at degree level. I had applied to various art schools, and most of them wanted me to do a Foundation year: a one year course where one tries a large variety of different visual arts from drawing to painting to fashion to photography to sculpture. I obviously had no intention of doing this. I just wanted to get on and study photography. I applied for a whole lot of different places and was accepted in the Photography and Video programme at DMU in Leicester.
Here’s the thing, I didn’t really think about why I wanted to do this. It just seemed like everyone was sort of expected to go off to university, and, well, I probably should too, so I should probably find something I like doing. So I spent a year living in Leicester. Practically, it was very nice. It was about 3 hours to get home on the train, and I lived in an all-male flat about five minutes walk from the college.1 The lecturers were great… but something didn’t quite fit. I started attending meetings of the Leicester Secular Society at Secular Hall, an amazing old Victorian building dedicated to freethought. We had wide-ranging debates there on all sorts of subjects: mostly politics, philosophy, religion and ethics. We had a woman from the council come along and get grilled about how local government in the city handles religion. These debates sent me plunging off into the library stacks to read about anything and everything philosophical.
During A-level photography, I’d sort of had to dabble in “theory”, hand-wavy philosophy for artists, basically. But the combination of that and the real-world experience of debating smart people over tea and biscuits at Secular Hall pushed me into reading some real philosophy. Of course, I was just fumbling around in the dark a bit. I read Bertrand Russell, Nietzsche, Richard Dawkins (promptly realising that biology, contra my diasterous AS Biology course, becomes really interesting when you understand evolution), and many more: a little bit of Sartre, some Plato, some Adorno (yeah, I know).
The stuff I was reading cooped up in my little academic-monastic cell in Leicester, or a few minutes walk away in the library, was far more interesting to me than the pedestrian photographs I was taking during the day. I didn’t know what to do. I thought about applying to do a law degree and trying to become a lawyer. Eventually, I ended up dropping out of my photography programme rather unannounced (always a bad idea) and going home. I was in a rather depressive mood for a while. I’d successfully buggered up my life, I thought. I’d got myself into thousands of pounds of debt for something I didn’t really want to do, and now it was basically inescapable because to get into a different university to do something I wanted to do would require me to get a reference from the tutor who would probably be pissed off that I hadn’t turned up to their lectures for the last two months or whatever.
I managed to somehow pull myself out of this little rut and apply for a bunch of courses right at the last minute. One of those happened to be philosophy at a funny little philosophy and theology college called Heythrop in London. Rather oddly, they decided they wanted to let me in, although not to study pure philosophy (the course was full) but to do a course called Philosophy, Religion and Ethics.
Quite why, I’m not sure. If I was an admissions tutor and someone had turned up and said “hey, I’ve got a bunch of mediocre A-levels, I started at art school and pretty much failed, but I’ve read some Bertrand Russell”… I would have told them to get packing.
I had a wonderful time and got a 2.1 at the end of it. I commuted in from home, which means my student loan is about half of what everybody else has. And this was when tuition fees were a grand a year, not nine grand. I looked up yesterday and saw that the government are now making it possible for you to get £50,000 in debt to get a 3 year degree in London. That’s absolute madness.
Right or wrong, I can’t honestly say that I would have gone to university if I had to get into £50,000 worth of debt to do so. The great problem is that it makes failure so much more expensive. And ordinary people going to university fail to know what they want all the damn time.
That’s the advice I’d give you young’uns: know what the fuck you want. If you don’t know what you want, work that out before you commit yourself into £50,000 worth of student debt. Your school will want you to go to university. Your parents too, especially if they didn’t go to university. Do so if you want to. Because your school teachers aren’t going to pay off your student loans, and unless your name is Rupert Poshington III, your parents probably won’t be paying it off either: you will be.
Don’t use going to university as a way to put off important life decisions. If you hear yourself saying “well, I’ll sort that out when I’m done with university”, that might be a clue that something is wrong.
