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July 30, 2017 19:23 +0000  |  1

I'm just writing down my thoughts here in the hopes that Someone Smarter Than Me might be able to shed some light on the idea, or perhaps even work with me to make it happen.

I'm reading more and more about how fake news stories are circulating, and how technology has developed to the point where we can literally create images, audio, and video of events that never happened but appear as though they did. The effort so far seems to be in the area of somehow detecting a fake by searching for evidence of tampering, but this to me feels wrong-headed: it's expensive, slow, and will always be a step behind the fakes.

Why instead do we not simply sign each file on a sub-channel so it can be easily proven to be legit from the source?

For example, the BBC does a story about a politician and includes with it a picture of her doing something interesting. This picture is then circulated around the web with two bits of information hidden inside the EXIF data:

  • The original source organisation (BBC)
  • The signature of the image based on the BBC's private key
  • The original URL of the image (maybe?)

The image is then re-shared onto Facebook, where they've got simple software that:

  • Reads the original file and authenticates its origin against the BBC's public key
  • Resizes the image for its own purposes
  • Appends a second signature using Facebook's private key
  • Posts the video into the user's timeline with a "Verified BBC image, resized original from Facebook" caption

If the image is re-shared onto Twitter, or Google+, or Diaspora, these services will only be able to know that the image came from Facebook, but theoretically this still means more than not knowing the origin at all.

The goal is to create a means of authenticating the original source -- or at least a source more credible than "Jim's computer", and perhaps even the chain of modifications to said source There's also no reason this couldn't be applied to all kinds of media.

Maybe this technology already exists, though a cursory search didn't turn up anything for me. Anyone have any bright ideas?

June 23, 2017 16:12 +0000  |  Django Python 0

I sunk 4 hours of my life into this problem yesterday so I thought I might post it here for future frustrated nerds like myself.

If you're using django-debreach and Django REST Framework, you're going to run into all kinds of headaches regarding CSRF. DRF will complain with CSRF Failed: CSRF token missing or incorrect. and if you're like me, you'll be pretty confused since I knew there was nothing wrong with the request. My token was being sent, but it appeared longer than it should be.

So here's what was happening and how I fixed it. Hopefully it'll be useful to others.

Django-debreach encrypts the csrf token, which is normally just fine because it does so as part of the chain of middleware layers in every request. However, DRF doesn't respect the csrf portion of that chain. Instead it sets csrf_exempt() on all of its views and then relies on SessionAuthentication to explicitly call CSRFCheck().process_view(). Normally this is ok, but with a not-yet-decrypted csrf token, this process will always fail.

So to fix it all, I had to implement my own authentication class and use that in all of my views. Basically all this does is override SessionAuthentication's enforce_csrf() to first decrypt the token:

class DebreachedSessionAuthentication(SessionAuthentication):

    def enforce_csrf(self, request):

        faux_req = {"POST": request.POST}

        CSRFCryptMiddleware().process_view(faux_req, None, (), {})
        request.POST["csrfmiddlewaretoken"] = faux_req["csrfmiddlewaretoken"]

        SessionAuthentication.enforce_csrf(self, request)

Of course, none of this is necessary if you're running Django 1.10+ and already have Breach attack protection, but if you're stuck on 1.8 (as we are for now) this is the best solution I could find.

April 14, 2017 13:07 +0000  |  Django 0

I love DjangoCon. I've been going to it almost every year since I arrived in Europe back in 2010. Sure, a considerable portion of my career has been based on Django, but it's more than that: the community is stuffed full of amazing people who genuinely want us all to succeed and that just makes the conference all the more exciting.

This year we all converged on Florence for three days of talks in a historic old theatre at the heart of the city and like every year, the talks at this single-track event were hit-and-miss -- but that's ok! When the talks were less-than-useful we could always just pop out for gelato or catch up in the hallways with other developers.

The Good

Community

From talks covering gender bias or autism, to the re-labelling of all bathrooms to be unisex, DjangoCon has long been a shining example of how to be inclusive in a software development community and it's something I'm proud to be a part of. This year, they even raised enough money to pay for flights and accommodation for a number of people from Zimbabwe who are trying to grow a local Django community.

It feels good to be part of a group that's so welcoming, and I would argue that IT, while traditionally straight-white-male-dominated, is uniquely suited for the multicultural mantle of tolerance. Every other field has a uniform: a standard by which you're judged as "in" or "out" (just watch London's financial sector at lunch hour they all wear the same thing). In the software world however, we're all defined as being the odd ones. We are the all-singing, all-dancing nerds of the world: our differences are what make us fabulous. DjangoCon embraces that in a way I've not seen anywhere else and I love it.

