The Indian Roller

We haven’t had a Wikimedia Commons bird in a while. Yesterday Wikipedia featured this handsome speciman by Charles J. Sharp.

Photo of a perched Indian roller bird.

From its Wikipedia article:

The Indian roller (Coracias benghalensis) is a bird of the family Coraciidae, the rollers. It occurs widely from West Asia to the Indian Subcontinent. It is listed as least concern on the IUCN Red List.

It is best known for its aerobatic displays of males during the breeding season. It is often seen perched along roadside trees and wires and are commonly seen in open grassland and scrub forest habitats. The largest population occurs in India, and several states in India have chosen it as their state bird.

The bird is the word.


My friend on the way to school

This started as a tweet, but I thought it deserves a proper post. I was watching one of those massive sweep streeters lumber down the road kicking up dust and leaves… wait, did I just call them sweep steeters?

Back in Singapore there was an older gentleman who used to sweep leaves on the street and footpath near our apartment building in Balmoral Park. I used to walk past him each week on the way to the bus stop and onto school. There was something calming and reassuring about hearing that gentle rattan sound brushing against the ground; people from South-East Asia know exactly what I’m talking about.

I was a painfully shy kid who avoided initiating social interactions if I could, but I used to smile and tip my school hat at him every time. After a few months of doing this I got to calling him uncle and shaking his hand when I walked past. He spoke almost no English, and I spoke almost no Hokkien, but his smile helped get me through some hard times.

Then one week, he was gone, never to return.

I wonder how he’s doing?


Lorimer Street

The Equinix ME1 data centre in Melbourne is on Lorimer Street, so I see the address come up whenever we order cross connects for Victorian clients, or we fly down to do work. It’s not that far from the centre of town, which is a pleasent change from how long it takes to get to SV2 in Santa Clara from the SF office!

But whenever I see the address, it reminds me of the Lorimer Street station on the New York M train. Clara and I took this line every day from our hotel in Brooklyn into Manhattan, and it holds a special place. We even have an orange M bullet fridge magnet from the Transit Museum! Stand clear of the closing doors, please.

Photo at street level of the Lorimer Street station complex

The above photo was taken by Harrison Leong on Wikimedia Commons.


Searching for FreeBSD ports

On today’s installment of things you already know unless you don’t, have a tip from the fine FreeBSD maintainers I noted when booting recently:

Want to find a specific port, just type the following under /usr/ports or one its subdirectories:

make search name=<port-name>
or
make search key=<keyword>

I did not know this!


Spelling Good Mythical Morning

From the Good Mythical More after their food advertising episode. As an aside, I’ll definitely be paying a coffee forward tomorrow.

Good Mythical Morning! That's G... U...


Angus Taylor’s metadata adventure

This story is so quintessentially Canberrian: fake numbers, political denials, and an embarrassing misunderstanding of technology.

Where to start? Let’s go to June of this year, when Lord Mayor Clover Moore added the City of Sydney to a burgeoning list of jurisdictions recognising a climate emergency. It was already the first Australian council to be carbon neutral, and aims to be both fully powered by renewables by next year and to cut emissions by 70 per cent by 2024.

This platform, along with her comments about Commonwealth inaction on climate change, had understandably perturbed Canberra. Mmm, that’s some good metonymy. Scott Morrison has made no secret of his disdain for climate science, going as far as to claim there was no credible evidence linking carbon emissions and the current bushfires. I’m unsure how he got high from forests burning, when the rest of us just got heavy chests and coughs.

So when cabinet minister Angus Taylor downloaded a report from the City of Sydney’s website showing Ms Moore had spent over $16 million on travel, he leaped at the opportunity to point out her hypocrisy, claiming that she should “limit unnecessary air travel” if she wanted to take “meaningful” action. He forwarded the letter he wrote to her to the Daily Telegraph, who gladly printed a long article around hypocritical greenies without fact checking.

Except, as you probably figured out from my previous comment, the figures were entirely bogus. Orders of magnitude bogus. The report showed her total travel costs were less than $6,000. And as Ms Moore herself was quick to point out, her entire staff of over two thousand people only spent $200,000, eighty times less than what Angus Taylor claimed, and the Telegraph reported.

To put that into perspective, is a phrase with five words.

Mr Taylor’s first response was, predictably, to deny the documents were altered by his office, and branded the accusation by the Lord Mayor as a conspiracy theory. I believe my initial reaction was depicted below:

Inconveniently for his case, metadata evidence provided by the council showed conclusively the documents on the website hadn’t been updated since November 2018; well earlier than when Mr Taylor’s office claimed to have downloaded them. These included screenshots, metadata from the website’s CMS, and even links to the original documents on my beloved Archive.org.

The matter was referred by shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus to the New South Wales state police, as it’s a crime to use false documents to influence the exercise of public duty. The outcome of that investigation, and the source of the numbers, remain an open question.

To his partial credit, Angus Taylor eventually bucked to public pressure and “unreservedly” apologised in late October. Nowhere in his letter to Clover Moore, or in any of his press statements however, did he disclose where the numbers came from, so absolutely nothing was cleared up.

Fast forward a month, and the federal opposition pushed Mr Taylor yesterday on whether his mislead parliament. He continued to deny he or his staff altered the documents. And yet the prime minister denied a freedom of information request to clear Mr Taylor’s name, and refused to stand him down from cabinet. What does he know?

