Thoughts and observations

16 September 2017

Week 37, 2017

We've been back in New York City for a week and are enjoying the warm breath of the end of summer. We visited Red Rooster in Harlem for a lovely dose of soul food and jazz. The live jazz has really become one of my favourite parts of living in the city. It is likely that I previously failed to capitalize on the jazz scene in Melbourne, but I don't on my return that I will reoffend.

Excitingly I've now started my new job Product Manager at GitLab! It was an interesting experience to begin by simply opening my laptop at the dining room table. Regardless it has been a great experience—GitLab have had a few years to work out how to make remote work well including the on-boarding process. On the home front, it's been fun reconfiguring the living room to create a work space that doesn't intrude on the rest of our daily lives. I am hoping to collect more of my thoughts on transitioning to a remote team as I adjust to it.

New job, new laptop. I am thankful for my new computer but accommodating the Touch Bar has been more frustrating than expected. I should have expected it would be difficult. I find I unexpectedly adjust the volume or screen brightness at times when I reach for the top row of physical keys. Most frustrating has been the escape key. Using Karabiner Elements I have now disabled the virtual escape key in favor of caps lock. I've also taken the opportunity to also relocate the ctrl key to the caps lock key for chorded shortcuts in vim and tmux. Besides the Touch Bar however, the MacBook Pro is a very impressive computer with an excellent keyboard.

New job, new projects. GitLab uses ruby and I've setup using chruby to seamlessly switch between versions. The challenge has been one of my vim plugins, Command-T, relies on the version of Ruby it was compiled against. I am hoping to find a way to always use the correct version of ruby with vim regardless of the working directory. Any suggestions would be welcome!

I am excited about the introduction of Intelligent Tracking Prevention in Safari 11 for macOS and iOs 11. The advertising technology industry is generally not. This is because the ad tech tax is primarily extracted through tracking users and selling information about their behaviour to advertisers. True to form, the CEO of the IAB, will make any argument in favour of the least regulation or consumer control of how consumer data is collected and used.

Writing of Apple's changes to Safari, Rothenberg is concerned consumers won't be able to exercise proper control:

We are deeply concerned about the Safari 11 browser update that Apple plans to release, as it overrides and replaces existing user-controlled cookie preferences with Apple’s own set of opaque and arbitrary standards for cookie handling.

Yet, Rothenberg writes regarding protections for consumers who block tracking in the upcoming ePrivacy regulations in the EU:

Buried in pages of amendments to the European Union’s latest privacy proposal, the ePrivacy Regulation, members of the European Parliament recently recommended language that would strip European publishers of the right to monetize their content through advertising, eviscerating the basic business model that has supported journalism for more than 200 years. The new directive would require publishers to grant everyone access to their digital sites, even to users who block their ads, effectively creating a shoplifting entitlement for consumers of news, social media, email services, or entertainment.

Rothenberg is an apt representative of a self interested and entitled industry. Thanks to Ad Tech Weekly for curating these prime quotes.

Rocky Mountain Institute (PDF) offers some positive projections that staying below the 2ºC limit may be more achievable than typically suggested. The report is quite interesting and includes many interesting data points regarding the adoption and cost effectiveness of PE.

Another article adding to the growing number questioning th net benefit of social media, Umair Haque asks Is social media a failure?. With every passing week I am using social media less and am feeling no less in touch with my friends or the world. It'll be interesting to see where Facebook is ten years from now.

26 August 2017

Week 34, 2017

After many wet and windy Saturdays in Melbourne yesterday was good cycling weather, and I was able to enjoy cycling with friends. I've also been trying out Zwift, a virtual cycling application that connects to smart trainers. I have found the structured training surprisingly fun and a good supplement to otherwise weekly social rides.

This weeks pseudo-science diet is 'lectin free.' The Atlantic investigates and debunks the claims made and exposes the conflicts of interest that exist when authors sell their readers their own products. Most importantly James Hamblin does this without being dismissive and argues in The Next Gluten that there is damage caused by health authors that seek to 'totally upend [our] understanding of nutrition' with 'truth that no one else in the world has.'

Book publishers are rarely held accountable for publishing invalid health information. Rather, there seems to be an incentive to publish the most outlandish claims that purport to upend everything the reader has ever heard. This is a problem much bigger than any plant protein. Cycles of fad dieting and insidious misinformation undermine both public health and understanding of how science works, giving way to a sense of chaos. It seems that every doctor has their own opinion about how to protect your body from calamity, and all are equally valid, because nothing is ever truly known.

Yet another sad example of truth and reason being undermined for individual gain.

Last week I began investigating moving my blog away from Jekyll to a more flexible framework. I have been experimenting locally with Metalsmith, 'an extremely simple, pluggable static site generator.' I've mostly replicated everything except deployment. I'll write a more thorough post when I've completed the transition.

19 August 2017

Week 33, 2017

The violent white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend set the tone for an awful week in American politics.

