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02 Aug 02:45

Discourse(s) on Docker

by Reverend

One of the things Tim built a while ago is a server running multiple instances of the forum software Discourse using Docker. He did this because we’re getting more and more interest at Reclaim Hosting for this forum software. As usual, Tim came up with a pretty slick setup that enables us to provide this fairly easily and cheaply. To be clear, I have not yet gone through the process of setting up the server environment that runs multiple Docker instances of Discourse, and I want to go through that process next. But in the interim, this post will simply go through setting up a new instance of Discourse using Docker in an attempt to beef up our internal documentation.

If you are interested in getting up and running with Discourse in a Docker container, check out Sam Saffron’s excellent overview of Docker, the various issues installing it, and a write-up of his process, I used that posts on several occasions to be refreshed on the commands I needed to bootstrap and start the docker container.

So, after logging into your server via command line (are you still with me?), you would change directories to where the containers setup files for each server are kept:

cd /var/discourse/containers

 

Discourse 1

You can see in the image above I was searching a bit. In the containers directory you have several .yml files for each of the Discourse installs. YAML files are basically a serialized set of instructions for Docker on how to setup the environment. You have to create a new YAML file for each new install, and ten copy another installs config and change a few details.  So, edit another YAML file by typing something like this:

nano nameofanothercontainer.yml

You will then be shown the config file for that container. Copy it and then create a new YAML file like so:

nano bava.yml

Copy the contents from the other container in this new file, and change the following details.

In this bit you include the email, or emails, of the admins:

## TODO: List of comma delimited emails that will be made admin and developer
## on initial signup example 'user1@example.com,user2@example.com'
DISCOURSE_DEVELOPER_EMAILS: 'info@reclaimhosting.com,jimgroom@gmail.com'

In the following area you change the hostname to the domain (or subdomain) you will be installing Discourse. Chances are you will be mapping an A-Record here. More on that later:

## TODO: The domain name this Discourse instance will respond to
DISCOURSE_HOSTNAME: 'discourse.bavatuesdays.com'

In this area you need to setup your mail server info so Discourse can send emails to new users, etc. We use Mandrill for this at Reclaim Hosting, and it seems to work well. This is a bit difference from applications in a LAMP environment which has all this setup for you. With the new fangled Rudy and Node.js apps you’ll find you need a transactional mail service like Mandrill, Mailgun, etc. —which are basically API driven mail services for developers, or so I’ve heard.

## TODO: The mailserver this Discourse instance will use
DISCOURSE_SMTP_ADDRESS: smtp.mandrillapp.com # (mandatory)
DISCOURSE_SMTP_PORT: 587
DISCOURSE_SMTP_USER_NAME:  username
DISCOURSE_SMTP_PASSWORD: yourpasswordhere
#DISCOURSE_SMTP_ENABLE_START_TLS: true # (optional, default true)

Finally, you need to change a few paths to point to your Discourse file. So anywhere you see bava was previously the name of the container’s YAML file I copy and pasted from. For exampled, if I copy and pasted from the reclaim.yml file, everywhere you see bava below would have originally been reclaim

## These containers are stateless, all data is stored in /shared
volumes:
- volume:
    host: /var/discourse/shared/bava
    guest: /shared
- volume:
    host: /var/discourse/shared/bava/log/var-log
    guest: /var/log

Now save the bava.yml file.

After that, we need to edit the discourse settings for Nginx. Notice that Discourse is a Ruby application running on Nginx—two big reasons this application doesn’t run in a LAMP environment. Nginx is a web server, like Apache, but with different requirements than what’s bundled with a LAMP stack. Very few Ruby applications run in a LAMP environment, which means a whole generation of Ruby and Node.js web apps depend on a sysadmin to get running. One of the many reasons to be excited about Docker is that it can potentially make hosting these applications a lot easier. Anyway, we still have to edit Nginx.

Discourse 5

Got to:

cd /etc/nginx/sites-available

From there you need to edit the discourse file:

nano discourse

There will be a series of server settings for each of the discourse containers running. Copy one, and paste it at the end of the file and edit it to work for your container. For example, I replaced the URL I am running my container at (discourse.bavatuesdays.com) as well as putting bava in the proxy_pass file path:

server {

        listen 80;

        # change this

        server_name discourse.bavatuesdays.com;

        client_max_body_size 100M;

        location / {

        proxy_pass http://unix:/var/discourse/shared/bava/nginx.http.sock:;

                proxy_set_header Host $http_host;

                proxy_http_version 1.1;

                proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-For $proxy_add_x_forwarded_for;

        }

}

Now you need to go to the /var/discourse directory and bootstrap the container and then run it. Below are the commands. When you bootstrap it will take a little while, because that is where an image of your discourse application is being created in the container.

sudo ./launcher bootstrap bava

Discourse 8

If it bootstraps successfully it will tell you as much, and then you can start the application:

sudo ./launcher start bava

If that works, you need to remember to restart Nginx using the command below:

Discourse 11

service nginx restart

We talked about mapping an A-record above, well if you haven’t done that your Discourse application won’t be visible anywhere. So, this might be a good time to go to the DNS Zone editor for the domain you want this to point to and add the IP address of the server to an A-record. It should look something like this:

Discourse 6After that, you should have a brand spanking new discourse application up and running. I still have yet to play with discourse.bavatuesdays.com, so that should be a future post.

Discourse 10

What’s cool is that if I run the docker ps command in terminal, I can see all the containers running discourse.

Screen Shot 2015-08-01 at 10.19.15 PM

If we could automate this process, which I imagine is possible, we could have a server that provides discourse instances for anyone that wants one. Making hosting an application like this relatively easy. And, unlike shared hosting or a multi-site application, the fact that it is in a container means it would not effect any of the others. Trippy and cool.

02 Aug 04:30

Lightning on a fresh install of Thunderbird

by El Guru

The machine I upgraded to Windows 10 on Saturday did not have Thunderbird installed. I did a clean install of Thunderbird 38.1.0 with a clean profile. Upon first run I noticed Lightening was already there along with some options at the bottom:

First run of a fresh install of Thunderbird 38.1.0

First run of a fresh install of Thunderbird 39.1.0

I like the way Mozilla has this setup that you can either keep or disable Lightning. This is what they should have done with Pocket in Firefox.

02 Aug 08:37

The smartphone is the new sun

by Benedict Evans

Today, there are well over 2bn smartphones in use, and there are between 3.5 and 4.5bn people with a mobile phone of some kind, out of only a little over 5bn adults on earth. Over the next few years almost all of the people who don't yet have a phone will get one, and almost all of the phones on earth will become smartphones. A decade ago some of that was subject to debate - today it isn't. What all those people pay for data, and how they charge their phones, may be a challenge, but the smartphone itself is close to a universal product for humanity - the first the tech industry has ever had. 

With billions of people buying a device every two years, on average, the phone business dwarfs the PC business, which has an install base of 1.5-1.6bn devices replaced every 4-5 years. PC sales are a bit over 300m units a year where phone sales are now close to 2bn, of which well over half, and growing, are now smartphones. 

That in turn means that the smartphone supply chain is replacing the PC supply chain as a key driver of the tech industry. In the past if you wanted to put a 'computer' in something, after a certain level of complexity that meant a PC - commodity PC components and a commodity PC operating system (i.e. Linux or Windows). Hence, ATMs run Windows XP. Mobile supplants that with a new supply chain. The smartphone wars mean there's now a firehose of cheap, low-power, ever-more-sophisticated smartphone components available for anyone else to use - it's as though someone dumped a shipping container worth of Lego on the floor and we're working out what to make. In parallel, the contract manufacturers that make all of those smartphones can also make other things with those components. These two factors - the components and the contract manufacturers, together the supply chain -  are behind the explosion of smart devices of every kinds - drones, wearables, internet of things, connected homes, cars, TVs and so on. 