If you are gonna get into £50,000 worth of debt to get an education, get your personal shit worked out first. You have to face reality now that university will cease to be a place to “grow as a person”, because, damn, it’s fifty-fucking-thousand-fucking-pounds of your future earnings we are talking about here. All that “finding yourself” stuff, well, £50,000 is an expensive way to find yourself. If you are lacking in self-confidence, not sure what you want in life, have any, oh, unopened closet doors that need kicking open… that sort of thing, you bloody well need to sort that out before taking on a £50,000 debt during a recession. Know exactly why you are going into it.
Anyway, that’s just me scaring the shit out of you a bit, perhaps on the misguided basis that if I was 18, I’d want someone to scare the living shit out of me.
I guess I should give a positive moral from all this stuff rather than just wave a very big scythe around.
I got very average A-level grades. I got into university, both to do a subject I didn’t really want to, and then again to do a subject I really enjoyed doing. I went back and got an MA, and aced it with Distinction. I got into a Ph.D programme (which I decided I didn’t really want to do)… and I can find good, well-paying work doing interesting things with nice people. I’m pretty happy with my life right now. I’m not going to say my life is perfect, because nobody’s life is perfect. I’m not holding myself up as a shining example to emulate, because, really, you don’t want to emulate my life. But I’m happy, I’ve gotten through things and I have both a functioning brain, a job and awesome friends, so I have got to be doing something right.
So, yeah, on the work thing. Just as I said you need to sort your personal life out and take charge of it, you need to take charge of your work life. I’m slightly astounded that people want to pay me for the things inside my head, but apparently they do. But that’s all down to spending an enormous amount of time learning for myself. Churning through manuals, playing with things, building stuff, hacking, thinking, tinkering, meeting people, hanging out, learning stuff. Running in parallel to the formal education I got at university was an enormous amount of teaching myself practical skills. If you hope to have a job at the end of university, these days you need this too.
Also, the most important moral for all the nerdy, geeky, queer social outcast kids who fucking hated school: you are absolutely right to do so. School was shit. I don’t ever want to go back there. I’m not exaggerating here, this isn’t some angry teenager thing: this is one of the few certainties in my life I will preach to my grave. I occasionally have slight bouts of nostalgia for my school days, then very quickly remember that it was basically a sociopathic anti-intellectual heteronormative dictatorship run, with the permission of the staff, by a cabal of young men who were able to kick a football proficiently. And, you know, FUCK THAT SHIT. That’s an absolutely bloody terrible way of either teaching people how to be good human beings or cultivating knowledge, intelligence and intellectual curiosity. The best thing about finishing my A-levels was walking down the school drive, passing through the school gates, out in to the street and realising I’d never have to go back there ever again.2
If you’ve just finished your A-levels, your life starts now. It doesn’t matter whether you got A’s or D’s, the important thing is you now get your head in order and build a life for yourself in the best way you can. The most important lesson, and one they don’t teach you in school: form your own opinions, shout loud and don’t take any shit from anyone.
Saudi Arabia are homophobic fuckwits, but .gay is a dumb idea too
Interesting news on the BBC News website…
Opposition to the creation of the internet address ending .gay has been voiced by Saudi Arabia.
Its Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) said the action would be “offensive” to some societies and cultures.
So, I don’t really need to say this but: Saudi Arabia are a bunch of homophobic fuckwit fundamentalists who should shut the fuck up. If the mere existence of gay people is something you find offensive, I have a very simple suggestion for you: go fuck yourself. Actually, no, fucking yourself can be fun and pleasurable if done properly.
Instead, I’d suggest what the Saudi Arabians should do is dissolve themselves in hydrochloric acid. Or perhaps go juggling with paving slabs. I dunno. Anything really. I’m not fussy.
Anyway, Saudi Arabia being a bunch of homophobic fucks isn’t really news. The news is people are pushing to try and make .gay a gTLD. I have a long-standing objection to new gTLDs. I can at least see the comedy potential of a .gay gTLD. Like, registering “tedhaggardiscompletelyheterosexualandnotintheslighestbit.gay” or “glennbecklovesteh.gay” etc.
