Arm-wrestling Gura and Ame

Seeing Amelia and Gura tilt their avatars while playing this arm-wrestling mini game made Clara’s and my evening yesterday. Damn it, Hololive EN.

Screenshot of Amelia and Gura tilting their avatars while arm-wrestling.


737 Max issues were people

David Gelles summarised the issues with the troubled Boeing jetliner for the New York Times, via Today Online:

As an avalanche of investigations and reporting over the past 20 months made clear, the true cause of the crashes wasn’t faulty software. It was a corporate culture gone horribly wrong.

He detailed the single point of failure design of MCAS, and the corporate motivations for profit that overrode the concerns of engineers. It’s scary, precisely because it’s so believable.

I’ve talked about the journalistic trick of claiming false equivalency to offer a fresh take on what’s a re-baked idea. But the technical issues here, like so many in engineering, science, and IT, really can be explained by people.


An online place of record

It doesn’t seem all that long ago when everyone and their caninies were writing for Medium, the pseudo-blog that anyone could publish on. I chose my words carefully there; you’re a writer for Medium, and it’s not a true blog given you surrender full control and ownership of your writing. This is what sets all major social networks apart from blogs, even if they still present thoughts in a chronological order.

(There’s debate whether sites that aren’t chronoligically ordered can still be classified as a blog, or whether it’s a personal site or wiki. I would have hung my hat on the above definition before, but now I think it’s far more useful to talk about them in the context of control. Which is great: no one company or entity owns the term or its definition).

Dave Winer noticed a trend yesterday, though it’s not a step forwards. Emphasis added:

Very quietly Medium is no longer the online place-of-record, which is good, because as a money-losing tech startup they have no obligation to maintain a record.The bad news is that the new incumbent is yet another tech startup. If we want the net to work, we need some institutions that are not-for-profit. archive.org is a good backstop. But the web imho deserves more.

What Dave implies here is what we’ve see time and time again: sites that absorb all this creative energy from people are shut down at the behest of their owners. Because the owners aren’t us, and their motives lie elsewhere. I don’t worry if Medium will be shut down, I’m counting the days.

But I think it goes even beyond whether something is for profit or not. Look at the major feature that every social network has been pushing hard lately: the idea of the ephemeral story. Snapchat were the first major platform to popularise it, and Twitter have just added it. There’s something almost Bhuddist about the idea of living in the present moment with these works and throwing them away, though I doubt sharing your exploits with the world minute by minute to chase a dopamine hit is! What it’s really doing is conditioning those of us outside traditional media that our material is disposable. We saw the current landscape, and somehow managed to peddle backwards even faster.

I happen to think everyone has something interesting to say, and there’s a larger social good and necessity for records after our time has passed. But in the 2010s and early 2020s we’re stuck in this rut that we need the blessing of a large commercial website to validate and publish what we think. I agree with Dave; the people who make up the web deserve more.


Boring description of my favourite anime

This Twitter meme went by a few days ago. I wrote:

Four (then five) girls have tea and cake, and sometimes play music. Wait, that still sounds aspirational and wonderful. Time for a rewatch, me thinks.

We need them again, now more than ever.

Image of the K-On! girls, from the Kyoto Animation adaptation.


Video conference fatigue

This year has felt overwhelming for all the reasons we expect. Anxiety, fear, that ever-present sense of foreboding. But while at my job we’d done remote working part time already, having it be the norm this year has made me more exhausted than I ever would have expected.

The biggest reason has to be exercise. Sitting on the balcony has helped with vitamin D and getting that important, melatonin-regulating sunlight in the morning, but I still haven’t been doing anywhere near enough physical activity. This was laid bare when Clara and I got winded wandering around the Blue Mountains, when even back in July it wasn’t as much of a problem.

The University of Melbourne have also identified what we all suspected as well: video conference calls are uniquely fatiguing, and its not just because of the tired cliché used in advertisements of people not wearing pants under the table.

Due to our restricted working memory, our brains can only do a limited number of things consciously. Meanwhile, we can process more things unconsciously. Online classes increase our cognitive load because we have to rely predominantly on verbal communication, which consumes a lot of our conscious capacity.

… Without these unconscious cues, we have to put in more cognitive and emotional effort. We rely predominantly on verbal information to infer other people’s emotions and at the same time, focus on what the speaker is saying. This additional conscious processing leaves us feeling tired.

