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January 03, 2021 21:16 +0000  |  Economy Employment Free Software Health Politics Software 0

This year sucked. That line is probably enough to remember the nightmare that is 2020 when I'm (hopefully) looking back on this post in 10 years, but as it's my tradition to go into depth on the past year at the start of a new one, let's go a bit deeper into the why this year sucked so much.

The Pandemic

This was the year that the COVID-19 pandemic took off. Lockdowns all over the world started around March and for the more civilised countries (New Zealand, Taiwan, a few others) that was the end of it. The rest of the world however could not get our shit together.

From the talks of "natural herd immunity" to the politicising of the virus and its prevention as a left-wing conspiracy, nearly every country failed to do the right thing in the most calamitous way possible.

It's left the people with a sense of reason exhausted. I mean, we have experts in this field. Those experts told us what we needed to do to stem the spread. Our leaders overwhelmingly did not heed that advice and chose instead to let 1.8 million people die (so far).

Even while mass graves were being dug in New York, leaders in nearly every nation were refusing to even close the schools. Here in the UK, (home of the famous "take it on the chin" comment by our fearless leader) we had policies that actually encouraged people to eat out at local pubs, and no mask mandate. Now the UK wears the dubious distinction of being the source of a much more virulent strain of the virus. Other countries have closed their borders to us, but nearly all continue with anti-science policy that inevitably leads to more death.

Vaccine Development

There's some good news though: 3 promising vaccines have made their way through a (very rushed) development & testing process to be cleared for emergency use in Europe and North America (and presumably elsewhere). The roll out has (unsurprisingly) been a mess here in the UK, and now there's talk of actually mixing-and-matching the vaccines which sounds insane to me, but again, unsurprising given the kind of leadership this country has.

From my (admittedly ignorant) read of the science behind this though, I'm currently on-board with getting a vaccine (or a "jab" as they call it here) when it's made available to me. As I understand the risks of so-called "Long COVID" vs. the nature of an mRNA vaccine, it's still a smart move in my mind.

Radicalised

Was 2020 a “bad year” or are we simply approaching the inevitable conclusion of living under an economic system that is fundamentally incompatible with human dignity and happiness?

Throughout all of this, I've become more "radicalised". My contempt for capitalism is more palpable, and I'm angrier every day.

All of this, all of this is a direct result of capitalism. From the Chinese government refusing to crack down on wild/exotic animal wet markets, to the world's pandering to their carelessness, to their covering up of the outbreak until it was too late, to the world's reluctance to close the borders, to anti-science policies in nearly every nation treating the working public like expendable peasants. All of it is driven by capitalism:

China

We've continued to trade with China and support their economy because it's profitable for the rest of us. It doesn't matter that they commit genocide or are among the worst polluters on the planet. We pretend that this is only their problem when logically we know that it isn't. The same is true for their public health regulations.

We knew that China's public health policy was a breeding ground for pandemics. We've seen it before. But isolating them? Punishing them for being a threat to world health? That would affect our profits.

And so we did nothing and China acted exactly as everyone knew they would.

Management once the pandemic started

The science was clear on all of this:

  • Close the borders
  • Close the schools, the churches, the markets, and the malls
  • Limit travel
  • Limit the spread by keeping people at home
  • Track and trace infected cases

But we all had rent and mortgages to pay. Around 300 million of us (the Americans) couldn't even have medical care if they were unemployed. How could anyone possibly do the right thing and follow the science?

Our governments could have stepped in. They could have put a moratorium on rent and mortgages. They could have mandated the expansion of grocery store delivery networks and required that no one be permitted to go to work if that work is not directly involved in a key industry like the food supply, public health, utilities, or the military.

The right thing would have been to do this for just a month or two and get a handle on the virus. Limit its spread and understand its behaviour. It could have been financed through a wealth tax or some other fiscal tool levied against those profiting from the pandemic.

We didn't do this though, because capitalism demands that we all go to work doing jobs that don't really matter so that the very rich few continue to accumulate wealth. It's a given that millions will die, but it's also understood we're all replaceable.

Disaster Capitalism

All of this is what Naomi Klein calls "disaster capitalism": the idea that disasters are leveraged (if not also created) by people who profit from them.

There are absolutely winners in all of this: Amazon and Tesco for example both posted record profits while exploiting their workforce. As The Guardian pointed out:

Bezos has accumulated so much added wealth over the last nine months that he could give every Amazon employee $105,000 and still be as rich as he was before the pandemic.

None of this is to say that there's some sort of illuminati cadre of rich assholes running the world. Only that the world is as it is because these sorts of people profit from it the way things are rather than how we all know they should be.

We don't need 2¢ USB sticks from China or next-day delivery of slippers from Amazon. We need a universal basic income, nationalised health care, and a government that understands the economy as a system of land, water, and people rather than currency.

This pandemic has happened entirely because we have prioritised personal wealth over humanity.

It's not just a bad year

Towards the end of the year, it became fashionable to refer to how we'll all be glad that 2020 is over, because somehow everything was going to be better in 2021. Nothing has changed though, and so even if the vaccine is rolled out smoothly and the pandemic subsides, all of this — in one form or another — will happen again because that is what this system was designed to do.

The worst is yet to come. Next up we're looking down the barrel of a crippling depression and the appallingly inevitable climate catastrophe. The skies above California literally turned red this year, and yet that nation still has no salient climate plan. The world community has done little more than talk about how we should probably do something, but fossil fuels are still subsidised by nearly every industrialised nation.

There's a reason you feel like things have only been getting worse: they have. Disaster capitalism is as much about profiting off of disaster as it is about demoralising the peasantry and keeping us fearful. We've been "holding on" for so long, hoping for things to get better when they absolutely will only get worse so long as we live under this system.

In Other World News

Despite the pandemic, there were a lot of things that happened worth noting that happened this year:

Black Lives Matter

George Floyd was murdered by a police officer and the country, the world was (finally) enraged. From what I've been hearing, very little has come of the rage though, as the pandemic has made mobilisations difficult. Still, calls for defunding or abolishing the police are finally being taken seriously, so that's a start.

Trump

Trump made it through all four years and got clobbered in an attempt at re-election. I maintain that if this pandemic hadn't happened, he would have won a second term (I have that little faith in the US), but with more than 350,000 dead so far and millions losing their jobs, there was no way he was going to win in a fair fight.

The question then was how much would the Republicans have to cheat to win this one, and they did their best: everything from gerrymandering, to restricting access to voting places, to sabotaging the postal system. None of it was enough to give Trump a win, though it may well have been enough to hold onto the Senate. We'll know in a few days with the Georgia run-off vote.

Oh, and there's widespread claims that the election was somehow fraudulent, and that Trump was actually the winner. This has led to Trump-devotees holding (maskless, of course) rallies calling for the arrest of Joe Biden.

