Rubénerd

By Ruben Schade in s/Singapore/Sydney/

Activities and Visitors!

It’s a bit early in the week for Friday fanmail, but this one was awesome.

I would like to discuss an online business opportunity with you; we provide high end Activities for your website with ASSURED results at competitive prices.

ASSURED results, with capital A-grade Activities! Next you’ll tell me I need Visitors.

We will surely provide you 7500 globally Visitors in a Month. We will set up Google analytics for your website via which you can track how many visitors arrive on your website day by day.

They know my site so well, and my stance on tracking. But hold on, you said I was assured Visitors; visitors are insufficient.

We will also be Promoting & maintain your all social media Account like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube & My Space, Marketing, Etc If you are interested, then I can send you our Packages, past work details, company information and an affordable quotation with the best offer.

Clever, no mention of “testimonials”. This is why my spam blocker didn’t catch it.

Posted by Ruben Schade

Australia just said yes to marriage equality 🌈

Yes Equality!

Posted by Ruben Schade

Belle Gibson, fake cures, and media

Back in 2015, Australia witnessed the downfall of Belle Gibson, an author and app developer made famous by Instagram, breakfast television, and Apple’s featured app lists. Her message was simple: eat healthy, and you can reduce the spread of your cancer too.

Really.

As Richard Dawkins says, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and the idea that you can cure your cancer with food is insulting bullshit that puts lives at risk. Given our long family history with it, I reserve special judgement for people claiming this.

But the worst was yet to come. After her rise to fame, Ms Gibson had to admit she didn’t donate the proceeds of her media empire to cancer charities as she claimed she would. Also, she didn’t have cancer.

This hit me like a ton of bricks; a Whole Pantry of cans, you could say. I was livid, blinded with rage to an extreme I didn’t think possible. During a brief, blinding moment, I smashed kitchen crockery and screamed so loud my throat hurt. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that angry before.

I like to think I’m a reasonable, compassionate person who assumes good faith and intentions unless overwhelmed by evidence to the contrary. To profit from telling people lies is one thing, but to lie and put lives in danger, to lie about your capacity to empathise with those touched by cancer, and to lie about donating to suffering people… that’s a whole new level of four letter word hubris.

But like most things, I walked it off, and moved on. I assumed the media blew it out of proportion for clicks, and she was just another in a string of bullshit peddlers; no better, no worse. But certainly there was that element of social media that gave her an extra level of impact that perhaps others in her circumstances didn’t, or that may explain why she went so far off the rails.

🌲 🌲 🌲

Fast forward to today, and James Robert Douglas has written an excellent piece for The Guardian on a new book by Beau Donelly and Nick Toscano titled The Woman Who Fooled the World. Quoting one of the authors:

“There’s nothing new in cancer scamming,” Toscano points out. “There have always been snake-oil salespeople. There have always been people like [Gibson]. But where this story differs is her explosion to success, and her incredible reach was made possible by a number of intensely modern forces.”

This is true. Social media has given platforms to great people, but also those who’d do us harm. I won’t belittle our collective intelligence and cite examples.

These forces include the rise of a wellness industry that, in its worst manifestations, has become dangerously untethered from best medical practice. This is coupled with the emergence of social media and online “influencers”, and seismic shifts in the media industry that have radically changed how the public consumes news.

As James admits, this was before the age of fake news, and the public’s subsequent desensitisation to it. We’d call it fake news now, along with homeopathy and all that other quack nonsense that gives people false hope.

But they also raised another point that gave me something to reflect on:

Just as Gibson’s rise exemplified some of the worst habits of online media, so did her downfall. Donelly and Toscano draw on the British journalist Jon Ronson’s 2015 book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed to explore the violent outcry – including death threats and the circulation of her personal information – that accompanied Gibson’s fall from grace.

The fact is, I’ve never had to deal with that level of fame before. Just as she has no idea how she harmed people affected by cancer, I can’t empathise with her position of fame and notoriety.

I’m not strong or mature enough to turn the other cheek when confronted with someone like her, as much as I wish I was. But I draw the line on threatening personal safety. Doing that, we may as well tell people carrot juice cures brain tumours.

There’s also the broader question about what social media and instafame is doing to people. But in a frustrating conclusion to a needlessly-wordy post, I don’t know what the answer is.

Posted by Ruben Schade

MacOS High Sierra UI bugs

I’ve been running High Sierra for a few days now, and there are several niggling UI bugs that make me want to do something with the business end of an umbrella and a staircase.

