Search Results: "petra"

4 August 2023

Shirish Agarwal: Birth Control, Consent, Rape & Violence.

Consent, Violence, Sexual Abuse This again would be somewhat of a mature post. So children, please refrain from reading. When I hear the above words, my first thought goes to Aamir Khan s Season 1 Episode 2 in Satyamev Jayate. This was the first time that the topic of child sexual abuse was bought in the forefront in the hall rather than a topic to be discussed in the corner. Unfortunately, that episode is still in Hindi and no English subtitles available even today shows a lack of sensitivity in Indian s part to still come to terms with Child abuse that happens in India. The numbers that they had shared at that time were shocking. More than 50 per cent children experience sexual abuse and mostly from friends or relatives. That means 1 in every 2 children. And this was in 2012. But the problem of child sexual abuse didn t start then, it started in the 1960 s, 70 s. In the 1960 s, 1970s we didn t have much of cinema and TV and whatever there was pretty limited. There were few B movie producers, but most of them came into their own in the 1980s. So what influenced Indians in those days were softcore magazines that either had a mature aunt or a teen and they would tease and sooner or later the man would sort of overpower them and fulfill his needs. Even mainstream Indian cinema used similar tropes. One of the most memorable songs of that era Wada Karo Nahi Chodoge Tum Meera Saath from Aa Gale Lag jaa. A bit of context for the song. This is where Shashi Kapoor sees, he tries to ask her to date him, she says no. He tries to put an act where he shows he can t skate or rather pretends. And kinda takes a promise from her that she will date him if he is able to skate. And viola, the next moment he is not just skating, but dancing and singing as well. And the whole he touches her and you can see that is uncomfortable and yet after a while he woos her. Now this is problematic today because we are seeing it from today s lens. It might also have problematic with the feminists of that time, but they probably would have been called overly sensitive or something like that. And this is what went in Universal cinema. But this is just tip of the surface. There were and are multiple poems and even art in those times that flirted and even sort of engaged with sexual molestation, rape both in poems as well as literature, both in Hindi and various regional literature. Similar to stuff that Keats and some other poets (problematic stuff) they wrote and where both men and women were in two minds, whether to take all the other good literature out or kinda make the difference between the art and artist. Now, while Aamir spoke about consent it wasn t in any official capacity or even a legal capacity. The interesting thing was that there was an Act that kinda put some safeguards but had been doing rounds for almost a decade. Because the extremists on both sides, Hindus and Muslims were not in favor of that Act, it was still doing rounds. Aamir s episode on 6th May 2012 and the discussions in mainstream media following that forced the Indian legislature to make POSCO as a law on 22nd May 2012. Almost 6 months to 2 weeks, Nirbhaya happened and changes to the law happened in another 6 months. Both voyeurism and stalking were made jailable offenses and consent became part of lingua franca in the Supreme Court. Couple of weeks back, I had shared in the Manipur case the part about fingering . In the same Act, another change that was done that insertion of any part including foreign objects in any of the openings would be classed as rape . So in that Manipur case, at least those 2-3 people who have been identified as clear perpetrators according to the law of land would be rapists and should have the highest punishment. Unfortunately, the system is rigged against women as Vrinda Grover had shared just couple of weeks back. How a 6 month fast track case (to be completed within 6 months) becomes a 10 year old case tells you the efficacy of the system. The reality is far more worse than is shared or known. Just a few months ago, GOI shared some data on Sexual Harassment in 2018-19. And this is after constant pressurizing by Activists that GOI doesn t like. In fact, in 2021, Unicef had shared data about how India was one of the five countries where child brides are still prevalent. India denied but didn t produce any alternative data. The firing of Mr. James over NHFS data sets doesn t give it any brownie points to the present Government. What has happened in the last few years is that the Government for reasons of its own had been scrubbing and censoring a lot of data. I won t go far, just 2 day old story which I had shared just couple of days back. Roughly a 25 year old RPF constable kills his superior and kills 3 Muslims after going to various coaches and then the Government uses the defence of temporary insanity.
Even the mental instability defence has twists and turns
Incidentally, Press Trust of India is s private organization and not the public broadcaster of the old. And incidentally, just a few days back, it came to light that they hadn t paid Income tax for last 2-3 years. Because of issues in reward money, the public came to know otherwise they wouldn t have known. Coming back to the topic itself, there was a video where you could hear and see the accused stating after killing the three Muslims that if you want to remain in India, then you have to vote for only Modi or Yogi, otherwise this will happen. That video was scrubbed both from Twitter as well as YouTube. All centralized platforms at the very least, whether it is Google (Youtube) or Twitter or Meta uses its own media ID. Meta s being most problematic but that probably being a discussion for another day. The same censorship tools are applied rigorously and lot of incidents are buried. Cases of girls being thrown in lakes just after lakes or low numbers of conviction in case of gang rapes are more often than not disappears.
The above article shared just a few days ago that how low the conviction rates of gang rapes are in Gujarat tells you the story. You might get the story today, but wait for a few weeks and you will find that the story has disappeared. What most people do not know or understand is that the web is increasingly a public repository of idea, imaginations and trust and authoritarian regimes like Government of India is increasingly using both official as well as unofficial methods to suppress the same. To see that in the last 9 odd years, GOI has made the highest number of takedown requests and been either number one or number two tells all. My question is where we do from here ??? If even the Minister and her Ministry can do only whataboutery rather than answer the questions, then how we are supposed to come up solutions. And even if a solution exists, without the state and Center agreeing and co-operating with civil society, any solution will be far off the desired result. I am sorry that I at least have no answers

19 July 2023

Shirish Agarwal: RISC-V, Chips Act, Burning of Books, Manipur

RISC -V Motherboard, SBC While I didn t want to, a part of me is hyped about this motherboard. This would probably be launched somewhere in November. There are obvious issues in this, the first being unlike regular motherboards you wouldn t be upgrade as you would do.You can t upgrade your memory, can t upgrade the CPU (although new versions of instructions could be uploaded, similar to BIOS updates) but as the hardware is integrated (the quad-core SiFive Performance P550 core complex) it would really depend. If the final pricing is around INR 4-5k then it may be able to sell handsomely provided there are people to push and provide support around it. A 500 GB or 1 TB SSD coupled with it and a cheap display unit and you could use it anywhere although as the name says it s more for tinkering as the name suggests. Another board that could perhaps be of more immediate use would be the beagleboard. They launched the same couple of days back and called it Beagle V-Ahead. Again, costs are going to be a concern. Just a year before the pandemic the Beagleboard Black (BB) used to cost in the sub 4k range, today it costs 8k+ for the end user, more than twice the price. How much Brexit is to be blamed for this and how much the Indian customs we would never know. The RS Group that is behind that shop is head-quartered in the UK. As said before, we do not know the price of either board as it probably will take few months for v-ahead to worm its way in the Indian market, maybe another 6 months or so. Even so, with the limited info. on both the boards, I am tilting more towards the other HiFive one. We should come to know about the boards say in 3-5 months of time.

CHIPS Act I had shared about the Chips Act a few times here as well as on SM. Two articles do tell how the CHIPS Act 2023 is more of a political tool, an industrial defence policy rather than just business as most people tend to think.

Cancelation of Books, Books Burning etc. Almost 2400 years ago, Plato released his work called Plato s Republic and one of the seminal works within it is perhaps one of the most famous works was the Allegory of the Cave. That is used again and again in a myriad ways, mostly in science-fiction though and mostly to do with utopian, dystopian movies, webseries etc. I did share how books are being canceled in the States, also a bit here. But the most damning thing has happened throughout history, huge quantities of books burned almost all for politics  But part of it has been neglect as well as this time article shares. What we have lost and continue to lose is just priceless. Every book has a grain of truth in it, some more, some less but equally enjoyable. Most harmful is the neglect towards books and is more true today than any other time in history. Kids today have a wide variety of tools to keep themselves happy or occupied, from anime, VR, gaming the list goes on and on. In that scenario, how the humble books can compete. People think of Kindle but most e-readers like Kindle are nothing but obsolescence by design. I have tried out Kindle a few times but find it a bit on the flimsy side. Books are much better IMHO or call me old-school. While there are many advantages, one of the things that I like about books is that you can easily put yourself in either the protagonist or the antagonist or somewhere in the middle and think of the possible scenarios wherever you are in a particular book. I could go on but it will be a blog post or two in itself. Till later. Happy Reading.

Update:Manipur Extremely horrifying visuals, articles and statements continue to emanate from Manipur. Today, 19th July 2023, just couple of hours back, a video surfaced showing two Kuki women were shown as stripped, naked and Meitei men touching their private parts. Later on, we came to know that this was in response of a disinformation news spread by the Meitis of few women being raped although no documentary evidence of the same surfaced, no names nothing. While I don t want to share the video I will however share the statement shared by the Kuki-Zo tribal community on that. The print gives a bit more context to what has been going on.
Update, Few hours later : The Print also shared more of a context about six days ago. The reason we saw the video now was that for the last 2.5 months Manipur was in Internet shutdown so those videos got uploaded now. There was huge backlash from the Twitter community and GOI ordered the Manipur Police to issue this Press Release yesterday night or just few hours before with yesterday s time-stamp.
IndianExpress shared an article that does state that while an FIR had been registered immediately no arrests so far and this is when you can see the faces of all the accused. Not one of them tried to hide their face behind a mask or something. So, if the police wanted, they could have easily identified who they are. They know which community the accused belong to, they even know from where they came. If they wanted to, they could have easily used mobile data and triangulation to find the accused and their helpers. So, it does seem to be attempt to whitewash and protect a certain community while letting it prey on the other. Another news that did come in, is because of the furious reaction on Twitter, Youtube has constantly been taking down the video as some people are getting a sort of high more so from the majoritarian community and making lewd remarks. Twitter has been somewhat quick when people are making lewd remarks against the two girl/women. Quite a bit of the above seems like a cover-up. Lastly, apparently GOI has agreed to having a conversation about it in Lok Sabha but without any voting or passing any resolutions as of right now. Would update as an when things change. Update: Smriti Irani, the Child and Development Minister gave the weakest statement possible
As can be noticed, she said sexual assault rather than rape. The women were under police custody for safety when they were whisked away by the mob. No mention of that. She spoke to the Chief Minister who has been publicly known as one of the provocateurs or instigators for the whole thing. The CM had publicly called the Kukus and Nagas as foreigners although both of them claim to be residing for thousands of years and they apparently have documentary evidence of the same  . Also not clear who is doing the condemning here. No word of support for the women, no offer of intervention, why is she the Minister of Child and Women Development (CDW) if she can t use harsh words or give support to the women who have gone and going through horrific things  Update : CM Biren Singh s Statement after the video surfaced
This tweet is contradictory to the statements made by Mr. Singh couple of months ago. At that point in time, Mr. Singh had said that NIA, State Intelligence Departments etc. were giving him minute to minute report on the ground station. The Police itself has suo-moto (on its own) powers to investigate and apprehend criminals for any crime. In fact, the Police can call for questioning of anybody in any relation to any crime and question them for upto 48 hours before charging them. In fact, many cases have been lodged where innocent persons have been framed or they have served much more in the jail than the crime they are alleged to have been committed. For e.g. just a few days before there was a media report of a boy who has been in jail for 3 years. His alleged crime, stealing mere INR 200/- to feed himself. Court doesn t have time to listen to him yet. And there are millions like him. The quint eloquently shares the tale where it tells how both the State and the Centre have been explicitly complicit in the incidents ravaging Manipur. In fact, what has been shared in the article has been very true as far as greed for land is concerned. Just couple of weeks back there have been a ton of floods emanating from Uttarakhand and others. Just before the flooding began, what was the CM doing can be seen here. Apart from the newspapers I have shared and the online resources, most of the mainstream media has been silent on the above. In fact, they have been silent on the Manipur issue until the said video didn t come into limelight. Just now, in Lok Sabha everybody is present except the Prime Minister and the Home Minister. The PM did say that the law will take its own course, but that s about it. Again no support for the women concerned.  Update: CJI (Chief Justice of India) has taken suo-moto cognizance and has warned both the State and Centre to move quickly otherwise they will take the matter in their own hand.
Update: Within 2 hours of the CJI taking suo-moto cognizance, they have arrested one of the main accused Heera Das
The above tells you why the ban on Internet was put in the first place. They wanted to cover it all up. Of all the celebs, only one could find a bit of spine, a bit of backbone to speak about it, all the rest mum
Just imagine, one of the women is around my age while the young one could have been a daughter if I had married on time or a younger sister for sure. If ever I came face to face with them, I just wouldn t be able to look them in the eye. Even their whole whataboutery is built on sham. From their view Kukis are from Burma or Burmese descent. All of which could be easily proved by DNA of all. But let s leave that for a sec. Let s take their own argument that they are Burmese. Their idea of Akhand Bharat stretches all the way to Burma (now called Myanmar). They want all the land but no idea with what to do with the citizens living on it. Even after the video, the whataboutery isn t stopping, that shows how much hatred is there. And not knowing that they too will be victim of the same venom one or the other day  Update: Opposition was told there would be a debate on Manipur. The whole day went by, no debate. That s the shamelessness of this Govt.  Update 20th July 19:25 Center may act or not act against the perpetrators but they will act against Twitter who showed the crime. Talk about shooting the messenger
We are now in the last stage. In 2014, we were at 6

29 May 2023

Shirish Agarwal: Pearls of Luthra, Dahaad, Tetris & Discord.

