Joke images on social media as a signal

A map of the United States flooded by rising sea levels went viral again recently, with the usual people replying that climate change is a hoax. The fact the caption was a joke, and that the floodplain was the Mediterranean Sea was, unsurprisingly, lost on them. You’d think the massive, Italian boot would have kicked them into thought, even if they didn’t recognise any other part of it.

Funny story, I tripped on a boot and hit my head on a banister once, and even I could make out what it was.

It’s easy to see how someone predisposed to believing in conspiracy theories would also lack basic knowledge in other areas, such as geography. It’s also as much a failure of society not preparing people for our complicated world as it is a lack of curiosity or interest on their part. Critical thinking isn’t a skill you can learn by rote, despite the best efforts of certain educational systems!

But more broadly, it demonstrates how knee-jerk social media can be, and how we’re all susceptible to it if we’re not careful. All it takes is for a story or graphic to push our buttons or conform to our own views, and we’ll respond without thinking as critically as we should. I’ve fallen for it, and I’ll bet you have too at some point.

I’m starting to think this is another way social media is corrosive, at least in its current form. It doesn’t elevate thinking, it conforms to our baser instincts. It’s the inevitable outcome when platforms measure their success based on “customer engagement”, a phrase that I thought referred to marriage.


Organising posts by date

I always liked how the late, great J-Walk Blog arranged posts with date headings on his home page. It made his site seem more like a periodical, rather than a stream. I finally got around to implementing this here.

I’m not sure if the style will remain the same, but it works for now.

I also took the opportunity over the weekend to remove a ton of legacy code and CSS, so let me know if it breaks anything for you. Thanks :).


New metal cladding on buildings

Across the street from our Sydney apartment complex is The Concourse, a multi-function public building with concert halls, Willoughby council’s largest library, a reflection pool, restaurants, and a green space. The sides of the building consist of walls to prevent weather getting inside, and a form of roof to achieve similar weather-proofing. These are punctured with a series of doors, windows, and skylights to permit ingress of light and human beings. I’m told it also has a floor, as much for convention.

Get it? Because it’s a convention hall that… shaddup.

The external walls are clad with hundreds of metal panels of various sizes, some of which wrap more than 270 degrees around curved sections that jut out from the main structure. I can appreciate architects trying something a bit different, or at least giving us something that isn’t a box.

For the better part of a year, workers have been hammering, sizing, grinding, and replacing each and every one of these panels. Their agonisingly slow (and loud!) progress hints at just how complicated the removal and installation of these panels must be.

Photo of The Concourse showing a few of the open areas where metal cladding was once affixed.

I’ve been wondering why they went to the trouble. My selfish hope was that they were replacing glossy panels with matte ones to minimise reflections into our apartment building. Not being blinded by a narrow beam of focused sunlight when I inadvertently pass by a window would have been most welcome for my headaches and eyes. Alas, the new panels are just as shiny; perhaps even moreso. This could hint at it being cosmetic.

Those plastic sheets might in fact be insulation they’re installing for saving energy. It could be the rails used to attach the panels to the walls were rusting or bent, which could have been a safety hazard if a panel were to detach itself. They could have replaced those panels, attached them more securely, and got some energy savings for free. Well, not free, but insulation would surely pay for itself quickly.

Or finally, the elephant in the room attempting to perform the Safety Dance might have realised those panels were fire hazards. We’ve seen a steady stream of news reports of buildings across the world that have used flammable plastics in their cladding because of shortsighted engineering. These ridiculous panels have cost lives. Not having a flaming building spewing plastic smoke at our apartment would be rather lovely, to say nothing for the building’s occupants.

Maybe it’s a combination of the above. All I know is I can’t wait for BANG them to BANG be finished BANG sometime BANG soon!


Limitations of Go date format logic

Go’s date formats are a special beast, as everyone else already realised a decade ago. I’m not a Go developer, but I do use a few devops and blogging tools written in it, and as such I work regularly with its unconventional date representation.

Unlike other languages, Go works against a reference date which you refactor to get the format you’re after:

Mon Jan 2 15:04:05 -0700 MST 2006

I can see the appeal of this rather than an alphabet soup like strftime, even though I committed most of that to memory by now. It’s more WYSIWYG, and easier to visualise in something like a template.