All of this also means that the companies and places that set the agenda in tech have changed. In the past you'd have gone to Seattle, Finland and Japan to see the future, or you'd have talked to Microsoft, Intel, Nokia or NTT DoCoMo. Now, you talk to Apple, Google or Facebook, Qualcomm, Mediatek or ARM, and go to the San Francisco Bay area, or China. 

When we ask, then, how many people will own a smart watch, or a tablet or smart thermostat and so on, or how connected cars work, or who will control them or what software they will run, it seems to me that the best way to think of this is as a solar system - the smartphone is the Sun and everything else orbits around it. Those other segments might be big or small and near or far, and there will be moons too. Some will be full of life, some interesting, some important, others boring but worthwhile. Some, like Pluto, might not seem to have much to do with the smartphone at all, really (smart meters, perhaps?), but the pull is always there in some form. Some devices will have their own computing and UI and leverage smartphone components, and others will just be dumb glass, sensors or pipes that are explicitly dependent on a smartphone. But for almost everything,  the smartphone industry supplies the components and manufacturers, and the smartphone itself is mostly how you control and interact.

In this light, incidentally, Satya Nadella's suggestion that Xbox is no longer core was as interesting as the end of 'Windows Everywhere' (which I discussed here). Microsoft has been working on adding computing to TV since before phones even had screens. But it turns out that it's the smartphone, not the TV, that's  the centre of the experience, and the TV is dumb glass just as the mobile network is a dumb pipe. 

 

02 Aug 16:55

We are getting closer to the dream of the 1980s and 1990s: software reuse

by Mark Watson, author and consultant

I worked (mostly) at SAIC in the 1980s and 1990s. In the groups I worked in we developed large software systems (sometimes with hardware components) for customers. Software reuse was a dream back then that was largely unfulfilled. Our procedure for reuse was mostly cut and paste from old projects, with some effort to write reusable libraries. There was also a movement to use commercial off the shelf (COTS) software.

It occurred to me recently that we are now much closer to the dream of widespread software reuse. What has changed is a healthy open source (and libre) software ecosystem of trusted and vetted libraries, frameworks, and complete applications. I tend to trust software from FSF and the Apache Foundation, for example. Organizations and individuals are motivated to release software for a variety of reasons: for help in development and bug detection, for good publicity and self promotion, and sometimes for ego. All good reasons!

My process when starting a new project is to first identify existing open source software that I can build on. My choice of programming language is often dictated by the language used in the open source software projects that would be most beneficial to my project. It is a thrill to build a new project using mostly existing software. This greatly reduces the cost of projects and I think also greatly increases developer satisfaction. Who wants to spend 6 months writing a project mostly from scratch when it can be done much more quickly building on other people's work.

For me the magic that makes this all happen is public repositories like github and bitbucket. The cost of evaluating an open source project for reuse can be very low: a git clone, build, run the tests, look at the tests, and read through the documentation and source code.

So I believe that we have made incredible progress in software reuse in the last 30 years.

02 Aug 14:07

Pedophiles, JK, AKB48 and Trolls

by jakeadelstein

Few thing we have written, gathered as many responses as:  In Japan, Teenage Girls Folding Paper Cranes Has Taken on a Whole New Meaning. The article is a companion piece to the VICE Documentary, “Schoolgirls For Sale” which examines Japan’s weird and creepy industry that makes money off the backs of high school girls and boys.

The response from readers to both the English article and the Japanese translation of the article was tremendous. We are not saying that if you’re an AKB48 fan that you’re a pedophile. We are using the band as a means of discussing the endemic and exploitive nature of the JK Business.  Maybe if you really are fans of these girls, you should lean on the management to pay them better and ensure they have a decent life after their youth is misspent.

Two trolls in particular have jumped all over the article—the two trolls seem to be a team. I usually ignore them but since they seem intent on defaming my co-worker I’ll address them briefly.

I know you’re not supposed to feed the trolls, but sometimes I feel like stuffing their mouths with information until they choke on it.  (Trolls: please confine your spiteful attacks to me in the future.  Thank you)

In the journalist community we know them as Creepy Johnson and Creepec for their habit of harassing other journalists, especially women. Creepy Johnson began harassing me in 2011 after I failed to respond to his demand that I clear his name. (He had been denied entry into Japan). He writes to every publication I work for hassling my editors; he harasses and stalks anyone who he thinks might be my friend, especially if they’re female.

I gave him the benefit of the doubt, by not naming in him the first time I dealt with him, because it’s standard journalism policy in Japan to shield the names of the possibly mentally ill, but he outed himself anyway. I’m not giving these two the attention they crave by using their real names or twitter handles. If you want to find them, you can. 

Creepy Johnson, the top half of the duo, is infamous for getting fired from Japan’s Public Broadcaster NHK, after threatening to sexually molest the children (boy and girl) of another reporter there. He left a recording on the answering machine—a not very brilliant move. Here’s an excerpt:

 By all means, do go and tell your side of the story to them, motherfucker.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, I heard that your daughter gives really good head… and so does your son.
Hey, I wanted to hear if your children are getting a good sleep because… when you get fired, and I get fired, you’re going to have to put your kids out of international school and into Japanese school and I’ll be waiting for them. (2007)

So Creepec, who apparently approves of his idol’s behavior sent me a list of questions demanding answers, for an “article” he’s writing. The letter is very much like one Creepy Johnson sent me years ago. I bring up the association between these two because I feel like it’s important to understand the motives of the trolls. And wow, these guys are persistent. The questions themselves are nasty and unpleasant and belittle the efforts of a friend and co-writer. This really makes me angry. But okay, here are my brief answers.

Q & A with a troll. 

1). Did VICE fact check your work in any way?

Yes.*

*Journalism 101. If you ask a “yes/no” question, you will get a “yes/no” answer more often than not.

2. What was Angela Kubo’s contribution to this piece? Does she have any significant journalistic experience? Is she a 23 year old full-time employee of an accounting firm who you hired when she was working at a bar in Roppongi

Angela Kubo was an assistant editor at the Diplomat when I hired her to work for me and she was paid a good salary in a time when many interns work for free. She had graduated from college. She writes for The Japan Times and is a very talented young bilingual writer. This means she can read Japanese, something you don’t seem able to do. Her former boss Jeff Quigley certainly vouched for her work (see his full comments below)  and also, as I do, finds your insinuations cheap and low. He is angry with your underhanded smears.

Unless you’re a rich kid, you have to work to pay your way through college. She did not work at “a bar in Roppongi.” She worked at an event space that serves food and drinks. I won’t name the restaurant because you’ll simply harass them. “Roppongi bar-girl”– you seem to be making some sly allusion that she was doing something shady. That’s mean-spirited. She is just starting her career but has been writing for two years. She writes ten times better than Creepy Johnson did at the peak of his self-destructive career.

For the article, she read books and numerous articles on AKB48, in Japanese, did research on the group in Japanese, proof-read  for grammatical mistakes, and reached out for comments. Angela Kubo is also a Japanese-American woman who understands both cultures and went to high school in Japan. She is uniquely qualified to comment on the JK Business and how it generates problems for all women in Japan.

Where she works now is not something I feel would be acceptable to divulge to someone who I believe is a cyber stalker. Nice fishing attempt. Also: creepy question.

3. Do you feel it is fair to label the manager of AKB48 as having yakuza connections based on only rumor. Would you, for example, accuse Katy Perry’s manager of being tied to the mob if you heard such a story and were writing for an American publication?

When weekly magazine Shukan Shincho reported on AKB48 management past ties to the yakuza, no one was surprised. The JK Business is a seedy con game and who knows how to run one better than former criminal associates & loan sharks?

