The best blog café in the world

View of Hong Kong from the top of Victoria Peak

Most, if not all, of my best blog posts were written at cafés. I don’t know what it is about the atmosphere, the beverages, the calm music; but they have the effect of letting me write, code and think clearer than anywhere else. I’ve had days where I’ve smashed out a week’s worth of work in a day sitting at a Starbucks, or a Coffee Bean.

(I emphasise the need for it to be a chain, despite the coffee not being as good. Indie or hipster coffee shop proprietors will often, and arguably rightly, glare at you when you take out your laptop or tablet).

In this case today though, I’m at a Pacific Coffee with the best view of any cafe in the world. It’s on the top of Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island overlooking the entire city. It’s the same vantage point and architectural mix I’d see staring down at my SimCities of yore. It’s muggy and hot, but the rain let up just long enough to see as far as Mongkok in the distance, and the old Kai Tak runway.

Sorry Boat Deck Café in Adelaide, I may have a new favourite! Though arguably the chances to type and think here will be somewhat fewer.


Scott Ludlam

On the same day Australia’s leadership questioned the laws of mathematics, we got the one-two punch announcement that Scott Ludlam was retiring from politics under section 44.

Before we go any further, you have to read about the first point above to believe it. From Chris Duckett and Asha McLean in ZDNet Australia:

“The laws of Australia prevail in Australia, I can assure you of that,” he said on Friday. “The laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia.”

Icon from the Gnome Colors project

Halfwits. But I digress; Bridie Jabour wrote a great summary for The Guardian:

If he is not the only politician to properly understand metadata, cybersecurity and the internet, he is certainly the one who understands it best. He has fought, at times unsuccessfully, against the slow erosion of civil liberties through data retention laws and campaigned on the importance of net neutrality.

Ludlam thanked Abbott for sending him the “geeks and coders, network engineers and gamers who would never have voted Green in a million years, without the blundering and technologically illiterate assistance of your leadership team”.

You will be missed, Scott. Thanks for being that voice of reason, logic, and compassion. I hope this isn’t the last we hear from you.


Rubénerd Show 363: The everything except episode

Rubénerd Show 363

Podcast: Play in new window | Download

25:22 – Join Ruben as he harkens back to one of the first reboot episodes in 2015, when he was also wandering around an empty house that was once his home. Two years later, and he's moving out of the place he moved away from that earlier place to. This show description had several variants of the word “move” in it. Recorded 3rd of July 2017.

Recorded in Sydney, Australia. Licence for this track: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0. Attribution: Ruben Schade.

Released July 2017 on The Overnightscape Underground, an Internet talk radio channel focusing on a freeform monologue style, with diverse and fascinating hosts.

Subscribe with iTunes, Pocket Casts, Overcast or add this feed to your podcast client.


Citibank Australia and Safari

I got this alert when signing in:

We noticed that you are using a non-Citi certified browser. For the best Citi Online experience, it is recommended that you use a certified browser.

I was using the latest version of Safari, version 10.1.1. So I checked the linked page, emphasis added:

You are recommended to use supported and updated browsers to ensure that your internet banking is secure.

Solid advice. What versions are supported?

Safari 7.0
Safari 8.0

Most firms I’d give the benefit of the doubt, but poor showing for a company this size, folks!

I last mentioned Citibank in 2008, for some sneaky advertising.


Rick’s 10GbE home network

I love seeing homelabs like this, but this especially is the most gorgeous home cable management I’ve seen.


Recycling VHS tapes

Remember VHS tapes? The labels from video rental stores imploring you to rewind after use, the read-write tabs to make sure you couldn’t overwrite them, making sure you had your timestamps listed on labels so you could squeeze another episode of Star Trek Voyager on one. Spoiler: Kes was the best character.

Were those of us in our late 20’s/early 30s the last generation to witness the glory of these terrible things?

I harboured grand ambitions of digitising our collection, but on the weekend the penny dropped that I hadn’t done this for a decade, so it was unlikely I ever would. So I picked a choice few, and decided to dispose of the rest.

But therein lies the rub. Few Sydney councils and recycling centres take tapes. I don’t know why, maybe they were Betamax or Laserdisc fans and find the idea of lowly VHS some sort of aberration. More likely, they’re just too old for people to worth mentioning now.

All I could find was The Hills Council in northern Sydney:

Council has a CD and DVD recycling program available for households in The Hills Shire. The CDs, DVDs and VHS tapes collected are rendered unreadable and recycled into new products. Please help us keep CDs, DVDs and VHS tapes out of landfill and take them to one of the collection point listed below.

They list the Hills Shire Council admin building, and a few libraries, none of which are easily-accessible by train that I can see. Darn.

If you know a VHS tape recycling mob in Sydney, throw me a tweet!


Second–hand computers do exist

Here’s something I wrote eight years ago:

What I find interesting about all these articles about how netbooks and budget machines are making basic computing cheaper for the masses is that people continue to completely ignore the second hand computer market in their analysis.

I’d refer to this as a previous piece if I were a hipster blogger. I’d probably get paid more for doing this if I were.