But… the Lesbian and Gay Foundation have much more pious uses for such a gTLD.
“Sites under .gay would be carefully regulated and would not ‘promote homosexuality’ but offer crucial support,” said a spokeswoman from The Lesbian and Gay Foundation.
“Arguably it is even more important for people living in countries such as Saudi Arabia where homosexuality is illegal and sometimes punishable by death to access this crucial support and lifeline.”
Who could be opposed to support for LGBT people? No sane person, obviously. But the LGF are conflating a gTLD with provision of support sites. It’s absolutely unnecessary to have an LGBT-specific gTLD to provide support sites for LGBT people. They exist already, damnit. See? Here! And here. And many more.
Why have a .gay gTLD? Vanity, basically. ‘Cos it’d be cool. That’s pretty much the only reason to have new gTLDs. As we’ve seen with .xxx, it’s not like you can mandate people shunt their stuff over to .xxx.
If .gay happens, moving all or a majority of LGBT support sites over to it actually makes them easier to censor not harder. Currently, there are LGBT-friendly support sites all across the web, on different domains, hosted in different countries. There are bloody porn sites that have support forums hidden away inside them. There’s IRC channels, there’s all sorts of places where people who need an anonymous shoulder to cry on or a friend to lean on for support in all matters gay can go.
And inside tyrannical regimes, whether that’s countries like Saudi Arabia or the individual homes of kids whose parents subscribe to the doctrines of some brain-dead fundamentalist cult, those who need the help tend to be watched by hawks. If someone homophobic asshole is peeking through your history and sees “supportwebsite.gay” they can make a whole load of inferences that they might not necessarily be able to make if they see lots of clicking around on Reddit. In closet-land, plausible deniability is king.
If you need support, putting a big rainbow flag and a honking great big “.gay” gTLD around it ain’t going to help. People already filter the living crap out of sexual health sites and LGBT support sites on the basis that they are all “porn”.
Much as I’m out and proud and shaking my tambourine, I just don’t see a need for a .gay gTLD, and there is great possibility for harm if people start using it as a way to try and lock down access to support websites more than they already are.
Andy Wasley, from Stonewall, added: “Saudi Arabia already prevents its 1.9 million lesbian, gay and bisexual people from visiting community websites, like Stonewall’s, that offer support and information. It’s disappointing that it now wants to censor the internet for 420 million gay people worldwide.”
Again, I agree with the overall message: Saudi Arabia are homophobic assholes. But they aren’t “censoring” the Internet for gay people. If the .gay gTLD doesn’t happen, whether on the basis of principled, reasoned objections or homophobic bullshit objections like those of the Saudi Arabians, no website which you currently can access will no longer be available.
Now, I should point out one small proviso. While I’m generally opposed to new gTLDs without really good reasoning (I have yet to see one I approve of), I’m a pragmatist. If we have to have .gay, I’d rather it was managed by some reasonable, sensible organisation like the LGF or Stonewall than farmed out to some money-grubbing hucksters. I’d question whether running such a gTLD is a valuable use of anyone’s time or money, but that’s the responsibility of groups like the LGF to worry about.
Now, can we please stop the gTLD bandwagon? The whole thing is utterly stupid. ICANN need to be destroyed. I mean, the fact that the fucking Saudi Arabians get to vote on this rather than Internet users tells you everything you need to know about how useless a bunch of bureaucratic queens ICANN are.
Little Printer: like my Samsung laser printer, but thrice the price
Today, the Little Printer went on sale. Let me show you.
Pretty fancy, huh.
The Verge has an article on it called “Paper lives: Little Printer and the rebirth of the hard copy”.
The rebirth of the hard copy! Wow. That’s pretty exciting. It’s almost like before this little gadget came out, people weren’t printing things.