When weekly magazine Shukan Shincho reported on AKB48 management past ties to the yakuza, no one was surprised. The JK Business is a seedy con game and who knows how to run one better than former criminal associates & loan sharks?

I’m not a Katy Perry expert. It’s not based on rumour.

See a portion of the article on this page in Japanese. There are photos. There is HUMINT from the police force.  I have a list of 800 former members of the Goto-gumi and spent months nagging at them until I found some that confirmed the photos and explained to me what they knew of the AKB48 management’s past relation to organized crime. I did the same with police sources.  The management has never sued the magazine or other publications for making these allegations.There are several other sources related to this. If I have time, I may put a list of them here. They are not all on-line. Some of them only exist as books and printed materials. Yep.

I have written about AKB48’s unsavoury ties in 財界展望 in Japanese and haven’t been sued yet. What else would you like? A signed confession from the management?

4. I don’t see any evidence that you actually interviewed a girl from the sex trade or a cop. Why would you expect me to believe you? Jason Blair fabricated stories. How is this piece diffeemet from one of his that got him fired.

In journalism, we don’t reveal our sources, especially if they are police officers. Or if they are victims of certain crimes which still carry a social stigma, such as rape or sexual assault. This is why VICE blurred out the faces of the women they interviewed. It is not difficult to interview women who have been in the JK business. It’s done all the time. We do it at Lighthouse, a non-profit organization in Japan.

I don’t really get your Jason Blair question but let’s take your logic and ask you a question. Your friend threatens to sexually molest children and stalks women. Since you have never publicly disavowed him, why should I believe you are any different and not a sexually perverse, potentially harmful individual? What proof do you have that you are not?

Also, you misspelled “different”.

5. Many claim that you were mainly used for fluff pieces at the Yomiuri but you claim you were on the crime beat. What is your response.

Who is many? You and Creepy Johnson? I was at the Yomiuri Shimbun from 1993 to 2005.  I was in the 警視庁記者クラブ for nearly two years.  Go to G-Search and look for articles written under my name. Most reporters don’t get by-lines but I wrote several feature pieces where I was credited. I have contributed to books on crime in Japan written while I was at the newspaper.

Try doing some research. You may have to take time and money to do it and translate it but be my guest. I have a real job. I’m not going to do your work for you.

I have no idea what the hell you do for a living or why you have such a man-crush on me and why you seem to be a sexist creeper who is overly sensitive to being made fun of. 😛

PS. “Japan has one of the worst levels of gender equality in the developed world, below that of Tajikistan and Indonesia, coming in 104th out of 142 assessed countries in 2014, according to a study released Tuesday by the World Economic Forum.” That’s from a Japan Times article. You can find the original study if you like. It’s very hard for women here to break into any profession. So when white self-entitled elitists like yourself ridicule young women here trying to make it as journalists because 1) they didn’t go to journalism school 2) they worked at an event space (that served drinks) to pay their college tuition and 3) imply they must be using their looks to get work—and  ignore their efforts, the articles they have written, and their past experience just for the sake of trolling–you discourage other young women from entering our profession. And that’s unfortunate.

It’s condescending and sexist attitudes like yours that encourage women and girls to go into the JK Business in the first place, because they are made to believe that they will never be taken seriously or valued for their intellect and ability. Shame on you. 恥を知れ.

****

 

Jeff Quigley, Angela’s former editor has this to say about her and the accusations made by her troll.

Angela Kubo was my editorial assistant at The Diplomat for about six months in 2013-2014. She was still an undergraduate at this point, with a full courseload, but managed to put in 20 hours a week. She not only managed all of our social media postings (for anyone in online media, this is a job usually delegated to at least one full-time staff, if not a team, as it can make or break your visibility and thus success), but contributed two pieces a week. On top of all that, she even co-hosted our weekly podcast about current events in Japan.

Angela was punctual and dedicated despite the limited intern budget, and was always available to help me with quick translations or tracking down potential sources. To call her a ‘bar girl’ is not only grossly inaccurate, but an insult to anyone who didn’t grow up privileged enough to sail through higher education on their parents’ coin.

I myself worked multiple part-time jobs to get through university while pursuing media internships in the hopes that they would turn into a career down the road. If Angela is a “bar girl” then I suppose I’m just a “cash register boy” since I worked in retail while interning and pursuing my degree. I wouldn’t have survived without working outside of my internships, and insulting Angela for her hard work is disgraceful

 

02 Aug 15:04

Google, open web are natural allies

In 1998, when Google started, the blogging world was just getting started too, and the two fed on each other. We put knowledge on our blogs, they indexed them. So now we could find each other, and they had stuff worth finding.

In the last corner-turn, as our ideas have moved into silos, Twitter and Facebook, it's harder to create and find value. On Twitter because it's hard to pack much value into a 140-char soundbite, and on Facebook, the focus has been more social than knowledge-building.

But there are still unsolved problems in the open web, areas where Google has built new expertise, that has not yet been applied to the open web.

For example...

Categorization

Google has technology that can tell you who is in a picture and what they're doing. They can organize the photos by all kinds of attributes, time, location, other meaning.

We've been trying to add good categorization to blogs, over the years, and it's impossible to get most people to actually do it, even though we can make good, easy tools. I myself won't use them. I'm too scattered, my time is spread too thin to be able to do all the organizing that I feel I should.

Sometimes I think that's all that lies between me and a good book. The kind of thing that a robot could do for me, I think. And Google I'm pretty sure has that software.

Give me, a writer, tools to study my own writing, and to create new meta-documents that help others find the value. I think we're not very far from having some amazing tools here. There are more writing revolutions to come.

A social graph for the open web

Why should the only social graph belong to Facebook? Why aren't there dozens or hundreds of graphs on the open web, owned by no one? Facebook is just one possible graph. When we're done, there will be lots of graphs.

  1. I have a braintrust, the people I do development with. I'm always looking for people to add to the group, but I'm very selective about it. This will never be a large group.

  2. I have a list of favorite movies. If just ten of my friends had equivalent lists, I would be able to find new ideas for things to watch. Same with podcasts and TV series for binge-watching.

  3. I love to talk NBA. I have lots of friends who are into it, but no place to connect the dots.

  4. Cross-pollination. I often think it would be great to get all my friends in a room so I could introduce them to each other. A structure that just facilitated these intros would make a great UI for a new graph.

These are the kinds of problems made for individual creative people, the kinds of people we enabled with blogging software. But because the leadership turned to silos, we never got to really explore them. This is why it would be a good idea for Google to realize that our interests are aligned, and that they could show some leadership. Would be easy for them.

We have the tools, we know how to structure the data, none of it is far from being realized, we just need leadership. If Google would embrace OPML, for example, or a format like it (attributed hierarchies with inclusion), a lot of new stuff would happen very quickly. We already have lots of tools ready.

02 Aug 16:28

They forgot the readers

Peter Baker, a reporter at the NYT posted a dismissive tweet about the mess with the Hillary Clinton emails. Technology companies do this too. It's easier to narrow your world to "players" and forget who's paying your salary. And that you're talking over their heads, and missing that the real damage isn't with the Clinton organization, but with your readers.

Let's review where we're at...

  1. Their source was anonymous.

  2. Therefore when we read the article we have no way of judging the trustworthyness of the source, we can only depend on the trust we have with the person who chose the source, the reporter.

  3. We only trust the reporter because the New York Times chose them to be the reporter of an important story.

  4. We know the Times has in the past chosen reporters who made up their own anonymous quotes, or used anonymous quotes from the people they were covering. Each of those times the apology was insufficient to erase the damage done to our trust of them.