And one more thing: Q-Anon is a thing now. There's a lot of overlap between these nuts and the nuts claiming that Trump actually won.

My Life, Directly

In comparison to any of the above, my life doesn't exactly feel significant, but this is my blog, so I'm going to cover that too.

Lockdown

The (limited) lockdown we had here in the UK was rough. I was just holding onto my sanity, being able to send my 1 year old away to the child minder during the work-week, but when that was all cancelled, Christina and I became full-time babysitters while also being full-time employees.

We "managed" this by working in shifts. I would work 4 hours while Christina looked after Anna, then I'd take care of Anna for four hours while Christina worked. When Anna napped midday, we'd both work, and when dinner came around, one of us would cook while the other took care of the kid, then she'd go down and both of us would go back to work 'till 11 or midnight at which point we'd go to sleep only to repeat this... for the entire month.

I won't complain though. It was hard, but at least we remained employed through the fortune of having remote-friendly work. I know that a lot of people in this country were looking down the barrel of no income and substantial rent to pay, so I know that we've been very fortunate.

Our childminder was freaking out when she heard the news that she couldn't keep her doors open, since no kids meant that her income was suddenly reduced to £0. Christina and I decided however that so long as our employment situation didn't change, we would continue to pay her as if Anna was in full attendance as usual.

Fear

The worst part of this though — at least for me — as been the looming fear. Yes the odds of death are low, but they're still very high compared to almost anything you would choose to do on a daily basis. On top of that, the long-term health effects of COVID-19 are almost entirely unknown. There are reports of cramps and migraines lasting months, and permanent heart damage, so this isn't something anyone wants to get.

My parents are both very high-risk, and yet they continue to have regular visits with my brother who flies all over Canada for work. It doesn't help that my brother's attitude toward COVID is more dismissive than anything else.

Personally I've had breathing concerns for years ever since I contracted pertussis in my late teens. Every time I've had a bad flu since then, there have been moments where the coughing and seizing locks up my whole respiratory system and I literally can't breathe. In those moments, I'm taken back to that year where whooping cough was destroying my lungs and I think that maybe this time will be the last... and then it subsides.

...and that's the flu.

I may talk a big game about the macro-level implications of this thing, but I'm honestly — personally — worried.

Christina is less concerned (which doesn't help with my own fears). She's frustrated by the way this year has likely stunted Anna's social development, how we see our friends so rarely (always outside, at a "safe" social distance), and she remains (rightly) concerned about the way the vaccines have been rushed through, and how public health is once again being politicised: you're either happy to give your 2 year-old a vaccine that's never been tested on 2-year-olds being rolled out by a government with a demonstrated lack of interest in public health, or you're an idiot anti-vaxxer who hates Britian.

There's a lot of stress to go around.

Goodbye Workfinder, Hello MoneyMover (again)

On the corporate front, I said goodbye to Founders4Schools/Workfinder back in November, and while I'll miss a lot of the people there, I won't miss working there for a variety of reasons.

For the last 2 months of 2020, I went back to MoneyMover to help move some of their codebase forward. I'd been helping to keep things running in my off-hours for the last 2 years, but there were a lot of things that needed more dedicated attention, so I agreed to come back for a short stint to help out. It's a great place to work, so I've really enjoyed being able to work with with everyone again.

Later this month, I'll be moving onto my next full-time job, this time with LimeJump. That move warrants an entirely separate post though, so I hope to get to that soon.

Majel

Finally, the best news (for me anyway) this year was the "launching" of my latest side project, Majel. I won't be announcing it to the nerd world for a few days still, but I'm really happy with how it's turned out.

Majel is a front-end for Mycroft, an OpenSource Alexa replacement. Imagine being able to "install" Alexa on your laptop or a Raspberry Pi and know that it does what you want without eavesdropping on your conversations. Mycroft even sells dedicated devices that do the same thing (just like an Echo), again, all Freely licensed so you can extend it in any way you like.

Majel is one such extension, my add-on to the Mycroft system that allows you to control a web browser with voice commands. Sure, maybe Alexa can control a "smart" TV and play shows from Amazon Prime, but it's unlikely that Amazon will also let Alexa control Netflix, let alone a local library stored in something like Kodi.

So I wrote Majel to do just that. You can say stuff like:

Play The West Wing

and it'll look at your local library and play those files if you have them (remembering where you left off of course). If you don't have them, it'll ask Netflix & Amazon who has the show and then play it with the service that does.

It also does stuff like:

Youtube baby shark

Where it'll look up "baby shark" on Youtube and play the first search result, full-screen and on a loop. Anna was thrilled.

Finally, it plugs into my Firefox bookmarks to do handy things like:

Search my bookmarks for chicken

Where it'll draw up a touch-friendly web page full of chicken recipes from my curated collection.

It's all licensed under the AGPL and regardless of whether or not there's much interest in it, I'll likely continue to develop on it. I want to be able to tell it to do basic web stuff, like do a Google/DuckDuckGo search for something or pull up a Wikipedia page on an arbitrary topic. I also want to get it to a point where I can say:

Call the parents

and have it start a video call, but that'll likely require working with something like PyGUI, so it may be a while before I can figure that out.

Anyway, I'm really happy with it, and it represents the culmination of roughly a year's work, squeezed into my off hours after Anna's gone to bed and when I'm not already expected to do some off-hours contracting. I'm hoping it'll show the Mycroft project a way toward making these digital assistants a more visual experience, but even if it flops, I'm still happy to have it running on my old Surface Pro 3 in the kitchen.

November 01, 2020 20:19 +0000  |  Politics 0

Politics is a regional thing, and since the people reading this blog are most likely not UK residents, I'm gong to provide a little background before I talk about what's going on in my own head.

The Background

The UK is a rather right-wing country. In fact, before I left the Netherlands, my Canadian friend said:

"You'll regret it. The UK is the America of Europe."

I can't think of a more appropriate analogy. Since Thatcher this country has leaned heavily to the right, hollowing out human rights and labour rights, rolling back or curtailing health, environment, and safety regulations, and (especially recently) drumming up the xenophobia. It didn't matter who was in charge: it was Labour after all who plunged this country into an illegal war that killed millions of people.

That was sort of the problem really. When your politics are dominated by 2 parties and both parties espouse right-wing ideals, there's simply no way to move the country in any other direction.

That was until 2015 when Jeremy Corbyn won in a landslide.

Corbyn is a proper socialist. He has been campaigning for "crazy" things like publicly-owned rail networks and power generation, stronger unions, more funding for public health, and support for queer rights for his entire career. The man campaigned against racism and denounced apartheid in South Africa, even going so far as to be arrested in a 1984 demonstration agaisnt it.

Given all of this, you can imagine what the heart attacks were like for the establishment in this country when we won the leadership of the Official Opposition in 2015.