Talks

Level up! Rethinking the Web API framework: Tom Christie

Tom Christie is the genius who brought us Django REST Framework and he's now working to improve the whole process by taking advantage of Python 3's type annotations to make your code self-documenting and then use that self-documentation to better build a browseable API. His code samples were beautifully simple and I'm very excited about the future of DRF. He's doing some great work there.

The Art of Interacting with an Autistic Software Developer: Sara Peeters

This was one of those talks that really felt as though it was lifting metaphorical scales from my eyes. Like many software engineers, Peeters is autistic, but unlike too many such people, she's extremely self-aware and articulate about what this means for her own human interactions.

She walked us through an average day for her: how she chooses her route home not based on the efficiency of the route, but because it limits the intensity of crowds on her commute as well as the chance that she'll encounter rain. It's the sensory overload you see, the idea of so many raindrops impacting her skin like that is a terrible feeling.

In 20min she helped paint a picture of the limitations and fascinations of dealing with autism in her day-to-day life, and outlined a few ways the rest of us might help communicate and accommodate people in her situation.

After her talk, I found myself thinking back on a few former coworkers. Perhaps if I'd been more understanding, and if they'd been self-aware enough to help me understand their needs, we might have gotten on better.

The OpenHolter Project: Roberto Rosario

This talk blew my frickin' mind.

The guy has a severe heart condition which left him bedridden for 23hours a day, and he's managed to make his life liveable with $30 worth of equipment and some Free software.

His talk walked us through the process of building your own mobile EKG machine. A device that normally costs thousands of dollars and typically only used in a hospital, Rosario built with an Arduino and parts he bought off the internet.

He then showed all of this to his doctor who asked if he could develop a diary: basically a log of his heart rate throughout the day, annotated with explanations as to what he was doing when anomalies appeared in the log.

He managed this by having his little device push daily log data onto his Django stack where it was all neatly logged and charted:

That's 100 samples per minute of biometric data generated by yourself on a desk in your house for $30 plus the cost of cables. This future we're living in is amazing.

Autopsy of a Slow Train Wreck: Russell Keith-Magee

Russell ran a start up from optimistic start to a brutal, crushing finish years later, and decided to do a talk to teach us all what went wrong.

The talk was broken down into succinct sections, with a lesson in each case. A valuable talk for anyone considering a future in a small business. When it's made available online, I'll be sending it around to a few people I know.

Fighting the Controls: Daniele Procida

Daniele wrapped up the event with a final talk about a plane crash, or maybe it was Icarus -- it's hard to explain. His message was simple though: bad things happen when you don't stop and consider what's happening.

When stuff is exploding, the server is on fire, and everything is falling apart, sometimes the best thing to do is to just sit there and breathe: consider the situation and act when you have a better handle on things.

His talks are always a delight, as he has a unique way of humanising software. Once the videos are live, I recommend this one to anyone in any sort of high-stress job.

The People

Meeting the developer of Mayan EDMS

About a year ago now, I was sitting in a London pub, hacking away at my latest project, Paperless when I stumbled onto Mayan EDMS: another open source project that did almost exactly the same thing as mine, but it was prettier and more featureful.

I was crushed. Here I was pouring literally hundreds of hours into this thing, with thousands of people using the code through GitHub, and suddenly, it all felt like it was for nothing because someone else had done it all already.

The guy who wrote that thing? I met him over lunch on the 2nd day of DjangoCon. He's also the same genius who built the mobile EKG machine mentioned above.

It was fun to meet him, talk about what worked for him and what didn't, and what sort of future he has planned for Mayan. He's a pretty smart dude, and it was nice to just sit and chat with a sort of "rival" nerd.

Talking to Paperless contributors

I also ended up talking to Philippe Wagner, one of the Paperless users who's been quite helpful in pushing the project forward. He wants to repurpose Paperless into a sort of markdown-based Evernote clone, and to do that all he needs from me are some minor changes to the project core to make it more pluggable. We'd been talking about it in the GitHub issues queue for a few weeks and he recognised me in the DjangoCon Slack channel, so he sent me a private message asking if we could chat for a bit.

I stepped out of one of the less interesting talks and we worked out a plan to make things work just outside the theatre. He's a cool guy and very driven. It's great to have him working on Paperless.

New Friends

After the first lunch, I sort of fell in with a group of fun people for the rest of the conference. We hung out after hours looking for food or just company for a walk around town. This is uncommon for me as while I'm a relatively friendly person, I generally avoid people save for superficial conversation. This was a nice change.

