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Robin Varley is fundraising for Campaign Against Living Miserably

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Remember ‘Conquer The Twatts’?

No!?

Fair enough – well last year Magnus, our good friend Sergio and I hitch-hiked from Brick Lane (London) to Twatt (Orkney, Scotland) 766 miles way. We did it in 32 hours thanks to the generous nature of the people that helped out – including drivers, a pilot and a ferry service (thanks again, you amazing humans!!).

We raised 4 x our intended amount and arrived back in London with time to spare and, frankly, a hankering to do it all over again.

So like Shackleton, Fiennes and Thomas Stevens before us, on the 19th April 2019 Magnus and I – dressed in lime green morph suits – will depart Lyme Regis, Dorset on Lime Bikes (Google them, they’re awesome) For Limekilns, Scotland – 500 miles away (sadly Sergio won’t be joining us for this one)

As with last year, we’re raising for the Campaign Against Living Miserably.

Unlike last year we’re working in association with Lime Bike, who have given us their full support for this trip – so a massive thank you to Conor and the UK team for endorsing us two idiots!

Ruth‘s brother, whom you may recall me writing about during Challenge Robin I and Challenge Robin II (and the impact the weather had on it, and on me), our New Year’s ascent of Ben Nevis, or my ill-fated bet that he couldn’t jump a river, is on his latest adventure. Following in the footsteps of his effort to conquer the Twatts (which I shared previously), and reminiscent of his cycle to Brighton on a Boris Bike, he’s once again raising money for the Campaign Against Living Miserably with an outrageous adventure well-worthy of your support.

This time around, he and his friend Magnus are riding Lime e-bikes from Lyme Regis, which is almost as far South as you can get in mainland UK, to Limekilns, which is on the “other” side of the Firth of Forth (where the wildlings live). Like Challenge Robin II, there was a fuck-up with the trains and I had to drive him from Oxford to Lyme Regis, but at least I got to find a couple of geocaches while I was down there (one, two).

Anyway: you can follow his adventure via Instagram, but what you really ought to do is go donate money to the cause: or if he’s heading broadly your way: offer him a bed for the night so he doesn’t have to kip in a tent while his batteries charge in the nearest friendly pub.

Goodbye Google Analytics, Hello Fathom

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Big news! This site is no longer using Google Analytics and I’ve switched to a self-hosted version of brand new analytics product Fathom.

Fathom Analytics dashboard

 

Fathom is very simple. It only tracks 4 things: Unique Visitors, Page Views, Time on Site, and Bounce Rate. It shows me a chart of page views and visitors and then gives me a break down of referrers and top performing content. That’s it. And to be quite honest, that’s about all I need from my blog analytics.

You know what, Dave:me too! I’ve been running Google Analytics since forever and Piwik/Matomo (in parallel with it) for about a year and honestly: I get more than enough of what I need from the latter. So you’ve inspired me to cut the line with Google: after all, all I was doing was selling them my friends’ data in exchange for some analytics I wasn’t really paying attention to… and I’d frankly rather not.

So: for the first time in a decade or so, there’s no Google Analytics on this site. Woop!

The Four-Handed Condom

Content warning: rape.

You’ve probably seen the news about people taking a technological look at the issue of consent, lately. One thing that’s been getting a lot of attention is the Tulipán Placer Consentido, an Argentinian condom which comes in a packet that requires the cooperation of two pairs of hands to open it.

Four hands opening a Placer Consentido packet
I’ve seen simpler escape room puzzles.

Naturally, the Internet’s been all over this shit, pointing out how actually you can probably open it with just two hands [YouTube], how it’s inaccessible [YouTube] to people with a variety of disabilities, and how it misses the point by implying that once the condom is on, consent is irrevocable. A significant number of its critics try to make their claims more-sensational by describing the Placer Consentido as “a real product”, which is a bit of an exaggeration: it was a seemingly one-off promotional giveaway by its creators: it doesn’t look to be appearing on their store pages.