What followed was a long series of relentless attacks on Corbyn and Labour in general from 2015 until he was replaced as leader last year. This country collectively lost its mind.

From the BBC literally painting him as a communist, to The Times referring to his "Maoist Bicycle", to the Sun and the Mail equating him with Muslim terrorists, the media has been especially irresponsible and vile.

The worst part of all of this was the horrible campaign from within his own party, to sabotage Labour's chances in the 2019 election by breaking lines of communication, redirecting resources to right-wingers in the party, and deliberately doing nothing on the job for months. This is in addition to the numerous Labour members (and sitting MPs that undermined the party's goals in the lead up to two elections.

To my knowledge, none of those members have been ejected from the party to date.

...but Corbyn was kicked out this week.

Antisemitism

If ever there was a campaign against racism terribly misdirected, this was it. Labour -- like all political parties in this country and elsewhere -- has racists in it. Some of those people hate Muslims, some hate Jews, some hate LGBTQ+ people, and some, like the leader of the Conservative Party, have a documented history of all four. Most parties have a way of dealing with them. If you're a Canadian Conservative, you tell them to shut up and try not to get noticed. If you're a Canadian Liberal, you elect them to the leadership and pretend that a few cases of blackface are no big deal 'cause he's "woke" now. If you're a British Conservative, you elect them party leader and watch while he appoints all of his xenophobic friends into positions of power, and if you're the UK Labour party, you file the complaints through a long and plodding system to hopefully get these assholes kicked out.

Guess which party leader had a massive nation-wide campaign about how he was an antisemite?

The media over here lost its mind over this insane story. That somehow, with the Conservative leader's uncontested public record of racism/sexism/homophobia and straight-up antisemitism, it was the Labour leader who was the problem: the same guy who has never waivered on his position on racism. Somehow, there was a conspiracy within the Labour Party that was so egregious that Jews across the country were fearful for their lives should the Labour Party succeed in 2019.

The Report

So after years of attacking Corbyn and the party both from within and without, and after he was replaced by a more conservative leader, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published a report citing that there were 23 instances of "inappropriate involvement" by Corbyn's staff in antisemitism complaints. Corbyn responded that the team had "acted to speed up, not hinder the process", that he didn't accept the EHRC's findings, and that the scale of antisemitism within Labour had been "dramatically overstated for political reasons". This apparently was enough evidence for his suspension from the party.

My Own Membership

I joined Labour initially to vote for Corbyn as leader because I, like many members of the party am someone that strongly believes that socialism is the right step forward. Obviously, this opinion is in the minority in this country though. I don't know how so many were tricked into thinking that people like Theresa May (xenophobe who tried to kill the Human Rights Act and presided over Grenfell) and Boris Johnson (liar, homophobe, racist, elitist kleptocrat) are the right choice for a country where 21% live below the povery line, but that's the norm here. The British public (perhaps because they're routinely guided by the toxic media) simply won't tolerate a socialist in politics. I can forgive that though. People are allowed to be stupid.

What I can't accept is my own membership in a Labour party that demonstrably doesn't support socialist principles. A party with factions within it that act to sabotage its own chances for fear that they might actually win on a socialist platform. Until now, I'd hoped that there was still cause to back Labour, even with the new "centrist" leader, but it's clear at this point that they're "cleaning house" in the hopes that they can win the next election by simply being the "Not Conservative Party". It's a winning strategy really, but I don't care to be part of a group that wouldn't have Jeremy Corbyn as a member, let alone one who would happily retain Tony Blair and the myriad of traitors who tried to kill the party from within.

Fuck those guys. I'm out.

March 29, 2020 12:53 +0000  |  Science and Nature Star Trek 0

I've been thinking a lot about tricorders lately. If you weren't raised on Star Trek though, you'd be forgiven for not knowing what that is. In Star Trek Land, it's a common trope that a problem is presented: a sick patient, an alien power source, or a strange new world. In all cases, our heroes use a "tricorder" (a hand-held "scanning" device) to detect what they're looking for: a pathogen, fuel, or life signs. It's a convenient device to further the story and add some jargon to make things sound sci-fi: "I'm reading elevated levels of dilithium captain" etc.

For our present day however, the need for a tricorder is becoming more and more apparent. We're seeing massive advancements in data routing, warehousing, processing and machine learning, but very little on the collection of that data. Some of the most advanced ML outfits in the world are using limited data sets as their input: user-provided data, or simple computer vision are the most common sources. The result of course is that all of the power afforded us by these new technologies is limited by the kind of data we can feed them.

A lot of people have been saying that the Next Big Advance in technology will have to come in energy storage -- and they're probably right, but I think it's reasonable to say that following close behind will have to be sensor technology like portable, high-resolution infrared spectroscopy. Something that can identify the makeup of objects so we can make decisions around what to do with the thing we're scanning.

Imagine a world where you can determine, in a fraction of a second, what something is made of. Suddenly waste reclaimation can be automated: breaking down plastics, fabrics, circuit boards into fragments the size of a grain of sand to be reused, composted, or melted down without the need for human intervention. We can feed breath samples into a sensor, and combine the data collected with the billions of other samples to use machine learning to quickly and cheaply diagnose someone with a disease.

These are the two cases that've been bouncing around my head for ages, and there are bound to be more. We're only beginning to understand the potential for all of our new-found data-driven technologies, but what we do know is that they work best with large, high-quality data sets, and that their ability to give us answers to important questions depends on our ability to collect that data for them.

When the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic, I started to think about how we could automate, speed-up, and distribute testing and so far, my research has lead me to two interesting places:

So far as I can tell, neither source has considered combining their findings with ML, so I'm going to send some emails. Perhaps it's finally time for our own tricorder.

March 14, 2020 15:42 +0000  |  Family Health 0

I'm honestly freaking out.

This feels like we're just at the beginning of a story and so many are acting as if we already know everything that's going to happen when all the evidence points to the fact that no one has any clue, no one has anything resembling a plan for the long term.