Calling it macOS

Not happening, for the same reasons these Wikipedians rejected the idea of renaming the Mac Mini article to Mac mini:

Oppose. As explained at Wikipedia:Manual of Style (trademarks), we use “the style that most closely resembles standard English, regardless of the preference of the trademark owner.” As a proper noun, “Mac Mini” is standard English. We note Apple’s nonstandard preference in the lead. —David Levy 01:58, 16 June 2010 (UTC)

Oppose. David Levy is exactly right; the name of a product is a proper noun and should be capitalized. Corporations may bend the rules of English to help distinguish their brand, but there is no reason everyone else has to go along with it. Fletcher (talk) 03:17, 16 June 2010 (UTC)

Fletcher did say “capitalized”, but I suppose we can forgive him given this is an American company. Mr Ive would do well to enforce the correct spelling of aluminium by his colleagues though, given he’s already most of the way there pronouncing it.

I’ve noticed that in some applications, the gradient for the menubar starts a pixel higher. The effect is a double width border for windows against the menubar.

Application icon inconsistency

The Mac App Store now has a stylised A that bares no relation to applications beyond starting with the first letter. It’s a lazy design trend even hipster software like Slack falls victim too, though at least they have the excuse that their typography is terrible in their software too.

By comparison, everything else still uses the original pencil, ruler, and paintbrush A, including the Applications folder, Xcode, and sidebar icons.

Finder toolbar spacing inconsistency

This one I feel Apple does on purpose just to goad me. With each release of Mac OS X, the UI designers tweak the margins of the Finder toolbar icons for no reason. Leopard had the buttons floating around without any reference to the sidebar margins at all, which they fixed in Snow Leopard.

Sierra had consistent spacing between icons, but now in High Sierra they’re all over the place again. I removed all spacer elements, and there’s no rhyme or reason to their alignment or spacing. Yuck!

It begs the question, why change these at all? They’re otherwise the exact same toolbar buttons in Sierra.

Screenshot showing the inconsistent spacing between toolbar icons

I wouldn’t make a mockery of those who have OCD by pretending to have it myself, but I’m this close to wiping this off to rid myself of these frustrating things.

Posted by Ruben Schade

Installing Python pip in Homebrew

I wanted to use a fresher version of Python2 and pip. Fortunately Homebrew retired their old attitude that they wouldn’t duplicate what was already on Mac OS X, OS X, macOS, OSXMac or MacXos.

Checking if Python is already installed:

brew install python
==> Warning: python 2.7.14 is already installed

Sweet. Let’s install pip:

$ pip -V
-bash: pip: command not found

Weird. I wonder if it’s in Homebrew?

$ brew install pip
==> Error: No available formula with the name "pip"
==> Homebrew provides pip via: `brew install python`.

Wait, but you just said…!

Not to get all Malcom Gladwell on you, but turns out, pip is named for its version:

$ ls -1 /usr/local/bin/pip*
==> pip2
==> pip27

So now we can use:

$ pip2.7 -V
==> pip 9.0.1 from /usr/local/lib/python2.7/site-packages (python 2.7)

Posted by Ruben Schade

The @Gruber on cars in Singapore

John Gruber commented on this Bloomberg story about Singapore capping the number of cars:

Basically, if you don’t already own a car and want one, you’re shit out of luck.

It’s a common misconception, but it’s not true.

To drive a car in Singapore, you need a Certificate of Entitlement (COE) which must be bid on from a finite pool made available each year. And unlike a licence, a renewal isn’t automatic; you’re bidding from scratch when your CEO expires.

This has the effect of capping the number of cars that can be driven on roads, and frees COEs from people no longer contesting. The government announces the number of extra COEs it adds to the pool each year, which starting from February will be zero. That’s the story.

So to John’s point, your luck with having a car now has no bearing on whether you’ll have one again. I would know, my old man would bid on one each year before we decided it was too expensive, and the public transport was good enough not to bother.

Whether you agree philosophically with the system, one need only experience the cautionary tales in KL, Bangkok or Manilla to understand why they did it, especially in a tiny city state.

Orchard Road photo I took in 2009

While we’re here, John also made this point:

With the rise of ride sharing, though, maybe that’s not a problem.

This also isn’t as big a deal as in the West. Singapore has a huge, affordable taxi fleet; count the number of bright blue and yellow cars in that one photo I took above! Ride sharing is taking off there, but not to the same extent for this reason.

