Gearhost & Zimwiki

‘Bout a month ago I said farewell to Google App Engine, or Google Cloud or whatever it’s called now because I found it becoming increasingly heavy to keep my websites updated overthere. What is really nice about GAE (I’m going to keep calling it App Engine, OK?) is that off the top of my head the only service that offered ipv6 records (and thus accessibility) by default. Pity I had to give that up. But all that infra, heavy client and even heavier website just to update a single php file, nah. So I went back to good old shared hosting, complete with html banner injection. It worked… OK the past month. The vignette bothered me a little, but more anoyingly occasionally my website would not be ‘found’, and 000webhost would present me with a 404 page. A single refresh was enough to get to where I thought I was going, but it’s slightly annoying.

Through one of HNs posts I came across Gearhost, which allows you to configure PHP, Node and .Net apps on a small free tier similar to App Engine. You have your custom domain and deployment with git! Fantastic! Was a breeze to setup, and now Koppen is served from there! AAA++++ do recommend.

Next, Zimwiki, Zim-wiki or just Zim, is a desktop wiki program. It’s lightweight, stores notes in it’s own slightly idiosyncratic format as flat files and makes gives you a LyX-like real-time ‘render’ of the flat text. I’ve been meaning to check it out for ages, but it’s formatting being custom held me back a little, and for instance details like ‘:’ as path separators are a bit unfortunate, but I finally got over it for the promise of having a single integrated way to view, edit and search my notes, while still having flat files organized in a directory structure of my chosing (so I can still grep to my hearts content, as well as escape to another tool at any point). I had been using a dir structure of markdown files that I rendered with mkdocs and then published online, but that took a few extra steps and sometimes would have broken search. Zim is just a single program, available for Linux and Windows, and so far, it’s OK! I used a converter script to port my notes from Markdown, and if you move them into your Zim notebook dir, it should find your files and show them (nearly) correctly).

Thuisblijvers

Een uur lange documentaire bij Radiodoc: Thuisblijvers. Dit gaat over kinderen die om verscheidene redenen niet naar een reguliere school kunnen. De meesten in de podcast hebben een niet-zichtbare afwijking, zoals autisme. De docu gaat over de strijd van deze kinderen (en hun ouders) tegen het onderwijssysteem, dat alweer heel lang geleden (hoe lang eigenlijk?) hier in Nederland is uitgekristalliseerd op een bepaalde vorm en je daar niet zomaar vanaf laat wijken. Het onderwijssysteem is een erfenis uit tijden van volksverheffing en volksopvoeding. Zo’n verplicht onderwijssysteem is een logisch idee als je het in dat perspectief zet, maar je kunt je afvragen hoe dat nu zit, nu het volk, in elk geval in vergelijking met 200 jaar geleden, een stuk opgevoeder is. Is zo’n strikt systeem dan nog het beste? En kunnen we ouders niet meer vertrouwen met de opvoeding van hun kinderen? In de docu blijkt dat het een behoorlijke inzet vergt de goedkeuring van de staat te krijgen af te wijken van het systeem, ik bedoel dus dat dat misschien makkelijker moet kunnen.