Here's what we think we know at this stage:

  • The virus is believed to have started in China, in a Wuhan wet market. It appears to be the result of a crossing of a bat virus with something else, possibly a pangolin. The resulting mutation hopped again to humans in the city.
  • It's everywhere. Obviously it's all over China, but in this globalised world, it wasn't long before people carried the virus to every continent.
  • Governments are all responding differently. Typically, the more authoritarian/right-wing the government, the more irresponsible they are.
    • Trump's United States has just gotten around to admitting there's a problem, but has stopped short of actually doing much of anything about it.
    • Here in the UK, conservatives are suggesting that we just "get it over with" to establish "herd immunity", ignoring the fact that (a) this is counter to all advice from medical professionals, (b) hundreds of thousands will most definitely die if they contract it, and (c) we don't even know if herd immunity is even possible. It may be that the virus mutates too quickly, and there have been reports of people re-contracting the virus after they've survived a first round. This may be related to reports that there are in fact two separate but related versions of the virus circulating.
    • In Italy especially, harsh quarantine measures are in place. More than 1200 people have died there already, with around 17,000 listed as having contracted it.
    • South Korea has gone all-out with testing, issuing government funded tests to anyone who wants one, available via a drive-through. Their numbers are generally thought to be most accurate because of this policy. They have more than 8000 infected and 72 dead.
    • Brazil's fascist Bolsanaro said he wasn't infected, then there was a report that he actually was, and then he responded that this was "fake news".
    • Justin Trudeau's wife tested positive, so their whole family is in self-imposed isolation.
  • The projected death toll is all over the place, ranging from millions to tens of millions of people.
    • For the most part, it seems that this virus is killing older people (60+) as well as the immunocompromised and those with diminished breathing capacity, like asthma.

I'm scared that I'm going to lose my parents and not even be able to be there to comfort them. I'm scared it'll kill my aunt, or Ruth, or any number of beautiful people in my life that fit the profile for most-likely-to-die. I'm scared that it could kill me too.

On top of that, I'm worried about what's to come. If this virus can't be contained (and it's a decent bet at this stage) and it mutates as readily as the flu, we could be looking at a hard limit on the typical human life span of 60 years... forever. Put another way, I just lost 30-40 years of my life. If I survive this, every "coronavirus season" will be a gauntlet between now and when it finally manages to kill me, my wife, my daughter, her kid, and so on. The collective life span and ability for our species to retain knowledge may very well be irreparably damaged by this one virus.

Then there's the question of how society will change.

In the short term, we're looking at global quarantines and self-isolation. Much of the West has spent the last 30 years destroying job security in favour of zero-hour contracts and the "gig economy". This translates to millions of people with no sick pay, and therefore considerable motivation to go to work anyway and infect others.

Even with those people going to work though, we're still looking at a catastrophic global labour shortage. The vast majority of developed countries are both highly integrated with the global market and operating on a just-in-time system. Food is picked by people, processed by people, transported vast distances by people, stocked by people, and delivered by people... all of whom are being asked not to work. This applies to every industry that produces a tangible product: food, medicine, clothing. In other words, there's a critical amount of work that people do to keep us all alive, and none of those jobs can be converted to "remote work" or automated anytime soon.

It's through this lens that the US and UK positions are beginning to make sense to me. They don't want a quarantine. They're looking down the barrel of a permanently shortened life span vs. supply chains atrophying and people starving/rioting and they're opting for the lesser of two evils. It's horrifying, but I'm not sure I can blame them. Still, Christina points out to me that other countries are experimenting with more progressive options: keeping schools open only for children whose parents have no other option than working: paying out weeks of leave partially by reducing wages, partially through government funds, and partially through the employer. There's hope there that we'll find a way through this, but it's a terrifying mess.

More than any of this though, I'm angry. If we're right that the origin is indeed a Wuhan wet market, then I'm pissed as hell at China. This is a country that knew that wet markets selling wild animals were a dangerous source for breeding new viruses. They knew this because it happened once before with SARS. The government even shut down wet markets after the SARS outbreak, but that didn't last. The government allowed this to happen knowing full well what the implications would be. They did it anyway, and now millions are going to die.

Maybe after all of this settles, the global community can finally adopt a policy of isolating countries who, through carelessness or ideology, conduct themselves in a way that's dangerous to the rest of us.

For now, I'm just going to hope a vaccine is developed soon, and that the virus doesn't mutate too readily.

February 01, 2020 20:37 +0000  |  Europe United Kingdom 0

The EU flag

"This is the first time in my life that I've lived outside of Europe"

That was Christina reflecting on the significance of "Brexit Day" this morning, how our European family has been pulled out of Europe against our will. For my part, I'm not sure what to say to it all. I'm so angry at the ignorant, xenophobic assholes that did this to us.

With a referendum rooted in lies, an exit campaign captained by disaster capitalists stole Anna's chance at an Erasmus exchange. They kicked in the teeth an organisation founded, above all things, to establish and maintain peace on a warring continent.

They've drummed up nationalism and sown fear & violence across the country. They've shown the world just how deluded this country is, convinced it's somehow still a superpower.

It's laughable, and pathetic, but there is an upside.

The Brexit party, and the rest of the obstructionist Brits have been removed from the European parliament. Now the EU can move forward on the issues that it needs to: a Green New Deal, a unified military, and a fiscal union.

I'm not worried about the EU, they'll be just fine. I'm not worried about the UK either, but that's mostly because I don't care about the future of a country that would embrace nationalism and xenophobia as this one has. I am however worried about my family as we're still stuck here.

All of the protections afforded by the EU are likely to expire in the coming years, and if the UK chooses to cuddle up to the US, then we'll likely see adoption of their terrible food & safety standards. The NHS is also likely in trouble, if not due to dealings with the US, then definitely because so much of its staff are EU nationals.

It's a shit show, and all you see in the media are drooling idiots cheering this all on, unable to articulate a single legitimate reason for their enthusiasm.

So yes, I'm angry, and a little worried, but mostly angry.

January 28, 2020 07:47 +0000  |  Food 0

We've been developing a decent chili recipe over the years, initially derived from this one, but as it's been so heavily modified from the original, consulting it when making dinner no longer makes sense. So, in an effort to simplify cooking it for ourselves, and perhaps so that others may enjoy it, I'm sharing it here.

Ingredients

  • 500g ground beef
  • 2 zucchini, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 6 carrots, as the zucchini
  • 2 onions, diced into cubes no larger than 1cm²
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled and chopped into tiny slices
  • a splash of olive oil
  • 2 heaped tsp mild chili powder
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tbsp cumin seeds (you can never have too much cumin)
  • 2 beef stock cubes
  • 500ml passata (if you like your chili a little runny, 750ml might be better)
  • 1 tsp dried marjoram
  • 1 can red kidney beans, rinsed & drained (or some pre-boiled raw ones)
  • salt & pepper
  • long grain rice (we tend to favour brown Basmati), to serve
  • sour cream, to serve

The important thing to note here is that variation is encouraged. They say that while baking is a science, cooking is an art, so feel free to take some artistic license if you want to experiment.

Method

The preparation of this meal is the hardest part. For the actual cooking, you just dump stuff into the pot in the right order and wait the right amount of time between additions.

Put a reasonably-big pot on the stove. For something like this, you probably want your Big Soup Pot. Put the heat up to medium, and when it's reasonably warm, add that splash of oil.

Once the oil is warm, add the onions, chili powders, paprika, and about half the cumin. Stir until the onion is translucent and the spices are nicely distributed. Now add the garlic and stir a little to make sure it's covered too.