I always wanted to know why this specific date, for reasons I’ll get to in a moment. It lead me to this old Hacker News thread from 2015, and a quote from the documentation that shows this ascending mnemonic:

Mon Jan 2 15:04:05 -0700 MST 2006
0   1   2  3  4  5              6

But there are some assumptions and i17n drawbacks here. Non-American readers would have immediately spotted a problem: we generally don’t put months first. Most of us would write long dates like this:

Mon 2 Jan 15:04:05 -0700 MST 2006
0   2 1    3  4  5              6

It’s not a big deal, the mnemonic holds even though it doesn’t have the elegant ascending numbers anymore. But it’s a bit weird.

The far bigger problem comes when you want to validate short dates. Americans use MM-DD-YYYY, whereas the rest of us use DD-MM-YYYY. At a glance, will this render as the first of February, or the second of January?

02-01-2021

Using a day (02) and a month (01) that can be easily confused is, to use the Shakespearean term, a huge pain in the asp. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at a template and had to do a double-take on the date, or troubleshooting why the months on a page are all wrong.

Conventional wisdom in documentation is to always use a day greater than 12 to remove global ambiguity. The order of this date looks wrong to me, but at least it’s mutually intelligible:

01-27-2021

We’d all be using YYYY-MM-DD in an ideal world, but alas we’re all stuck in meatspace. I’ll continue to work around this, but it’s disappointing that such a high-profile tool would make this difficult to satisfy a mnemonic that doesn’t even hold that well outside the US.


My popular opinions

There are altogether too many unpopular opinion posts circulating on social media and blogs. This is my attempt to reverse this.

  • Freshly-baked bread, toast out of the toaster, and a pan with frying onion and garlic, all have breathtaking aromas. In that you voluntarily take more breaths to smell them.

  • Repairability is a good thing.

  • It’s a nice gesture to let people with prams and wheelchairs into lifts and trains first. Even better if you assist if they look like they’re struggling (I qualify that, because I had a colleague in a wheelchair many years ago who said he wanted to be “treated like everyone else, not a unique case”).

  • Cheesecake is pretty great.

  • Few things are as satisfying as removing redundant code.

  • Sleep is underappreciated, even among those who admit they need more of it.

  • The Beatles had some good music.

  • Respecting someone’s privacy and security is almost always a good idea.

  • Cleaners, garbage collectors, sewer maintainers, and sanitation workers keep us healthy, deserve serious respect, and should be paid much, much more.

  • Hello dog. Who’s a good dog? You are! You’re a good dog.

  • Under-promise. You can either over-deliver, or use the added slack in the timeline to absorb the things life likes to throw at us.

  • It’s a shame when you spill coffee on your beige pants, as I did this morning, surprising nobody.

  • It’s better not to buy the junk than recycle it.

  • Text-based server logs, and basic UNIX text-processing tools, are wonders of the modern world and don’t get nearly enough praise.

  • Hakos Baelz has unreasonably funky opening music on her streams.

  • Mismatching socks are more fun, especially if they’re bold colours. Related: Japanese idol costumes that go as far as having mismatched sock and stocking lengths are the pinnacle of fashion design.

  • Art galleries, museums, and art gallery museums are amazing places that Ruben needs to spend more time in.

  • A working computer, if rare, is wondrous.


The B1M discusses Hudson Yards

One of my favourite engineering YouTube channels recently did an episode on the Hudson Yards development in New York. Clara and I saw the construction zone when we were there a few years ago; it’s massive.

Play Is Hudson Yards Good For New York?

Unfortunately, scale is about all it had going for it by the time I saw photos of phase one. The buildings themselves are typical glass boxes with the barest of nods to something interesting, including slanting roofs and the faintest whisper of a curve here and there. The cool Vessel pine cone aside, it felt like a wasted opportunity given the area’s prime position, and the opportunity to really make something pop. One day one of my favourite cities in the world will have another Guggeneheim; just not today.

But there’s another aspect to the development I didn’t realise. Samuel Stein, from the Community Service Society of New York had this to say:

We should never allow the public benefit to come in “phase two” of a majorly-financed public/private development [lest it be put on hold indefinitely].

If we ever do another project like a Hudson Yards, we should be looking at what the needs of people are in terms of housing, jobs, open space, and not building for the highest-end and assuming that it’ll trickle down.