Pearls of Luthra Pearls of Luthra is the first book by Brian Jacques and I think I am going to be a fan of his work. This particular book you have to be wary of. While it is a beautiful book with quite a few illustrations, I have to warn that if you are somebody who feels hungry at the very mention of food, then you will be hungry throughout the book. There isn t a single page where food isn t mentioned and not just any kind of food, the kind of food that is geared towards sweet tooth. So if you fancy tarts or chocolates or anything sweet you will right at home. The book also touches upon various teas and wines and various liquors but food is where it shines in literally. The tale is very much like a Harry Potter adventure but isn t as dark as HP was. In fact, apart from one death and one ear missing rest of our heroes and heroines and there are quite a few. I don t want to give too much away as it s a book to be treasured.

Dahaad Dahaad (the roar) is Sonakshi Sinha s entry in OTT/Web Series. The stage is set somewhere in North India while the exploits are based on a real life person called Cyanide Mohan who killed 20 women between 2005-2009. In the web series however, the antagonist s crimes are done over a period of 12 years and has 29 women as his victims. Apart from that it s pretty much a copy of what was done by the person above. It s a melting pot of a series which quite a few stories enmeshed along with the main one. The main onus and plot of the movie is about women from lower economic and caste order whose families want them to be wed but cannot due to huge demands for dowry. Now in such a situation, if a person were to give them a bit of attention, promise marriage and ask them to steal a bit and come with him and whatever, they will do it. The same modus operandi was done by Cynaide Mohan. He had a car that was not actually is but used it show off that he s from a richer background, entice the women, have sex, promise marriage and in the morning after pill there will be cynaide which the women unwittingly will consume. This is also framed by the protagonist Sonakshi Sinha to her mother as her mother is also forcing her to get married as she is becoming older. She shows some of the photographs of the victims and says that while the perpetrator is guilty but so is the overall society that puts women in such vulnerable positions. AFAIK, that is still the state of things. In fact, there is a series called Indian Matchmaking that has all the snobbishness that you want. How many people could have a lifestyle like the ones shown in that, less than 2% of the population. It s actually shows like the above that make the whole thing even more precarious  Apart from it, the show also shows prejudice about caste and background. I wouldn t go much into it as it s worth seeing and experiencing.

Tetris Tetris in many a ways is a story of greed. It s also a story of a lone inventor who had to wait almost 20 odd years to profit from his invention. Forbes does a marvelous job of giving some more background and foreground info. about Tetris, the inventor and the producer that went to strike it rich. It also does share about copyright misrepresentation happens but does nothing to address it. Could talk a whole lot but better to see the movie and draw your own conclusions. For me it was 4/5.

Discord Discord became Discord 2.0 and is a blank to me. A blank page. Can t do anything. First I thought it was a bug. Waited for a few days as sometimes webservices do fix themselves. But two weeks on and it still wasn t fixed then decided to look under. One of the tools in Firefox is Web Developer Tools ( CTRL+Shift+I) that tells you if an element of a page is not appearing or at least gives you a hint. To me it gave me the following
Content Security Policy: Ignoring 'unsafe-inline' within script-src or style-src: nonce-source or hash-source specified
Content Security Policy: The page s settings blocked the loading of a resource at data:text/css,%0A%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%2 ( style-src ). data:44:30
Content Security Policy: Ignoring 'unsafe-inline' within script-src or style-src: nonce-source or hash-source specified
TypeError: AudioContext is not a constructor 138875 l What is being done is dom.webaudio.enabled being disabled in Firefox. Then on a hunch, searched on reddit and saw the following. Be careful while visiting the link as it s labelled NSFW although to my mind there wasn t anything remotely NSFW about it. They do mention using another tool AudioContext Fingerprint Defender which supposedly fakes or spoofs an id. As this add-on isn t tracked by Firefox privacy team it s hard for me to say anything positive or negative. So, in the end I stopped using discord as the alternative was being tracked by them  Last but not the least, saw this about a week back. Sooner or later this had to happen as Elon tries to make money off Twitter.

28 December 2022

Chris Lamb: Favourite books of 2022: Classics

As a follow-up to yesterday's post detailing my favourite works of fiction from 2022, today I'll be listing my favourite fictional works that are typically filed under classics. Books that just missed the cut here include: E. M. Forster's A Room with a View (1908) and his later A Passage to India (1913), both gently nudged out by Forster's superb Howard's End (see below). Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's The Leopard (1958) also just missed out on a write-up here, but I can definitely recommend it to anyone interested in reading a modern Italian classic.

War and Peace (1867) Leo Tolstoy It's strange to think that there is almost no point in reviewing this novel: who hasn't heard of War and Peace? What more could possibly be said about it now? Still, when I was growing up, War and Peace was always the stereotypical example of the 'impossible book', and even start it was, at best, a pointless task, and an act of hubris at worst. And so there surely exists a parallel universe in which I never have and will never will read the book... Nevertheless, let us try to set the scene. Book nine of the novel opens as follows:
On the twelfth of June, 1812, the forces of Western Europe crossed the Russian frontier and war began; that is, an event took place opposed to human reason and to human nature. Millions of men perpetrated against one another such innumerable crimes, frauds, treacheries, thefts, forgeries, issues of false money, burglaries, incendiarisms and murders as in whole centuries are not recorded in the annals of all the law courts of the world, but which those who committed them did not at the time regard as being crimes. What produced this extraordinary occurrence? What were its causes? [ ] The more we try to explain such events in history reasonably, the more unreasonable and incomprehensible they become to us.
Set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars and Napoleon's invasion of Russia, War and Peace follows the lives and fates of three aristocratic families: The Rostovs, The Bolkonskys and the Bezukhov's. These characters find themselves situated athwart (or against) history, and all this time, Napoleon is marching ever closer to Moscow. Still, Napoleon himself is essentially just a kind of wallpaper for a diverse set of personal stories touching on love, jealousy, hatred, retribution, naivety, nationalism, stupidity and much much more. As Elif Batuman wrote earlier this year, "the whole premise of the book was that you couldn t explain war without recourse to domesticity and interpersonal relations." The result is that Tolstoy has woven an incredibly intricate web that connects the war, noble families and the everyday Russian people to a degree that is surprising for a book started in 1865. Tolstoy's characters are probably timeless (especially the picaresque adventures and constantly changing thoughts Pierre Bezukhov), and the reader who has any social experience will immediately recognise characters' thoughts and actions. Some of this is at a 'micro' interpersonal level: for instance, take this example from the elegant party that opens the novel:
Each visitor performed the ceremony of greeting this old aunt whom not one of them knew, not one of them wanted to know, and not one of them cared about. The aunt spoke to each of them in the same words, about their health and her own and the health of Her Majesty, who, thank God, was better today. And each visitor, though politeness prevented his showing impatience, left the old woman with a sense of relief at having performed a vexatious duty and did not return to her the whole evening.
But then, some of the focus of the observations are at the 'macro' level of the entire continent. This section about cities that feel themselves in danger might suffice as an example:
At the approach of danger, there are always two voices that speak with equal power in the human soul: one very reasonably tells a man to consider the nature of the danger and the means of escaping it; the other, still more reasonably, says that it is too depressing and painful to think of the danger, since it is not in man s power to foresee everything and avert the general course of events, and it is therefore better to disregard what is painful till it comes and to think about what is pleasant. In solitude, a man generally listens to the first voice, but in society to the second.
And finally, in his lengthy epilogues, Tolstoy offers us a dissertation on the behaviour of large organisations, much of it through engagingly witty analogies. These epilogues actually turn out to be an oblique and sarcastic commentary on the idiocy of governments and the madness of war in general. Indeed, the thorough dismantling of the 'great man' theory of history is a common theme throughout the book:
During the whole of that period [of 1812], Napoleon, who seems to us to have been the leader of all these movements as the figurehead of a ship may seem to a savage to guide the vessel acted like a child who, holding a couple of strings inside a carriage, thinks he is driving it. [ ] Why do [we] all speak of a military genius ? Is a man a genius who can order bread to be brought up at the right time and say who is to go to the right and who to the left? It is only because military men are invested with pomp and power and crowds of sychophants flatter power, attributing to it qualities of genius it does not possess.
Unlike some other readers, I especially enjoyed these diversions into the accounting and workings of history, as well as our narrow-minded way of trying to 'explain' things in a singular way:
When an apple has ripened and falls, why does it fall? Because of its attraction to the earth, because its stalk withers, because it is dried by the sun, because it grows heavier, because the wind shakes it, or because the boy standing below wants to eat it? Nothing is the cause. All this is only the coincidence of conditions in which all vital organic and elemental events occur. And the botanist who finds that the apple falls because the cellular tissue decays and so forth is equally right with the child who stands under the tree and says the apple fell because he wanted to eat it and prayed for it.
Given all of these serious asides, I was also not expecting this book to be quite so funny. At the risk of boring the reader with citations, take this sarcastic remark about the ineptness of medicine men:
After his liberation, [Pierre] fell ill and was laid up for three months. He had what the doctors termed 'bilious fever.' But despite the fact that the doctors treated him, bled him and gave him medicines to drink he recovered.
There is actually a multitude of remarks that are not entirely complimentary towards Russian medical practice, but they are usually deployed with an eye to the human element involved rather than simply to the detriment of a doctor's reputation "How would the count have borne his dearly loved daughter s illness had he not known that it was costing him a thousand rubles?" Other elements of note include some stunning set literary pieces, such as when Prince Andrei encounters a gnarly oak tree under two different circumstances in his life, and when Nat sha's 'Russian' soul is awakened by the strains of a folk song on the balalaika. Still, despite all of these micro- and macro-level happenings, for a long time I felt that something else was going on in War and Peace. It was difficult to put into words precisely what it was until I came across this passage by E. M. Forster:
After one has read War and Peace for a bit, great chords begin to sound, and we cannot say exactly what struck them. They do not arise from the story [and] they do not come from the episodes nor yet from the characters. They come from the immense area of Russia, over which episodes and characters have been scattered, from the sum-total of bridges and frozen rivers, forests, roads, gardens and fields, which accumulate grandeur and sonority after we have passed them. Many novelists have the feeling for place, [but] very few have the sense of space, and the possession of it ranks high in Tolstoy s divine equipment. Space is the lord of War and Peace, not time.
'Space' indeed. Yes, potential readers should note the novel's great length, but the 365 chapters are actually remarkably short, so the sensation of reading it is not in the least overwhelming. And more importantly, once you become familiar with its large cast of characters, it is really not a difficult book to follow, especially when compared to the other Russian classics. My only regret is that it has taken me so long to read this magnificent novel and that I might find it hard to find time to re-read it within the next few years.

Coming Up for Air (1939) George Orwell It wouldn't be a roundup of mine without at least one entry from George Orwell, and, this year, that place is occupied by a book I hadn't haven't read in almost two decades Still, the George Bowling of Coming Up for Air is a middle-aged insurance salesman who lives in a distinctly average English suburban row house with his nuclear family. One day, after winning some money on a bet, he goes back to the village where he grew up in order to fish in a pool he remembers from thirty years before. Less important than the plot, however, is both the well-observed remarks and scathing criticisms that Bowling has of the town he has returned to, combined with an ominous sense of foreboding before the Second World War breaks out. At several times throughout the book, George's placid thoughts about his beloved carp pool are replaced by racing, anxious thoughts that overwhelm his inner peace:
War is coming. In 1941, they say. And there'll be plenty of broken crockery, and little houses ripped open like packing-cases, and the guts of the chartered accountant's clerk plastered over the piano that he's buying on the never-never. But what does that kind of thing matter, anyway? I'll tell you what my stay in Lower Binfield had taught me, and it was this. IT'S ALL GOING TO HAPPEN. All the things you've got at the back of your mind, the things you're terrified of, the things that you tell yourself are just a nightmare or only happen in foreign countries. The bombs, the food-queues, the rubber truncheons, the barbed wire, the coloured shirts, the slogans, the enormous faces, the machine-guns squirting out of bedroom windows. It's all going to happen. I know it - at any rate, I knew it then. There's no escape. Fight against it if you like, or look the other way and pretend not to notice, or grab your spanner and rush out to do a bit of face-smashing along with the others. But there's no way out. It's just something that's got to happen.
Already we can hear psychological madness that underpinned the Second World War. Indeed, there is no great story in Coming Up For Air, no wonderfully empathetic characters and no revelations or catharsis, so it is impressive that I was held by the descriptions, observations and nostalgic remembrances about life in modern Lower Binfield, its residents, and how it has changed over the years. It turns out, of course, that George's beloved pool has been filled in with rubbish, and the village has been perverted by modernity beyond recognition. And to cap it off, the principal event of George's holiday in Lower Binfield is an accidental bombing by the British Royal Air Force. Orwell is always good at descriptions of awful food, and this book is no exception:
The frankfurter had a rubber skin, of course, and my temporary teeth weren't much of a fit. I had to do a kind of sawing movement before I could get my teeth through the skin. And then suddenly pop! The thing burst in my mouth like a rotten pear. A sort of horrible soft stuff was oozing all over my tongue. But the taste! For a moment I just couldn't believe it. Then I rolled my tongue around it again and had another try. It was fish! A sausage, a thing calling itself a frankfurter, filled with fish! I got up and walked straight out without touching my coffee. God knows what that might have tasted of.
Many other tell-tale elements of Orwell's fictional writing are in attendance in this book as well, albeit worked out somewhat less successfully than elsewhere in his oeuvre. For example, the idea of a physical ailment also serving as a metaphor is present in George's false teeth, embodying his constant preoccupation with his ageing. (Readers may recall Winston Smith's varicose ulcer representing his repressed humanity in Nineteen Eighty-Four). And, of course, we have a prematurely middle-aged protagonist who almost but not quite resembles Orwell himself. Given this and a few other niggles (such as almost all the women being of the typical Orwell 'nagging wife' type), it is not exactly Orwell's magnum opus. But it remains a fascinating historical snapshot of the feeling felt by a vast number of people just prior to the Second World War breaking out, as well as a captivating insight into how the process of nostalgia functions and operates.