Hold up. What’s this thing?
Oh look, it’s my boring old laser printer. It lets me print things on to paper. Bits of paper I can pick up and carry around. Almost like hard copies of things I have on my computer.
And, oh my, a new Samsung laser printer costs me… £69.95 on Amazon. As opposed to £199 for a Little Printer. Here’s the thing, It’s not beautifully designed. It’s ugly as sin. But it works. The toner is cheap, the print quality is pretty good, and it allows me to print out A4 documents… like web pages, CVs, letters, business forms, and even fun things I want to read.
I’m pretty impressed by the Little Printer though. I do like the idea of having some way of reading things when I’m out and about. I’m not wild about how the Little Printer requires paper refills, and it’s not that portable. That said, someone seems to have come up with some other type of device that does the job…
I hear it can even make phone calls and send tweets and browse the web and take photos too. Amazing.
Still, if you need an amazing, delightful user experience for printing out the same stuff you probably read on your smartphone… the Little Printer does the job pretty well. I know it has a beautiful user experience because user experience people keep telling me about the user experience of how user experiency the user experience of this is because it has been designed by user experience designers who know about user experience.
‘Love it or leave it’ is stupid online too
Recently, Quora turned on a new feature called Views. Views basically keeps track of what you are looking at and passively shares that information with others.
Some people are very angry about this, seeing it as intrusion of their privacy.
And others get grumpy about said people and make shitty image memes. Like this.
All of which ignores the point. Back in the old days when we still talked about social software, before it all became that ghastly phrase ‘social media’,1 it would be fucking obvious why this reaction is stupid.
The reason is that word, social. Social spaces aren’t just about you, they are about everybody. The rules and the code that is put in place and the enforcement or defaults that those rules put in place shape how the social space works in subtle ways.
People approach social software and online social spaces with a very rule-bound lawyerly approach. What are my rights? What are my responsibilities? What are the rights and responsibilities of the owners of the space? This is a stupid approach to dealing with the difficult questions. Sure, you have free speech rights, you have free association rights, etc. etc. But the person designing the social space makes decisions and chooses defaults that set up the sort of space they want, in much the same way that the owner of a bar might choose or not choose to have a jukebox.
If I objected to the presence of a jukebox in a bar, telling me “well, you don’t have to use the jukebox” isn’t actually addressing my concern. If I choose to not go back to the bar, it’s because the jukebox may have actually changed the nature of the social space.
The objection to ‘Views’ on Quora for me is very simple. It has the potential to reveal information people had no intention of revealing, and by the time they notice, it’s too late. I personally don’t have a problem with people seeing what I am looking at on Quora. I may turn it off anyway, but I’m okay with sharing what I’m reading.
But I’m very concerned that others will get caught out looking at things they don’t want others to see. Consider…
Because these ‘views’ are being passively shared, it’s very easy for the user to have no idea that they are being shared. Yes, they can take precautions, and turn Views off. The time at which they realise this is possible may be way too late.
Trying to stop discussions of the social nature of social software and social media is basically the online version of Thatcher’s famous claim that “there is no such thing as society”.
Reducing all discussions of the design of social software to “well, you can opt-out” is as unproductive as people who respond to criticisms of their country with “love it or leave it!” or “if you love Communism so much, why don’t you just move to Russia?” etc.
Update Just had a thought actually. Imagine if someone made a service that could read your brain and then broadcast a little thought-cloud above your head with a few key words describing what you are thinking about. Sure, you could opt-out, but responding to every objection to the idea with “yeah, but you can opt-out” is dumb. The objection is that it would change the social space in which we live by making public what probably ought to be private. And you can’t opt-out of the social changes that a new feature introduces, even if you opt-out of having your information shared in that way.