The prescient question is whether the public transport system can cope. Singapore’s MRT subway system was the envy of South East Asia for two decades, and still beats everything in Australia and most Western countries to such an extreme its embarrasing. But recent growing pains and capacity issues have caused their own share of problems.

Posted by Ruben Schade

Advanced protection from Google instead?

There’s been universal praise for Google’s recently announced Advanced Protection Program, but very little critical thinking. From their new site:

The Advanced Protection Program safeguards the personal Google Accounts of those most at risk of targeted attacks—like journalists, business leaders, and political campaign teams.

Sounds good, there are legitimate uses for a more secure system. Here are some snippets from their announcement:

To protect you from this threat, Advanced Protection will automatically limit third-party apps from accessing your most sensitive data – your emails and your Drive files.

Phishing is one of the most common techniques hackers use to gain access to your account or personal information. For example, phishing emails or fake sign-in pages could trick you into revealing critical information, like your password.

Sections were bolded by me. Can you see the problem? If you can, you must not be a tech journalist.

I’m far more concerned with what Google and Facebook know about us. Digital surveillance is a growing, serious issue, and announcements like this do nothing to assuage my concerns.

Security and privacy are related, but not the same.

Posted by Ruben Schade

Paring back to an essential vimrc

I’d let a lot of cruft accumulate in my vimrc, as I’m sure we all have with software we’ve used for a long time. I’d had replacement configs like this in the back of mind, as well as plugins in light of the latest Vim 8.0 release, but never got around to implementing either.

But then I formatted my Mac laptop, fired up MacVim without my vimrc, and realised how productive I was with the standard config! So while stuck on a plane without WiFi – which was glorious – I decided to go the opposite direction and make as minimal a vimrc as possible.

It’s been a few weeks, and I’m still using it:

set linebreak                "" soft linebreaks on words
set number                   "" line numbers
set ruler                    "" statusbar with mode, cursor position
syntax on                    "" syntax highlighting
set guifont=Inconsolata:h16  "" default font for (mac/g)vim
set expandtab                "" convert evil tabs to nice spaces
set shiftwidth=4             "" indent by 4 spaces
set tabstop=4                "" tighter spacing for tabs

Almost half the settings are just for tab spacing. I’ve tried over the years to adapt to how Vim does things out of the box, but I use spaces instead of tabs, like a gentleman.

As for the settings I didn’t add back in, a few were easy wins:

  • set nocompatible is redundant; the existence of .vimrc will ensure Vim doesn’t enter vi compatibility mode.

  • autocmd BufEnter *.md :setlocal filetype=markdown is now redundant, because Vim 8’s syntax highlighting detects md files as markdown.

  • All my abbreviations/snippets live in Alfred now, so I didn’t need all my abbr lines

As another bonus, this config is also nvi compatible for my embedded, FreeBSD and NetBSD machines, so it’s just a matter of renaming or symlinking it to .nexrc.

Posted by Ruben Schade

J. Ellis on thoeries

I'm interested in theories that can be tested. I don't like speculating just for the sake of it ~ J. Ellis, CERN

Ditto.

Posted by Ruben Schade

Enter username, hit button, enter password

Hello web developers and designers, thanks for coming. I want you to look at this screenshot and tell me what’s wrong with it.

Atlassian login form with a single username textbox.

Yes, the Google login shouldn’t be there. An advertising company of their size has no business knowing even more about us. Atlassian’s new logo also leaves a lot to be desired. But they’re not the main issues.

Note the lack of a password field. In this scenario you ask us to:

  1. Enter or autofill our username
  2. Hit a button (new!)
  3. Wait a few seconds (new!)
  4. Enter or autofull our password
  5. Hit another button

Steps 2 and 3 are superflous. You’re making us jump through an additional hoop we never needed to before. It’s a bad design decision, and you should feel bad.

But Ruben! We need this because different authentication systems require different credentials! Some systems may not need a password! Or maybe we’ll need to redirect people to another site! We normalise user-hostile interfaces!!!

Nonsense. Well, except for the last point. You can start with sane defaults, then remove/replace/redirect fields as needed. Otherwise, give the rest of us a normal login form we can autofill with our password manager and be done with it.

So far I’ve counted Atlassian, Google, and Microsoft as being guilty of this. I’m sure there are more.

Stop doing this. End of discussion.

Posted by Ruben Schade