This goes part of the way to explaining why audio conference calls seem to take less mental capacity. We’re not trying to interpret what we’re seeing in addition to the audio in that case.

Humans—myself included, as I am one—don’t handle latency well when talking with people. I’m only speculating, but I think it has to do with the fact in nature we’re never far enough away from someone where noticeable, significant latency would be introduced. Video tricks us into thinking we’re closer to someone than we are, so we have to work harder to process what we’re seeing.

Our high-bandwidth sensory devices are all located near our brains, so we’re also not used to senses being wildly out of sync. We’ve evolved to reconcile these into what we perceive to be a clear picture of our surroundings. Video necessarily takes more bandwidth and processing power than audio, so throw in some out of sync mouth movements and audio, and it throws our sensory balance off kilter. These are also contributing factors to motion sickness and vertigo.

I also catch myself squinting at computer screens when on video calls, for no logical reason other than I’m used to squinting if I’m having trouble seeing something. Low-quality or variable pictures trigger this same reflex, as though we were in the real world and trying to get a very close or distant object to focus. Squinting at a backlit display is a sure-fire way make your eyes tired, and can lead to headaches.

Those are the sensory variables, but there’s also an interpersonal element I hadn’t even realised I’ve been doing either. I’ve mentioned how wonderful microbreaks are for concentration and energy, and the author Devia mentions it’s taboo to do it on video calls:

In physical classes, we’re able to gaze out the window or look at other people in the class. But in [video] meetings, doing so will make us look like we’re not paying attention. We feel obligated to stare at the camera for a whole hour to show that we’re listening. Engaging in this “constant gaze” makes us uncomfortable and tired.

I get that people think video calls make them more personal and engaging, and I’ll bet certain bosses think they’re a great way to micromanage and make sure they’re employees are paying attention. But it’s counterproductive, at least most of the time.

As I mentioned on the context switching post last Sunday, the only solution I’ve found thus far is to block out times in my calendar for not taking or engaging in conference calls. I also sneakily join conference calls with just audio at first, signalling to others that for my chats it’s socially acceptable to relax and not need the webcam. If I see video start in another square, I turn it on.


Here are some related, incompatible items

Picture this: you’re arrived at an online store to buy a specific CPU for a new server build. It might be a new bhyve box you’re building, or a Minecraft server, or a new NAS to test the new ZFS inline encryption and RAID options, or why not both? That only works if I had two uses there, not three.

As is typical in Australia, the online store doesn’t have that CPU in stock, and haven’t for months, but they keep the listing up for search engine juice, and say they can order it in for it to arrive in the next three to four years. If you don’t have the time for the heat death of the universe for their false advertising to come true again, they will also list some “related items” under the device in question.

Thing is, while an AMD EPYC CPU does look interesting, and is an aspirational item on my wish list, it’s not at all related to a Xeon E3 CPU needed for a C236-chipset motherboard. It’d be akin to having a bottle of chilli sauce listed as a related item for breakfast cereal because they’re both food, or other Nisekoi character stickers when you were after one for best girl Onodera.

The fact these two devices are CPUs do not make them related items. Matching superficial attributes like this is entirely meaningless, as they have different system requirements, incompatible sockets, and aren’t even the same generation. You could make a click-baitey video where you force an EPYC CPU onto a H4 socket, then redirect video from another AMD computer to pretend it worked, but those are the sorts of shenanigans I definitely, absolutely wouldn’t do to make a point.

People joke about how their recommended lists will be full of mattresses after they buy a bed, despite not needing one anymore because they just bought it! I’d say this is a close second.

Related items for this post: a picture of Neptune I blogged about in 2008. These are both blog posts, right?


Takeuchi Mariya, Plastic Love

Today’s Music Monday was found entirely by accident, but now I fear I’m entering the dangerous world of 1980s Japanese city pop. This song appears in so many electronica playlists and recommendations that it risks becoming a cliché, but it’s absolutely worth it!

Play Mariya Takeuchi 竹内 まりや Plastic Love

I’m not that into cyberpunk, but I do love that 1980s and early 1990s aesthetic. I could easily imagine someone cruising around in the evening listing to this song, or sitting on the MRT with my cassette Walkman.