Life rebooting is the new life hacking
If you’ve been reading tech blogs for any amount of time, you’ve probably read about life hacks. Life hacks are when you essentially use some technical, psychological or social trick to be more productive. For instance, a very simple life hack might be having a script that emails you a reminder about something you often forget. These productivity hacks often become more systemic: Getting Things Done is used a lot by the sort of people who do life hacks and so is the idea of maintaining Inbox Zero.
Life hacks are cool, but there is a problem with life hacks: they are hacks. Sometimes you need a much bigger refactoring than just a hack. To use the coding analogy: you may have two dodgy, badly-programmed systems that need to talk to each other, and you hack together something. The hack does the job, but it isn’t ideal, and if you had any real choice in the matter, you would rip it all to shreds and build something that’s actually fit-for-purpose from scratch.
Hence life rebooting. Rebooting is probably the best description of what I’ve done in the last few months.
I didn’t set out to reboot my life, but I seem to have done it somehow. And I feel amazing for doing so.
It all started when back in March I got extremely fucking angry and wrote my magnum opus of a coming out post. I can’t honestly say that I wrote it with the intention of completely changing my life. I wrote it to say “fuck you”, I wrote it from a place of bitterness and anger and utter frustration, so much so that my friend Oliver described it as “bile and passion spat out in prose that could melt through sheet metal”, which I rather liked.
And I thought that would be that. An angry grumpy blog post and I’m done; back to life as per usual, right? Except, the very process of doing so seems to have made it possible for me to actually take charge of my life and fix lots of things that are getting in the way of being happy and contented.
The big one, which I’ve written about privately but not publicly is this: I left my Ph.D programme and am going back to work. I started a Ph.D programme last autumn working on Alvin Plantinga. Rather than bore you with the full details of what my research was on, I’ve bundled it up into a sort of appendix like thing and posted it on Gist. It’s an interesting topic, and Plantinga is an interesting person to research. Why did I quit?
Simple. I realised that I didn’t go into it for the right reason. I started doing a Ph.D because it seemed like the least bad of a small range of what seemed like really bad choices. The world of business filled me with cynicism, and the academic life seemed marginally less bad than the alternatives. Of course, this is a sort of romanticisation: there’s plenty that’s fucked up about academic life too, like, well, having to spend four to five years working like a dog unpaid in order to then have a very small chance of getting a job that might, if you are lucky, turn out to be permanent and might, if you are lucky, pay… about the same as what I can get paid already with my self-taught programming skills. And don’t get me started on the other little matter of location. If you aren’t lucky, you might end up finding the only job you can get is at the other end of the country. Yeah, and if you have a partner or a family and want to settle down? No, sorry, gotta uproot and move to the University of Eastern Shitholia for a one-year position. At which you have to balance a massive teaching load with the ever more onerous requirements of the Research Excellence Framework.
And with undergraduate tuition fees now at £9,000 a year, what great moral purpose will one be pursuing in academia? Teaching philosophy to the few remaining rich fucks who can afford it? Oh, bugger that. In my capacity as a Wikipedia admin, I believe in free knowledge and sharing, but my day job would (if I’m lucky) consist of basically being the philosopher-clown at what we once called universities and what will rapidly become finishing schools for teenagers with names like Tarquin, Penelope and Rupert where they can learn a strange academic curiosity called ‘ethics’ so they can get a degree before they move on to a job in the City of London where they can make enormous profits by killing African children by gambling on world food prices or whatever the fun new hobby of suited psychopathic gamblers is this week. But, you know, I’m sure the research would make me happy: writing obscure books which can be read by about 200 other people interested in epistemology.
On the positive side, I had a perfectly amicable relationship with my supervisor; I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about people who have terrible relationships with their supervisors, and am happy to say I was not in that category. I did have a certain little issue: the procrastination demon. Procrastination is a massive problem for everyone doing a Ph.D, especially in the humanities. Here’s why. Imagine getting about four bathtubs and filling them completely with books. That’s basically what you have to read to do a Ph.D. I have a bibliography of books and papers that’s 20 pages long. And you can never truly switch off. If you are on the train home, you probably ought to be reading a paper or a book. Pop out for a quiet walk, and you’ve probably got research stuff buzzing around in your head. And the next paper you need to write, and the one after that.