Howards End (1910) E. M. Forster Howards End begins with the following sentence:
One may as well begin with Helen s letters to her sister.
In fact, "one may as well begin with" my own assumptions about this book instead. I was actually primed to consider Howards End a much more 'Victorian' book: I had just finished Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway and had found her 1925 book at once rather 'modern' but also very much constrained by its time. I must have then unconsciously surmised that a book written 15 years before would be even more inscrutable, and, with its Victorian social mores added on as well, Howards End would probably not undress itself so readily in front of the reader. No doubt there were also the usual expectations about 'the classics' as well. So imagine my surprise when I realised just how inordinately affable and witty Howards End turned out to be. It doesn't have that Wildean shine of humour, of course, but it's a couple of fields over in the English countryside, perhaps abutting the more mordant social satires of the earlier George Orwell novels (see Coming Up for Air above). But now let us return to the story itself. Howards End explores class warfare, conflict and the English character through a tale of three quite different families at the beginning of the twentieth century: the rich Wilcoxes; the gentle & idealistic Schlegels; and the lower-middle class Basts. As the Bloomsbury Group Schlegel sisters desperately try to help the Basts and educate the rich but close-minded Wilcoxes, the three families are drawn ever closer and closer together. Although the whole story does, I suppose, revolve around the house in the title (which is based on the Forster's own childhood home), Howards End is perhaps best described as a comedy of manners or a novel that shows up the hypocrisy of people and society. In fact, it is surprising how little of the story actually takes place in the eponymous house, with the overwhelming majority of the first half of the book taking place in London. But it is perhaps more illuminating to remark that the Howards End of the book is a house that the Wilcoxes who own it at the start of the novel do not really need or want. What I particularly liked about Howards End is how the main character's ideals alter as they age, and subsequently how they find their lives changing in different ways. Some of them find themselves better off at the end, others worse. And whilst it is also surprisingly funny, it still manages to trade in heavier social topics as well. This is apparent in the fact that, although the characters themselves are primarily in charge of their own destinies, their choices are still constrained by the changing world and shifting sense of morality around them. This shouldn't be too surprising: after all, Forster's novel was published just four years before the Great War, a distinctly uncertain time. Not for nothing did Virginia Woolf herself later observe that "on or about December 1910, human character changed" and that "all human relations have shifted: those between masters and servants, husbands and wives, parents and children." This process can undoubtedly be seen rehearsed throughout Forster's Howards End, and it's a credit to the author to be able to capture it so early on, if not even before it was widespread throughout Western Europe. I was also particularly taken by Forster's fertile use of simile. An extremely apposite example can be found in the description Tibby Schlegel gives of his fellow Cambridge undergraduates. Here, Timmy doesn't want to besmirch his lofty idealisation of them with any banal specificities, and wishes that the idea of them remain as ideal Platonic forms instead. Or, as Forster puts it, to Timmy it is if they are "pictures that must not walk out of their frames." Wilde, at his most weakest, is 'just' style, but Forster often deploys his flair for a deeper effect. Indeed, when you get to the end of this section mentioning picture frames, you realise Forster has actually just smuggled into the story a failed attempt on Tibby's part to engineer an anonymous homosexual encounter with another undergraduate. It is a credit to Forster's sleight-of-hand that you don't quite notice what has just happened underneath you and that the books' reticence to honestly describe what has happened is thus structually analogus Tibby's reluctance to admit his desires to himself. Another layer to the character of Tibby (and the novel as a whole) is thereby introduced without the imposition of clumsy literary scaffolding. In a similar vein, I felt very clever noticing the arch reference to Debussy's Pr lude l'apr s-midi d'un faune until I realised I just fell into the trap Forster set for the reader in that I had become even more like Tibby in his pseudo-scholarly views on classical music. Finally, I enjoyed that each chapter commences with an ironic and self-conscious bon mot about society which is only slightly overblown for effect. Particularly amusing are the ironic asides on "women" that run through the book, ventriloquising the narrow-minded views of people like the Wilcoxes. The omniscient and amiable narrator of the book also recalls those ironically distant voiceovers from various French New Wave films at times, yet Forster's narrator seems to have bigger concerns in his mordant asides: Forster seems to encourage some sympathy for all of the characters even the more contemptible ones at their worst moments. Highly recommended, as are Forster's A Room with a View (1908) and his slightly later A Passage to India (1913).

The Good Soldier (1915) Ford Madox Ford The Good Soldier starts off fairly simply as the narrator's account of his and his wife's relationship with some old friends, including the eponymous 'Good Soldier' of the book's title. It's an experience to read the beginning of this novel, as, like any account of endless praise of someone you've never met or care about, the pages of approving remarks about them appear to be intended to wash over you. Yet as the chapters of The Good Soldier go by, the account of the other characters in the book gets darker and darker. Although the author himself is uncritical of others' actions, your own critical faculties are slowgrly brought into play, and you gradully begin to question the narrator's retelling of events. Our narrator is an unreliable narrator in the strict sense of the term, but with the caveat that he is at least is telling us everything we need to know to come to our own conclusions. As the book unfolds further, the narrator's compromised credibility seems to infuse every element of the novel even the 'Good' of the book's title starts to seem like a minor dishonesty, perhaps serving as the inspiration for the irony embedded in the title of The 'Great' Gatsby. Much more effectively, however, the narrator's fixations, distractions and manner of speaking feel very much part of his dissimulation. It sometimes feels like he is unconsciously skirting over the crucial elements in his tale, exactly like one does in real life when recounting a story containing incriminating ingredients. Indeed, just how much the narrator is conscious of his own concealment is just one part of what makes this such an interesting book: Ford Madox Ford has gifted us with enough ambiguity that it is also possible that even the narrator cannot find it within himself to understand the events of the story he is narrating. It was initially hard to believe that such a carefully crafted analysis of a small group of characters could have been written so long ago, and despite being fairly easy to read, The Good Soldier is an almost infinitely subtle book even the jokes are of the subtle kind and will likely get a re-read within the next few years.

Anna Karenina (1878) Leo Tolstoy There are many similar themes running through War and Peace (reviewed above) and Anna Karenina. Unrequited love; a young man struggling to find a purpose in life; a loving family; an overwhelming love of nature and countless fascinating observations about the minuti of Russian society. Indeed, rather than primarily being about the eponymous Anna, Anna Karenina provides a vast panorama of contemporary life in Russia and of humanity in general. Nevertheless, our Anna is a sophisticated woman who abandons her empty existence as the wife of government official Alexei Karenin, a colourless man who has little personality of his own, and she turns to a certain Count Vronsky in order to fulfil her passionate nature. Needless to say, this results in tragic consequences as their (admittedly somewhat qualified) desire to live together crashes against the rocks of reality and Russian society. Parallel to Anna's narrative, though, Konstantin Levin serves as the novel's alter-protagonist. In contrast to Anna, Levin is a socially awkward individual who straddles many schools of thought within Russia at the time: he is neither a free-thinker (nor heavy-drinker) like his brother Nikolai, and neither is he a bookish intellectual like his half-brother Serge. In short, Levin is his own man, and it is generally agreed by commentators that he is Tolstoy's surrogate within the novel. Levin tends to come to his own version of an idea, and he would rather find his own way than adopt any prefabricated view, even if confusion and muddle is the eventual result. In a roughly isomorphic fashion then, he resembles Anna in this particular sense, whose story is a counterpart to Levin's in their respective searches for happiness and self-actualisation. Whilst many of the passionate and exciting passages are told on Anna's side of the story (I'm thinking horse race in particular, as thrilling as anything in cinema ), many of the broader political thoughts about the nature of the working classes are expressed on Levin's side instead. These are stirring and engaging in their own way, though, such as when he joins his peasants to mow the field and seems to enter the nineteenth-century version of 'flow':
The longer Levin mowed, the more often he felt those moments of oblivion during which it was no longer his arms that swung the scythe, but the scythe itself that lent motion to his whole body, full of life and conscious of itself, and, as if by magic, without a thought of it, the work got rightly and neatly done on its own. These were the most blissful moments.
Overall, Tolstoy poses no didactic moral message towards any of the characters in Anna Karenina, and merely invites us to watch rather than judge. (Still, there is a hilarious section that is scathing of contemporary classical music, presaging many of the ideas found in Tolstoy's 1897 What is Art?). In addition, just like the earlier War and Peace, the novel is run through with a number of uncannily accurate observations about daily life:
Anna smiled, as one smiles at the weaknesses of people one loves, and, putting her arm under his, accompanied him to the door of the study.
... as well as the usual sprinkling of Tolstoy's sardonic humour ("No one is pleased with his fortune, but everyone is pleased with his wit."). Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the other titan of Russian literature, once described Anna Karenina as a "flawless work of art," and if you re only going to read one Tolstoy novel in your life, it should probably be this one.

20 July 2022

Enrico Zini: Deconstruction of the DAM hat

Further reading Talk notes Intro Debian Account Managers Responsibility for official membership What DAM is not Unexpected responsibilities DAM warnings DAM warnings? House rules Interpreting house rules Governance by bullying How about the Community Team? How about DAM? How about the DPL? Concentrating responsibility Empowering developers What needs to happen

23 November 2020

Shirish Agarwal: White Hat Senior and Education

I had been thinking of doing a blog post on RCEP which China signed with 14 countries a week and a day back but this new story has broken and is being viraled a bit on the interwebs, especially twitter and is pretty much in our domain so thought would be better to do a blog post about it. Also, there is quite a lot packed so quite a bit of unpacking to do.

Whitehat, Greyhat and Blackhat For those of you who may not, there are actually three terms especially in computer science that one comes across. Those are white hats, grey hats and black hats. Now clinically white hats are like the fiery angels or the good guys who basically take permissions to try and find out weakness in an application, program, website, organization and so on and so forth. A somewhat dated reference to hacker could be Sandra Bullock (The Net 1995) , Sneakers (1992), Live Free or Die Hard (2007) . Of the three one could argue that Sandra was actually into viruses which are part of computer security but still she showed some bad-ass skills, but then that is what actors are paid to do  Sneakers was much more interesting for me because in that you got the best key which can unlock any lock, something like quantum computing is supposed to do. One could equate both the first movies in either as a White hat or a Grey hat . A Grey hat is more flexible in his/her moral values, and they are plenty of such people. For e.g. Julius Assange could be described as a Grey hat, but as you can see and understand those are moral issues.

A black hat on the other hand is one who does things for profit even if it harms the others. The easiest fictitious examples are all Die Hard series, all of them except the 4th one, all had bad guys or black hats. The 4th also had but is the odd one out as it had Matthew Farell (Justin Long) as a Grey hat hacker. In real life Kevin Mitnick, Kevin Poulsen, Robert Tappan Morris, George Hotz, Gary McKinnon are some examples of hackers, most of whom were black hats, most of them reformed into white hats and security specialists. There are many other groups and names but that perhaps is best for another day altogether. Now why am I sharing this. Because in all of the above, the people who are using and working with the systems have better than average understanding of systems and they arguably would be better than most people at securing their networks, systems etc. but as we shall see in this case there has been lots of issues in the company.

WhiteHat Jr. and 300 Million Dollars Before I start this, I would like to share that for me this suit in many ways seems to be similar to the suit filed against Krishnaraj Rao . Although the difference is that Krishnaraj Rao s case/suit is that it was in real estate while this one is in education although many things are similar to those cases but also differ in some obvious ways. For e.g. in the suit against Krishnaraj Rao, the plaintiff s first approached the High Court and then the Supreme Court. Of course Krishnaraj Rao won in the High Court and then in the SC plaintiff s agreed to Krishnaraj Rao s demands as they knew they could not win in SC. In that case, a compromise was reached by the plaintiff just before judgement was to be delivered. In this case, the plaintiff have directly approached the Delhi High Court. The charges against Mr. Poonia (the defendant in this case) are very much similar to those which were made in Krishnaraj Rao s suit hence won t be going into those details. They have claimed defamation and filed a 20 crore suit. The idea is basically to silence any whistle-blowers.