You can buy her whole album on iTunes, which I encourage you to do. I may have also snagged a hard copy off Jauce, not that I’d admit to this.


School memories, and can I just take it down?

Do you often wonder where people in your high school are today? What they’re doing, how they’re going? For some of us it was a decade ago, for some of you much further, for others it may have just been last year. I was a palliative, stay at home carer for my high school years too, so I can partly empathise what living through Covid must be. Putting your studies and career on hold, for something that wasn’t your fault or under your control is its own special kind of frustrating, to say nothing of the people close to you who are suffering.

But I digest! That was supposed to be digress. While most people in my school were great, there was a manipulative minority who really weren’t. I think it came with the territory; it was a rich, private international school in an overseas bubble in Singapore. I knew people who’d be dropped off in sports cars, had mobile phones when it was unusual for adults to have them, and took international holidays every few months. It was another world, and I think it got to people’s heads.

At least thirteen years ago I made a passing comment on this site about a gentleman who routinely picked me up by the neck. Whether it was a weird flex to show he could lift a scrawny person, or he was taking out his own trauma on me, who knows. I spent a long time trying to understand his motives while trying to hide my neck from friends and family out of shame. Maybe he was just a jerk.

Anyway years later I get an email from him, out of the blue. Maybe he’d been trying to contact me via my dormant Facebook profile and not getting anywhere, but either way it was bizarre seeing his name pop up again. He’d become a caricature in my mind by this stage; a burly meathead who grunted in lieu of speech, did burnouts in utes, and ate gravel for breakfast. When had he learned to read and write, let alone become a computer operator?

He didn’t stray far from this image. We all make silly mistakes as kids; I wholesale misinterpreted two girl asking me out—sorry Kathleen and Fiona!—and this guy left people like me with permanent breathing problems. Maybe the subsequent years hadn’t been kind to him, but he demanded in no uncertain terms that I take his name off my site. No acknowledgement of what he did, no regret, no apology, nothing. Suffice to say, I filed it under karma is a bitch and moved on.

Checkups aside—Ruben, did your parents abuse you growing up?!—I don’t think much about him anymore. But sitting at a coffee shop and hearing Mambo No. 5 instantly transported me back to that clearing outside the art room, wondering when my feet would touch the ground again so I could retreat to the safety of the computer labs or library. It’s funny how memory works, isn’t it Steven?

Don’t be like that guy. You don’t want to be remembered as a gravel-eater.


Gawr Gura on poultry identification

Can I dig here? Will it mess up my...
... why is there a chicken here?


Marco Arment on the Apple Watch sport band

I’m glad to hear Marco is doing okay, big love from Clara and I to him and his family. ♡ On the subject of Apple Watches, Marco talked about how he’d gone back to the cheapest sports band on the most recent ATP episode:

I don’t know if its just the way the sizing works on me, but the sport band is just a little bit more comfortable. And I find the loop to be a little hotter. The sport band has that little excess tail that tucks under it, and because it has the nine holes in it—or you can go even holier with them—there is some degree of ventilation that you get. [..] the solo loop almost fits too well, and so as a result I find it less comfortable.

The guys also mentioned that you could mix and match different sizes for the two discrete parts of the sports band for a better fit as well.

I thought I was the only one who thought this! I tried a few different bands when I used to wear Apple Watches, and the sports band was easily the most durable, comfortable, and easiest to clean. This is especially important when you live in hot and humid places, and a genuine surprise given it’s two glorified slabs of rubber.

It’s a moot point now given I wear a beautiful little $25 analogue Casio I got in Akihabara, but I like keeping an eye on the space.


Tom Scott’s video on copyright

Tom Scott’s video about YouTube copyright was detailed, well-researched, considered, and to the best of my knowledge, factually correct. He’s deliberate and careful to make the distinction between legality and ethics, and makes a powerful case for YouTube’s content matching as it currently exists. In the current system, I’m convinced.

Play YouTube's Copyright System Isn't Broken. The World's Is.

I only had two niggling concerns. The premise of copyright itself wasn’t questioned. That was likely intentional; he wanted to stick to the facts. But I want to know, to what extent should we be allowed to profit from our creative works? And if we know what we should have, does copyright allow us to effectively do so in the current century? The evidence presented thus far isn’t compelling and, as Tom mentions, skews towards corporations with legal teams.