Next up is the cow. Crank the heat up a little and toss it all in. Break it up and stir it regularly until it's properly brown. This part is important: before you move onto the next step, make sure the meat is cooked all the way through, otherwise it won't have the right texture in the final product.

Now add the zucchini and carrots, stirring both around again for the sake of distribution.

Things are looking a little dry at this stage, so here we add some fluids. Make some beef stock from those 2 stock cubes (in my case it was 600ml of water, but do whatever the stock box says). Mix the stock into your primordial chili along with your passata, the marjoram, and the rest of cumin. This is also a good time to add some salt & pepper to taste.

Drop the heat back down to medium and add the beans. Stir everything around, cover it, and let it simmer for about 20-30min, stirring occasionally. Toward the end of this time, take the lid off so some of the excess water has a chance to evaporate. You'll know it's ready when it has the consistency you want.

Serve over a bed of rice, topped with a dollop of sour cream.

January 20, 2020 19:08 +0000  |  Anna Climate Change Environment Grandma Lidia Politics 0

My father once said to me: "Life has a way of getting away from you. One day you blink, and 30 years have passed." I think that I'm finally starting to understand what he meant. 2019 doesn't really feel like a year I lived through so much as a year that was done to me. People I thought integral to my life disappeared suddenly, and a whole new human was added to my immediate family, all this while the world is literally on fire. Everything is changing and for my part, it feels like my role is more that of a passenger than driver.

Personal

2019 was a bumpy year for me personally.

Anna & me on Siros

Anna

My daughter was born in the early days of the year. She's now already a full-year old and what they say really is true: they grow up so fast. When we met, she was roughly the size of a small pumpkin, now she's a walking, talking (well, babbling), screaming, grabby mobile monster.

Parenthood is a crazy process: you're constantly monitoring a tiny creature to make sure that she doesn't kill herself reaching for a pen or eating plastic. I mean, we watched her lick a bar of soap, make a face, then lick it again as if she hadn't learnt her lesson the first time. This process of constant vigilance is... exhausting. There's really no other word for it. It's a good thing she's cute.

There's also not a lot of sleep in my day-to-day anymore.

Grandma Lidia

Grandma

Around when Anna reached the 4-month mark, she lost her great grandmother -- my last remaining grandparent. To be honest, I'm still pretty broken up about it -- still processing. Unlike my other grandparents, I wasn't prepared to lose Grandma Lidia and it still hurts to think about. I miss her every day, and the thought of returning home to visit my family feels eerily wrong without her there.

Professional

I really feel like my Free Software career has taken a big hit this past year. Whereas in 2018 I was releasing Aletheia and speaking at PyCon about it while handing-off Paperless to the broader community, 2019 has seen very little Free stuff from me. There were a couple bits worth mentioning though:

A jumping pizza!

Pizzaplace

It's a very simple server that lets you spin up branch deploys automatically by plugging into GitLab's WebHooks system and linking that to a docker-compose. It made development of some of our stuff at Workfinder a lot simpler, and I'm hoping we can make more use of it in 2020.

Aletheia Server

I realised that Aletheia has a lot of dependencies to get going -- too many perhaps for most to make use of it in any reasonable architecture. So with that in mind, I decided to hack together a dockerised microservice that does the signing & verification for you. This way, you could theoretically deploy Aletheia to a project simply by adding it to your running services rather than trying to integrate a 3rd-party module and all of the dependencies that come with.

The Aletheia logo The project works, but as I built it using FastAPI, getting the tests to play nice is proving problematic for a Django nerd like me. I'm hoping to have the kinks worked out in early 2020.

Workfinder: Last Man Standing

Most of the code I wrote in 2019 was for my full-time employer, but the face of the dev team changed a lot over the year. I started out working in of the Cambridge office with 3 other developers, and one-by-one they all left the company. Now I'm the only one in this town, with most of the rest of the company based out of London. Thankfully, the CEO has promised that she's not going to make me commute to London on a daily basis (honestly that just wouldn't happen), but it does mean that I don't have anyone to bounce ideas off of on a regular basis and that sucks.

On the plus side though, before he left, Richard and I wrote what I think might be some of my Best Code Ever: a system that handles multiple data sources of varying trustworthiness and merges it into a single derived model that performs even with tens of millions of records in the system. Now it's just a matter of getting that code into the main product...

Travel

It turns out that babies seriously cramp your travel plans. For the most part, Christina and I have been Cambridge-bound this past year. I'm hoping that once Anna reaches the age where we can hand her a phone and say: "shut up and watch Peppa Pig", we'll be able to consider then 9-hour flight to Vancouver.

Siros

The one trip we made was to Athens & Siros (Σιρος). Anna was just young enough that she wasn't bothered (too much) by the flight (even though it was RyanAir), and she slept through the majority of the trip. We spent a few days in Athens, and then continued onto Siros where we rented a little house with a pretty remarkable view of both the island and the sea.

We took Anna for her very first swim in the Agean, ate a lot of delicious food, and I came face-to-face with my paralysing fear of crickets & grasshoppers. The trip was lovely... except for that last part.

In-laws In-residence

Not long after the trip to Greece, Christina's parents came out to Cambridge to live with us for 2 months. The plan was that they would help ease Christina's transition back into the workforce, help Anna get used to her day care, and help out around the house as we all get used to having a baby around. Now I'm not going to come out and say that living with my in-laws for 2 months was super-fun and friction-free, but I really appreciated the help. Having someone around to talk to for advice, or to help with putting the kid to sleep when you're at the end of your tether is invaluable to say the least.

Parents visit

Not long after the in-laws left, my parents came for a few weeks, though their stay was interrupted by their own (apparently abysmal: screw you Norwegian Cruiselines) detour through the European North. It's always nice when my parents visit and I get to show them the life I'm helping to build, though this time around my mom was having a really hard time. Still, I think they enjoyed their trip, and they're talking about coming back for a visit before (in their words) they're too old to make the trip.

Politics

I got to vote in two national elections this year, though in both cases first-past-the-post ensured that my vote didn't really mean anything.

Canada

The Liberals squeaked out a minority government, campaigning on the idea that they gave a shit about climate change and a history of actions that prove that they don't. I suppose I could be happy that at least Canada didn't elect outright climate deniers, but like everything else they do, the Liberals are even more infuriating: they play up their green rhetoric, but demonstrably aren't willing to do what's necessary to combat the climate crisis. To my mind, they're just as bad as the Conservatives, just more duplicitous.