Fictional Character Wolf Gupta The first issue in this case or perhaps one of the most famous or infamous character is an unknown. While he has been reportedly hired by Google India, BJYU, Chandigarh. This has been reported by Yahoo News. I did a cursory search on LinkedIn to see if there indeed is a wolf gupta but wasn t able to find any person with such a name. I am not even talking the amount of money/salary the fictitious gentleman is supposed to have got and the various variations on the salary figures at different times and the different ads.

If I wanted to, I could have asked few of the kind souls whom I know are working in Google to see if they can find such a person using their own credentials but it probably would have been a waste of time. When you show a LinkedIn profile in your social media, it should come up in the results, in this case it doesn t. I also tried to find out if somehow BJYU was a partner to Google and came up empty there as well. There is another story done by Kan India but as I m not a subscriber, I don t know what they have written but the beginning of the story itself does not bode well. While I can understand marketing, there is a line between marketing something and being misleading. At least to me, all of the references shared seems misleading at least to me.

Taking down dissent One of the big no-nos at least from what I perceive, you cannot and should not take down dissent or critique. Indians, like most people elsewhere around the world, critique and criticize day and night. Social media like twitter, mastodon and many others would not exist in the place if criticisms are not there. In fact, one could argue that Twitter and most social media is used to drive engagements to a person, brand etc. It is even an official policy in Twitter. Now you can t drive engagements without also being open to critique and this is true of all the web, including of WordPress and me  . What has been happening is that whitehatjr with help of bjyu have been taking out content of people citing copyright violation which seems laughable. When citizens critique anything, we are obviously going to take the name of the product otherwise people would have to start using new names similar to how Tom Riddle was known as Dark Lord , Voldemort and He who shall not be named . There have been quite a few takedowns, I just provide one for reference, the rest of the takedowns would probably come in the ongoing suit/case.
Whitehat Jr. ad showing investors fighting

Now a brief synopsis of what the ad. is about. The ad is about a kid named Chintu who makes an app. The app. Is so good that investors come to his house and right in the lawn and start fighting each other. The parents are enjoying looking at the fight and to add to the whole thing there is also a nosy neighbor who has his own observations. Simply speaking, it is a juvenile ad but it works as most parents in India, as elsewhere are insecure.
Jihan critiquing the whitehatjr ad
Before starting, let me assure that I asked Jihan s parents if it s ok to share his ad on my blog and they agreed. What he has done is broken down the ad and showed how juvenile the ad is and using logic and humor as a template for the same. He does make sure to state that he does not know how the product is as he hasn t used it. His critique was about the ad and not the product as he hasn t used that.

The Website If you look at the website, sadly, most of the site only talks about itself rather than giving examples that people can look in detail. For e.g. they say they have few apps. on Google play-store but no link to confirm the same. The same is true of quite a few other things. In another ad a Paralympic star says don t get into sports and get into coding. Which athlete in their right mind would say that? And it isn t that we (India) are brimming with athletes at the international level. In the last outing which was had in 2016, India sent a stunning 117 athletes but that was an exception as we had the women s hockey squad which was of 16 women, and even then they were overshadowed in numbers by the bureaucratic and support staff. There was criticism about the staff bit but that is probably a story for another date. Most of the site doesn t really give much value and the point seems to be driving sales to their courses. This is pressurizing small kids as well as teenagers and better who are in the second and third year science-engineering whose parents don t get that it is advertising and it is fake and think that their kids are incompetent. So this pressurizes both small kids as well as those who are learning, doing in whatever college or educational institution . The teenagers more often than not are unable to tell/share with them that this is advertising and fake. Also most of us have been on a a good diet of ads. Fair and lovely still sells even though we know it doesn t work. This does remind me of a similar fake academy which used very much similar symptoms and now nobody remembers them today. There used to be an academy called Wings Academy or some similar name. They used to advertise that you come to us and we will make you into a pilot or an airhostess and it was only much later that it was found out that most kids were doing laundry work in hotels and other such work. Many had taken loans, went bankrupt and even committed suicide because they were unable to pay off the loans due to the dreams given by the company and the harsh realities that awaited them. They were sued in court but dunno what happened but soon they were off the radar so we never came to know what happened to those million of kids whose life dreams were shattered.

Security Now comes the security part. They have alleged that Mr. Poonia broke into their systems. While this may be true, what I find funny is that with the name Whitehat, how can they justify it? If you are saying you are white hat you are supposed to be much better than this. And while I have not tried to penetrate their systems, I did find it laughable that the site is using an expired https:// certificate. I could have tried further to figure out the systems but I chose not to. How they could not have an automated script to get the certificate fixed is beyond me, this is known as certificate outage and is very well understood in the industry. There are tools like Let s Encrypt and Certbot (both EFF) and many others. But that is their concern, not mine.

Comparison A similar offering would be unacademy but as can be seen they neither try to push you in any way and nor do they make any ridiculous claims. In fact how genuine unacademy is can be gauged from the fact that many of its learning resources are available to people to see on YT and if they have tools they can also download it. Now, does this mean that every educational website should have their content for free, of course not. But when a channel has 80% 90% of it YT content as ads and testimonials then they surely should give a reason to pause both for parents and students alike. But if parents had done that much research, then things would not be where they are now.

Allegations Just to complete, there are allegations by Mr. Poonia with some screenshots which show the company has been doing a lot of bad things. For e.g. they were harassing an employee at night 2 a.m. who was frustrated and working in the company at the time. Many of the company staff routinely made sexist and offensive, sexual abusive remarks privately between themselves for prospective women who came to interview via webcam (due to the pandemic). There also seems to be a bit of porn on the web/mobile server of the company as well. There also have been allegations that while the company says refund is done next day, many parents who have demanded those refunds have not got it. Now while Mr. Poonia has shared some quotations of the staff while hiding the identities of both the victims and the perpetrators, the language being used in itself tells a lot. I am in two minds whether to share those photos or not hence atm choosing not to. Poonia has also contended that all teachers do not know programming, and they are given scripts to share. There have been some people who did share that experience with him
Suruchi Sethi
From the company s side they are alleging he has hacked the company servers and would probably be using the Fruit of the poisonous tree argument which we have seen have been used in many arguments.

Conclusion Now that lies in the eyes of the Court whether the single bench chooses the literal meaning or use the spirit of the law or the genuine concerns of the people concerned. While in today s hearing while the company asked for a complete sweeping injunction they were unable to get it. Whatever may happen, we may hope to see some fireworks in the second hearing which is slated to be on 6.01.2021 where all of this plays out. Till later.

27 February 2017

Matthew Garrett: The Fantasyland Code of Professionalism is an abuser's fantasy

The Fantasyland Institute of Learning is the organisation behind Lambdaconf, a functional programming conference perhaps best known for standing behind a racist they had invited as a speaker. The fallout of that has resulted in them trying to band together events in order to reduce disruption caused by sponsors or speakers declining to be associated with conferences that think inviting racists is more important than the comfort of non-racists, which is weird in all sorts of ways but not what I'm talking about here because they've also written a "Code of Professionalism" which is like a Code of Conduct except it protects abusers rather than minorities and no really it is genuinely as bad as it sounds.

The first thing you need to know is that the document uses its own jargon. Important here are the concepts of active and inactive participation - active participation is anything that you do within the community covered by a specific instance of the Code, inactive participation is anything that happens anywhere ever (ie, active participation is a subset of inactive participation). The restrictions based around active participation are broadly those that you'd expect in a very weak code of conduct - it's basically "Don't be mean", but with some quirks. The most significant is that there's a "Don't moralise" provision, which as written means saying "I think people who support slavery are bad" in a community setting is a violation of the code, but the description of discrimination means saying "I volunteer to mentor anybody from a minority background" could also result in any community member not from a minority background complaining that you've discriminated against them. It's just not very good.

Inactive participation is where things go badly wrong. If you engage in community or professional sabotage, or if you shame a member based on their behaviour inside the community, that's a violation. Community sabotage isn't defined and so basically allows a community to throw out whoever they want to. Professional sabotage means doing anything that can hurt a member's professional career. Shaming is saying anything negative about a member to a non-member if that information was obtained from within the community.

So, what does that mean? Here are some things that you are forbidden from doing:
Now, clearly, some of these are unintentional - I don't think the authors of this policy would want to defend the idea that you can't report something to the police, and I'm sure they'd be willing to modify the document to permit this. But it's indicative of the mindset behind it. This policy has been written to protect people who are accused of doing something bad, not to protect people who have something bad done to them.

There are other examples of this. For instance, violations are not publicised unless the verdict is that they deserve banishment. If a member harasses another member but is merely given a warning, the victim is still not permitted to tell anyone else that this happened. The perpetrator is then free to repeat their behaviour in other communities, and the victim has to choose between either staying silent or warning them and risk being banished from the community for shaming.

If you're an abuser then this is perfect. You're in a position where your victims have to choose between their career (which will be harmed if they're unable to function in the community) and preventing the same thing from happening to others. Many will choose the former, which gives you far more freedom to continue abusing others. Which means that communities adopting the Fantasyland code will be more attractive to abusers, and become disproportionately populated by them.

I don't believe this is the intent, but it's an inevitable consequence of the priorities inherent in this code. No matter how many corner cases are cleaned up, if a code prevents you from saying bad things about people or communities it prevents people from being able to make informed choices about whether that community and its members are people they wish to associate with. When there are greater consequences to saying someone's racist than them being racist, you're fucking up badly.