Nog even terug naar het strikte: niet alleen voor thuisblijvers passen de gebaande hokjes goed. Elk mens heeft voorkeuren en dingen waar die beter in is, dingen waar die een hekel aan heeft, en dat is normaal. Ik begrijp dat je een gemeenschappelijk minimum wil handhaven, en niet zo jong al kinderen wil laten ‘specialiseren’, maar is het niet zo dat oefenen in het zo nu en dan wisselen van specialisering een uiterst nuttige vaardigheid is als arbeider later? Wie heeft er nu nog een baan voor het leven? Hoe lastig is van baan wisselen als je in de tweede helft van je arbeidsleven zit? Toch is flexibilisering een gegeven, waar mensen - denk ik - prima op voorbereid kunnen worden en dat ook prima aankunnen. Kan het zijn dat de baan voor het leven en het bijbehorende in vakjes indelende onderwijsstramien een overblijfsel is van de standenmaatschappij? “Jij bent nu eenmaal een X.” Misschien is de denkfout tegen het individualiseren van onderwijs dus dat je ergens in vast zou kunnen komen te zitten: als je geen wiskunde leert, dan heb je een achterstand die je nooit meer inhaalt. Ik ben niet bekend met dit vakgebied, maar ik durf me af te vragen of die achterstand niet meer een gevolg is van een star systeem dan dat kinderen bepaalde dingen op een bepaalde leeftijd moet leren. Evengoed, natuurlijk is het alternatief voor het huidige niet een soort onderwijshedonisme, maar meer flexibiliteit, waarvan je volgens mij heel goed kunt zeggen dat dat een waardevolle ervaring op zich is, omgaan met verschillen en veranderingen.

Vorige week keek ik de Wolfpack docu, waar natuurlijk steeds de vraag is waarom de ouders dit precies deden. Op gegeven moment wordt de moeder gevraagd of ze niet bezorgd is dat haar kinderen sociale interactie niet mistten, waarop haar antwoord is dat het soort interactie op school niet (per se) positief is. Waar ze volgens mij leek te verwijzen naar in het ergste geval pesten of anderszins omwille van niet passen negatief uitgelicht te worden. Zo had ik het nog nooit bekeken, terwijl ik daar zelf ook mee worstelde en eigenlijk nog. In de Radiodoc proef je onder de ouders van de ‘normale’ kinderen dat ook sterk: je moet ‘meedoen’, ‘erbij horen’, ‘normaal zijn’. Normaal zijn, dat vat het allemaal samen: de norm hebben we zelf bedacht, dus waarom veranderen we die dan niet zodat die beter past, in plaats van andersom?

Tegen het einde van de radiodoc wordt er een ouder van een ‘normaal’ kind geparafraseerd: we willen dat ons kind wordt voorbereid op de wereld zoals die is. Waarop ik wil zeggen: op school wordt ook de wereld gemaakt zoals die zal worden. Misschien is hebben we niet gecorrigeerd voor Survivorship bias: bijna alle ouders hebben het bestaande systeem ‘overleeft’, en zien de problemen ervan misschien teveel over het hoofd en doen ze af als een ‘ontgroening’: het ‘hoort’ er nou eenmaal bij. Voor ons/vroeger werkte het toch ook? Dat is natuurlijk een fantasie. De mensen voor wie het niet werkte hebben we niet specifiek opgezocht. En zoals je hoort in de docu, en we ons steeds beter bewust van zijn, menig kind dat niet past is ongelukkig en sommigen denken aan zelfmoord.

We leven in tijden waarin er geld en inzicht is, of tenminste het vermogen tot het verkrijgen daarvan, om systemen beter op mensen te laten passen, in plaats van andersom. Dat is niet meer verwennerij dan dat centrale verwarming leek voor holbewoners, of algemeen stemrecht voor negentiende eeuwse adel. Juist op school kunnen we zo’n nieuwe ontwikkeling het best beginnen. De fantasie dat dingen altijd al zo geweest zijn of dat wij ze toch ook overleeft hebben moet ons daarbij niet in de weg staan. Dat zou kleingeestig en kortzichtig zijn.

Good old shared host

As you may know, I use koppen.ga to show the headlines of a few curated RSS feeds. This is an old, very old PHP script, which used to run way back when on shared hosting, as we all once did. Then became a javascript, using the Google Feeds API, then switched over to Yahoo’s feeds API, both of which closed and made me dust off the ol’ PHP script and make it run on Google’s app engine. That worked very fine but at the end of this month, they require you to register a payment method, even if you don’t exceed the free usage tier. Which I never do, I don’t think koppen ever exceeded a GB of traffic. So, since I want to run zero risk of paying for it, I decided to check out some good old shared hosting. Shared hosting that allows me to use the koppen.ga domain that is! First I set my hopes to infinityfree.net, but in order to use a custom domain it requires you to use it’s DNS, which I don’t really want to move away from where I handle all my domain, Cloudflare. I’ve settled on 000webhost.com, which even shows a little vignet on my page now! For now I’ll accept it, in exchange for some memories to a different internet-time, way back when we FTP’d our files onto some server, instead of configuring runners to compile our ‘webapp’ into ‘artifacts’ which are then served from a ‘cloud’.

Passive funds not so passive

Earlier this week, I read an article on who funds anti-climate research. I was surprised to find Vanguard there, a well known index tracker which comes up often for personal passive investing. Why would a passive fund fund anti-climate research? Well, because passive funds track indices, which include oil companies, some of the largest companies in the world, that why! Turns out The Guardian has a whole series on this.

Just now I was going through my oft neglected reading list and found I still had to read this article at Jacobinmag: it concerns the great power these huge funds have on stockholder meetings. Basically explains the above too: they control money, need to grow it, because of size have it in all kinds of industries and naturally have an interest in those industries performing well financially. Makes sense, I’d just never considered it.

Choosing your words in the internet age

I wrote a line or two on the subject of choosing your words with care, and avoiding some because they may be considered harmful. Since it was well received, and it made my own thoughts clearer too, I’m posting a spelling improved version here ;)

I think the focus on ‘correct’ use of words come from our age of soundbitism, 140 character limits: we more and more think of words in isolation, rather than in context. On top of that text becomes easier and easier to fire off, and these broadcast bits of text are then treated as if set in stone. As if language is not an interaction but a one-way street, where all responsibility for writing correctly for everyone for all time is emphasized. This treatment of text seems mostly an online phenomena: rarely in real life communication with friends, family, or strangers, are you not able to correct your language if it was clearly ill-received or you missed a nuance important to the recipient.

I am not happy we are treating text more and more as a record and less and less as a method of communication. Me and my partner are of different nationalities, and we (and I suspect many close partners from different backgrounds) have developed a kind of language just for us, where we’ve addressed and keep addressing misunderstandings, different connotations and meanings of the same or similar words, and so on. What we’ve developed makes sense to us, but may not to others, and could be even offensive (I hope not though! If we discover that, we’d change it to not be). Hedging your texts against all possible offences before you encounter them, that’s a bit of a fuzzy line: the fact that we mostly use a particular language (say English) already precludes a large portion of people from understanding us. Is that a problem? Not until others will be involved in our communcation.

In protestantism, calvinism, the letter of the word became more important than the spirit of it, and it is my theory that through American cultural projection this shift in perception of language is spreading to all discourse, in all countries.

If you write or say a text a text on depression using the words dark and light, the language could convey accurately what you feel, because you and only you can chose the words that best fit your feelings. In case you’re speaking with people who experience those words in another way, for whom ‘dark’ is usually used in a racist context for instance, you are free and encouraged to change your language to fit the particular group of people you’re conversing with. This is after all how language develops: we change it to suit our ability to communicate, to suit new esthetics and new awareness on how people understand the same words differently.

It all depends ;) As it must be with language.

Anscombe's quartet

Stat nuts know this one. It’s an example of the problem with measures for central tendency: you probably are missing things. What distribution has the following:

  • The average x value is 9 for each dataset
  • The average y value is 7.50 for each dataset
  • The variance for x is 11 and the variance for y is 4.12
  • The correlation between x and y is 0.816 for each dataset
  • A linear regression (line of best fit) for each dataset follows the equation y = 0.5x + 3

All of these distributions!

Even with a set of number summarizing the data, can we still be talking about vastly different distributions. It’s one of those things that always bothers me about ‘average’ income. Basically ‘average’ anything: you may as well spare me the average and hand over your data. It’s often a meaningless number, and I can’t tell if it’s meaningful unless I see the distribution. For instance, how does the income distribution evolve over time? Much more interesting than the average, if you ask me.

Francis Anscombe wanted to demonstrate why we need to graph our data, and he couldn’t have made his point better.

PGP 6

6, a good number. It is the number of PGP related posts so far on this blog. Recently I was approached by one of the OpenKeychain devs, who wrote about a new Thunderird plugin, called “Autocrypt” (source code). I took a look and I really like it! It is zero-conf, which is the idea behind Autocrypt after all. With some fiddling you can load up your old key. Upon sending, similar to Enigmail but with a clearer icon, you can set the encryption (on or off, overriding a default you can also set) and lookup keys for recipients. It can probe web keys (see Well known) and a recent new sort of key directory, keys.openpgp.org, not SKS. If found, those keys are used and you get a nice green icon. That’s it! And it works, on first try, and reliably, so far. A far cry from my first attempt to setup Enigmail in Thunderbird. The add-on also does not use an external PGP client, so it’s really just a matter of installing the plugin and you’re done!

A little bit on keys.openpgp.org. This directory aims to replace the SKS network, known from URLs such as pgp.mit.edu or keyserver.ubuntu.com. This network has been diagnosed with vulnerabilities to attacks, and is considered obsolete and unsafe by some in the encrypted mail community. Perhaps most concretely, as Autocrypt does not have trustlevels, keys.openpgp.org does away with distributing you signing others keys and such. It is simply a key index: does [email protected] have a public key? Which is, I agree, all most users care about. See also Signal encryption: you’ll communicate through a keypair, and if you really care, you can compare signatures offline. No need for infrastructure around that. Also, I guess in an age of more ephemeral keys, trustlevels are really obsolete.

About OpenKeychain: I tried to use the pEp app on Android for a while, but I stopped doing that in favor of K9mail+OpenKeychain. Yes, it’s slightly more work to setup, but pEp software also encrypts the subject line. Which makes sense of course from a security point of view, but it seems to be an ad-hoc implementation (no mention of subject encryption in the Autocrypt v1 spec). Which means, no other clients or plugins support it and show the placeholder subject which is not very practical. Also, it’s nice to have some compatibility with older users and clients of PGP, and having a clear subject is important I think.

So, if you want to encrypt your mail and you want to do so in an easy manner, I recommend this new Autocrypt plugin in Thunderbird! I’ll trial using Thunderbird alongside Kmail. Thunderbird has other flaws, but perhaps no greater than Kmail at this point. Now I just hope Thunderbird 68 will show up in the Ubuntu repos soon!

Ketchup

Ketchup, a condiment I don’t care much for, but is probably one of the (Western?) worlds most consumed. It’s an older article by Malcolm Gladwell, The Ketchup Conondrum, that goes into dept on the genesis of the red stuff. Ketchup contains all 5 elementary flavours! What’s interesting in the article is to observe methods also exhibited in The Century of the Self used in ‘food product’ creation. Although I employ very few food products, it’s kind of fun to see how by understanding that your dataset may have more than one axis, may have other distribution than the nominal one, can generate multi-million currency units in profit. Perhaps I should find employ in such a direction.

Gladwells studies into pedestrian topics such as ketchup are always interesting!

Shakespeare of shit

The original supposedly was posted to Quora, but I can’t find that original source. The tekst is awesome either way. Thanks, Nate White!

A few things spring to mind.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace - all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing - not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility - for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is - his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults - he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.

Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.

Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.

He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.

He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.

That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.

There are unspoken rules to this stuff - the Queensberry rules of basic decency - and he breaks them all. He punches downwards - which a gentleman should, would, could never do - and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless - and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority - perhaps a third - of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:

Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.

You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.

After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.

God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.

He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart.

In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws - he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:

‘My God… what… have… I… created?

If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.