The other major point he didn’t directly discuss is the role of civil disobedience as a necessary factor for change, or if he thinks it’s necessary. I’d say history is littered with laws people thought were unjust and rebelled against, and copyright law as it exists today with its arguably unreasonable extensions are no exception. Part of me thinks the only way we’ll affect change is to constantly demonstrate the absurdity of the system. I suppose sites like Giffy that Tom raised are already doing this.

I still come back to JD Lasica’s Darknet: Hollywood’s War against the Digital Generation as my canonical source here. What is the legal purpose of suing people for the use of copyrighted work where clear financial losses can’t be demonstrated, if not to just extract money in an unethical way? What ends, and who, does this legislation serve? Should financial compensation even be the yard stick we use to measure this?

These are the conversations we need to have, though pragmatically I suppose I’ll take reforms in the meantime.


With whom I normally disagree

This has been one of the hardest posts I’ve tried to write, and the oldest draft I’ve revived after I first started it in 2006. It’s at best me thinking out loud though a complicated mental problem I’ve made for myself, and it’s still frustratingly open-ended. How’s that for an introduction!?

I read a quote in someone’s mailing list signature in the early 2000s that, paraphrased, said we “have to be right all the time in computer security, but that attackers only need to be right once”. I thought it was such an elegant, succinct summary of the dichotomy and power imbalance infosec professionals face. I think it’s overly simplistic now; systems with perfect security at worst can’t exist, and at best are unusable. The best we can do is asses the threat domain and security requirements of a new system, and take reasonable and appropriate measures to protect it.

That hasn’t stopped me loving this quote though, which only made it harder when I realised it was a tweaked version of what Donald Rumsfeld said about national security. For those who weren’t around or didn’t grow up in the 1990s and early 2000s, Mr Rumsfeld was one of George W. Bush’s advisors who took the US into the disastrous Iraq war under the concocted pretence that they had weapons of mass destruction. Discovering this connection made me supremely uncomfortable.

Since then I’ve grappled with this idea that I can agree with people with whom I otherwise don’t, and even those I consider reprehensible. How does one reconcile this?

I think there are a couple things going on here. I realise I automatically discount what someone says if I’ve disagreed with them on something else before, and if I make the effort not to, I still feel a form of guilt by association. So my instinct is to keep doing this. There are ethical voices, based in reality, facts, and science, who likely say the same thing as the people I’m worrying about, and without the baggage I find objectionable. But then, am I just falling into the divide and conquer trap by doing this?

My fear is that I legitimise all of someone’s views if I quote but one of them. I would hate for someone to come across my blog, for example, and be swayed by their other comments. But this could also cut both ways; people from their sphere of influence could encounter words like mine, and change the other way. Probably not! But… maybe?

There are so many examples of this. Winston Churchill was deeply racist, and yet his quote about “if you’re going through hell, keep going” has helped me through more than a few dark chapters in my life. Should that make me feel guilty? The fact I’m even asking that speaks volumes. What about Deepak Chopra’s brief moments of lucidity among his well-publicised nonsense? See, I’m already falling into the trap.

The best I’ve been able to come up with is identifying what influences my moral compass. Sometimes there really is no middle ground, like that satirical comic with the KKK and Lincoln, and someone asking if they can compromise by “only enslaving some people”. Or the parable of the wolf and the sheep deciding what’s for dinner. But there’s gray in plenty of other cases.

Can I quote people provided I give sufficient context to assuage my concerns about their other work? Does that still fall into the legitimisation trap, or does that still make me an accessory? I’m on the fence.

I’d like to think I’m mature and reasonable enough to be able to talk with people who hold views I otherwise disagree with, but I’m self-aware enough to know I don’t anywhere near often enough. How I navigate that is something I need to improve on. I’m open to suggestions and ideas.


My first Hololive EN supachat

Screenshot of superchat during Amelia Watson's latest stream. Saying: Whoa yay Ame stream live Friday night in Australia! Thank you :D.

Uh oh.


Lessons learned from the 2016 Australian census?

The irony isn’t lost on me that the permalink for this post is completely wrong. But then again, my silly blog isn’t hosting a national census. Though… maybe running it on OrionVM and FreeBSD would improve things, not that I’m biased!