Procrastination makes for a bad working dynamic with one’s supervisor, even if you get on okay with him or her. You don’t get the work done, so you then feel guilty, and you then work harder getting the work done, and the procrastination demon fucks you up even more. The harder you commit yourself to working, the guiltier you feel when you fail. Urgh. There is some kind of satisfaction in getting your head around a difficult concept. But then you do some real world menial task like clean one’s bathroom, and you actually feel like you’ve done something.
I knew eventually it wasn’t for me, so I left. I’m very happy that I did. I have no complaints or regrets about starting the course, and I have no regrets about leaving it. Sometimes you have to do things in order to know they aren’t for you. I’m going back into the workplace, and feel great about it.
I can’t quite put my finger on what has changed, but I suddenly feel like I’m actually living life the way I want to, rather than just turning up and going through the motions. I’ve become (gasp) less cynical, more open, more confident, more able to say ‘no’ to things I don’t actually want to do. I’m living healthier, taking better care of myself, getting more exercise, and actually feeling like I want to get out of bed in the morning. Subjective, perhaps, but I think my writing has become better (which is very important to me). Most importantly, I think I have worked out how to have the courage to fix shit in my own life. I’m not sure whether I’ve rebooted life, refactored out some bad code, cleared out some dodgy registry entries (I do hope I’m not actually running on Windows)… but it’s a lot more than a hack.
Amazingly, people have noticed and commented on it. Family members say I seem happier and more contented. Oliver told me recently that “out Tom is so much more fun than closeted Tom”. Which, again, is lovely… and true.
I am using a few life hack-type techniques. For work, I’m trying the Pomodoro Technique. I’m also using Joe’s Goals to ease myself into doing the stuff I mean to do everyday and make it routine. So, “get 20 minutes of exercise outside” is one of those things. If I miss a day, I double it up the next day. But it becomes addictive… and you just have to not break the damn chain. You start with something achievable and practical like 20 minutes of exercise, then do that every day for a few weeks, then ramp it up to 25, then 30 and so on. That’s the plan.
I mean, it’s not too challenging: you do it the first day, then you do it the second day, then you try and do it every day for a week, then you do it every day for the rest of your life. Not scary at all…
I did previously nerd around with some Android pedometer app, and putting all that stuff in a spreadsheet, all Quantified Self-like, but I realised that the statistics aren’t actually yet the important part, it’s the changing of habits to make things part of one’s daily routines. Tracking and stats is something that one can care about (or not) later, but fixing one’s broken daily routines isn’t about quantifying, it’s about bloody well doing something every day, even if some days, one’s efforts or results are sub-par.
Another important thing is that I’ve realised is that I actually have only a certain tolerance for Wikipedia Drama. I’ve decided in order to remain sane, I’m cutting large chunks of drama out of my life. I’m sort of aware now of when I’ve reached the ‘too much’ point, and some friends and fellow admins now understand where my head is at on drama. When I say “I’m taking a few days off from this shit”, they know it’s not something they’ve done, and I just have had enough. There are people who are made for handling drama, and I’m glad some of them seem able to remain sane and cheerful while handling some of the craziest people on the Internet: but I can only deal with it in small doses.
Doing things like this is what I mean by being able to “fixing shit”. You just have to apply your brain to how life is going, figure out what is going wrong and sort out a solution and bloody well get on with it. Next on the agenda is to learn to drive.
I guess with all essays on life hacks and personal development, there has to be some ham-fisted moral at the end. This is it, I guess: have the courage to sort your life out, kill off any stray processes that aren’t working for you or are leaking memory all over the damn place, reboot your shit, de-cruft your settings, whatever computing analogy you prefer, it basically boils down to work out what the fuck is wrong and fix that shit. You can actually do it if you want to. And if there are things getting in the way of doing so, like, oh, big scary closet doors, university courses you don’t really want to carry on with, or whatever, punch your way out of them. All the life hacks in the world won’t help you if you aren’t actually happy with your life’s overall direction or you have some big overdue life issues that you need to sort out. Fix those and everything else becomes a lot more doable.