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23 May 2014

Emanuele Rocca: A (very) brief history of Australia

This post is mostly a sum-up of the Wikipedia page History of Australia, with some content taken from History of the British Empire. Both texts are available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. I do not seem to be able to learn about a new topic without taking notes: in this case I have decided to publish my work, hoping that someone will find it useful. Some very important themes such as the Gold Rush and Australian History during the World Wars have been impudently ignored.
Indigenous Australians The ancestors of Indigenous Australians are believed to have arrived in Australia 40,000 to 60,000 years ago, and possibly as early as 70,000 years ago. By 1788, the population of Australia existed as 250 individual nations, many of which were in alliance with one another, and within each nation there existed several clans, from as few as five or six to as many as 30 or 40. Each nation had its own language and a few had multiple, thus over 250 languages existed, around 200 of which are now extinct. Permanent European settlers arrived at Sydney in 1788 and came to control most of the continent by end of the 19th century. Bastions of largely unaltered Aboriginal societies survived, particularly in Northern and Western Australia into the 20th century, until finally, a group of Pintupi people of the Gibson Desert became the last people to be contacted by outsider ways in 1984.
European explorers Terra Australis (Latin for South Land) is one of the names given to a hypothetical continent which appeared on European maps between the 15th and 18th centuries. Although the landmass was drawn onto maps, Terra Australis was not based on any actual surveying of such a landmass but rather based on the hypothesis that continents in the Northern Hemisphere should be balanced by land in the south. The first documented European landing in Australia was made in 1606 by a Dutch ship led by Willem Janszoon. Hence the ancient name "Nova Hollandia". The same year, a Spanish expedition had landed in the New Hebrides and, believing them to be the fabled southern continent, named the land: "Terra Austral del Espiritu Santo". Hence the current name "Australia". Although various proposals for colonisation were made, notably by Pierre Purry from 1717 to 1744, none was officially attempted. Indigenous Australians were less able to trade with Europeans than were the peoples of India, the East Indies, China, and Japan. The Dutch East India Company concluded that there was "no good to be done there". In 1769, Lieutenant James Cook tried to locate the supposed Southern Continent. This continent was not found, and Cook decided to survey the east coast of New Holland, the only major part of that continent that had not been charted by Dutch navigators. Cook charted and took possession of the east coast of New Holland. He noted the following in his journal:
"I can land no more upon this Eastern coast of New Holland, and
 on the Western side I can make no new discovery the honour of
 which belongs to the Dutch Navigators and as such they may lay
 Claim to it as their property, but the Eastern Coast from the
 Latitude of 38 South down to this place I am confident was never
 seen or viseted by any European before us and therefore by the
 same Rule belongs to great Brittan."
Colonisation The American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) saw Great Britain lose most of its North American colonies and consider establishing replacement territories. The British colony of New South Wales was established with the arrival of the First Fleet of 11 vessels in January 1788. It consisted of over a thousand settlers, including 778 convicts (192 women and 586 men). A few days after arrival at Botany Bay the fleet moved to the more suitable Port Jackson where a settlement was established at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788. This date later became Australia's national day, Australia Day. Between 1788 and 1868, approximately 161,700 convicts (of whom 25,000 were women) were transported to the Australian colonies of New South Wales, Van Diemen's land and Western Australia. Early colonial administrations were anxious to address the gender imbalance in the population brought about by the importation of large numbers of convict men. In 1835, the British Colonial Office issued the Proclamation of Governor Bourke, implementing the legal doctrine of terra nullius upon which British settlement was based, reinforcing the notion that the land belonged to no one prior to the British Crown taking possession of it and quashing any likelihood of treaties with Aboriginal peoples, including that signed by John Batman. Its publication meant that from then, all people found occupying land without the authority of the government would be considered illegal trespassers. A group in Britain led by Edward Gibbon Wakefield sought to start a colony based on free settlement and political and religious freedoms, rather than convict labour. The South Australia Act [1834], passed by the British Government which established the colony reflected these desires and included a promise of representative government when the population reached 50,000 people. Significantly, the Letters Patent enabling the South Australia Act 1834 included a guarantee of the rights of 'any Aboriginal Natives' and their descendants to lands they 'now actually occupied or enjoyed'. In 1836, two ships of the South Australia Land Company left to establish the first settlement on Kangaroo Island. The foundation of South Australia is now generally commemorated as Governor John Hindmarsh's Proclamation of the new Province at Glenelg, on the mainland, on 28 December 1836. By 1851 the colony was experimenting with a partially elected council.
Development of Australian democracy Traditional Aboriginal society had been governed by councils of elders and a corporate decision making process, but the first European-style governments established after 1788 were autocratic and run by appointed governors. The reformist attorney general, John Plunkett, sought to apply Enlightenment principles to governance in the colony, pursuing the establishment of equality before the law. Plunkett twice charged the colonist perpetrators of the Myall Creek massacre of Aborigines with murder, resulting in a conviction and his landmark Church Act of 1836 disestablished the Church of England and established legal equality between Anglicans, Catholics, Presbyterians and later Methodists. In 1840, the Adelaide City Council and the Sydney City Council were established. Men who possessed 1,000 pounds worth of property were able to stand for election and wealthy landowners were permitted up to four votes each in elections. Australia's first parliamentary elections were conducted for the New South Wales Legislative Council in 1843, again with voting rights (for males only) tied to property ownership or financial capacity. Voter rights were extended further in New South Wales in 1850 and elections for legislative councils were held in the colonies of Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. Women became eligible to vote for the Parliament of South Australia in 1895. This was the first legislation in the world permitting women also to stand for election to political office and, in 1897, Catherine Helen Spence became the first female political candidate for political office, unsuccessfully standing for election as a delegate to the Federal Convention on Australian Federation. Western Australia granted voting rights to women in 1899. Early federal parliamentary reform and judicial interpretation sought to limit Aboriginal voting in practice, a situation which endured until rights activists began campaigning in the 1940s.
Road to independence Despite suspicion from some sections of the colonial community (especially in smaller colonies) about the value of nationhood, improvements in inter-colonial transport and communication, including the linking of Perth to the south eastern cities by telegraph in 1877, helped break down inter-colonial rivalries. New South Wales Premier Henry Parkes addressed a rural audience in his 1889 Tenterfield Oration, stating that the time had come to form a national executive government:
"Australia [now has] a population of three and a half millions,
 and the American people numbered only between three and four
 millions when they formed the great commonwealth of the United
 States. The numbers were about the same, and surely what the
 Americans had done by war, the Australians could bring about in
 peace, without breaking the ties that held them to the mother
Though Parkes would not live to see it, his vision would be achieved within a little over a decade, and he is remembered as the "father of federation". The Commonwealth of Australia came into being when the Federal Constitution was proclaimed by the Governor-General, Lord Hopetoun, on 1 January 1901. Australia took part in WWI. The contributions of Australian and New Zealand troops during the 1915 Gallipoli Campaign against the Ottoman Empire had a great impact on the national consciousness at home, and marked a watershed in the transition of Australia and New Zealand from colonies to nations in their own right. The countries continue to commemorate this occasion on ANZAC Day. Australia achieved independent Sovereign Nation status after World War I, under the Statute of Westminster, which defined Dominions of the British empire in the following way:
"They are autonomous Communities within the British Empire, equal
 in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of
 their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common
 allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the
 British Commonwealth of Nations."
The parliaments of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, the Irish Free State and Newfoundland (currently part of Canada) were now independent of British legislative control, they could nullify British laws and Britain could no longer pass laws for them without their consent. The Australia Act 1986 removed any remaining links between the British Parliament and the Australian states.

13 October 2013

Francesca Ciceri: MissRepresentation: discussing gender stereotypes in Moldova

Recently, I've been attending a training course in Moldova about the representation of gender in the media and the influence on society of gender stereotypes.
The course was organized by Inesa Lupu, of Invento and financed by the UE as part of the Youth in Action program. It was the first time, for me, in this kind of international project and it was, in a word, fantastic.
Among the participants, there were people from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Italy, Latvia, Moldova and Slovenia.
That meant a great mix of cultures, languages and experiences.
And that was the key, in my opinion, of the success: coming from different countries and different social and cultural contexts meant that we were able to have a very broad and diverse point of view on the problem of gender stereotypes. So, here's some highlights on what we discussed. The media representation of gender (aka: gender issues are not only women issues) Tough Guise by Jackson Katz is a interesting documentary about the way the modern society - particularly in the US - defines masculinity as intrinsically tied to violence, aggressivity and "toughness" and on the consequences of this on the society as a whole. The author's theory is "that male violence, misogyny, and homophobia are inextricably linked to how we define manhood as a culture. The film gives special attention to how American media have glamorized increasingly regressive and violence masculine ideals in the face of mounting social and economic threats to traditional white male heterosexual authority". It then results clear that we cannot avoid to think about gender issues as women and men issues, because after all is the cultural definition of both femininity and masculinity that heavily influences the behaviour of men and women and their interaction.
In particular, I liked Katz's analysis of media's use of victim blaming speech while reporting of violences against women which tend to shift the focus from the violence perpetrated by men as part of definition of masculinity. Another documentary we watched, more focused on women representation, is MissRepresentation by Jennifer Siebel Newsom.
The film analyses the under representation of women in position of power, and the issue of women and leadership, especially in politics, in the US. Nothing too new, if you are interested in gender issues, as it is a widely discussed and studied topic, but still worth watching. After watching them, we formed little groups of three-four persons from different countries to discuss them, and it was even more interesting to listen the opinion of the guys (we had four male participants). The guys talking about Tough Guise Photography and Phototherapy As a workshop on media representation of gender, photography and advertisement were two of the main argument we spoke about. We focused on it for two days: our trainer, Lietta Granato - photographer and phototherapist - first gave us a lesson on photography, making us experimenting a bit with exposure times and diaphragm's aperture. a lesson on photography Then she presented the evolution in the last 50 year or so, of the depiction of women in the ads.
And that, to be honest, was a bit upsetting.
I've already had seen one of the most important and widely known films on this theme, the Killing Us Softly series by Jean Kilbourne, but some of the ads Lietta showed to us were really really horrible. Actually, most of them were horrible. Commenting and deconstructing these ads would take a separate blogpost, probably, and there are many people more competent than me on the topic, so I've decided to simply share some of the worst ads in a collage, without much commenting. These are vintage, from the fifties to the seventies. a collage of vintage sexist ads Do you think we got better? Pff. a collage of recent sexist ads They go from promoting violence and rape to heavily objectifying women. Special mention for the Compaq ad: as a geek woman I feel particularly insulted by the idea that I'm supposed to use a "pocket pc" as "pocket mirror". Because I wouldn't be able, obviously, to use it as a computer. Lietta also introduced us to photographic therapy and particularly the work of Jo Spence and Rosy Martin. If you browse Jo Spence's site, please be aware that there is a series of pics documenting all the stages of her illness (she died of breast cancer) and they are pretty intense. "In 1984, alongside Rosy Martin, Spence developed Photo-Therapy , adopting techniques from co-counselling. The considerable achievement of Photo-Therapy was to invert the traditional relationship between the photographer and the subject. If historically the subject had little control over their own representation, Photo-Therapy shifts this dynamic. The subject was able to act out personal narratives and claim agency for their own biography." (source:
I love this concept and I really really love Spence's photos. To close on a happier note, I really suggest you to allocate 20 minutes of your time to watch this great talk by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, about the role of "single story" in shaping stereotypes and misunderstandings.

21 February 2013

Daniel Pocock: US military may need Lumicall

In a remarkable report in Wired Magazine, it has been revealed that US stealth bombers have to communicate with their British allies using conventional radio. What that means in practice is that it would be child's play for the enemy to use basic techniques like triangulation to locate these otherwise invisible aircraft. While the thought of an ineffective multi-billion-dollar stealth bomber program seems preposterous, some may argue that the military has bigger problems maintaining discretion when even the CIA director is busted having an affair via Gmail. After all, it costs nothing to download GnuPG So what could the Americans and British do to put the stealth back into stealth bomber? Maybe it is time that pilots were issued with smartphones running Lumicall - with the built-in encryption features, could it make all their worries go away? At the very least, this issue demonstrates in a remarkable manner the reasons to stick with open standards like XMPP and SIP for building interoperable communications systems. If they missed our talk on Free, open, secure and convenient communications at FOSDEM, that may also be an interesting place to start searching for answers, as the idea of federated real-time communications is just as valuable in the air as it is for business or private purposes on the ground. The video is available now for those who missed it, and my earlier FOSDEM wrap-up provides more food for thought about the relevance of private communications for maintaining individual freedom (with or without the help of airborne supremecy). FOSDEM video: <video controls="controls" preload="none">
<source src=",_open,_secure_and_convenient_communications.webm" type="video/webm; codecs="vp8, vorbis""></source></video> <object data="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash"> <param name="movie" value=""><param name="allowfullscreen" value="true"><param name="flashvars" value="config= 'clip': 'url': ',_open,_secure_and_convenient_communications.webm', 'autoPlay':false, 'autoBuffering':false ">Video tag not supported. Download the video here. </object>

Daniel Pocock: US military may need Lumicall

In a remarkable report in Wired Magazine, it has been revealed that US stealth bombers have to communicate with their British allies using conventional radio. What that means in practice is that it would be child's play for the enemy to use basic techniques like triangulation to locate these otherwise invisible aircraft. While the thought of an ineffective multi-billion-dollar stealth bomber program seems preposterous, some may argue that the military has bigger problems maintaining discretion when even the CIA director is busted having an affair via Gmail. After all, it costs nothing to download GnuPG So what could the Americans and British do to put the stealth back into stealth bomber? Maybe it is time that pilots were issued with smartphones running Lumicall - with the built-in encryption features, could it make all their worries go away? At the very least, this issue demonstrates in a remarkable manner the reasons to stick with open standards like XMPP and SIP for building interoperable communications systems. If they missed our talk on Free, open, secure and convenient communications at FOSDEM, that may also be an interesting place to start searching for answers, as the idea of federated real-time communications is just as valuable in the air as it is for business or private purposes on the ground. The video is available now for those who missed it, and my earlier FOSDEM wrap-up provides more food for thought about the relevance of private communications for maintaining individual freedom (with or without the help of airborne supremecy). FOSDEM video: <video controls="controls" preload="none">
<source src=",_open,_secure_and_convenient_communications.webm" type="video/webm; codecs="vp8, vorbis""></source></video> <object data="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash"> <param name="movie" value=""><param name="allowfullscreen" value="true"><param name="flashvars" value="config= 'clip': 'url': ',_open,_secure_and_convenient_communications.webm', 'autoPlay':false, 'autoBuffering':false ">Video tag not supported. Download the video here. </object>

4 January 2013

Russell Coker: Links January 2013

AreWomenHuman has an interesting article about ViolentAcrez and the wide support for trolling (including by media corporations) [1]. Chrys Stevenson wrote an important article for the ABC about the fundamentalist Christians who are trying to take over the Australian education system [2]. Tavi Gevinson gave an interesting TED talk titled A teen just trying to figure it out about her work starting Rookie magazine and her ideas about feminism [3]. Burt Rutan gave an interesting and inspiring TED talk about the future of space expploration [4]. One of his interesting points is that fun really is defendable in regard to tourism paying for the development of other space industries. Stephen Petranek gave an interesting TED talk about how to prepare for some disasters that could kill a significant portion of the world s population [5]. Some of these are risks of human extinction, we really need to spend some money on it. John Wilbanks gave an intresting TED talk about the way that current informed consent laws prevent large-scale medical research [6]. He says I live in a web world where when you share things beautiful stuff happens, not bad stuff . Joey Hess was interviewed for The Setup and the interview sparked a very interesting Hacker News discussion about workflow for software development [7]. Like most developers I prefer large screens with high resolution, I have an EeePC 701 which works reasonably well for an ultra-portable system but I largely don t use it now I have an Android phone (extremely portable and totally awful input usually beats moderately portable and mostly awful input for me). But Joey s methods are interesting and it seems that for some people different systems give the best result. Jeff Masters gave an insightful TED talk about the weather disasters that may seriously impact the US in the next 30 years [8]. Governments really need to start preparing for such things, some of them are really cheap to mitigate if work is started early. Bryan Stevenson gave an inspiring TED talk about the lack of justice in the US justice system [9]. Wouter Verhelst wrote an insightful article about some of the criticisms of Linux from Windows users [10]. He references a slightly satirical post he previously wrote about why Windows isn t ready for desktop use. Paul Carr wrote an interesting article comparing disruptive business practices of dot-com companies to the more extreme aspects of Ayn Rand s doctrine [11]. In reading some of the links from that article I discovered that Ayn Rand was even more of a sociopath than I had previously realised. Lindy West gave an amazing Back Fence PDX talk about dealing with nasty blog comments from the PUA/MRA communities [12]. After investigating them she just feels sorry for the trolls who s lives suck. Hang from the Vlogbrothers explains gender, sex, sexual orientation, etc [13]. Rick Falkvinge wrote an interesting article about recent political news from Brazil, they had a proposed law that was very positive for liberty on the Internet but it was sabotaged by the media and telcos [14]. We should try to avoid paying any money to the media industry so that they can go away sooner. Amy Cuddy gave an interesting TED talk about body language, power, and the imposter syndrome [15]. Caleb Chung gave an interesting TED talk about toy design which focussed on Pleo a robotic dinosaur with a SD card and USB socket to allow easy reprogramming by the user [16].