Like my dancing ability and coriander leaves, the 2016 Australian census is remembered in infocomm circles for all the wrong reasons. It was the first conducted where a majority of the population were encouraged to file online, but the submission site was plagued with issues from launch. I quoted former PM Malcolm Turnbull admitting in 2016:

“That was a failure that was compounded by some failures in hardware – technical hardware failures – and inadequate redundancy.”

I had third-hand knowledge from people working in government at the time that none of this was unexpected. Responsible people had been ringing alarm bells for months in the leadup to the launch, much of which wasn’t prioritised with funding or time.

It wasn’t surprising then that many of us, including the Greens, Nick Xenophon, and Jacqui Lambie also didn’t trust the onerous extension of private data retention to four years. These systems had done nothing to earn our trust, and many of us subsequently avoided submission altogether using legal loopholes despite threats of fines.

So have we learned anything for the 2021 census? The Guardian’s Katharine Murphy tempered our expectations this morning:

A worrying new assessment by the Australian National Audit Office has found planning for the next census is only “partly effective” and the ABS has “not put in place arrangements to ensure that improvements to its architecture framework, change management processes and cybersecurity measures will be implemented ahead of the 2021 census”.

The auditor general made seven recommendations to the ABS covering planning, efficiency, IT systems and data, risk controls and implementing external review recommendations.

This is what raised my eyebrows:

When it came to cybersecurity, the ABS had established “partly appropriate measures”. The ANAO said the high-level measures and controls in the ABS’ cybersecurity strategy were “sound – however, the strategy has not been fully implemented”.

Chasing absolute security is a fool’s errand, but if they have what they consider reasonable recommendations that have “not been fully implemented”, that’s a worry. The reason we have clichés about weakest links is because they’re true.


My first anime crushes, via @_BADCATBAD

Fellow Anime@UTS alumni @_BADCATBAD tweeted her first anime crushes. It didn’t take me long to figure out who mine were, nor should they probably come as any surprise to anyone who’s read this blog over the years.

From top left to bottom right:

  1. Mizuno Ami, aka Sailor Mercury from the Sailor Moon franchise
  2. Nagato Yuki, from the Suzumiya Haruhi franchie
  3. Tohsaka Rin, from the Fate franchise
  4. Fujibayashi Kyou, from Clannad

Full disclosure, is a phrase with two words. I did unabashedly like Asahina Mikuru from Haruhi at the time as well, but not to the same extent. Shigure Asa was also a fantastic standout character from an otherwise awful harem series, but she missed out being on this list by a matter of weeks. Ditto basically every character from K-On!, one of the single greatest shows and four-panel comic series of all time.

I also noticed all but one of the pictures I found within five minutes also have other characters from their respective shows partly in shot. Tohsaka Rin’s was deliberately chosen because she was blushing—cough—but the others were entirely coincidental. At least I got Kyon’s magnificent hair in.


Clickbait

I came across a website called BGR a few weeks ago, which I assume is pronounced bigger, or site goes bgrrrrrrr. These were the trending stories listed, all but one of which could be answered with a single phrase.

  1. The most popular painkiller on the planet has been poisoning people (Paracetamol, in high doses)

  2. This is one of the most dangerous jobs to have during the coronavirus pandemic – and now there’s proof (Supermarket worker)

  3. I can’t stop watching this Netflix original that’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen – or heard (Barbarians)

  4. These promising coronavirus vaccines could be approved sooner than expected – but not in the US

  5. CDC study says tons of people catch COVID-19 in the one place that’s supposed to be safe (Home)

Saved You a Click has done more to expose these transparent shenanigans than any other outlet. Some sites are even more brazen, or don’t answer what the headline purports at all. And like my attempts at humour on this site, it’s only getting worse.

But while we can point it out, the core issue remains that sites do it for ad revenue. Clicks and increasingly-problematic tracking are all that are sustaining sites like these. I don’t know how we dig our way out, but the market will continue to reward this behaviour while this incentive structure exists.

You won’t believe what I’ll blog about next! By which I mean, you probably will. On average. Depeche Mode. Statistically speaking.


Using RSS: Awesome RSS plugin for Firefox

I’ve been extolling the virtues, utility, and freedom of RSS of late, but not so much how to use it. I’m addressing this in a new series of posts, some of which I may end up collecting into a set of links for my help page.