Go, read! Incidentally, for about half of the entries, it’s not just male privilege but that dastardly, demonic heteronormative male privilege.
A few of the entries make me whatthefuck? pretty hard. People actually seriously consider men weak for cleaning and cooking? Yeah. You ever watched Gordon Ramsay in full-on obscenity-flinging mode? As for the domestic stuff? If that’s actually a thing, get the fuck over it, guys. Domestic chores aren’t gendered, they are universally boring and tedious for men and women alike but, y’know, kitchens and bathrooms don’t clean themselves.
Just ‘cos your wife or girlfriend or mum or sister has been trained by society’s gendered assumptions to clean up your shit after you doesn’t mean she enjoys doing it any more than you do.
The partner of the late Labour MP David Cairns has said anti-gay remarks by the new Archbishop of Glasgow have added to his “grief and pain”.
Explaining philosophy for social justice warriors and/or trolls
blackwomanvalues is a black woman. You can tell, right?
blackwomanvalues is apparently transethnic, which is Internet-speak for “I can be whatever the fuck I want, and if you don’t agree, you are just privileged”. Think transgender, except on racial and ethnic lines. There is a high probability of it being a troll. That’s fine by me. If they aren’t a troll, fine, but even if they are, I’m going to unpick a few things they say, because, well, they are interesting and they make some arguments that are quite commonly used by people who probably haven’t studied philosophy very much.
So, here’s a few choice quotes from blackwomanvalues justifying why they identify as a black woman.
It is important to note that race is a subjectively fabricated concept, with no scientifically verifiable cultural or physical characteristics shared universally within any group. Regardless of what you may perceive, there is no definitive formula for the acceptance and identification within a racial group- for objectively, they don’t exist.
Please. If you buy in to this kind of argument, you are conflating different things. That something is socially constructed doesn’t mean it isn’t real in some important sense. Money is socially constructed. It’s pretty arbitrary that when I’m in the United Kingdom I can exchange bits of paper with the Queen’s face on them for goods and services, while in the United States, I use money with pictures of Lincoln and Franklin and Washington on them. Is there some “scientifically verifiable cultural or physical characteristics shared universally” by money that isn’t by non-money? Well, don’t you dare say “a special type of pigment”, because coins are money too, and so are these funny plastic credit and debit cards we carry around. The key thing that distinguishes money from non-money is that money can be used as a method for exchanging value. That function is granted to it by linguistic and social means.
Is Barack Obama scientifically different ten minutes after he was elected President than he was before elected President? No, but there’s an important social distinction, namely he’s the President.
Saying that because something scientifically doesn’t exist in the sense of being undetectable by laboratory methods, that it objectively doesn’t exist is ridiculous—and it misunderstands the way that science operates at multiple layers of explanation. If you honestly buy into this argument and get pissy when someone steals a twenty dollar bill from your wallet, congratulations, you are a hypocrite.
And here’s another thing.
In this case, the pre-englightenment philosopher Rene Descartes statement “Cogito ergo sum”, “I think, therefore I am”, is an important contributing factor to my identification, aided with internal feelings of belonging and similarity.
Descartes’ statement of the cogito, or Descartes’ cogito argument. Oh, fuck, I’m gonna have to explain this, aren’t I?