George Benson, Dance

Today’s Music Monday is taken right from the LP spinning in our linear tracking, quartz locked, direct drive, track selecting Technics SL-J300R. If George’s jazz guitar were any smoother, it would have melted all over our floor.

Play George Benson Dance


Brandon Quakkelaar on the beauty of RSS

Brandon Quakkelaar’s blog (RSS feed here) was referenced on Lobse.rs yesterday, and I’ve been getting stuck into his post about RSS:

I am not a big social media guy anymore. Over the last few years I’ve been actively avoiding it. I’m not a fan of each platform’s privacy concerns, and users need to be very cautious to avoid flamewars and infinite doomscrolling. If we aren’t careful, social media’s default state seems to devolve into just destroying trust and goodwill. I prefer society in real life.

Preach. I’ve made my peace with social media again, in part by committing to not taking it too seriously, and by maintaining an exhaustive list of blocked words, phrases, and hashtags. The network effect is strong among my friends and people I care about, though I’m deliberately limiting my exposure.

His antidote? RSS! This is the best summary I’ve ever read of it:

With RSS we can curate our own feed of information. We can collect feeds from all the blogs we like, and we can get notified of new posts by subscribing with an RSS Reader. Readers will aggregate posts and list them chronologically for us. When the blog publishes content to their RSS feed, then it will be in our RSS reader without being subject to an invisible ranking algorithm like that which exists in social media. RSS is far more honest in that way.

He also introduces his RSS Discovery Engine, which can be used to find links to other related blogs.


Car-centric culture in recycling

Our local council has an e-waste recycling centre, but their COVIDSAFE plan makes it clear they haven’t considered people who don’t arrive by smokebox:

All CRC customers are to wear a mask, sign in using the NSW Government’s QR code and remain in their vehicles until directed to enter the drop-off area by a staff member. [..] Only enter the CRC when the boom gate is lifted for your car by a staff member. Please drive in slowly as cars may be queued in the driveway. [..] All CRC customers are required to self-unload their items without any assistance from staff. Customers should bring someone along to assist if required.

Most of these rules pre-date Covid, but have been rearranged and clarified in the context of social distancing and medical safety.

It’s not entirely unreasonable to expect most people to rock up in four-wheeled body crushers. Old CRTs, bags of disued cables, and broken lightbulbs aren’t exactly the sorts of things you want to be carrying long distances on foot, or lugging onto public transport.

But that’s not to say everyone will need to drop off stuff in that way. Maybe they live nearby. Maybe they don’t have a carbon-sink burner, and are walking there for the exercise with a small trolley, like certain weird bloggers. I’ve been let into the facility before on foot, and it was perfectly safe. Why not have a blurb about that as well?

(Update: No longer. And worse, they couldn’t have been ruder if they tried. Go to The Good Guys store in Chatswood instead; they take your e-waste with a smile, and even help with unpacking)

Sydney is slightly better than most Australian cities when it comes to public transport investment, but culturally and politically we still have a long way to go. Maybe I’m still a bit miffed that a motorist plowed into me on a zebra crossing yesterday. Don’t they know zebras are highly-strung with skinny legs?


Listpost for week 42, 2021

It’s Sunday, which means it’s time for another listpost!

  • SimpleFlying reported on the Italian carrier ITA’s new livery. Painting your aircraft sky blue doesn’t seem like the best idea for visibility or safety, but maybe it’s to save money by slipping out of airports undetected without paying fees.

  • Banana Craze is a virtual exhibition showcasing how the humble banana has shaped identity, ecosystems, and violence in South America. I saw this listed on Metafilter and got stuck into it for the better part of an afternoon.

  • I’ve mentioned the Veritasium educational science channel here before, but I’ll admit his recent video about self-driving cars was underwhelming. Tom Nicholas has a well-researched, if drawn-out rebuttal.

  • Om Malik’s recent trip was “an excellent opportunity to step away from the daily torrent of media inanities”. I’m going to do that with a cup of tea and some manga this afternoon, too.

  • This is week 42 of 2021. Heh.

  • The Australian Strategic Policy Institute suggests we should use sea mines, those asymetrical weapons that sank the hospital ship Britannic during World War I. Alternatively, we could not use them!

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