  5. You can blame Hillary Clinton all you want, that just makes you look like you're covering something up. We have to suspect you as much as you're supposed to question the integrity of your anonymous sources, assuming the source actually exists.

  6. Every time the Times passes the buck when they are used by an anonymous source, saying they're only as good as their sources, in the future we have to assume every anonymous source is either Dick Cheney or a figment of the reporter's imagination.

  7. So it appears that the Times is bullshit top to bottom, and when pushed on that question, they don't deny it. They say everything but Mea culpa.

  8. Too bad, they used to have some self-respect, or so it seemed.

PS: Thanks to Jay Rosen for the pointer.

PPS: The Times really needs an editor to rep the interests of readers. They don't have one. Margaret Sullivan is repping the NYT internal line. Misses the point. It's not the mistake that the Times made, they will make mistakes. It's the weasel-like way they dealt with it. The Times readers are uniquely intelligent people, and aren't so easily fooled or dismissed. The issue, is with readers, not the Clintons.

02 Aug 16:35

“I’m worried about my coffee intake, but otherwise things are going great.”

by rands

Me over at TechCrunch:

There’s three models I’ve seen in the last decade. At Apple, engineering and design run the show. Those are the two big things, they’ve got some sort of leadership team but those are the two functions. It seems to be working well. The one I most recently saw is Palantir, which is famously mostly engineers. They run the show. There’s a design component as well, but what do you know about Palantir? What are they up to? They’re doing amazing things and it’s all amazing engineers.

But when you talk about a broad appeal service like us, you want a balance of those three folks. You want the engineers to have the voice of the technology. You want to have the designers who are the voice of the users, that handle the consistency, the beauty and the taste. And you have the product side — and this is a hard side — which is, what is the strategy, how does it all fit together. All the disciplines, technology, taste, strategy are all melded together.

#

02 Aug 18:15

A Love letter to Flickr

“Dear Flickr

We go back a few years, don't we. We started hanging out in 2006, and officially hooked up in May of 2007, and have been together since. I've not always spent as much time with you as I would have liked, but the relationship was steady, and when I took photographs, you showed them to the world, in the hopes that others would enjoy them as much as we did.

“Over the years, you started to take the helm more and more, deciding what we could show our visitors, taking way the short descriptions I worked so hard on to make sure visitors understood what they were looking at, turning my gallery into a "wallpaper" because some of your friends saw other people do that and it looked cool, adding ways to display my photographs for me that I didn't appreciate, and most recently, claiming that people prefer to view my works as if they were looking through my portfolio as a "camera roll".

“I think you need to come back to me and sit down for a bit, so we can talk about this. You've started running this Photography exhibit on your own, without so much as even asking me, or letting me say "no, this is not how I want people to experience our shared efforts, they are bad", just steamrolling ahead like you know what's best for us.

“You used to be about showing the world photographs

“Remember when you loved photography? You were enthusiastic about tons of people having photos they wanted to show the world, with as much detail as possible, curated the way they thought the photos worked best, with a default exhibit space that allowed people to browse the walls, walk up to photos that looked interesting, and read the descriptions, even letting them walk over to the more detailed floor guide for each work to get all the additional information that we, the curators, thought would be pertinent.

“Those were happy times. You ran the art gallery, I had the art, and people could come in and immediately enjoy what we, together, had to offer.

“But then you shut down the art gallery, and started a hip, new, place. One I did not understand.

“I just wanted the world to enjoy my work

“Your hip new place took the works I had made, and instead of hanging them on the wall, easy to walk past, with titles and descriptions that people could read and feel good about, you decided to just tile a single wall with every photo I ever took. I don't know how you did it, but the wall ran on forever. Every photograph we ever exhibit was on it, but none of them said what they were of, or gave any details about why it was taken, or worth looking at.

“I confess, I didn't understand why you did it. I hated it. What use is a wall that is so long that people can't even get to the end? Is there even an end? I never got to it - much like everyone else, after walking for 5 minutes I was so overstimulated with just contextless, meaningless "pictures" that I left my own exhibit and went across town to galleries like Imgur, and if I felt particularly depressed, Fukung.

“You made me unhappy.

“You did realise you were hurting our relationship, I think...

“I stuck with you, but I wasn't happy. You were doing things that I saw didn't just hurt me, but were hurting everyone around us. All our friends who you represented felt the same. Some of them initially liked the hip new look, but many of them just didn't understand it. How did this help people enjoy our work?

“So you backed off a little. You spaced out the artworks a bit, so people wouldn't experience sensory overload so much, but you still left off the descriptions, saying people would reach for the exhibit guide if they wanted more information.

“But that's not how exhibits work, and user visits for individual works plummeted.

“I think you noticed that, too. I had hoped you would do the sensible thing, but I think you took it the wrong way and started doing things that felt, to me, like desperation. Instead of focussing on better exhibit organisation, and playbooks for how to set up specific kinds of exhibits, you decided to move our gallery to the conference center you just bought, and open it up to everyone, for free, with unlimited gallery space for all.

“When I asked you how you were paying for all of this, you smiled and said "we're getting sponsored by some big name companies, and we'll be hanging their product posters in between photographs". I can't believe you said that, it's like I was talking to someone who didn't care about photography anymore, or even exhibiting good collections of art works.

“This was someone who had lost interest and was finding pleasures in figuring out new and creative ways to make numbers go up.

“You even tried to cancel our exhibition contract, saying that because you now allowed everyone, of course that included me.

“That hurt.

“And you became a bit anti-social, too.

“Remember how we could see what friends were exhibiting in your other galleries? You changed that so that it wasn't even possible to see what a single friend was doing. Where we used to be able to see that seven friends had updated their exhibition space, now we needed to scroll through a long, unorganized list of updates. It became impossible to keep tabs on what other people were doing in the photograph space we once ran together.

“What's the point of recommending following "people I might know", for instance, (I think you liked Twitter, you clearly just repeated what they were doing, but they had a reason for it, and you, I think, didn't) if I then cannot see what these people have been doing? It was confusing.

“You were confusing me, Flickr.

“It's true: I tried going it alone for a bit

“You were driving me away, to the point where I was looking for ways to get my artwork back from you, in a way that would let me exhibit it the way we used to do. Letting people walk around the space, and lean over to read a description here and there, grabbing the exhibit guide when they really wanted, and letting them get as close to the works as they wanted. Remember that blank wall we used to have where people could take individual photographs and hang them up, on their own? I wanted to add that back in, too.

“I couldn't find any art galleries that would do what you used to do. So I rented a space, and started my own. I wrote a playbook on how to set up a gallery in our old style, and for a while I was happy. I could tell people to just visit my gallery while you did you own thing at your corporate conference center and I could ignore you.

“I even came up with some ideas that worked for me, like a film strip while navigating, and I sent you text messages telling you what I'd done and that I didn't like what you were doing right now, but felt it would benefit everyone if you copied those ideas. I think you acted on some of those texts, although of course not on all of them.

“Ultimately, of course, I couldn't drive enough people to my own little art gallery. They all knew about your conference center, and while I had a small clique of friends who knew where my exhibits "really" ran, it was too much effort to keep up with multiple exhibitions across town.

“It feels like you're coming back, though

“I've not been the nicest to you, I know. We drifted apart, but it feels like you realised that. Or, at least, understand that what you've been doing has perhaps been more about "just making numbers go up" than about "getting the world to love the exhibits you run", and you've started to change your ways a little.

“I very recently posted a short notice in a local paper about how I would love it if you brought back personal contracts, so that we could track exhibit numbers together, and the next day you announced that was coming back. I was overjoyed!

“There's a ways to go yet, but it feels like we're at a point in this relationship where I can either walk away, or I can confess all these frustrations I've had over the last seven years, and hope that some of them make sense to you, even if they make you angry because I'm pointing them out. I think you deserve to be angry at me, as long as we can work together to channel that anger, and bring back the joy of exhibiting photographs to the world.

“There's some odd things I don't understand, that maybe you can explain, or maybe you can look at and go "yeah, these things don't make much sense, I was just trying out things to see whether any of it would stick". The Camera Roll, for instance, serves no purpose that I can tell. Maybe you have a plan for it, but it feels like something you should take back out until you know what that is.

“You're still just showing photographs on the walls, instead of putting up the little description plaques next to them.

“It's still very hard for people to see the full size photographs, too. Instead of letting people walk up close to each work, you did something clever with lenses, and instead when people try to walk closer, you keep them where they are and just zoom in on the reduced work. I... don't think that's a nice thing to do to people.

“Sure, you added "lots of interactions" for people, but you haven't labeled any of them. They're just hieroglyphs that people need to guess at, and there are so many of them that it feels like you're, at least at this point in your life, preferring option overload over just letting people experience the works at their own pace.

“But you're also improved some things, and that's the part that I think matters most.

“Let's talk?

“I'm writing you this letter because I don't know how to talk to you right now. I tried calling a few times, but it goes to an answering machine that tells me to come to the conference center and leave my issues with the info desk. That's not fair, I think. Of course, you need an info desk for regular questions, or reports of where your exhibits got damaged, or a door got stuck, stuff like that, but the info desk is not a place where you and I can talk about the fundamental changes that I think are hurting not just you and I, but also this town we live in. It used to be full of art galleries, and you've slowly turned it into a wallpaper farm.

“That wasn't nice, and I'm sorry for having said that, but that's where we are. Can we talk?

“I still love you, but it's hard

“I don't know what to do, hopefully you still want to be friends, and we can talk this through, but I have no powerful punchline to end this letter with. We both want, I think, to show the world great art, but the way you've been doing it the last few years and allowed other towns to do it better, and rather than learning from that, you've just been adding more and more things that drive more and more people away. I want to help you fix that. I want to bring back spontaneous, discoverable, enjoyable exhibits to our town. Without destroying everything you built up.

“With more love than my friends tell me you deserve,

— Pomax”

02 Aug 00:32

When driverless cars take over

by alevin

The trouble with Reid Hoffman’s provocative suggestion that human driving ought to be made illegal that once self-driving cars are commercially available is not that it’s a bad idea. The trouble is a technodeterminist vision of the future of electric cars, taking for granted the existing, comprehensive set of policies that currently makes driving essential for most people for most trips in the US.

When automobiles became mainstream in mid-20th century America, they were seen as bringing freedom, speed and mobility. To take best advantage of the new technology, we set up rules for our streets and new places to facilitate free, fast movement of cars. Zoning rules defined peaceful, quiet neighborhoods with curvy, disconnected streets and easy drive and a long walk from the wide roads that allowed speedy car access to shopping, schools and workplaces. The wide roads eliminated obstacles to speedy travel, such as trees and crossing pedestrians; parking requirements ensured enough room for everyone even at crowded periods.

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 7.47.49 PM.png

The hopeful planners did not foresee that funnelling the entire working population into arterials and freeways in the morning and afternoon, would cause intractable traffic jams. Policy makers did not imagine that requiring car trips for all the needs of daily life would contribute to sedentary lifestyles, chronic health problems and environmental pollution. Though policy makers were quite deliberate about the intentions of financing and road-building policies to promote greenfield growth, giving some people unprecedented access to sunny, landscaped estates, and escape from the dark, dangerous, crowded cities. (see: Crabgrass Frontier, Dead End)

Full of optimism, we did not see that this new technology – private cars – had a few disadvantages compared to 2 million year old technology – walking on two feet – that used regularly keeps us physically and mentally healthy (now we have new wearable, networked technology to remind us to use the 2 million year old system). The new automobile technology also had some disadvantages compared to century-old transit technology, which can fit many more people at crowded travel periods.

New technology reminds us to use old technology

New technology reminds us to use old technology

The new technology was valuable, but we overused it, and we shaped our world using a set of policies to require the new technology even where it is not the best tool for the job. Technology creates new options, but societies makes choices about the ways the technology will be used.

A similar technodetermism is influencing conversations about self-driving cars. Eager proponents note that autonomous vehicles will be able to platoon and take up less space on freeways and arterials – but cars still take up more space than buses and trains, as Jarrett Walker reminds us. Instead, autonomous vehicles could provide handy first/last mile access to high-capacity transit.

Vehicle geometry

Vehicle geometry

Proponents note that autonomous vehicles will park themselves, so they won’t require as much real estate devoted to parking. Yes, but if all the autonomous vehicles are used at the same time, they will still be underused at the same time.   And when we cluster places with different functions, it becomes easier for people to use ancient technology for many trips and for socializing, freeing up even more space.

Supporters foresee that driverless cars will popularize living in the furthest exurbs, since commuters will be able to relax, work, and even use an exercycle while the car drives itself. And this may be preferable for some people; it’s not clear why society should prefer and promote commuting 50 miles with a bicycle enclosed in a shell of metal, rather than 5 miles on cycle tracks under a big blue roof.

The last 60 years have contributed plenty of evidence about ways that the overuse of cars has led to unintended consequences. Autonomous vehicles may well become much safer than notoriously lethal human drivers, such that it will be beneficial to ban driving.

It may be a great idea from a public-health perspective. It would surely be huge benefit to providers of self-driving cars, because it would shorten the decade-plus long cycle to turn over the installed base of cars (the average car on the road is 11 years old.)

Hoffman predicts “An asphalt utopia is on the horizon. ”  The proponents of horseless carriages also envisioned an asphalt utopia, and rewrote the rules to promote that utopia.  While we are doing thought experiments about this potentially transformative policy change, it would be helpful to think through the interlocking set of policies that were created when cars were new, and to consider how we want to use the next generation of new technology, rather than assuming that the new technology will be used for everyone and everything, because it is new.

01 Aug 15:43

Braintrust: Desktop for Ubuntu?

A question for the Scripting News braintrust...

First, remember that I am working on the new EC2 for Poets. I am talking about software that will be pre-installed on a Ubuntu-based AMI that's designed for people who use Macs and PCs, so they can run apps in the cloud.

I make several such apps, for example River4, PagePark, Noderunner and the amazingly useful and adaptable nodeStorage.

The best desktop for Ubuntu?

Now that the standard recital is out of the way...

I'm thinking about including a desktop interface, so that people who like Finder-like graphic filesystem browsers (such as myself, for example) in addition to command-line interfaces (for the discerning server connoisseur) will be happy using their cloud-based app server.

Which one?

There seem to be three choices.

  1. Gnome.

  2. Unity.

  3. Lubuntu.

I have no preference, and no basis to make a choice.

Please read before commenting

I know a lot of people will say "Don't do it," so you can skip that. I want to understand what the choices are if I choose to include a desktop in the AMI. I expect a few people won't read this and will write long missives about why this is Not A Good Idea. To them I say zzzz, in advance.

Dan MacTough's howto

In January 2014 I was emailing with Dan MacTough on this question, and he wrote a howto for installing VNC on a server and connecting to it from the Mac desktop.

30 Jul 15:48

The Secret Language of Desire

Megan Heyward

A lyrical erotic story for the iPad by the Australian hypertext writer-filmmaker who wrote the haunting dreamscape Of Day, Of Night. This isn't a hypertext, precisely, but a series of vignettes, artfully typeset against (mildly) interactive illustration.

It’s published for the iPad. It costs $4. You should get a copy.

Not every image works here, and not every gesture does everything we might wish. That’s OK. Not every little work needs to be a perfect gem or a revelation. A youngish women rediscovers desire; it's been said before, but it’s not been said this way. And so now our language is a little bigger and a little better.

Em Short has, as usual, a well-wrought review.

31 Jul 16:48

Falsehoods Programmers Believe

Falsehoods programmers believe: a list of lists about false assumptions on names, addresses, geography, time, and more. Great stuff. Via Michael Tsai, via Jeff Atwood.

When you see a list like:

  1. There are always 24 hours in a day.
  2. Months have either 30 or 31 days.
  3. Years have 365 days.
  4. February is always 28 days long.
  5. Any 24-hour period will always begin and end in the same day (or week, or month).

You veer between “oh, that would be stupid” and “oh, that would never really come up.” You’d be amazed how often you really bump into these things. There’s a bug in the Tinderbox tests that panics the day before Daylight Savings Time. We used to have a February 29th bug – and my next-door neighbor has a Feb. 29 birthday, so you’d think I’d know about that. And – fast! if it’s now 12:59:00 PM on December 24, what’s the date exactly sixty seconds from now?

30 Jul 22:43

Twitter Favorites: [danudey] I can see this being really useful for e.g. grepping a file then clearing output without wiping your entire history. https://t.co/nDOGjc9OSO

Wile E. Cyrus @danudey
I can see this being really useful for e.g. grepping a file then clearing output without wiping your entire history. twitter.com/danielboedewad…
01 Aug 15:14

Twitter Favorites: [TheDrewStarr] Just saw a sweet old lady give tourists completely wrong directions to Fenway Park. I caught her eye. "Yankees fans," she said.

Drew Starr @TheDrewStarr
Just saw a sweet old lady give tourists completely wrong directions to Fenway Park. I caught her eye. "Yankees fans," she said.
01 Aug 15:57

Twitter Favorites: [apike] Can’t Stop the Music: the ups and downs of trying to play music on iOS. http://t.co/5b96eWYQ9j

Allen Pike @apike
Can’t Stop the Music: the ups and downs of trying to play music on iOS. allenpike.com/2015/cant-stop…
01 Aug 18:41

Twitter Favorites: [heyrickie] Saw this person on the bus earlier. I just hope it's the last time she wears those suspenders. #transittales http://t.co/DX9V9OELf9

Eric Bucad @heyrickie
Saw this person on the bus earlier. I just hope it's the last time she wears those suspenders. #transittales pic.twitter.com/DX9V9OELf9
01 Aug 21:41

Competitive Outrage

by Rex Hammock

I haven’t commented on the outrage of the week, the killing of Zimbabwe’s “most beloved lion,” Cecil, by a big game hunting dentist from Minnesota named Walter Palmer.

By the time I was aware of the Cecil killing, the internet outrage was far more than anything I could come up with, so I passed even tweeting about it. Besides, the only thing I could think of to say that I hadn’t seen before was how white the dentist’s teeth were — obviously, a Photoshop job.

The competitive nature of internet outrage is fascinating.

My recent post about the Confederate flag could certainly be categorized in the competitive outrage genre. And I’ve been holding off on a review of Go Set a Watchman because, after reading it, I haven’t been able to care enough about the book to conjure up the competitive outrage it deserves.

Rather than attempt to explain what I mean by competitive, I’ve decided I can’t come close to the essay, “My Outrage is Better Than Your Outrage,” by James Hamblin at TheAtlantic.com.

He does it so much better. Quote:

“The Internet launders outrage and returns it to us as validation, in the form of likes and stars and hearts. The greatest return comes from a strong and superior point of view, on high moral ground. And there is, fortunately and unfortunately, always higher moral ground. Even when a dentist kills an adorable lion, and everyone is upset about it, there’s better outrage ground to be won.

“The most widely accepted hierarchy of outrage seems to be (note: I’ve added rearranged Hamblin’s following list into a graphic hierarchy):

*************End of all life due to uninhabitable planet
***********Systematic killing of humans
*********Systematic oppression/torture of people
******Systematic killing of animals
****Multiple animals killed
**Single animal killed
Single animal injured

“To say that there’s a more important issue in the world is always true, except in the case of climate change ending all life, both human and animal. So it’s meaningless, even if it’s fun, to go around one-upping people’s outrage. Try it. Someone will express legitimate concern over something, and all you have to do is say there are more important things to be concerned about.

“All you have to do is use the phrase “spare me” and then say something about global warming. You can literally write, “My outrage is more legit than your outrage! Ahhh!”

Read the entire essay here.

02 Aug 00:03

Review: Smartphones and the NissanConnect infotainment system

by Ted Kritsonis

It’s not a stretch to suggest that Nissan doesn’t have a reputation for cutting-edge infotainment. Japanese car manufacturers have made leaps and bounds in safety, fuel economy and proximity awareness, but the dashboard continues to be a difficult road.

This is, in many respects, an industry-wide problem that has proven difficult to solve, and Nissan’s NissanConnect is no closer to doing so than any of its competitors. In offering navigation, basic integration and connectivity, the system is in line with much of what’s already available elsewhere, but how does it measure up when put through its paces?

To find out, I took a fully-loaded 2015 Nissan Rogue for a weeklong test drive.

Design and setup

At first glance, NissanConnect seems fairly straightforward. The 7-inch display isn’t particularly vibrant, and the software’s aesthetics come across as uninspiring. The touchscreen display is flanked by all the buttons that help control the system, offering shortcuts to the various features offered.

The system also eschews icons in favour of text-heavy menus and graphics. It’s not as boring as it may sound, given that the layout is done in such a way where most things are easy to find. The hard buttons around the screen do come in handy for getting to a specific feature without even looking at the display.

There is a USB port under the display, along with a 12-volt socket next to it. These are the primary Aux-In inputs in the car, though I also found a 3.5mm jack in the centre console as well.

NissanConnect app_1

Smartphone integration

Not surprisingly, pairing via Bluetooth was a breeze the first time. I was already connected and streaming music in less than three minutes. Basic navigation controls to switch tracks is easy enough, though I noted inconsistencies there. There were times where trying to skip a track, either from the steering wheel controls or the dash, did nothing. Other times, I had to plug in the phone via the USB connection below to make it work.

At one point, my iPhone refused to stream music to the system after three days of testing. I raised the volume, tried unpairing and re-pairing, closing and re-opening apps. Nothing worked. Phone calls would be fine, but not the music for some inexplicable reason. When trying it again on my last day with the car, re-pairing it once more seemed to fix whatever bizarre issue it was.

Voice activation isn’t truly integrated with any third-party, including Siri Eyes Free, thereby underutilizing what could be a much better path to get things done. For example, Nissan smartly includes a feature that notifies drivers of an incoming text message. If I wanted to know what it was, I could press the accept button onscreen and it would appear or read it aloud. This worked flawlessly with Android (Jelly Bean or higher) and BlackBerry, but the latter didn’t for the iPhone.

To be fair, this isn’t Nissan’s fault because Apple regulates voice activation in vehicles through Siri Eyes Free. Nissan in the United States did announce that some 2016 models will support it, and it’s highly likely that Canada would be included in such a rollout, except such a feature is never backward compatible with past vehicles.

Not having texts read out became more of an issue for me after getting accustomed to it on Android and BlackBerry. With some other automakers having already integrated Siri Eyes Free in their 2015 vehicles, Nissan is late to the game. Still, audible texting, including the ability to respond vocally, is also a strength Nissan could play up more. In other systems I’ve tested, I never had the opportunity to respond to someone using my voice unless there was deeper voice integration or canned responses.

Making calls is easy enough, albeit with unnecessary steps. Pressing the voice activation button on the steering wheel, I had to wait for the system to ask me what I wanted before I could issue a command. I could say “call (name)” so long as they were on my contact list. But to call a phone number, I had to say “call”, then “dial” and then recite the number. It was pointless red tape to make a simple call to someone not on my contact list.

App integration

By default, NissanConnect supports Facebook, Twitter, Google and TripAdvisor, but no streaming music or mapping apps (outside of its own navigation map). Facebook and Twitter is fairly limited, letting you have tweets and home feed statuses read out to you, while also allowing you to customize canned tweets or status updates that you can post. You can also retweet something on a whim.

As someone who has never been a fan of social media prominence in a vehicle, I only tested them before shutting them down on the NissanConnect app. It just isn’t for me.

Beyond that, Google and TripAdvisor are too specialized to warrant much consideration. Doing a Google search requires the phone’s data connection, which is a wasteful redundancy. I would rather have a passenger do it, or if alone, do it on the phone when I’ve stopped somewhere. Same with TripAdvisor.

Metadata for music playing from a music app or streaming service will appear onscreen (cover art requires plugging in via USB), but there is no way to use a mapping app of your choice.

Outside of that, the free NissanConnect app doesn’t offer much depth. It’s the only way to integrate the four supported apps, and does include some vehicle-specific features as a car owner, but is otherwise not required to use the system.

NissanConnect 2_1

Wrap Up

For a basic system, NissanConnect does the basics well enough. Bluetooth connectivity is standard. Streaming music is fairly easy, with the odd hiccup. Calling and texting is also fine, especially for Android and BlackBerry. Beyond that, however, the system is disjointed and fraught with features that aren’t executed well.

This is familiar territory, and NissanConnect is more symptomatic of the auto industry’s struggle to stay in touch with the rapid speed of mobile development. Drivers who only need the basics of Bluetooth will be fine, but the tech-savvy ones will grow impatient with the lack of depth beyond those basics.

29 Jul 16:35

Going Beyond Thank You, Changing Member Behaviour

by Richard Millington

Every time a member makes makes a great contribution to any type of social group, you have an incredible opportunity to increase the quantity and quality of future contributions.

Too often, we thank them. Gratitude is nice. It feels good. They might appreciate the gratitude – but it doesn’t change their behaviour or encourage future contributions.

Worse still, if your thank you feels forced, generic, or is similar to a message you’ve used for a member who has made a far poorer contribution, you will reduce the likelihood of that member making more or better contributions in the future. And today, most of our thank you’s feel forced.

We need to stop thanking members.

Members don’t create great content for your gratitude. They create great content to help the community or achieve a level of status within your community. Every time they create content, they need to know that the content rapidly helped them achieve one of those two goals.

Instead of thanking a member, highlight the impact the contribution has made to the community. Ask for a further related contribution. Tell the member about other issues members are wrestling with and how you think they could really help. Highlight how popular the contribution has been compared with others. Be really specific in explaining how the extra effort they made to create the contribution resulted in the extra impact upon the community.

Alternatively, highlight how it’s increased the status of the member. Tell the member how you’ve noticed they’re fast becoming one of the top people in {your} community.

Now they begin to past-align their actions towards becoming one of the top experts in that sector. They participate more and at greater volume. You’ve used psychology to change their mentality. That’s an incredibly powerful and valuable thing to do.

It’s polite to thank members. It feels good to thank members. The recipient might even like being thanked. But we’re in the business of using psychology to change behaviours. There is a huge opportunity to change behaviour after every single contribution a member makes. I really hope we take advantage of it.

31 Jul 18:02

Payments on the Web

by David Baron

Lately I've been involved in discussions in the W3C's Web Payments Interest Group about chartering a new working group to work on payment APIs for the Web. I certainly don't have the resources to implement this work in Firefox by myself, but I'm hoping to at least help the standardization activity get started in an effective way, and, if it does, to help others from Mozilla get involved.

From a high-level perspective, I'd like to see the working group produce a technology that allows payments in the browser, involving some trusted UI in the browser (like for in-app payments on mobile operating systems) that says what payment is going to happen, and involving tokenization in the browser or on a server or application with which the browser communicates, with only the tokens being sent from the browser to the website.

I think this has two big benefits. First, it improves security by avoiding sending the user's credit card details to every site that the user wants to pay. It sends tokens that contain the information needed to make a single payment of a particular amount, instead of information that can be reused to make additional payments in the future. This makes payments on the Web more secure.

Second, if we can design the user interface in a way that users understand these improvements in security, we can hopefully make users more comfortable making small payments on the Web, in some cases to parties that they don't know very well. This could make business models other than advertizing more realistic for some providers of Web content or applications.

There are certainly risks here. One is that the effort might fail, as other efforts to do payments have failed in the past. There are also others, some of which I want to discuss in a future blog post.

01 Aug 10:57

futuristech-info: 200 ft. ought to do it says Amazon - Wants...

01 Aug 11:14

futuramb: How to Think About the Future of Cars Maxwell Wessel,...



futuramb:

How to Think About the Future of Cars
Maxwell Wessel, hbr.org

The average American in prime working age drives more than 15 thousand miles a year. For these commuters, the thought of not owning a car is ludicrous. With hours each day spent in transit, it’s no surprise they often obsess over what type of car …

The cloud computing wars started with a focus on buyers in the small business market who couldn’t afford expensive IT solutions. Cloud transportation started with a focus on urban residents who only owned cars as personal luxuries. Over time, cloud computing added the features and functionality that allowed it to compete in the most complex environments. There is no doubt that innovators in the transportation will follow the same path.
01 Aug 11:23

"4. Not everyone will love your work. Not everyone will like your work. Some people will hate your..."

“4. Not everyone will love your work. Not everyone will like your work. Some people will hate your work. Don’t put energy into pursuing the fantasy of universal adoration. It has nothing to do with writing and everything to do with guaranteeing that you’ll never be satisfied.”

- Robin Black, 21 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Writing
01 Aug 12:17

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 edge Plus press renders and specs leak

by Rajesh Pandey
Old habits die hard. Case in point here being @evleaks who despite having retired from the smartphone leaking business, today leaked the press renders of the Galaxy Note 5 and the Galaxy S6 edge Plus, along with the full specs of the former. Continue reading →
01 Aug 09:56

Jumping Through Hoops

by Bardi Golriz

There are six (!) steps to this:

  1. You must have visited Google once.
  2. Click on the "..." more actions menu on the Menu Bar.
  3. Choose Settings.
  4. Scroll to the bottom and click on the "View Advanced Settings" button.
  5. Scroll half-way through the list and choose "Add New" from the "Search in the Address Bar with" menu.
  6. Select "Google" from the list and click on "Add as Default".

The very first step is totally unnecessary. If you skip it, you won't have Google available to set as your default search engine. On that page, there is a "Learn More" link that takes you here which clarifies the need to go to Google first. But why not save the user this inconvenience and just have a list of search engines to pick from?

It's not unreasonable to assume a user may ignore the "Learn More" link and conclude it's not possible to change to Google. I almost did but then I have immediate access to knowledge that the average user (read non-tech enthusiast) probably doesn't. But maybe that's the point. Also, for this to be considered an advanced setting is a dubious move. And not even one of the most prominent ones at that! Apparently, a user is more likely to be interested in turning on caret browsing than changing their default search engine. I actually had no idea what that setting was and I suspect many others won't either; Microsoft seems to think so too which is why it's one of the few settings which comes with a description. Go figure.

For comparison, on Chrome the default search provider can be changed from its main setting page (and not its "Advanced Settings" list). Furthermore, Bing is actually available to pick from by default too. No needing to visit it first nonsense required.





31 Jul 18:33

What is Peter Fassbender’s real mandate for TransLink – and local government in Metro?

by pricetags

Good news on the whole:

 

Vaughn Palmer: With Fassbender’s arrival, TransLink the ‘whipping boy’ no more?

.

After fielding one of the toughest assignments in the current term of the B.C. Liberal government, cabinet minister Peter Fassbender has been handed another huge challenge in an otherwise modest cabinet shuffle. …

A former mayor of Langley City, he has served as both chairman and vice-chairman of the TransLink mayors’ council, where he proved to be no slouch at speaking his own mind. …

He did say that the immediate job in the wake of the plebiscite is to restore public confidence in TransLink, particularly as regards “fiscal management.” …

In his days on the mayors’ council, Fassbender was an opponent of further increases in property taxes and he briefly supported a vehicle levy, until that notion backfired for a second time.

He’s also on the record as a fan of road pricing and congestion taxes. And as former mayor of one community south of the river and now an MLA for another, he’d presumably side with those demanding “equity” in tolling policies on river crossings, tied to the proposed replacement for TransLink’s Pattullo Bridge.

Talking to reporters Thursday, he acknowledged having expressed strong opinions over the years and will no doubt continue to do so. But he also maintained that he intends to approach the new posting with “an open mind,” seeking consensus if possible.

Still, one quote from his days on the mayors’ council is worth repeating in the current circumstances: “We have to stop TransLink being the whipping boy in all of these discussions and focus on what the region needs.”

Now more than ever, I’d say.

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But while the appointment of Fassbender may give reason for optimism, his mandate, received in the accompanying letter from the Premier, doesn’t.Peter 1

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The whole mandate letter is here – but these are the critical sentences:

Metro Vancouver voters appreciated the opportunity to make their voices heard on those issues, and the issues surrounding Translink itself.  As a result, I have decided to place responsibility for Translink with the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development – as the issues surrounding Translink following the outcome of the plebiscite are now inextricably linked with taxation issues facing local governments in Metro Vancouver.

Questions surrounding taxation and the significant funds that will be required to pay for the transit improvements outlined in the Mayors Council vision for transit and transportation are best dealt with by looking at the issues facing communities as a whole.

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One possible interpretation:

The plebiscite worked insofar as we fulfilled our promise to the voters and escaped any critical blowback.  TransLink’s reputation was ruined, of course, but fortunately they’re still carrying the blame for the failure of the vote along with the region’s mayors who received a vote of non-confidence.

Our long-standing position can now be reinforced: money for transit has to come from local government – property taxes in particular.  But there shouldn’t be big tax increases to do so;  that’s what we mean by “by looking at the issues facing communities as a whole.”  Local government will have to repriorize, using existing revenues – and this should help force them to do so.

Thus through this strategy we are both able to limit the growth of local and regional government, while at the same time drawing revenues from the Metro economic engine to fund our chosen transportation projects, including, Minister, light rail in Surrey and to your community in Langley.

If that means little or no progress on transit elsewhere in the region, along with an inability to shape growth according to the regional plan, we can live with that.  My advisors, drawn from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, are confident that we have or will be building enough roads and bridges to handle growth in the parts of the region we care about.

As for the City of Vancouver, maybe they should think more carefully about who they vote for.


01 Aug 01:15

Over-Communicating and Under-Communicating

by Richard Millington

Going back to yesterday.

Once the relevant health authority issued a health advisory not to drink the water, people began to wonder over the next two days if it’s still in place.

Was it only for one area? Was it for 24 hours or 48 hours? Was it indefinite? Will people be told when the advisory is rescinded?

This is a problem when communicating with any social group during a difficult moment. The less you communicate the more you leave open to interpretation.

It would have been better to update every hour that nothing has changed. There’s no room for ambiguity there. Everyone knows when to expect the next update and where to go to find out if the warning is still in place. Everyone knows if the warning is still in place.

It’s really easy to under-communicate with your group. It’s very hard to over-communicate with your social group.

Have a very open communication policy. Offer a direct line to you. Create a place where people can get near-instant responses on topical issues. Issue constant updates on important issues even if nothing has changed. Your social group hates uncertainty. Don’t create any.

31 Jul 20:59

On Second Thought

by Bardi Golriz

A Windows Update later, things feel noticeably better. And I'm actually on the verge of changing my position on whether it's a smart idea to upgrade for one reason. Edge. I love it. No really. It may not be feature complete, but that doesn't matter because of how consistently fast and accurately it renders the web (at least from my limited experience so far). I've been so impressed that I actually don't feel any need to install Chrome. This is the same Chrome which has without fail been the first thing I grab on any fresh install of Windows. Didn't see this one coming.

01 Aug 02:21

Firechat Enables Private Off-The-Internet (P2P) Messaging Using Mobile Phones

by Dan York
Firechat mesh network

There was a fascinating article posted on Medium this week by the CTO of messaging app Firechat:

In the text he outlines how they do decentralized "off-the-grid" private messaging using an ad hoc mesh network established between users of the Firechat app. It sounds like the app instances join together into some kind of peer-to-peer (P2P) network and then do normal "store-and-forward" messaging.

Of note, the apps do NOT need an Internet connection, or even a cellular network connection - instead they can use the Bluetooth and WiFi radios in the mobile phones to create a private mesh network and connect to other users of the Firechat app.

Naturally, having spent some time exploring P2P networks back when I was playing around with P2P SIP and distributed hash tables (DHTs) and other technologies, I immediately jump into the techie questions:

  • How are they routing messages from one user to another?
  • How is the "directory" of users in P2P mesh maintained?
  • What addresses are they using for the communication? Is this still happening over IP addresses? Or are they using some other kind of addressing?
  • How do users join and leave the mesh network?
  • How do user get authorized to join the private mesh? (Or is it just open to all?)
  • How secure is the communication between the parties?
  • Is the message encrypted or private in any way? Or is it just plain text?
  • How well do smartphone batteries hold up if multiple radios are being used? What is the power impact of joining into a mesh network like this?

None of that is covered in this article, of course... this piece is more about the theory of how this can work given a particular density of users. It introduces the phrase "percolation threshold" and provides some background and research into how these kind of networks can be created.

I've always been fascinated by P2P networks like this sounds to be. The beauty of the Internet... the "Internet Way", so to speak... has been to support distributed and decentralized architectures.

If you think about mail or web servers, they are (or at least were) massively distributed. Anyone could set up a mail or web server - and millions upon millions of them bloomed. While we've certainly seen a great amount of centralization due to market dominance (ex. Gmail), the architecture still is distributed / decentralized.

Except... of course, the directory is still centralized. Mail and web servers rely on the central directory of DNS to resolve domain names into IP addresses so that connections can occur. Most other applications rely on DNS for this as well.

Hence my curiousity about how Firechat is handling the directory and routing issues.

I'm also intrigued by how the article hints at integrating Internet-connected users into the P2P mesh. So you really have a hybrid network that is part P2P and part connected out to cloud-based servers.

(And all of this brings me back to those early days of Skype 8-10 years ago when so many of us were captivated by the P2P mechanisms they created... most all of which is now gone in the post-Microsoft-acquisition as Skype has moved from P2P to server/cloud-based - with one big reason being given that mobile devices apparently had speed and battery life issues participating in true P2P networks.)

A key challenge Firechat faces, of course, is the "directory dilemma" of building up the quantity of users where P2P mesh networks like this can happen. This is the same dilemma facing basically all over-the-top (OTT) messaging apps. "Percolation theory" requires a certain user density for a mesh like this to work.

That will be their struggle.

And in some urban areas I can see this working quite well. Perhaps not so much out in the woods of New Hampshire where I live!

But I wish them well with this. I love to see new explorations of potential new architectures for communication. And I can certainly see instances when ad hoc, distributed/decentralized P2P meshes like these could be quite useful.

And I'm definitely looking forward to some more technical articles that dive down into some of these questions.... I do hope they'll write more soon!


Photo credit: Stanislav Shalunov's article about Firechat