UK

The UK had its 3rd election in 5 years in a desperate attempt to get a strong majority that would lend some stability to their position in managing Brexit with the rest of the EU. Thanks to first-past-the-post, even though the majority of the country voted against the Conservatives, we all got a crushing Conservative majority. Jeremy Corbyn, the first political leader that's inspired me in the UK, and only the fourth politician to inspire me in my lifetime, somehow is being blamed for the failings of his own party-unfaithful, that of the Lib-Dems, and of the Greens, whose platform was objectively less-green than Labour's. The country's fourth estate is in shambles, and we're now on-track for a disasterous brexit: upwards of 5-years helmed by a government & prime minister with a record of xenophobia, homophobia, flat-out racism, climate denial, and Trump ass-kissing.

So yeah. This is where I live.

World

On the world stage, 2019 was a year of hope and horrors. Every week, you'd read a story about how the world is literally on fire, but you'd also hear about how lab-grown or plant-based "meat" was getting a foothold in the market, that coal and oil were losing share to renewables, and a little girl was sailing across the Atlantic to lecture our do-nothing leaders.

Greta Thunburg

More than inspiration, Thunburg has been a voice for my (and future) generation's rage:

"The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you."

- Greta Thunburg, address to the UN Climate Action Summit

Personally, I'm impressed with the futility: the people she was speaking to demonstrably have no interest in fixing this mess they and their parents have created. Some of them are even straight-up climate deniers. She's 17. This is the limit of her power and she's shaming them into action. They won't act of course, but at least she's now part of the historical record: the voice of a generation enraged by how the boomers have fucked us all.

The #TeamTrees logo

#TeamTrees

It may seem small, but I'm still elated with the results. The #TeamTrees campaign started by a bunch of YouTubers accomplished its goal of funding the planting of 20,000,000 trees. With the vast majority of donations in the area between $1 and $10, people all over the planet scratched together what they could to show our leaders that we're willing to step up and do what we can to save the world. Every donation streamed onto the site in real-time, but my favourite was from a bunch of 8th-graders who crowdfunded $1,111 from 200 of their classmates -- all to save the world they're going to inherit from a generation that's done everything it can to use everything up before they die.

A baby kangaroo, burned to death on a fence.  Credit: @earthfocus on Instagram

#AustraliaFires

It's not hyperbole anymore. The world is literally on fire. Australia, home to thousands of unique and fascinating species, has lost approximately one billion animals to the fires. The amount of CO₂ is being measured in the millions of tonnes, and this is just the beginning. When summer comes in the Northern Hemisphere, it's entirely likely that the forests in Canada, Europe, and Russia will see the same. If you think that any of this is going to change the minds of those with the power to fix it, think again. The Prime Minister of Australia is a climate denier. Australians elected a climate denier, even after decades of flooding was laying out the truth in front of them.

We are so. very. fucked.

XR

I did however draw some hope & inspiration from one group though: Extinction Rebellion. They're the next step I've been expecting for a while now. When diplomacy fails, the next step is violence. Now to be clear: to my knowledge, XR hasn't taken any violent action against any people, but their actions against the machine that's destroying the planet are most definitely violent. They obstruct traffic, shut down transit infrastructure, and effectively cripple economies. They're the living embodiment of Mario Savio's words:

“There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part. You can't even passively take part. And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”

-- Mario Savio

Those destroying the planet don't care about people, animals, or even breatheable air. They do however care a great deal about profits. XR is hitting them where it hurts: they're fucking with capitalism and this is just the beginning. As people get more desperate, I expect XR to play a bigger role.

Leaders that Get It

I've also been inspired by some of the leaders we're seeing gain traction like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders. They're both the right people with the principled positions to guide the US through to doing the right thing by the climate and their people. My only concern is that of timing: AOC is too young to run for president, and the Democrats still have it in their head that a milquetoast "moderate" like Biden is their best bet at beating Trump. If Bernie doesn't win the Democratic primary, it's entirely likely that Trump will take the White House again, and if that happens, the US will be entirely lost to us with regard to its impact on the climate. We can't wait another four years for them to get their act together.

There's also The Green New Deal for Europe, which was released in 2019, and appears to have heavily influenced the European Green New Deal -- ramping up to be official EU policy. If the EU can get this right, they can dictate terms to the big polluters like India, China, and the US. They might actually save us all.

Maybe I'm still a little too hopeful.

Conclusion

So that's it for 2019. With the exception of Anna's birth, I don't feel particularly good about this year, but I have hope -- not you know, a lot, but some. Maybe 2020 will be the magical year that Trump is deposed, that all of Johnson's bluster about Brexit turns out to be smoke & mirrors for the softest of Brexits, that the EU finally starts to throw around its weight on the environmental file, that Canada's Liberals are forced to do the Right Thing through alliances with the NDP & Greens.

And maybe Anna will learn enough words to actually tell me why she's screaming at 0400h.

A guy can dream.

December 13, 2019 11:58 +0000  |  Politics United Kingdom 0

I don't think I can express how very disappointed I am in the results from last night. I'm not surprised, but I'm still terribly disappointed. Somehow, part of me thought that the British public wouldn't be so easily manipulated, that somehow they'd see through the long, long list of lies from the Conservatives and through the palpable bias of both the privately and publicly-owned media. But they didn't, and now... well the country is pretty fucked.

For the Uninitiated

The UK just had its third general election in 5 years: another attempt by a Conservative government to shore up support in the House so it can do what it wants -- namely Brexit -- without interference from other parties or factions within its own ranks.

  • Boris Johnson purged the Conservative party of anyone who would oppose his Brexit plan before calling the election and then ran on a single platform: "get Brexit done".
  • The Labour party, headed by Jeremy Corbyn ran on a multi-faceted platform of restoring the services the Conservatives have been destroying over the last decade, starting a "green industrial revolution" and doing a "people's vote" on Brexit.
  • The Liberal Democrats ran mostly against Corbyn and said they'd simply revoke Article 50 if they won a majority (the odds of which are in the range of pigs flying).
  • The Green party too said they'd revoke, but also had a pretty good Green New Deal in their platform.
  • The Brexit Party said they'd do an immediate "Hard Brexit"
  • The Scottish Nationalists... well they're separatist socialists. You do the math ;-)

From the start, the Conservatives were expected to win it. Corbyn's popularity was in the toilet, while Johnson's was soaring -- especially in the rural areas. The Lib-dems were generally considered irrelevant and/or a spoiler under FPTP, and the SNP was expected to dominate Scotland. The actual result was a dominating victory for the Conservatives, a historic loss for Labour, and the resignation of leaders from both Labour and the Lib-Dems. The Conservatives now have free reign to do everything they want, including exciting things like shredding the human rights act and undermining the NHS.

The Lie of Getting Brexit Done

If you'd watched any of the debates (to which Johnson bothered to attend), seen any of his scripted interviews, or just listened to his speeches in the House of Commons, you'd be familiar with Johnson's mantra: get Brexit done. For anyone living here, it's a very appealing thought. Everyone: leavers & remainers are tired of Brexit. We all know that there's more pressing issues to deal with (though we disagree on what those issues are), and yet every day, every broadcast, every paper, every social media post is about this one topic.