Hands moving to the magic pressure points on a condom packet.
Move your fingers just a bit lower. No… up a bit. Yes! Right there! That’s the spot!

One fundamental flaw with the concept that nobody seems to have pointed out (unless perhaps in Spanish), is that – even assuming the clever packaging works perfectly – all that you can actually consent to with such a device is the use of a condom. Given that rape can be and often is committed coercively rather than physically – e.g. through fear, blackmail, or obligation rather than by force – consent to use of a condom by one of the parties shouldn’t be conflated with consent to a sexual act: it may just be preferable to it without, if that seems to be the alternative.

Indeed, all of these technical “solutions” to rape seem to focus on the wrong part of the process. Making sure that an agreement is established isn’t a hard problem, algorithmically-speaking (digital signatures with split-key cryptography has given us perhaps the strongest possible solution to the problem for forty years now)! The hard problem here is in getting people to think about what rape is and to act appropriately to one another. Y’know: it’s a people problem, not a technology problem! (Unshocker.)

"It's a no", from the advertisment.
“If it’s not a yes, it’s a no.” If you ignore the product, the ad itself is on-message.

But even though they’re perhaps functionally-useless, I’m still glad that people are making these product prototypes. As the news coverage kicked off by the #MeToo movement wanes, its valuable to keep that wave of news going: the issues faced by the victims of sexual assault and rape haven’t gone away! Products like these may well be pointless in the real world, but they’re a vehicle to keep talking about consent and its importance. Keeping the issue in the limelight is helpful, because it forces people to continually re-evaluate their position on sex and consent, which makes for a healthy and progressive society.

So I’m looking forward to whatever stupid thing we come up with next. Bring it on, innovators! Just don’t take your invention too seriously: you’re not going to “fix” rape with it, but at least you can keep us talking about it.

Yet Another JavaScript Framework

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It is impossible to answer all of these questions simply. They can, however, be framed by the ideological project of the web itself. The web was built to be open, both technologically as a decentralized network, and philosophically as a democratizing medium. These questions are tricky because the web belongs to no one, yet was built for everyone. Maintaining that spirit takes a lot of work, and requires sometimes slow, but always deliberate decisions about the trajectory of web technologies. We should be careful to consider the mountains of legacy code and libraries that will likely remain on the web for its entire existence. Not just because they are often built with the best of intentions, but because many have been woven into the fabric of the web. If we pull on any one thread too hard, we risk unraveling the whole thing.

A great story about how Firefox nearly broke tens of thousands of websites by following standards, and then didn’t. tl;dr: Javascript has a messy history.

Google AMP lowered our page speed, and there’s no choice but to use it – unlike kinds

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We here at unlike kinds decided that we had to implement Google AMP. We have to be in the Top Stories section because otherwise we’re punted down the page and away from potential readers. We didn’t really want to; our site is already fast because we made it fast, largely with a combination of clever caching and minimal code. But hey, maybe AMP would speed things up. Maybe Google’s new future is bright.

It isn’t. According to Google’s own Page Speed Insights audit (which Google recommends to check your performance), the AMP version of articles got an average performance score of 87. The non-AMP versions? 95. (Note: I updated these numbers recently with an average after running the test 6 times per version.)

I’ve complained about AMP before plenty – starting here, for example – but it’s even harder to try to see the alleged “good sides” of the technology when it doesn’t even deliver the one thing it was supposed to. The Internet should be boycotting this shit, not drinking the Kool-Aid.

“You Me Her” Season 4 premiers, and other polyamory on TV

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The “polyromantic comedy” series You Me Her opens its fourth season tonight (Tuesday April 9) at 10 on AT&T’s Audience Network. There is no other show like it on television.

Season 1 was about a troubled couple who, independently, fell for the same third person by way of comic flukes: a novelty gimmick. But creator/producer John Scott Shepherd soon realized that the show was onto something bigger. Season 2 began straight off with the three together in a serious, all-around polyamorous relationship, and things have grown from there.

Life, of course, hasn’t been easy for them. Tonight’s opening of Season 4 is titled “Triangular Peg, Meet Round World.” Season 5 is already scheduled for 2020.

Joy! I loved the first three seasons of You Me Her, admittedly while – during the first couple of seasons at least – simultaneously bemoaning how long it took the characters to learn lessons that my polycule(s) solved in far shorter order. I was originally watching it with Ruth and JTA but they lagged and I ran ahead, and I really enjoyed this first episode of season 4 too.

Enable Private DNS with 1.1.1.1 on Android 9 Pie

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Recently, Google officially launched Android 9 Pie, which includes a slew of new features around digital well-being, security, and privacy. If you’ve poked around the network settings on your phone while on the beta or after updating, you may have noticed a new Private DNS Mode now supported by Android.

This new feature simplifies the process of configuring a custom secure DNS resolver on Android, meaning parties between your device and the websites you visit won’t be able to snoop on your DNS queries because they’ll be encrypted. The protocol behind this, TLS, is also responsible for the green lock icon you see in your address bar when visiting websites over HTTPS. The same technology is useful for encrypting DNS queries, ensuring they cannot be tampered with and are unintelligible to ISPs, mobile carriers, and any others in the network path between you and your DNS resolver. These new security protocols are called DNS over HTTPS, and DNS over TLS.

Bad: Android Pie makes it harder (than previous versions) to set a custom DNS server on a cellular data connection.

Good: Android Pie supports DNS-over-TLS, so that’s nice.

Word Ladder Solver

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It’s likely that the first word ladder puzzles were created by none other than Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), the talented British mathematician, and author of the Alice’s adventures. According to Carroll, he invented them on Christmas Day in 1877.

A word ladder puzzle consists of two end-cap words, and the goal is to derive a series of chain words that change one word to the other. At each stage, adjacent words on the ladder differ by the substitution of just one letter. Each chain word (or rung of the word ladder), also needs to be a valid word. Below is an example of turning TABLE into CROWN (this time, in nine steps):

TABLE → CABLE → CARLE → CARLS → CARPS → CORPS → COOPS → CROPS → CROWS → CROWN

In another example, it take four steps to turn WARM into COLD.

WARM → WARD → CARD → CORD → COLD

(As each letter of the two words in the last example is different, this is the minimum possible number of moves; each move changes one of the letters).

Word ladders are also sometimes referred to as doublets, word-links, paragrams, laddergrams or word golf.

Nice one! Nick Berry does something I’ve often considered doing but never found the time by “solving” word ladders and finding longer chains than might have ever been identified before.

Non Stop Hammer Ti.me

You know how sometimes I make a thing and, in hindsight, it doesn’t make much sense? And at best, all it can be said to do is to make the Internet more fun and weird?

Hammer Logo

I give you: NonStopHammerTi.me.

Things that make it awesome:

  • Well, the obvious.
  • Vanilla Javascript.
  • CSS animations timed to every-other-beat.
  • Using an SVG stroke-dasharray as a progress bar.
  • Progressively-enhanced; in the worst case you just get to download the audio.
  • PWA-enhanced; install it to your mobile!
  • Open source!
  • Decentralised (available via the peer-web at dat://nonstophammerti.me/ / dat://0a4a8a..00/)
  • Accessible to screen readers, keyboard navigators, partially-sighted users, just about anybody.
  • Compatible with digital signage at my workplace…
Digital signage showing NonStopHammerTi.me
My office aren’t sick of this… yet.

That is all.

The British-Irish Dialect Quiz

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What is your name for the playground game in which one child chases the rest and anyone who is touched becomes the pursuer?

Pretty accurate for me, although my answers to some of the questions – representing the diversity of places around Great Britain that I’ve lived and some of the words I’ve picked up along the way – clearly threw it off from time to time!

Codecademy vs. The BBC Micro

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If you google “learn to code,” the first result you see is a link to Codecademy’s website. If there is a modern equivalent to the Computer Literacy Project, something with the same reach and similar aims, then it is Codecademy.

“Learn to code” is Codecademy’s tagline. I don’t think I’m the first person to point this out—in fact, I probably read this somewhere and I’m now ripping it off—but there’s something revealing about using the word “code” instead of “program.” It suggests that the important thing you are learning is how to decode the code, how to look at a screen’s worth of Python and not have your eyes glaze over. I can understand why to the average person this seems like the main hurdle to becoming a professional programmer. Professional programmers spend all day looking at computer monitors covered in gobbledygook, so, if I want to become a professional programmer, I better make sure I can decipher the gobbledygook. But dealing with syntax is not the most challenging part of being a programmer, and it quickly becomes almost irrelevant in the face of much bigger obstacles. Also, armed only with knowledge of a programming language’s syntax, you may be able to read code but you won’t be able to write code to solve a novel problem.

So very much this! I’ve sung a song many times about teaching people (and especially children) to code and bemoaned the barriers in the way of the next (and current!) generation of programmers, but a large part of it – in this country at least – seems to come down to this difference in attitude. Today, we’ve stopped encouraging people to try to learn to “use computers” (which was, for the microcomputer era, always semi-synonymous with programming owing to the terminal interface) and to “program”, but we’ve instead started talking about “learning to code”. And that’s problematic, because programming != coding!

I’m a big fan of understanding the fundamentals, and sometimes that means playing with things that aren’t computers: looms, recipe cards, board games, pencils and paper, algebra, envelopes… all of these things can be excellent tools for teaching programming but have nothing to do with learning coding.

Let’s stop teaching people to code and start teaching them to program, again, okay?

Mark Zuckerberg asks governments to help control internet content

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Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg says regulators and governments should play a more active role in controlling internet content.

In an op-ed published in the Washington Post, Facebook’s chief says the responsibility for monitoring harmful content is too great for firms alone.

He calls for new laws in four areas: “Harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability.”

It comes two weeks after a gunman used the site to livestream his attack on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.

“Lawmakers often tell me we have too much power over speech, and frankly I agree,” Mr Zuckerberg writes, adding that Facebook was “creating an independent body so people can appeal our decisions” about what is posted and what is taken down.

An interesting move which puts Zuckerberg in a parallel position to Bruce Schneier, who’s recently (and especially in his latest book) stood in opposition to a significant number of computer security experts (many of whom are of the “crypto-anarchist” school of thought) also pushed for greater regulation on the Internet. My concern with both figureheads’ proposals comes from the inevitable difficulty in enforcing Internet-wide laws: given that many countries simply won’t enact, or won’t effectively enforce, legislation of the types that either Zuckerberg nor Schneier suggest, either (a) companies intending to engage in unethical behaviour will move to – and profit in – those countries, as we already see with identity thieves in Nigeria, hackers in Russia, and patent infringers in China… or else (b) countries that do agree on a common framework will be forced to curtail Internet communications with those countries, leading to a fragmented and ultimately less-free Internet.

Neither option is good, but I still back these proposals in principle. After all: we don’t enact other internationally-relevant laws (like the GDPR, for example) because we expect to achieve 100% compliance across the globe – we do so because they’re the right thing to do to protect individuals and economies from harm. Little by little, Internet legislation in general (possibly ignoring things like the frankly silly EU cookie regulation and parts of the controversial new EU directives on copyright) makes the Internet a safer place for citizens of Western countries. There are still a huge number of foreign threats like scammers and malware authors as as well as domestic lawbreakers, but increasing the accountability of large companies is, at this point, a far bigger concern.

Bald Eagle Trio Seen Taking Turns Caring For Eggs In Illinois Refuge

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Eagle1 webcam showing Starr with Valor I and Valor II

So… two eagles, Valor I (male) and Hope (female) raised some chicks in a nest. Then Valor II (another male) came along and tried to displace Valor I, but he wouldn’t go, so the pair of them both ultimately cooperated in raising Hope’s chicks, even after Hope was driven away by some other eagles. Later, another female, Starr, turned up and Valor I and Valor II are collectively incubating three eggs of hers in the nest.

I’ve known (human) polyamorous networks with origin stories less-complicated than this.