24 July 2011

Tore S. Bekkedal: Ut ya: English version

If a single man can display so much hatred
think only of how much love we all can display together.

Stine Renate H heim

I wrote a Norwegian post explaining my experience at Ut ya. I had taken this blog for dead, and had entirely forgotten that it was syndicated on Planet Debian. I don t want to let Google Translate make this disaster any worse than it is the translation of bullets into balls being particularly bad so the international attention the massacre has garnered in consideration, I am writing an English translation of my experiences. I feel somehow duty-bound to make people aware of what happened, but I don t want to get into anything else but a sober description of the events and some very brief reflections. There are many details I have chosen to omit. Others have written their experiences of the events at Ut ya. I wanted to write mine down as well, and get it out there . Partly, I want to write this down because I m unsure if I will remember all the details at a later point in time, although I think I d prefer it if I couldn t. I m also writing this because people are asking about my experiences and it s much better to have an URL to give them, lest I have to keep going through the same spiel over and over again. Our former Prime Minister and current labour movement demigod Gro Harlem Brundtland had recently left the island. I had been the cameraman for a video interview of her talking about Ut ya, and I was in the media group room encoding the video into a file suitable for YouTube, when someone else in the room startled and said that Twitter was full of messages about a loud explosion in Oslo. As the newspapers brought us information about the extent of the damages, a consensus arose that an informational meeting was in order. As soon as the current round of talks finished, we were gathered into the main hall. The meeting was duly held, and after the statement was made that a TV feed would be made available, I took it upon myself as the local alpha geek to make it happen. Of course, the situation caused both the wireless network and the GPRS networks to become totally unusable. As I was waiting for someone to set up a password, I took the opportunity to face the consequences of having eaten two bits of a microwavable dish called Hold-It the local equivalent of a Hot Pocket and went to the toilet. As I was in there, I first heard agitated shouting, then screams, then gunshots coming from just outside the toilets. More than anything else, it sounded like a toy gun. I was convinced that someone was making a joke in incredibly bad taste and I stormed out of the booth with the intent of halting it. As I tore the door open, I saw two of my comrades hiding in a recessed corner. Their facial expressions left absolutely no doubt that this was no toy. They signalled for me to get back in the booth. I closed the door, did a mental double-take in utter, complete confusion, and opened it again. They were still signalling. Had they not stood there, I would have run straight into the gunman; they saved my life. I looked out into the hallway, and I made eye contact with a young boy lying in a pool of blood. He was motioning for me to help him. I heard more gunshots from inside the building and retreated back inside. As I was trying to think through my next move, I realized that the decidedly insubstantial wood-fiber door would not resist any kind of bullets. I made my way out into the hallway, with the intent of escaping outside. At that point, I was of course not aware that there was an intention to kill as many as possible, so I thought that the open spaces outside would be a place of relative safety. Of course, this proved to be wrong and my life was probably saved a second time by one of the caf volunteers taking me into a hard-to-spot employee s bathroom. We sat there for ninety minutes. Always ready to make a run for it, ready for just about anything. A peculiar group dynamic arose with these two people with whom I had barely previously spoken. We came to share a strange sense of common destiny and gallows humour. One of them had seen the shooter and described the police uniform. I perceived it to be realistic that we were the only ones aware of the wounded outside the toilet. I tried to reach the emergency services, but all their lines were busy; the terror attack in Oslo had probably clogged their lines. I finally got through to the fire services, who could inform me that the police did know about the situation and were on their way. This was to take 90 minutes and by the time we evacuated, the young boy outside my door had perished. The despair I first saw in his eyes as I passed him, fleeing from one room to the other and the empty, blank stare as we left, are burned into me and they are images I will never in my life forget. Finally, the real police arrived. We walked out. I chose the path through the minor conference hall something I now regret. The sight was simply beyond my capacity to describe fully, and so terrifying that I barely remember the sight only the terror it struck in me. There were several people bunched up in a corner, a big amorphous heap of bodies. Some were conscious and yelled at me not to do anything that could startle the police, others lay still. Their bodies were all covered in blood, and a thick pool of blood extended at least a half-metre in all directions around them. The policeman across the hall was screaming orders at me, but he was screaming so loudly that I couldn t make out his words at first. We were first moved into the camp newspaper s offices. There were about eight of us there, I think, in addition to one girl who lay wounded. Towards the end she was drifting in and out of consciousness. We covered her with sweaters to keep her warm and one of us tried to at least temper her bleeding. The bullet had missed her heart, but by the entry wound it was clear that it was not by far. I do not know who this girl was or how she is now. I sat behind and never saw her face. The wounded were evacuated first. I don t remember how long we remained; I had lost all concept of time. In spite of protests from the group who knew him, one kid was put in handcuffs. At the time I didn t understand why, and the policeman seemed to say something almost to the effect that there was no reason for it at all. I didn t see when they undid his cuffs, but I remember thinking that this treatment made a terrible experience even worse for him. I tried my best to comfort him but knew it would be little help. Later, when things stabilised a little, we were told that he was handcuffed because he had come from an unsecured area. The police was extremely good at carefully explaining what was happening and why; this was a big help and I am grateful for it. Eventually we were moved out into the main corridor of the building, where we joined up into a group of about fifty. Only when I saw the two people who saved my life did any emotion other than mild confusion arise. I broke down shivering in tears in one of their arms. After a few seconds, I came back to my senses and realised that this was not the time. I quickly gathered myself, got the shaking under control, and sat down. We were given some chocolate and soda from the kiosk. I remember making an offhand remark that an inability to find joy in free candy was a sure sign of a bad situation. We all laughed out loud. Gallows humour is a coping mechanism, but in retrospect one almost feels guilty for it. We were shown out in a single file with hands above our heads. I remember an intense concern that someone would slip in the steep, muddy slope and create a misunderstanding. Outside, there were more bodies. Some under improvised covers a tarpaulin from the waffle stand, the deflated bouncy castle but some simply lay there. Everyone I met displayed a courage, a mental discipline and unity of purpose far beyond anything one would ever wish to expect from people this young. Everyone conducted themselves with an attitude that could almost be described as stiff upper lip . Safely across the fjord we were offered blankets. I was asked if I was aware of any injuries, and asked to lift my shirt and show my abdominal region. We were shown into the bus which took us to the hotel used by the survivors and their family. I simply cannot describe in any words the relief I felt when I was able to embrace my living comrades. It was completely unlike anything I had ever felt before in my life. The euphoric feeling was tempered only by the realisation that there would be many I could never see again, comrades whom I had taken great pride in calling my friends, with futures in the service of all mankind, futures I had previously found such great joy in pondering and guessing about. The feeling which continues to upset me the most, is the feeling that so many of my comrades left behind grieving families and friends. Torn away senselessly. I do not know how much more than this relatively sober account of the events on Ut ya I can muster. I would, however, like to offer some reflections. First of all, from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank the police who saved the lives of so many still on the island, the holidaymakers who took aboard swimmers into their boats and the rescue services staffed primarily by volunteers who have spared no effort in trying to soften the blow as much as they can. The opportunity to spend time with those comrades who underwent the same experience as myself has also been an immeasurable aid. I was also so relieved to find my very closest friend among the survivors, which has also been an indescribable help. If I can name a single positive in this tragedy: Had he arrived with his automatic weapon fifteen or twenty minutes prior, he would have arrived during the informational meeting, at a time when the major hall was absolutely jam-packed the death toll would be many times what it ended up being. I am agonisingly aware of the meager comfort this provides to those who have been bereft of their closest, but I do find some solace in this. We cannot sweep under a rug that this was without question! a political attack on the labour movement. But it is thankfully also an attack which has been perceived by everyone as an attack on the Norwegian society, and on a symbol of the wide recruitment to the participatory democracy which lies at our very national soul. I cannot thank the Norwegian people, and indeed the people in other nations who have offered their condolences, enough for their shows of support and shared grief. It really has been a tremendous help to me knowing that so many people feel with us. I also want to thank from the bottom of my heart the rock-steadiness of everyone in both the national and local wings of the Labour Party and Labour Youth in supporting us, and the political milieu in general for their resolute steadfastness saving me from losing yet more that I cherish; our freedoms in a participatory democracy. Our Party has lost many of its very brightest youngsters. Personally I feel an angry spite, a deep restless urge to get the wheels of society going again. I want to show his kind that we will not be broken. We re stronger than that. I will not be frightened into silence and passivity. I want to remember the dead, and honor them by carrying on our common work. I want to end this with a request to everyone who reads this, echoing a statement I read by one of my good friends and comrades: Please, don t let me see any messages of hatred, wishes for the death penalty, anything like that. If anyone should be of the belief that anything will improve by murdering this sad little person, they would be profoundly wrong. All attention now should be plowed into caring for those victims and their relatives who did not share my luck, and not giving an audience to a perpetrator who wants one. Tore Sinding Bekkedal

3 February 2011

Stefano Zacchiroli: how to use Notmuch with Mutt

Mutt mail indexing on steroids! I've been using external mail indexing with Mutt for quite a while now. Before now I haven't given Notmuch a try, as it seemed too much experimental at the time of my initial review of mail indexing tools. As there is nothing better than a long oversea flight to perpetrate new hacks, I've now not only tested it, but also switched to Notmuch without looking back at maildir-utils for a split second. Getting started with Notmuch is trivial: Some performance figures: (1) the size of the index is a bit larger than the size of the mails (on my laptop: 535 Mb of index vs 375 Mb of mails stored in 60 maildirs); (2) even if the underlying indexing engine is the same (Xapian) as maildir-utils, Notmuch is much faster. With my setup it is so fast that I've added it as a hook triggered by offlineimap at the end of each synchronization:
    zack@usha:~$ grep -B 1 hook .offlineimaprc
    [Account Upsilon]
    postsynchook = notmuch new

With the big round of new mail downloaded in the morning, it hardly takes more than a few seconds to update Notmuch index, while with other periodic downloads Notmuch almost invariably reports "... in almost no time" (i.e. less than 1 second). Integrating Notmuch with Mutt The basic integration I want between Mutt and a mail indexer is the ability of stating a search query interactively and then jump to a fresh Maildir containing search results only. Additionally, given that Notmuch has neat thread reconstruction abilities, I also want to be able to reconstruct on the fly the thread corresponding to the currently highlighted mail: it comes handy when a thread has been split across different maildirs, archived, or the like. To that end, I've cooked up a little helper, called mutt-notmuch, that enables to trigger mail searches via a Mutt macro (F8 being my choice) and reconstruct threads via another (F9). Check the manpage for the 2-liner configuration snippet for your ~/.muttrc. Arguably, some of the logics of mutt-notmuch could disappear by adding support for a --output=symlinks flag to Notmuch. A bug report requesting that is pending: too bad oversea flights are not as good for accessing the Internet as they are for perpetrating hacks! Download

28 January 2011

Amaya Rodrigo: Indignez Vous!

If There is any sort of food for thought worth reading, this is it.

St phane Hessel, author of Indignez-vous!
After 93 years, it is almost the final act. The end for me is not very far off any more. But it still leaves me a chance to be able to remind others of what acted as the basis of my political engagement. It was the years of resistance to the Nazi occupation -- and the program of social rights worked out 66 years ago by the National Council of the Resistance!

It is to Jean Moulin [murdered founder of the Council] that we owe, as part of this Council, the uniting of all elements of occupied France -- the movements, the parties, the labor unions -- to proclaim their membership in Fighting France, and we owe this to the only leader that it acknowledged, General de Gaulle. From London, where I had joined de Gaulle in March 1941, I learned that this Council had completed a program and adopted it on March 15th, 1944, that offered for liberated France a group of principles and values on which would rest the modern democracy of our country.