Remember when netbooks were going to take over the world, and Apple were silly for not releasing one? Good thing they listened to those pundits! Regardless, I still see zero coverage about the second hand computer market in 2017. The latest articles are all saying the PC market is coming back to life, but these never – to my knowledge – discuss this veritable room elephant.

That tortured word play must surely qualify as being able to refer to this blog post as a piece.

Icon from the Gnome Colours project

Many – dare I say most – people don’t need a brand new machine each year. It wasn’t true back then, and it still isn’t. And for those on a budget, or have other priorities, a refurbished or second-hand machine would easily fulfill their requirements.

And yes, I count myself in that. One of my Microservers was bought from a colleague, and I got through various uni stints with eBay ThinkPads and a cheese-grater Mac Pro.


Building a Wall

From the Pet Shop Boys 2009 album Yes:

I’m building a wall;
A fine wall.
Not so much to keep you out;
More to keep me in.

And from their 1990 album Behaviour:

You live within the headlines, so everyone can see;
How can you expect to be… taken… seriously?


Lonely people in Singapore

Channel News Asia shared some unsurprising stats:

Nearly half of singles in Singapore have not dated seriously before, although most wanted to get married in the future, according to the results of a study published on Saturday (Jul 8).

Commissioned by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD), the Marriage and Parenthood study aims to understand public attitudes and perceptions towards marriage and parenthood. The recent study polled 2,940 single and 2,861 married Singapore residents aged 21 to 45 years old between August and December last year.

I can empathise; I had my first girlfriend when I was 27. I believe the term is “late bloomer”, and it was entirely due to shyness. This is distinct from “late boomer” who’s more likely to complain that millennials have it easy because avocados.

But there’s more to it for most Singaporean kids, at least from what I observed:

  • There’s no privacy. Most people live in small HDB apartments, often with extended family. Fine if your parents approve of who you’re dating, but if they don’t, having a healthy, intimate relationship would be all but impossible.

  • Strict social attitudes. Singaporean society is increasingly more liberal and progressive than its government, but old views die hard.

  • Extreme academic pressure put on kids mean they have no spare time, or are guilt tripped when they want to blow off steam. This also feeds into the high suicide rate, and disturbingly I’m seeing this being imported into parts of Sydney, too.

  • Singaporeans tend to be shyer, more reserved in general compared to, say, Australians. Then again, most of the world is compared to Australians. Either way, with those other pressures it’s not surprising people aren’t jumping into relationships.

Icon from the Gnome Colors Project

A classic example is Starbucks and Coffee Bean. Angmohs who travel to Singapore often sound so surprised when they witness all the hundreds of people at these cafés with kids crammed around laptops. Their coffee is awful, we’re told! Don’t they have a life?

They’re popular because they’re comfortable “third places” away from home and school/work. I knew more than a few couples who maintained clandestine relationships by spending time together there. But don’t let that get in the way of your smugness at their pedestrian beverages.

I was lucky that I got to grow up there, but lived in a large expat apartment with permissive parents and went to an international school. Compared to the Singaporean A-Levels, the New South Wales HSC was embarrassingly low pressure.


JSON Feed, and JSON in RSS

The open web is made possible with syndication feeds. The big games in town can be broadly split into four camps:

  • Scraping a page to get content, or using site-specific APIs. We mostly got over this, but social networks have reverted to this to keep you on their sites.

  • The RSS 1.0 family, which uses RDF. The idea was the Dublin Core and other namespaces had already done the painstaking work of defining attributes, so you could just use them.

RSS icon from the Gnome Colors project

  • RSS 2.0, as championed by Dave Winer. It included simplified list of standard attributes, which could be extended with namespaces. It was the first to support podcasting, and is still the most compatible. I used to prefer 1.0 because of my preference and interest in RDF, but have long since stuck with 2.0.

  • Atom, which was unironically created due to there being too many syndication formats. It also fixed a few consistency issues, including date formatting.

Aside from point 1, the assumption was we’d be dealing with XML, or something close to it. I don’t see this changing, but there are a couple of new developments.

JSON Feed

Brent Simmons and Manton Reece introduced JSON Feed in May:

… JSON has become the developers’ choice for APIs, and that developers will often go out of their way to avoid XML. JSON is simpler to read and write, and it’s less prone to bugs.

I don’t write software full time, so I defer to their expertise about developer’s choice. Certainly every web API I’ve used implements JSON.

That said, I’ve never had a problem with parsing RSS feeds in my scripts. Import a CPAN package or a Ruby gem, and I’m done. There are poorly formatted RSS feeds I need to fix with some regex, but the same could happen to JSON.

I guess it would come down to opportunity cost. If you’re already ingesting and working with JSON, being able to naturally extend this to syndication would make sense.

RSS in JSON

Around the same time Brent and Manton were working on the JSON Feed spec, Dave Winer released RSS in JSON:

It’s simply an RSS 2.0 feed that uses JSON syntax in place of XML.

Admittedly, this is what I thought JSON Feed was, before I read the incompatible spec. If a dislike of XML and a preference for JSON were the two reasons, RSS in JSON would seem to be the logical choice. Existing taxonomies and data structures could be maintained, literally all you’re changing is the delivery mechanism.

I’ll be implementing it on Rubénerd as an interesting project, but as Dave professed when he first checked it out in 2012, I’m not sure if it’ll really be used.