So when Johnson says "get Brexit done", it resonates with everyone, and it would seem that most Britons were unable to draw the conclusion that this line, like nearly everything that comes out of Johnson's mouth, is a lie.

The Conservatives have won with a dominating victory, and yet no one who knows anything about the realities of Brexit will tell you it's all over on January 31st when the UK executes the withdrawal agreement with the EU. We're still years, possibly even decades away from getting Brexit done.

The withdrawal agreement is simply an agreement on how things will work between the UK and the EU until they can actually leave the single market. In other words, The UK will definitely be in the single market (including the four freedoms) until December 2020, at which point they will have to have a trade deal negotiated or ask for an extension. For perspective, Canada's free trade agreement with the EU started negotiations in 2009, was agreed in 2016, and is still not in force. The UK has a much more complex relationship with the EU, and its population & economy is much larger. Brexit may not be "done" until 2045.

In the mean time, the withdrawal agreement drives a wedge between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK (introducing a customs border in the Irish sea after the transition period), and it's very likely that Scotland will have another (likely, successful) referendum to leave the UK and join the EU as an independent state. By the time Brexit is "done", it might jut be an agreement between England & Wales and the EU.

Complicity of the Media, and the End of the BBC

The Fourth Estate has entirely failed the UK. Too many journalists have been replaced with lazy hacks who do little more than copy/paste what candidates say without bothering to fact-check. Outright lies are published on the front page of papers, or debated as if they have any grounding in reality on evening "news" broadcasts. Audio clips are edited, videos are doctored, and all of it presented to the public by organisations into which so many have invested their trust.

Most appalling of all of these is the BBC. Here's a short list of just some of the terrible shit they did over the last few months to bias the public toward the ruling government:

A lot of this goes back to 2016 when the Conservatives changed the rules around how the BBC's board was appointed. Basically the BBC hasn't been "arms-length" for three years and it's glaringly obvious in their journalism. As a Canadian and strong supporter of the CBC, I think this should be a cautionary tale for any country with a public broadcaster. There must be a firewall between the state and the public broadcaster, because it's a short jump to state broadcaster if you aren't careful.

The Brexit Party Propping up of the Conservatives

When the election was called, there was a chance -- a chance that the Conservatives might lose. The Brexit Party had been hacked together to fight another election and it looked like they might split the otherwise conservative vote in some key constituencies. However, on November 11th, they announced that they would not run any candidates in any constituency won by the Conservatives in the last election, essentially allowing the Conservatives to turn their attention to seats they hadn't yet won. They took an additional 47 seats this time around, while the Brexit party was happy to just take votes from Labour and Lib-Dems in the remaining seats, guaranteeing those Conservative wins.

Corbyn

Perhaps the most upsetting/frustrating part of all of this is how this has played out for Jeremy Corbyn. Here was a man with a history of fighting for civil rights and opposing apartheid & fascism, and the press has routinely been calling him a racist and a fascist. Three Jewish newspapers even ran a joint front-page editorial urging people not to vote for him claiming 87% of Jews thought he was an antisemite and that half of the Jews in the country would strongly consider leaving out of fear if he were to become Prime Minister.

The trigger for all of this? Corbyn, and a number of other Labour MPs have made public statements critical of Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians. Apparently, saying that you shouldn't open fire on unarmed civilians and children means you hate Jews.

The fact is that Corbyn was the first (of hopefully many) proper left-wing Labour leaders, and the people with money -- the people who own various newspaper chains -- don't like it when political leaders start suggesting that we raise taxes on the rich to take care of the poor. Ever since Corbyn stepped into the leadership role, the party has been tearing itself apart trying to get rid of him and the other actual socialists. Members spent years publicly denouncing Corbyn as "unelectable" rather than working together to remove the Conservatives. You know what makes your party unelectable? Your own members attacking your leader for being unelectable! While the Conservatives were literally falling apart, Labour was too far up its own ass to do anything about it. By the time it came to actually running a campaign, Labour members had already inflicted so much damage, that the media needed only repeat the lies as if they were true.

Corbyn was a socialist leading the socialist party on a progressive, green, socialist platform, and the establishment could not tolerate it. They piled lie upon lie onto the front page until only those actually paying attention could see what was actually going on. The result: a strong majority for a Conservative government headed by a man who has a documented (but curiously little-reported) history of sexist, racist, and homophobic statements.

Conclusion and What it Means for Us

As the saying goes, the turkeys have voted for chirstmas and this country deserves everything it has coming to it. For those living in the UK, we're likely to see more poverty, more cuts to public services, and of course, the 10+ years of Brexit negotiations. For those on the outside, this country won't be an ally in the fight against climate change, likely joining with the US to subvert any progress we might make on it.

For my multicultural family, this means that Britain has demonstrated it doesn't want us here. It's now a question of what kind of work Christina can find elsewhere in the EU and whether I'll be able to find something near there as well. Our future is now up in the air. We're still trying to work out how we're going to deal with this, but I think it's fair to say there's no future for us in this place.

October 28, 2019 22:51 +0000  |  Politics United Kingdom 0

Stephen popped up on Twitter today asking about Brexit again:

Another delay?? I thought there was a new deal.

I took a few minutes to write out a somewhat lengthy response, and after I was finished, realised it probably made more sense as a blog post so... Here it is, my ranting update about the state of all things Brexit here in the UK:


There was a deal, but it was a bad deal (actually it was pretty much the same as the previous deal, but this time it came from BORIS, so it's "new")

Basically Brexit is a mess because democracy:

  • Half the country wants to remain
  • Half the House wants to remain, though the representations don't correlate directly

The Brexiters all have a different definition of what "leave" means:

  • The disaster capitalist maniacs want an exit from all EU-related treaties at all costs immediately. They make up about 20-30% of the House and have roughly that same support among the public -- again, not correlating by constituency.
  • The other "leave" MPs want to leave with a deal but the nature of that deal differs from MP to MP.
  • "Brexit means Brexit" means fuck-all, yet this has been the Conservative position for 3 years.

You may have seen a meme going around, where the UK wants a unicorn, and the EU says "those don't exist, but you can have a pony" -- that's basically the best explanation out there.

The UK wants to leave, but not tear apart Ireland, which is impossible, because a core component of the Good Friday Agreement was that there be no barrier dividing Ireland.

They also want to leave, but have a free trade deal with the EU. The nature of that deal again varies from MP to MP, but mostly they want a deal that lets them freely export to the EU without customs checks and without being a member of the common market... also, they want to be able to sign their own trade deals with other countries. That'll never happen because the EU can't let the UK be a vector for importing uncontrolled goods into the union.