These principles and these values, we need today more than ever. It is up to us to see to it, all together, that our society becomes a society of which we are proud, not this society of immigrants without papers -- expulsions, suspicion regarding the immigrants. Not this society where they call into question social security and national retirement and health plans. Not this society where mass media are in the hands of the rich. These are things that we would have refused to give in to if we had been the true heirs of the National Council of the Resistance.

From 1945, after a dreadful drama [WWII], it was an ambitious
resurrection of society to which the remaining contingent of the Council
of the Resistance devoted itself. Let us remember them while creating
national health and pensions plans such as the Resistance wished, as its
program stipulated, "a full plan of French national health and social
security, aimed at assuring all citizens the means of existence whenever
they are unable to obtain them by a job; a retirement allowing the old
workers to finish their days with dignity."

The sources of energy, electricity, and gas, mines, the big banks, were
nationalized. Now this was as the program recommended: "... the return
to the nation of big monopolized means of production, fruits of common
labor, sources of energy, wealth from the mines, from insurance
companies and from big banks; the institution of a true economic and
social democracy involving the ousting of the big economic and financial
fiefdoms from the direction of the economy."

General interest must dominate over special interest. The just man
believes that wealth created in the realm of labor should dominate over
the power of money.

The Resistance proposed, "a rational organization of the economy
assuring the subordination of special interests to general interest, and
the emancipation of 'slaves' of the professional dictatorship that was
instituted just as in the fascist states," which had used the interim
[for two years after the war] government of the Republic as an agent.

A true democracy needs an independent press, and the Resistance
acknowledged it, demanded it, by defending "the freedom of the press,
its honor, and its independence from the State, the power of money and
foreign influence." This is what relieved restrictions on the press from
1944 on. And press freedom is definitely what is in danger today.

The Resistance called for a "real possibility for all French children to
benefit from the most advanced education," without discrimination.
Reforms offered in 2008 go contrary to this plan. Young teachers, whose
actions I support, went so far as refusing to apply them, and they saw
their salaries cut by way of punishment. They were indignant,
"disobeyed," judging these reforms too far from the ideal of the
democratic school, too much in the service of a society of commerce and
not developing the inventive and critical mind enough. 2

All the foundations of the social conquests of the Resistance are
threatened today.

The motive of the Resistance: indignation (Indignez-vous!)

Some dare to say to us that the State cannot afford the expenses of
these measures for citizens any more. But how can there be today a lack
of money to support and extend these conquests while the production of
wealth has been considerably augmented since the Liberation period when
Europe was in ruins? On the contrary, the problem is the power of money,
so much opposed by the Resistance, and of the big, boldfaced, selfish
man, with his own servants in the highest spheres of the State.

Banks, since privatized again, have proved to be concerned foremost for
their dividends and for the very high salaries of their leaders, not the
general interest. The disparity between the poorest and the richest has
never been so great, and amassing money, competition, so encouraged.

The basic motive of the Resistance was indignation!

We, the veterans of the resistance movements and combat forces of Free
France, we call on the young generation to live by, to transmit, the
legacy of the Resistance and its ideals. We say to them: Take our place,
"Indignez-vous!" [Get angry! or Cry out!].

The political, economic, intellectual leaders, and the whole society do
not have to give in, nor allow oppression by an actual international
dictatorship of the financial markets, which threatens peace and

I wish for you all, each of you, to have your own motive for
indignation. It is precious. When something outrages you as I was
outraged by Nazism, then people become militant, strong, and engaged.
They join this current of history, and the great current of history must
continue thanks to each individual. And this current goes towards more
justice, more freedom, but not this unbridled freedom of the fox in the
henhouse. The rights contained in the UN Universal Declaration of Human
Rights of 1948 are just that, universal.

If you meet somebody who does not benefit from it, feel sorry for them
but help them to win their rights.

Two visions of history

When I try to understand what caused fascism, what made it so we were
overcome by Hitler and the Vichy [French government that collaborated
with Hitler], I tell myself that the propertied, with their selfishness,
were terrifically afraid of Bolshevik revolution. They were allowed to
lead with their fear.

But if, today as then, an active minority stands up, it will be enough;
we shall be the leavening that makes the bread rise. Certainly, the
experience of a very old person like me, born in 1917, is different from
the experience of the today's young persons. I often ask professors for
the opportunity to interact with their students, and I say to them: You
don't have the same obvious reasons to engage you. For us, to resist was
not to accept German occupation, defeat. It was comparatively simple.
Simple as what followed, decolonization. Then the war in Algeria.

It was necessary that Algeria become independent, it was obvious. As for
Stalin, we all applauded the victory of the Red Army against the Nazis
in 1943. But already we had known about the big Stalinist trials of
1935, and even if it was necessary to keep an ear open towards communism
to compensate against American capitalism, the necessity to oppose this
unbearable form of totalitarianism had established itself as an
obviousness. My long life presented a succession of reasons to outrage

These reasons were born less from an emotion than a deliberate
commitment. As a young student at normal school [teachers college] I was
very influenced by Sartre, a fellow student. His "Nausea" [a novel],
"The Wall," [play], and "The Being and Nothingness" [essay] were very
important in the training of my thought. Sartre taught us, "You are
responsible as individuals." It was a libertarian message. The
responsibility of a person can not be assigned by a power or an
authority. On the contrary, it is necessary to get involved in the name
of one's responsibility as a human being.

When I entered the French Ecole Normale Superieure, Ulm Street, in Paris
in 1939, I entered it as a fervent adherent of the philosopher Hegel,
and I adhered to the thought of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. His teaching
explored concrete experience, that of the body and of its relations with
the senses, one big singular sense faced with a plurality of senses. But
my natural optimism, which wants all that is desirable to be possible,
carried me rather towards Hegel. Hegelism interprets the long history of
humanity as having a meaning: It is the freedom of man progressing step
by step. History is made of successive shocks, and the taking into
account of challenges. The history of societies thus advances; and in
the end, man having attained his full freedom, we have the democratic
state in its ideal form.

There is certainly another understanding of history. It says progress is
made by "freedom" of competition, striving for "always more"; it can be
as if living in a devastating hurricane. That's what it represented to a
friend of my father, the man who shared with him an effort to translate
into German "The Search for Time Lost" [novel] by Marcel Proust.

That was the German philosopher Walter Benjamin. He had drawn a
pessimistic view from a painting by the Swiss painter Paul Klee,
"Angelus Novus," where the face of the angel opens arms as if to contain
and push back a tempest, which he identifies with progress. For
Benjamin, who would commit suicide in September 1940 to escape Nazism,
the sense of history is the overpowering progression of disaster upon

Indifference: the worst of attitudes

It is true the reasons to be indignant can seem today less clearly
related or the world too complex. Who's doing the ordering, who decides?
It is not always easy to differentiate between all the currents that
govern us. We are not any more dealing with a small elite whose joint
activities can be clearly seen. It is a vast world, of which we have a
feeling of interdependence.

We live in an interconnectivity as never before. But in this world there
still are intolerable things. To see them, it is well and necessary to
look, to search. I say to the young people, Search little, and that is
what you are going to find. The worst of attitudes is indifference, to
say "I can do nothing there, I'll just manage to get by." By including
yourself in that, you lose one of the essential elements that makes the
human being: the faculty of indignation and the commitment that is a
consequence of it.

They [young people] can already identify two big new challenges:

1. The huge gap which exists between the very poor and the very rich and
that does not cease increasing. It is an innovation of the 20th and 21st
centuries. The very poor in the today's world earn barely two dollars a
day. The new generation cannot let this gap become even greater. The
official reports alone should provoke a commitment.

2. Human rights and state of the planet: I had the chance after the
Liberation to join in the writing of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, adopted by the United Nations organization, on December 10th,
1948, in Paris at the palace of Chaillot. It was as principal private
secretary of Henry Laugier, the adjunct general-secretary of the UN, and
as and secretary of the Commission on Human Rights that I with others
was led to participate in the writing of this statement. I wouldn't know
how to forget the role in its elaboration of Ren Cassin, who was
national commissioner of justice and education in the government of Free
France in London in 1941 and won the Nobel peace prize in 1968, nor that
of Pierre Mend s-France in the Economic and Social Council, to whom the
text drafts we worked out were submitted before being considered by the
Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) of the General
Assembly. It was ratified by the 54 member states in session of the
United Nations, and I certified it as secretary.

It is to Ren Cassin that we owe the term "universal rights" instead of
"international rights" as offered by our American and British friends.
This [universal versus international] was key because, at the end of the
Second World War, what was at stake was to becomeereignty," which a
nation can emphasize while it devotes itself to crimes against humanity
on its own soil. Such was the case of Hitler, who felt himself supreme
and authorized to carry out a genocide. This universal statement owed
much to universal revulsion towards Nazism, fascism, and totalitarianism
-- and owes a lot, in our minds, to the spirit of the Resistance.

I had a feeling that it was necessary to move quickly so as not to be
dupes of the hypocrisy that there was in the UN membership, some whom
claimed these values already won but had no intention at all to promote
them faithfully -- claimed that we were trying to impose values on them.

I can not resist the desire to quote Article 15 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (1948): "Everyone has the right to a
nationality." Article 22 says, "Everyone, as a member of society, has
the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through
national effort and international cooperation and in accordance with the
organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and
cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development
of his personality." And if this statement has a declarative scope, and
not statutory, the Declaration nevertheless has played a powerful role
since 1948. It saw colonized people take it up in their fight for
independence; it sowed minds in a battle for freedom.

I note with pleasure that in the course of last decades there has been
an increase in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and social movements
such as ATTAC (Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions);

also FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights) and Amnesty
International, which are active and competitive. It is obvious that to
be effective today it is necessary to act in a network, to use all
modern means of communication.

To the young people, I say: Look around you, you will find topics that
justify your indignation facts about treatment of immigrants, of
"illegal" immigrants, of the Roma [aka Gypsies]. You will find concrete
situations that lead you to strong citizen action. Search and you shall

My indignation regarding Palestine outrages by Israel [Indignez-vous!]

Today, my main indignation concerns Palestine, the Gaza Strip, and the
West Bank of Jordan. This conflict is outrageous. It is absolutely
essential to read the report by Richard Goldstone, of September 2009, on
Gaza, in which this South African, Jewish judge, who claims even to be a
Zionist, accuses the Israeli army of having committed "acts comparable
to war crimes and perhaps, in certain circumstances, crimes against
humanity" during its "Operation Cast Lead," which lasted three weeks.

I went back to Gaza in 2009 myself, when I was able to enter with my
wife thanks to our diplomatic passports, to study first-hand what this
report said. People who accompanied us were not authorized to enter the
Gaza Strip. There and in the West Bank of Jordan. We also visited the
Palestinian refugee camps set up from 1948 by the United Nations agency
UNRWA, where more than three million Palestinians expelled off their
lands by Israel wait even yet for a more and more problematical return.

As for Gaza, it is a roofless prison for one and a half million
Palestinians. A prison where people get organized just to survive.
Despite material destruction such as that of the Red Crescent hospital
by Operation Cast Lead, it is the behavior of the Gazans, their
patriotism, their love of the sea and beaches, their constant
preoccupation for the welfare of their children, who are innumerable and
cheerful, that haunt our memory. We were impressed by how ingeniously
they face up to all the scarcities that are imposed on them. We saw them
making bricks, for lack of cement, to rebuild the thousands of houses
destroyed by tanks. They confirmed to us that there had been 1400 deaths
including women, children, and oldsters in the Palestinian camp
during this Operation Cast Lead led by the Israeli army, compared to
only 50 injured men on the Israeli side. I share conclusions of the
South African judge. That Jews can, themselves, perpetrate war crimes is
unbearable. Alas, history does not give enough examples of people who
draw lessons from their own history. [The author, St phane Hessel, had
a Jewish father.]

Terrorism, or exasperation?

I know that Hamas [party of Palestine freedom fighters], which had won
the last legislative elections, could not help it that rockets were
launched on Israeli cities in response to the situation of isolation and
blockade in which Gazans exist. I think, naturally, that terrorism is
unacceptable; but it is necessary to acknowledge (from experience in
France) that when people are occupied by forces immensely superior to
their own, popular reaction cannot be altogether bloodless.

Does it serve Hamas to send rockets onto the town of Sd rot [Israeli
town across the border from Gaza]?

The answer is no. This does not serve their purpose, but they can
explain this gesture by the exasperation of Gazans. In the notion of
exasperation, it is necessary to understand violence as the regrettable
conclusion of situations not acceptable to those who are subjected them.

Thus, they can tell themselves, terrorism is a form of exasperation. And
that this "terrorism" is a misnomer. One should not have to resort to
this exasperation, but it is necessary to have hope. Exasperation is a
denial of hope. It is comprehensible, I would say almost natural, but it
still is not acceptable. Because it does not allow one to acquire
results that hope can possibly, eventually produce.

Nonviolence: the way we must learn to follow

I am persuaded that the future belongs to nonviolence, to reconciliation
of different cultures. It is by this way that humanity will have to
enter its next stage. But on this I agree with Sartre: We cannot excuse
the terrorists who throw bombs, but we can understand them. Sartre wrote
in 1947: "I recognize that violence in whatever form it may manifest
itself is a setback. But it is an inevitable setback because we are in a
world of violence. And if it is true that recourse to violence risks
perpetuating it, it is also true it is the sure means to make it stop."