Imagine you are 17th century philosopher. You set yourself the task of doubting all things. Methodological doubt is your challenge: you want to try and doubt everything and see how far you can take it. Are you sitting at a computer reading something? Well, yes, obviously, but what if it were not true? How can I know it isn’t true? Well, for Descartes, he got right back to the very basics. If you wish to doubt that the external world exists, that’s fine. Perhaps you are having your mind manipulated by an evil demon; these days, you are hooked up in some ghastly contraption with some neuroscientists electrically stimulating your brain. All very Matrix-like. But let’s go one further: what if you didn’t exist at all? You may be a brain in a vat or a victim of the evil demon, but at least you are thinking. There is something, whether it’s a brain or a wibbly-wobbly soul thing or a computer process, and it’s got some kind of consciousness and some intensionality. You know that you are thinking, and you can think about things, like the fact that you can think. Cogito ergo sum: I think, therefore I am. This isn’t a license to believe anything, it’s a response to skepticism about one’s very own existence.
The translation of sum to “I am” is problematic: in English we rather naturally prefer not to use the sentence “I am” alone, preferring an expansion into sentences of the form “I am x”: think of sentences like “I am a vegan”, “I am watching TV”, “I am six foot tall”, “I am gay” and “I am a citizen of the world”.1 Saying “I exist” would be a much better term, as it is less likely to cause the sort of confusion that sum has.
The problem with using the cogito to justify anything beyond the philosophically basic task of proving that there is a subject is that it leads you to obviously false conclusions. If you think cogito-style reasoning can justify “I think, therefore I’m a black woman in a white guy’s body” (or some other similarly absurd value), then you can substitute anything in the place of x in the sentence “I think, therefore I’m x”. You may want to try and mitigate this problem by switching it to “I think I’m x, therefore I’m x”. This doesn’t work either.2 We have situations where we make mistakes. I think I’m looking at a crooked stick, but it’s not crooked. Visual illusions exist. To argue from the certainty implicit in a cogito argument to the justification of anything you happen to think is to make yourself epistemically infallible, that is to say your beliefs can never be wrong. Whether or not you find the cogito convincing, concluding your own infallibility on the basis that one thinks is a conclusion so obviously absurd that one must have made a mistake in one’s understanding.
So, yeah, two bad arguments. They may have been given by a troll in this case, but they are used quite often. And they probably ought not to be. I shall now be on tenterhooks, waiting, desperately, for someone to point out that I’m exercising my “educated privilege”.
Saw Carlin Romano talk about his book, America the Philosophical, with Simon Critchley tonight in a bookstore downtown. Critchley was surprisingly down to earth, informed, and engaging. Romano was probably the worst example of bullshittery I’ve seen from an adult. Half the time was spent name-checking semi-important people he’s met. The other half was spent bad-mouthing the interesting and important work of people at prestigious institutions, despite the fact that he clearly understood none of it.
An anonymous philosopher reposted by Brian Leiter.
Some people are not well-suited to the life of studying philosophy in the academy. Some of us grumblingly storm out of our Ph.D programmes, in fact, and write software. Others become the Critic-at-Large for The Chronicle of Higher Education. And, no, I didn’t get the bad end of that deal, because I managed to hold on to my integrity.
Hackdiary: Eclipse, Lombok and code formatting
I’m writing some Java at the moment. It’s lot of fun. Java is fun, right?
I’m using Lombok to make Java more fun. More magic equals more fun.
And I’m using Eclipse, because, well, Lombok works well with Eclipse. I slightly prefer IntelliJ but whatever. Eclipse works fine.
Except the Eclipse code formatter which is a pain in the ass.
So, you’ve created a field. Let’s call it name, and it’s a String.
With Lombok, you write this:
Then the Eclipse formatter turns it into this.
Which is fine for some annotations that are long, but you don’t need it when it is just a getter and setter annotation from Lombok.
The solution is simple:
- Open your preferences
- Go to Java, Code Style, Formatter.
- If the active profile is “Eclipse [built-in]”, click “New”, and create a new profile called something like “Eclipse and Lombok”
- Click ‘Edit’
- Go to the ‘New Lines’ tab
- Go down to the annotations section and make sure “Insert new line after annotations on fields” is set.
- Hit OK.
- Reformat your code and watch your sanity be restored.