Which leads me to why I’m so concerned about this story. Speaking as a professional in the field, I’m satisfied with the council’s digital evidence that the documents weren’t modified. So the burden of proof is on Mr Taylor to confirm where the discrepancies in the numbers came from.

I take seriously the charge that systems were modified. Trust in our IT infrastructure is critical, especially when it involves government departments. It’s why I rallied so hard against the bungled My Health Record in Australia. If Angus Taylor has proof that documents or servers were altered, he has a responsibility to disclose it.


Music Monday: Null

It’s Music Monday time, that time of the week where I discuss music. It’s an interrupted series of posts that’s only been interrupted for years at a time.

Today’s song comes from… nothing. I left my Lightning™ adaptor at home today, so I wandered to work without any music or podcasts of any sort. I was almost bored to tears for much of the train ride into work, but by the time I was walking through the Domain, I’d come to enjoy the sound of the outside world.

I often talk about how I resent my phone, and that I still suffer from more anxiety than I should. Perhaps being more in tune with my surroundings would do me more good than I thought.


A Potemkin mind

I saw this motivational quote scroll by today.

We don't need to share the same opinions as others, but we need to be respectful.

I do place a high value on being friendly. I’m bored of shows like House MD that normalise or make excuses for being a jerk on account of technical brilliance.

But while this quote sounds superficially wonderful, I respectfully disagree. If someone’s opines that slavery is fine, climate denial is a reasonable alternative view, or transgendered individuals make it up to visit different bathrooms, I will not respect them or their views. In fact, I’d stand proudly in defiance of them.

It doesn’t take much to think of a veritable swath of scenarios where this wouldn’t apply, unless you’re a psychopath. And you go to dark places quickly when you say those that speak out are just sewing discontent and aren’t being respectful. The domestic response to the Hong Kong protests comes to mind, but many a religious and political conflict has started along those lines.

In the less bubbly but more profound words of George Carlin, respect is earned. Or another quote I saw on a shirt today: don’t be the same, be better.


Trying the new 16-inch MacBook Pro

I’m sitting here at this café a few shops down from the Chatswood Apple Store, typing on my FreeBSD Japanese Panasonic Let’s Note. A large part of the reason for this machine was to have a dedicated portable BSD box again, but also so I would have a real keyboard on a portable machine. I use a butterfly MacBook Pro for work, and not to put too fine a point on it, it’s keyboard is fscking horrible.

Fortunately, Apple seems to be making keyboards again. The Apple Store had a display of the silver aluminium and dirty space gray, and overall is a kind of clothing. Knowing this wasn’t a major design change, I was also overall impressed!

Photo of the 16-inch MacBook Pro

The bad news is the bottom row of keys are still too narrow, the trackpad is too big, the useless TouchBar still sticks around, and I still sorely miss the SD card reader. But! The keyboard’s smooth actuation, wider key spacing, and edge stability all felt great. It was quieter, it cushioned my fingers, and it didn’t mind not being visually symmetrical. This is the keyboard Apple should have shipped from the start. I will be lobbying work for one of these.

I maintain the flat, chicklet island keys are still a step backwards from the sculpted silver keys of the PowerBook G4s and first generation MacBook Pro. Those keys cupped your fingertips and directed your downward force to the centre, meaning edge stability wasn’t as important a concern, and you always knew where to place your hands. Just as old landline phones were curved to fit your head, those keyboards were bucket-shaped to fit your fingers.

Everyone who says this is the best laptop keyboard Apple has ever made—Apple included—are either kidding themselves, or have short memories. But I’ll take this design over the actively user-hostile butterflies.

It’s regrettable that every PC vendor copied Apple designs as they always do; even ThinkPads have this gimmicky chicklet keyboard layout now. Which makes absolutely no sense, given ThinkPads are known specifically for their utilitarian, classy design language. If any laptop line could have confidently pulled off a proper, non-chicklet keyboard in 2019, it’d be the ThinkPad. One can dream.


Unsub me already: Sprint, fail

Good morning! It’s another overcast, dreary morning in Sydney today, which given recent meterological events is nothing short of wonderful.

Speaking of recurring events—in the industry we call that a segue—I haven’t done a newsletter unsubscribe adventure for a while. I got an otherwise-legitimate email from Sprint, the US phone carrier.

Email:

You’ve earned these perks!

Footer:

UNSUBSCRIBE | SPRINT PRIVACY POLICY

Result:

Please indicate below which emails you are no longer interested in receiving by entering your email address, checking one of the boxes, and then clicking ‘Submit’:

[ Email Address ]

☐ Sprint Promotional: Please do not send me Sprint promotional email communications

☐ Opt-in Subscription Emails: Please do not send me ANY general promotional email communications AND email communications I opted-in to receive

This is a fail on my newsletter unsubscribe matrix:

✗ Should not need to enter an email address
✗ Should not need to confirm in the first place
✗ Should not need to check multiple checkboxes
✗ Deliberately confusing language for opt-in checkbox
✗ Deliberately vague instructions (one box, not two?)

There are few black and white things in this world, but the only correct and acceptable action when clicking Unsubscribe in email is immediately being unsubscribed. No debate.