So basically the only deal that could possibly be arranged with the EU is the one that May worked out a couple years ago, and that Boris has re-branded as his deal. This deal doesn't go far enough for the disaster capitalists, and it doesn't keep us in the EU, so it can't be supported by remainers either. As a result, the deal can't pass without another referendum on it.

SO that leads us to the next stage.

Labour has said that they want a referendum on whatever deal is struck between the EU and the UK. The nature of that referendum question might very well dictate the future of this whole mess. It'll likely fall along one of two lines:

  1. Boris/May's deal
  2. No-deal exit

(or)

  1. Boris/May's deal
  2. No-deal exit
  3. Remain

At the moment, it looks like the disaster capitalists are working hard to re-frame "no deal" as "getting Brexit done" -- which is a lie of course. Exiting without a deal simply guarantees that the very next day negotiations start with the UK trying to hammer out a deal from outside the union. Only now it has violence in Ireland, and food & medicine shortages to deal with as well.

This may all be an attempt to get ahead of a referendum choice where people, tired of all of this politicking, vote "just exit already" out of ignorance, thus fucking the country and nicely making it their own faults while the disaster capitalists move to Malta.

Oh, and there's lots of talk of another election. The hope being that each party can get a majority to do what it wants. Boris is a disaster capitalist, so he wants to exit without a deal. Corbyn has stated that he wants a new referendum with remain on the ballot, and the Liberal Democrats say that they won't bother with a referendum and would just revoke Article 50.

The truth though is that a majority for any party is very unilkely. The Conservative vote is split by the Brexit Party which also wants an immediate exit, and the media here has been whipping up fear of Corbyn since he took the job. The Lib-dems are very unlikely to take a majority, but are unwilling to prop up Corbyn's Labour -- even on this one issue alone.

Everything is fucked. So we do the only thing we can do: kick the can down the road and hope that somehow, the British public will see past the tabloids and decades of underfunding education & social safety nets that would have helped them to not be fucking idiots when it comes to their most important political and economic partnership.

I don't have a lot of faith, but thankfully, the EU is patient... for the moment anyway.

August 04, 2019 21:59 +0000  |  Hate Internet Politics Terrorism 0

I want to pose a moral question, but one for which I don't have a concrete answer. Maybe I'm just working this out in my head, and maybe you can share your own opinions to help flesh out the subject, I don't know. I just want to get this down on "paper".

The US suffered two mass-shootings in the last two days. On the whole, this isn't really news. That country is has had 248 mass shootings just this year. The question about why this is so common in the US when compared to most other civilised nations isn't something I'm going to cover here. That subject gets plenty of dialogue, and I think the answer is pretty well defined.

Instead I want to talk about this tweet and my subsequent response to it. Here's the background for those not up on what a Cloudflare is:

Running a website for a Very Large Audience is a complicated process. You can't simply put your site on shared hosting for $5 or even $500 per month and expect your site to stay online. With popularity comes traffic, and that traffic can come from all over the world, sometimes all at once. On top of that, if your site is controversial, or even just a fun target for people who don't like you very much, your site can be inundated with traffic from bots, choking it to death and running up your bandwidth bills.

To get around this, companies like Cloudflare exist. They supply the infrastructure that your popular site relies on to weather storms of popularity, caching layers to reduce the strain on your server, and protection from would-be attackers. On the whole, the services they provide are critical to the web as it is today.

The thing about Cloudflare though, is that they're rather good at what they do. So good in fact that their services underpin a Very Large Number of websites on the internet. They're so big in fact, with so few serious competitors, that you might think of them more as a utility than a private company. Your favourite news site probably uses them, video game companies, libraries, software companies, you name it, Cloudflare is probably handling their traffic. They host a lot of the web... including a lot of the shadier parts of it.

Yeah we're talking about Nazis.

Hate sites are a perfect client for a company like Cloudflare: they have few resources (so they can't afford a massive array of servers) and are a likely target for attack (because they're Nazis). One might even say that without support from Cloudflare (or one of its few competitors), these sites simply couldn't serve their hateful audience.

So when a tragedy like this one happens, and we see that the murderers are being celebrated on the website that helped radicalise them, an obvious question must be asked: What kind of company would support that?

Truth be told, Cloudflare has the power to knock these sites off the web. All they have to do is withhold their services and wait for a bot army to shut it down. Indeed, that's exactly what they did when their CEO Mattew Prince unilaterally pulled Cloudflare's support for a particular Nazi site (no I won't mention it here) after the protest and murder in Charlottesville, Virginia. The site went down alright, and had to scramble for a replacement -- which they found eventually, but not of Cloudflare's calibre.

So now we have these mass shootings to contend with. There's another site out there full of hate that promotes violence, and now Cloudflare is being asked: "Why can't you just kick these assholes off the web like you did those other assholes?"

As of this writing, the site is still up & running, but I'm really not sure what to expect from their end on this one. The problem is that this is really a question of what the function of internet infrastructure should be: do we want an internet of neutral networks over which we can share our ideas, or do we want that conversation mediated by the companies that facilitate that exchange?

With Charlottesville, Cloudflare set a dangerous precedent. More than a benign piece of infrastructure, they were now making decisions about the nature of the content that made use of their system. Matthew Prince, their CEO remarked at the time on the fragile ground he and his company were treading.

Now, were it entirely up to me, I would want some editorial control over what my company supports in the world. I would have a whole department dedicated to making sure that our clients conform to the moral compass of the company -- but maybe that's a reason why I shouldn't be in charge of a company that's a de-facto piece of internet infrastructure.

The trouble for me is Cloudlfare's size and the critical role it plays in simply keeping the internet running. Cloudflare is so fundamental to how the internet functions that asking (or expecting) them to make a value judgement on the existence of one site is tantamount to trusting their CEO with the nature of our primary means of communication.

This is not a slippery slope argument. They're already feeling pressure from the music industry to monitor web traffic for content that infringes copyright. Cloudflare is an excellent vector for anyone wanting to remove anything from the web because they're so ubiquitous.

I'm still not sure. I want Cloudflare to kick 8chan off its platform. I'd like them to kick a lot of their more controversial clients off their services -- but that's my moral judgement. No one elected me (or Matthew Prince for that matter) -- why should either of us get to decide what does and doesn't get to be on the internet? What if Matthew would rather not serve PornHub or PlannedParenthood?

In the end, a lot of this discussion leads back to one of the critical failures of the internet and globalisation in general: no one is in charge. The internet is global, but at best, the only government anyone can appeal to to make collective decisions like this is that of the company's host country, and in a global society, that just isn't good enough. We've already seen the effects of the US's sex-negative culture on the web. Entrusting the American government with the future of global communication is decidedly a Bad Idea, but there's literally no alternative.

And so, here we are with another tragedy bolstered by hateful people on a hateful website and private infrastructure companies operating blindly on whatever they think will get them into the least amount of trouble. It's a terrible system, but I don't see a way out.