To that I would add that nonviolence is a surer means of making violence
stop. One can not condone the terrorism, using Sartre or in the name of
this principle, during the war of Algeria, nor during the Munich Games
of 1972 the murder attempt made against Israeli athletes. Terrorism is
not productive, and Sartre himself would end up wondering at the end of
his life about the sense of violence and doubt its reason for being.

However, to proclaim "violence is not effective" is more important than
to know whether one must condemn or not those who devote themselves to
it. Terrorism is not effective. In the notion of effectiveness, a
bloodless hope is needed. If there is a violent hope, it is in the poem
of William Apollinaire "that hope is violent," and not in policy.

Sartre, in March 1980, within three weeks of his death, declared: "It is
necessary to try to explain why the world of today, which is horrible,
is only an instant in a long historical development, that hope always
has been one of the dominant forces in revolutions and insurrections,
and how I still feel hope as my conception of the future." [Note 5]

It is necessary to understand that violence turns its back on hope. It
is necessary to prefer to it hope, hope over violence. Nonviolence is
the way that we must learn to follow. So must the oppressors.

It is necessary to arrive at negotiations to remove oppression; it is
what will allow you to have no more terrorist violence. That's why you
should not let too much hate pile up.

The message of Mandela and Martin Luther King finds all its pertinence
in the world that overcame the confrontation of ideologies [e.g.,
Nazism] and conquered totalitarianism [e.g.,Hitler]. It is also a
message of hope in the capacity of modern societies to overcome
conflicts by a mutual understanding and a vigilant patience. To reach
that point is necessarily based on rights, against es, such as the
military intervention in Iraq.

We had this economic crisis, but we still did not initiate a new policy
of development. Also, the summit of Copenhagen against climatic warming
did not bring about a true policy for the preservation of the planet.

We are on a threshold between the terror of the first decade and the
possibilities of following decades. But it is necessary to hope, it is
always necessary to hope. The previous decade, that of 1990s, had been a
time of great progress. The United Nations had enough wisdom to call
conferences such as those of Rio on environment, in 1992, and that of
Beijing on women, in 1995. In September 2000, on the initiative of the
general secretary of United Nations, Kofi Annan, the 191 member
countries adopted a statement on the "eight objectives of the millennium
for development," by which they notably promised to reduce poverty in
the world by half before 2015.

My big regret is that neither Obama nor the European Union has yet
committed themselves to what should be the provision for a useful forum
bearing on the fundamental values.


How to conclude this call to be indignant? By saying still what, on the
occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the program of the National
Council of the Resistance, we said on March 8th, 2004 -- we veterans of
the resistance movements and combat forces of Free France (1940-1945) --
that certainly "Nazism was conquered, thanks to the sacrifice of our
brothers and sisters of the Resistance and United Nations against
fascist barbarism. But this threat did not completely disappear, and our
anger against injustice is ever intact." [Note 6] Also, let us always be
called in "a truly peaceful insurrection against means of mass
communication that offer as a vista for our youth only the consumption
of mass trivia, contempt of the weakest and the culture, a generalized
amnesia, and the hard competition of all against all."

To those who will make the 21st century, we say with our affection:


20 August 2008

John Goerzen: From Dell, a Uniquely Terrible Experience

Ah, Dell. Seeming inventors of the tech support pit of bureaucratic indifferences, inventors of the flamingo pink Inspiron, perpetrators of fraud in New York...

I have, for over a year now, been on a crusade trying to get them to stop sending me their Dell Home and Home Office catalog to my mailbox. It has been a bundle of fun, let me tell you.

They have a nice-sounding privacy policy. It says you can opt out of all their mailings by filling out a form online. Yeah, good luck with that. First of all, there are different forms for different departments at Dell. I've filled out them all, multiple times. They do nothing whatsoever. Perhaps they use them as lists of known-good addresses to send new advertisements to, rather than lists of people to remove. Oh well.

Now, unfortunately I feel compelled to bore you with the saga so far, involving telephone hang-ups, broken privacy policies, and the like. But there is a silver lining at the end, in which I submitted a request to the postal service asking them to block Dell from sending me any more mail, and it appears that they are very likely to violate Federal Law any day now.

I have called them about it. Dealt with the old "let me transfer you to the correct department" then hang up on me ploy. Spoken to people that have promised up and down that I'll be off their list in 30-60 days. It's always 30-60 days, isn't it? Very convenient that I can't tell for 2 months whether or not they've processed my request.

I've tried their online chat. One of my attempts went like this:

Session Started with Agent (Sneha Ranga)

Agent (Sneha Ranga): "Due to circumstances that have affected Dell Communications I am temporarily unable to pull up any information. The down time is temporary. We apologize for the inconvenience, as we value your time as a customer. Please contact us back after an hour."

Session Ended

Ah Dell, only you could reach such a pinnacle of customer service. /kicking someone out of a chat room before they have a chance to say a word.

Finally, last fall, I blogged about the situation (that's the link above). Debbie from Dell red the post and emailed me. Great, I thought. She asked for my address information and catalog information and sent me a removal confirmation:

Date: Thu, 18 Oct 2007 13:08:18 -0500
Subject: RE: Dell mailing list

Thank you, Mr. Goerzen, your request to have the below address
information removed from our marketing lists has been received:

[ my address here ]

We will process your request promptly. However, it may take several
weeks for some changes to take effect. If you are still receiving
catalogs after thirty (30) days feel free to email me. Sorry for any
inconvenience you may have experienced.

Thank you,

So that was October. In December, I replied to that message, saying: "I received another mailing today, and it's been nearly 2 months since your initial message. If there's anything further you can do, I'd appreciate it." Debbie said, "I am very sorry Mr. Goerzen, I will resubmit your request." Guess how successful that was.

So in February, I manage to figure out a way to send in a support ticket without having a Dell system serial number. I wrote:

I keep getting your Dell Home and Home Office catalog. I have tried for months to get off your mailing list. I have called in, talked to people in multiple departments, who have promised to remove me from the list. I have contacted you online. NOTHING IS HELPING. This has gone on for MONTHS.


My address is above.

The code on the mailing I received is: [ snipped ]

The form letter I got back said:

If you are currently receiving our catalog or mailings and would like to be removed, please visit the following web page and select the appropriate link under the "Opt-out of direct mail, phone or fax communications" heading:

I replied, saying that form didn't work. Guess what I got back?

Thank you for signing up for Dell Email Subscriptions. Please save this email for your records.

Yes, that's right. Asking them to take me off their postal mailing lists got them to PUT ME ON their email lists. ARGH.

So they eventually manage to correctly take me off the email list, and of course promise to do the same with the postal list. This back in February.

I contacted them again in March and July, only to have a similar stupidity-laced run-in with clueless form-answer-laden Dell support reps. Each one claimed to have now, finally, and permanently removed me from the list. It never happened, and none of them lifted a finger to find out way, and no amount of begging could make them.

So, here's the good part.

Junkbusters has spent years educating people on how to get rid of unwanted mail, and documents getting a prohibitory order against the sender. It was originally designed for people that didn't want to receive obscene advertising mailings, but thanks to the happy fact that one non-adult-mailer challenged a prohibitory order all the way to the Supreme Court, you can now get prohibitory order against anyone. Yes, even Dell. (The supreme court's ruling even gave an example: you can prohibit a clothing catalog if you want.)

And last month, that's exactly what I did. The USPS sent me back a copy of the letter they sent to Dell, as well as a second page with instructions on reporting violations. Here's the letter they sent to Dell:


Somehow I get a chuckle over some Dell mail clerk trying to figure out how an 11-pound laptop is sexually provocative.

From August 25 on, it is a federal offense for Dell to send me another Home and Home Office catalog. This is a branch of criminal law, not civil law. That is, it's the maybe-go-to-jail branch of law.

How disappointed I was to receive yet another catalog from them today. If only they had waited 5 more days, I could have turned them in now.

Oh well. There's always next month's catalog. Let's just hope the clerk that received the USPS letter removed my name with a better system than everyone else at Dell uses, eh?

7 May 2008

Craig Sanders: fixed-width style sheets suck

I’m getting more and more annoyed by web sites that have style-sheets with tiny little fonts and widths specified in pixels rather than percentages (or ‘em’ units). Almost every web site i visit these days seems to have a style sheet written by some idiot who thinks “if it looks good on my screen using my eyes then it’s perfect for everyone”. WRONG Specifying widths in pixels is NOT for text. It’s for images, you morons. For one thing, small fonts suck if you have a large, high-resolution monitor. or if you have bad eyesight. or if you’re getting older (I was helping my mother find a house to buy a few days ago and the real-estate web site we were searching was basically unreadable for her - she could see the house pictures but I had to read out the text, and even I found that difficult because of the tiny font). For another thing, if you have a wide-screen monitor and a browser window to suit it, then a fixed-width column of 560 pixels or so looks really bloody stupid in the middle of a huge expanse of empty white space, even with another column or two at the sides for meta-stuff. There are tools, like the Stylish and NoSquint plugins for Firefox/Iceweasel that help you make a site more readable, regardless of what the so-called “designer” perpetrated. But, cool as those tools are, they just should not be necessary. And I, as a user of the web site, shouldn’t have to spend 5, 10, 20, or more minutes reading and understanding their style sheet so i can hack up a tweak for it JUST TO MAKE IT READABLE. They’re the designers, that’s their job, not mine. That’s what they’re (presumably) getting paid for - and yes, the commercial/professional web sites tend to be far worse offenders than the amateur sites. Web designers should have enough bloody sense to make their sites look good in ANY font size, at ANY window width. It’s not hard. In fact, it’s easier and much less work than hard-coding pixel sizes. I’m not a web designer, nor am I anything remotely like an expert in CSS or style sheets. I’m a systems geek. But if I can figure this stuff out, when it’s not even my job to do so and i have no intrinsic interest in the subject, then why the hell can’t they? Don’t they take pride in their work? Don’t they care that visitors to their web sites will think they’re clueless morons for perpetrating yet another squint-eyed monstrosity on the web? Don’t their employers give a damn? To summarise:
  1. text widths in style sheets should be specified in relative units such as percentage or ‘em’ units.
  2. font sizes should be specified in ‘em’ units, if you must specify them at all.
  3. all other non-image/embedded-media sizes should also be specified in ‘em’ units.
Doing those three simple things will ensure that your web site looks good to all visitors, no matter what size screen/window they have, and no matter what font-size they have to use to be able to read it. end-of-rant. PS: My own hacked-up theme/style-sheet for this blog is far from perfect….but I did take the time to make sure all the widths and font-sizes were relative. If there are any CSS bugs feel free to point them out and i’ll fix them ASAP…like I said, I’m far from an expert in CSS. Syndicated from Craig Sanders' Errata: Tech Notes and Miscellaneous Thoughts fixed-width style sheets suck

13 March 2008

Matthew Garrett

Airports visited in the past week: 4 (rising to 6 in 12 hours or so)
Terminals visited in Heathrow: 2
Terminals enjoyed in Heathrow: 0
Vending machines in groundside of Heathrow terminal 2: 2, hidden near the men's toilets
Temperature of "ice cold" Coca Cola from vending machine: 5 C
Currencies currently carried: 4
Passports currently carried: 2
Fuses blown in airports: 1
Belonging to me: 0
Gross vm86-related hacks perpetrated: 1
Number of x86 instructions to emulate in order to achieve the above: 21
Number actually emulated as yet: 0

Those of you who haven't been too busy not paying attention will already know my whereabouts on the 13th of October and why my alibi is weak but that's another story for another time, but also that I'm in Recife from tomorrow afternoon until some time on Sunday and Porto de Galinhas from then until Wednesday in order to present at Bossa to talk about Ubuntu Mobile and the challenges involved in turning a Linux desktop distribution into something suitable for devices that are less large than your face. Sadly, logistical errors on my part mean I won't have any demo hardware with me, but there's always some potential for other synergy. Please don't beat me to death. Ow. Not the face. Please, not the face.

27 August 2007

Adam Rosi-Kessel: Terrorist Hashing?

The Hash House Harriers is “an international group of social, non-competitive running and drinking clubs.” I participated many years ago in college (e.g.), although the Princeton Group is probably more tame than most. Via Bruce Schneier, this crazy new items:
Two people who sprinkled flour in a parking lot to mark a trail for their offbeat running club inadvertently caused a bioterrorism scare and now face a felony charge.
Although I don’t hash anymore, I frequently see the characteristic flour marks while jogging in the woods. I can’t see how the perpetrators here could possibly meet the mens rea requirement for a felony bioterrorism charge.

24 July 2007

Adam Rosi-Kessel: Currently in the iRiver (7/2007)

Occasionally, I update my sidebar to reflect the current contents of my iRiver. Most people read this blog through the RSS feed, however, and never see the sidebar. So I thought I’d provide occasional snapshots here. Lately: