Dutch PM Mark Rutte Tells Public Not to Shake Hands Over Coronavirus and Then Shakes With Colleague

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Love this video: the Dutch PM reminds everybody not to shake hands with one another… then turns and shakes somebody’s hand. Then realises his mistake and initiates even more bodily contact by way of apology.

There’s Really No Easy Way to Say ‘I Was Stabbed’

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The first thing people usually want to know is what getting stabbed feels like. The answer is that it feels like getting punched really hard. Or at least, I assume it’s what getting hit feels like. I’ve never been punched. I have been stabbed six times.

I’ll back up. And I’ll try not to make this too writerly, but I’m fighting my instincts. I wanted to add a quote from an Auden poem about suffering, but I desisted. Please admire my restraint.

You have to understand, this kind of thing doesn’t happen in Wellington. It doesn’t happen in most places, but it especially doesn’t happen in a small city in New Zealand, in a park, at 11:30 a.m.

I go back and forth. It wasn’t that bad, I tell myself. It could have been much worse, people have survived much worse. And then I look at my scars, still red and new, and I think: But it was pretty bad, wasn’t it? It is possible I could have died. What if I hadn’t had my phone? If I hadn’t met someone on the path? I could have bled out somewhere between the trees. But of course, it’s useless to think about what-ifs. What if he had stabbed me in the heart? What if I hadn’t gone to the park at all? What if I died in a car crash tomorrow? It’s a pointless exercise.

Author Emma Berquist writes about her experience of the (extremely unusual) incident she was involved in, of being stabbed by a stranger in a park in Wellington. An inspiring personal story.

A Trip Through New York City in 1911

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With help from a neural network, Denis takes original cinematography of New York City in 1911 and uploads it as an cleaned, upscaled, high-framerate, colourised YouTube video. It’s pretty remarkable: compare it to the source video to see how much of a difference it makes: side-by-side, the smoothness of the frame rate alone is remarkable. It’s a shame that nothing can be done about the underexposed bits of the film where contrast detail is lacking: I wonder if additional analysis of the original print itself might be able to extract some extra information from these areas and them improve them using the same kinds of techniques.

In any event, a really interesting window-to-history!

BingO Bakery

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Don’t understand why Web accessibility is important? Need a quick and easily-digestible guide to the top things you should be looking into in order to make your web applications screenreader ready? Try this fun, video-game-themed 5 minute video from Microsoft.

There’s a lot more to accessibility than is covered here, and it’s perhaps a little over-focussed on screenreaders, but it’s still a pretty awesome introduction.

There is a car

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There is a car, in the hospital parking lot.

It is a faded red, covered with dust.

Other cars have parked and left on either side of it, every day, but this car remains.

I pass by it, as I find parking, on my way in to work.

I know what it means.

Short story by a nephrologist (kidney specialist). I haven’t a clue why people try to use Twitter to write long-form content – by the time you’re bending the medium so far out of shape, perhaps you chose the wrong medium? – but I still enjoyed this piece.

An app can be a home-cooked meal

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Have you heard about this new app called BoopSnoop?

It launched in the first week of 2020, and almost immediately, it was downloaded by four people in three different time zones. In the months since, it has remained steady at four daily active users, with zero churn: a resounding success, exceeding every one of its creator’s expectations.

:)

I made a messaging app for, and with, my family. It is ruthlessly simple; we love it; no one else will ever use it. I wanted to jot down some notes about how and why I made it, both to (a) offer a nudge to anyone else out there considering a similar project and (b) suggest something a little larger about software.

Robin Sloan (yes, this one) talks about an app that he wrote exclusively for his family. He likens the experience to a making a home-cooked meal. And I totally get it.

I do this kind of thing all the time. Our new home NAS device, Fox, performs a handful of functions (and I plan to expand it to many more) based on a mixture of open-source and homegrown code, just for my immediate family. Our “family wiki” does the same thing. And the spreadsheet we use for our finances. I’ve written apps for small groups of friends before, too (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8…). And that’s not to mention the countless “meals for one” I’ve cooked: small applications written entirely for my own benefit – I’m using one right now to pull this article from the list of “things I’ve read and enjoyed recently” into my blog.

A home-cooked meal benefits from being tailored to its audience (if the recipe calls for mustard, I might use less or omit it because it makes my nose feel funny). It benefits from being tailored to its purpose. And it benefits from the love that goes into it. My only superstition – that I’m aware of – is that I believe that food tastes better if the chef smiled during its production… I’m beginning to think that the same might be true for software, too.

First among the reasons I think that learning the basics of programming should be in the school curriculum is that it teaches people how computers work and so, by proxy, what they are (and are not) capable of. The most digitally-literate non-programmers I know are people who have the strongest understanding about how and why computers do what they do. But a close second among my reasons is that those with an inclination can go a step further and, without even necessarily pushing their skills to a level at which they could or would want to work as software developers, build their own tools to “scratch their own itches”. Solving a problem for yourself is enormously empowering, and the versatility of software lends itself to solving a huge array of relatively-tiny problems: problems that affect individuals, families, or small communities but that aren’t big enough to warrant commercial attention.

(Sometimes these projects explode into something bigger, but usually they remain just as they are: a tool for the benefit of oneself and one’s immediate tribe. And that’s just great.)

Jokes I’ve Told That My Male Colleagues Didn’t Like

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A guy walks into a bar. It’s a low one, so he gets a raise within his first six months on the job.

Did you hear the one about the woman who reported sexual harassment? Of course you didn’t; she was forced to sign an NDA.

Louise Bernikow once wrote: Humour tells you where the trouble is.

It’s okay to laugh at these jokes. But only so long as you do so with an awareness that their comedy comes from the nuggets of truth within each and every one of them. Our society’s come a long way this last century, but we’ve still got a long way to go.

Where Do New Viruses Come From?

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A fun and lightweight 10-minute (very basic, but highly-accessible) primer into the mechanisms by which new viruses appear to emerge via spillover infection and viral evolution. I was pleased by the accuracy of the animations including efforts to show relative scale of microorganisms and the (correct) illustration of RNA as the genetic material of a coronavirus (many illustrators draw all viruses as carrying a double-stranded DNA payload).

The Neighbors’ Window

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This beautifully-shot short film won Best Live Action Short Film at the Oscars last month, and if you haven’t seen it you owe it to yourself to do so. Over the course of 20 artfully-crafted minutes it tells two distinct stories, and before long you realise that what you’re really watching is the third story that emerges, Rubin vase-style, from the mind of the watcher and in the gaps between the two. Official website. Probably NSFW.

Avoid rewriting a legacy system from scratch, by strangling it

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Sometimes, code is risky to change and expensive to refactor.

In such a situation, a seemingly good idea would be to rewrite it.

From scratch.

Here’s how it goes:

  1. You discuss with management about the strategy of stopping new features for some time, while you rewrite the existing app.
  2. You estimate the rewrite will take 6 months to cover what the existing app does.
  3. A few months in, a nasty bug is discovered and ABSOLUTELY needs to be fixed in the old code. So you patch the old code and the new one too.
  4. A few months later, a new feature has been sold to the client. It HAS TO BE implemented in the old code—the new version is not ready yet! You need to go back to the old code but also add a TODO to implement this in the new version.
  5. After 5 months, you realize the project will be late. The old app was doing way more things than expected. You start hustling more.
  6. After 7 months, you start testing the new version. QA raises up a lot of things that should be fixed.
  7. After 9 months, the business can’t stand “not developing features” anymore. Leadership is not happy with the situation, you are tired. You start making changes to the old, painful code while trying to keep up with the rewrite.
  8. Eventually, you end up with the 2 systems in production. The long-term goal is to get rid of the old one, but the new one is not ready yet. Every feature needs to be implemented twice.

Sounds fictional? Or familiar?

Don’t be shamed, it’s a very common mistake.

I’ve rewritten legacy systems from scratch before. Sometimes it’s all worked out, and sometimes it hasn’t, but either way: it’s always been a lot more work than I could have possibly estimated. I’ve learned now to try to avoid doing so: at least, to avoid replacing a single monolithic (living) system in a monolithic way. Nicholas gives an even-better description of the true horror of legacy reimplementation, and promotes progressive strangulation as a candidate solution.

Pay Up, Or We’ll Make Google Ban Your Ads

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A new email-based extortion scheme apparently is making the rounds, targeting Web site owners serving banner ads through Google’s AdSense program. In this scam, the fraudsters demand bitcoin in exchange for a promise not to flood the publisher’s ads with so much bot and junk traffic that Google’s automated anti-fraud systems suspend the user’s AdSense account for suspicious traffic.

The shape of our digital world grows increasingly strange. As anti-DoS techniques grow better and more and more uptime-critical websites hide behind edge caches, zombie network operators remain one step ahead and find new and imaginative ways to extort money from their victims. In this new attack, the criminal demands payment (in cryptocurrency) under threat that, if it’s not delivered, they’ll unleash an army of bots to act like the victim trying to scam their advertising network, thereby getting the victim’s site demonetised.

Who finished second?

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Three athletes (and only three athletes) participate in a series of track and field events. Points are awarded for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in each event (the same points for each event, i.e. 1st always gets “x” points, 2nd always gets “y” points, 3rd always gets “z” points), with x > y > z > 0, and all point values being integers.
The athletes are named: Adam, Bob, and Charlie.

  • Adam finished first overall with 22 points.
  • Bob won the Javelin event and finished with 9 points overall.
  • Charlie also finished with 9 points overall.

Question: Who finished second in the 100-meter dash (and why)?

I enjoyed this puzzle so much that I shared it with (and discussed it at length with) my smartypants puzzle-sharing group. Now it’s your turn. The answer, plus a full explanation, can be found on the other side of the link, but I’d recommend that you try to solve it yourself first. If it seems impossible at first glance, start by breaking it down into what you can know, and what you can almost know, and work from there. Good luck!

And if anybody feels like hiring Nick to come and speak anywhere near where I am, that’d be awesome of you.