For a few years browsers included icons for RSS, both to raise awareness of the protocol, and so you could easily add them to your aggregators. Even Internet Explorer! Felicia Day’s Awesome RSS for Firefox returns that functionality, and with no extra bells and whistles. It’s great not having to mess around in HTML headers again for something that should have an easy link.

Mozilla should make this a mandatory or pre-installed plugin if they’re as strong an advocate for the open web as they say they are. Or they should return the functionality to the core web browser. Compared to so much they’ve added and changed lately, this would be a drop in the feed bucket.


@Spycrowsoft on OLED sensitivity

@Spycrowsoft on Twitter direct messaged me about my latest OLED phone post:

Spot on! I’m one of those people sensitive to OLED’s. However I’ve noticed that it really depends on the type of panel used. Generally, when the refresh-rates get above 150 Hz, there is no problem for me anymore

However, those displays are rare and only found in the expensive Samsung TV’s

I’m keen to try screens with higher refresh rates now. The pulse width modulation that’s used to adjust the perceived screen brightness is what flickers and causes me eyestrain and headaches. Maybe I need to source a Samsung TV and try.


Tears for Fears, Pharaohs

Today’s Music Monday was a serendipitous discovery! Clara and I went back to the Velvet Fog Record Bar up in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains on Saturday, and bought a Tears for Fears 45 as soon as we laid our eyes on it.

Side A was their world-famous Everybody Wants to Rule The World single, but we didn’t recognise Side B. We played it last night back home, and I haven’t been able to get the melody and background instrumentation out of my head since. It sounds like that cinema scene from Superliminal.

Play Pharaohs

I love that somewhere, someone had that 45 brand new and listened to it. The wear on Side A was significantly higher than Side B, so who knows, this particular track could have been sitting there unknown for decades, waiting to be discovered again. I like that.


Context switching

It wasn’t until I was promoted to my current position/role/etc that I learned about the phrase context switching, though I realise I’ve been affected by it for a long time.

Context switching is variously defined as interruptions, distractions, or attempting to multitask. It can be self-inflicted, but I think the implication is it’s unwanted and imposed. Who among us hasn’t felt frustrated thinking we could be productive working on what we need, paid, or want to do, if things didn’t keep coming up.

Unlike regular distractions, context switches necessarily require your full attention, and the marshalling of resources and mental capacity to complete or move the needle on disparate, unrelated tasks while you were preciously engaged elsewhere. That was supposed to be previously engaged, but I’m taking the typo as a Freudian slip!

It’s destructive not merely for pushing out deadlines on things we’re supposed to do, but perversely results in a classic 1+1<2. We’d have finished two tasks had we been given sufficient space to complete the first before being poked about the second.

I like some distractions during the day. I’ve talked about microbreaks before, like looking out the window. Longer breaks reading RSS feeds, walking to the Aeropress for a coffee, or taking a stroll around the block, are great because I take them on my terms. A context switch is a phone call to attend to something, or an email from a client, or a coworker asking a question.

(Emails and phone calls are part of my job, and as an introvert I’m surprised at how much I actually like talking with people about their system requirements. Maybe it’s because meetings have a set agenda, a firm exit time, and for the most part finish after a certain hour).

Seminars, blogs, books, and podcasts routinely talk about context switching as exclusively affecting people’s #productivity, as though we exist only for our economic output. But it also affects qualitative metrics like job satisfaction, even optimism. Someone who’s constantly expected to put a task on hold to start another is likely not going to be jazzed about doing it; or worse, lash out as a result.

I think it’s why I get some of my best work done before work, and late in the evening. Without the expectation that I’m always available to be poked, I can get extended time periods to do things. It goes as much for personal projects as well; I may have been guilty in the past of telling people I sleep in so I could get in a couple of hours of introvert time at a coffee shop.

For work time, the best I’ve found is to block out a couple of hours in your company calendar for focus. This doesn’t help external parties, but it stops you being roped into internal meetings, discussions, or chat notifications. Again, I didn’t understand why my bosses used to do this in previous roles and companies, but I sure get it now!

Software and web services like time and task managers are so often pitched as either a panacea or a silver bullet, but they’ll never be a substitute for setting expectations.