Vice News Tonight went behind the scenes in Elle Reeve's piece Charlottesville: Race and Terror. It shows how tense and scary it was and makes it abundantly clear the violent rally was merely using the Confederate statue as an excuse to push their racist agenda.

Trump's response was awful, and ultimately got even worse on Tuesday. It was best summarized by The New York Times:

President Trump buoyed the white nationalist movement on Tuesday as no president has done in generations — equating activists protesting racism with the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who rampaged in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend.

Never has he gone as far in defending their actions as he did during a wild, street-corner shouting match of a news conference in the gilded lobby of Trump Tower, angrily asserting that so-called alt-left activists were just as responsible for the bloody confrontation as marchers brandishing swastikas, Confederate battle flags, anti-Semitic banners and “Trump/Pence” signs.

Unfortunately and unsurprisingly few Republican's have condemned Trump's response. Democratic Reps. According to Think Progress only 28 of 292 congressional republicans have criticized Trump by name.

Jerry Nadler of New York, Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey and Pramila Jayapal of Washington have introduced a censure resolution. All members of congress who abhor racism, white supremacy and neo-nazi's should put themselves on record by signing on.

Daniel Pfeiffer sums up on this week's Pod Save America:

If you are so morally outraged by the President's support of Nazis [...] do something about it. Put yourself on record that you disapprove of what Donald Trump said–not the general concept of racism, but of the racist in chief.

Meanwhile in Silicon Valley, Cloudflare terminated the account of the Daily Stormer. This continues the discussion if tech companies can truly be neutral and the role they play in protecting free speech and protecting the vulnerable from violence and hate speech. Further reading at The Atlantic (ht Azeem Azhar

I hope to spend more time relaxing, reading and cycling this week, rather than anxiously keeping up with the news cycle.

11 August 2017

Week 32, 2017

Reading The Atlantic this week reminded me it is time I subscribed. If you love great journalism you should pay for it! Online advertising doesn't work. The New York Times digital ad revenue in 2016 was $209M, while their monthly unique users grew to 92M in January 2017, which nets out to approximately $2.27 per unique user in 2016. In a year, you almost undoubtedly paid more to download the ads than they received from the advertiser for you viewing the ad. If you can spare half an hour, Scott Galloway's Death of the Industrial Advertising Complex is entertaining and worthwhile.

I used my phone less while in Tasmania last week and it was a great feeling. Every time I reduce my usage I feel better for it. This week The Atlantic asks Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?. A tough headline to live up to, yet it came closer than I expected to making the case. Even if a generation hasn't been destroyed, I do think society has a problem on it's hands learning to manage the addiction of our digital devices and software which reduce the frequency and quality of our face to face interactions.

5 August 2017

Week 31, 2017

Last week was a lovely mix of family and cycling, the perfect way to decompress. I hope to spend more time reading this week, although I did read Tolstoy's Happy Ever After last week. I'm planning a few long rides for next week to Ballarat and perhaps also from Ballan to Geelong.

This Is How Big Oil Will Die was an interesting read this week. The fact that electric vehicles have a much longer lifespan and lower cost of running is going to make the demise of combustion engine vehicles rapid. At this point, I'm not sure if I will ever own a car. Although, it isn't clear to me how car sharing works when you have small children (car seats) or want to put a bicycle on the roof.

I switched back to vim, specifically neovim, last year. At worst I am equally productive and have enjoyed improved performance and battery life, particularly on my tired mid-2011 MBA. This article shows how poorly Electron based editors Atom and Code perform compared to vim on startup and memory usage.

Relatedly, Firefox 58 is due out later this year boasting better performance. I'll certainly give it a good try but it'll face stiff competition from Safari. I switched from Chrome to Safari for battery life, but have grown to really appreciate the iCloud integration between my phone and laptop. Although, with a newer laptop that supports Handoff, this might be mitigated.

From The List of Articles to be Read, Mary Cook's article Git from the inside out is top of my list for this week. My understanding of git is primarily based on its API, and I am very keen to better understand its internals.

29 July 2017

Week 30, 2017

I am back in Australia concluding five and half years at Adslot. It was a great pleasure to work with and learn from many great people solving a challenging important problem. Online advertising and advertising technology is undeniably broken and few are working towards solving the underlying problems like Adslot has. I hope Adslot continues to grow and make online advertising better for advertisers, publishers and consumers.

I am looking forward to a few weeks vacation catching up with friends and family while we wait for new visas. Preparing for my departure I realised a proper vacation was long overdue.

I watched the film Land of Mine on the flight to Australia and found the narrative more interesting than I expected. We also watched the series War on Waste this week. It was thoroughly disturbing to see how much waste is produced before products even reach us, and how much we send to landfill.

Although recycling soft plastics—in which much of our food is packaged—is clearly better than sending them to landfill, the goods that can be made from soft plastics seem to of limited appeal. Instead significantly reducing the use of soft plastics is preferred. Eliminating the plastic bag is relatively straightforward in comparison to eliminating soft plastic films from packaged meat and small goods, or from breakfast cereals. I would be interested to know what a plastic free alternative might look like.