The Bad

Questions

The event was really squeezed for time and almost every talk didn't allow for questions. Instead, we were directed to the Slack channel (which was only good for people with working wifi and laptops for fast-typing) or "later around the conference". Personally, I've always liked the questions, as it allows the audience to get the speaker to publicly defend an assertion or elaborate on something. Without it, it felt really disconnecting, as if I just watched the talk on YouTube.

Language

While I think that DjangoCon should be celebrated for its adoption of a code of conduct and for its inclusive attitude, I feel that it's fallen into that ugly trap of adopting a language police. In an effort to be an inclusive community, they're effectively rewriting the dictionary.

Specifically, I'm most annoyed by the policing of the word "guys" in reference to a group of people regardless of gender. I get that our community is composed of men and women, and people who defy gender labels, but I don't believe that that means that we need to strip non-aggressive language to accommodate some people.

In the same way that we don't censure people for talking about hamburgers around vegans, your comfort with my words is not my problem. Of course this isn't a defence of racial slurs, aggressive language, threats or hate speech -- that's totally inappropriate for an open and tolerant community, but I think that this business of reducing language based on the comfort of a few is a threat to the free exchange of ideas, not to mention entirely tone deaf to the fact that at least 70% of the attendees to DjangoCon were non-native English speakers who rightly use this word in reference to any group of people regardless of their position on the gender spectrum.

The worst part of all of this is that by simply discussing my distaste for this practise, especially at the conference, I risk being ejected from the community like some sort of nerd heretic. I maintain that it's dangerous and unhealthy, but I had to wait until now to say anything because I didn't want to be kicked out of the event. This can't be conducive to a Free and Open society, let alone a conference.

Conclusion

So to wrap up: some good, some bad, but on the whole, I'd say it's was well into the good column. I'll be back next year, and maybe I'll even try to give a talk on something.

January 08, 2017 17:19 +0000  |  0

This was a big year, bigger than I had remembered when I sat down to write this thing. Somehow, I'd forgotten about half of this stuff, and rolled the other half into 2015 in my head. But 2016 wasn't all terrible. Here are the highlights:

Personal

2016 was a big deal on the where-to-live front. I finally got my wish and we moved away from the Netherlands and into a real city: London: The Centre of the World.

It turns out however that London is a rat infested toilet drowning in social inequality in a country rife with xenophobia, nationalism, and a dangerous mix of pride and ignorance.

Yes, you can quote me on that.

Our flat was a dark, damp, rat infested hellhole with a ground-floor view of a wall (the British love walls and fences almost as much as they love classism). The Tube is a remarkable feat of marketing that has managed to brand a hobbit tunnel of loud, stinky, smoggy, dampness as "modern" and "cultured". And absolutely everywhere you go, there are homeless people, stepped over and ignored: immediately by the public, and systemically by the government. They even have a quaint British term for them so it doesn't sound so tragic: rough sleepers.

London is amazing if you're a tourist, but once you live in its decaying buildings, commute on its antiquated transport, or are forced to breathe its toxic air for more than a few days, you recognise it for what it is: a terrible place to live.

...which is why we moved to Cambridge

The air is cleaner here, the roads more bike-friendly (though it has a long way to go before achieving Amsterdam-level cycling support) and nearly everything is walkable. It's a town more-or-less built for people, as opposed to London, which is built for plebs.

Our flat here is in a lovely modern building with proper ventilation and underfloor-heating. It's cool & quiet in the summer, warm & dry in the winter, and my commute is 30 minutes by bike along the river. Christina rides her bike through town in about 12 minutes.

Come visit us in Cambridge. You'll wonder what the hell everyone is doing in London.

Travel

As with every year I've lived in Europe, I did a reasonable amount of travelling this year, and once again, it feels as though I didn't travel enough.

Amsterdam

We may have left town, but Christina still had to return to defend her PhD in a process that's part ceremonial (you should see the Wizagamot-esque robes) and part academic (she literally had to defend her PhD against questions from academic rivals and friends). Unsurprisingly, she dominated the event, and walked out with a shiny new piece of paper attesting how brilliant she is.

Αθήνα & Μετέωρα

Right after Amsterdam, we hopped on a plane to Greece for Orthodox Easter where I once again ate far too much food and enjoyed the sunshine. This holiday included a road trip out to Μετέωρα where we did a little hiking and sightseeing around the monasteries in the area.

Copenhagen

The bi-annual RIPE Meeting was held in Copenhagen and as they had a hackathon for monitoring software, I signed up to play -- and my team won! Our project was called HALO, a heads-up display for your network, and the source code is here if you're curious.

Sesimbra

Christina's friend Ana got married in Sesimbra, Portugal this year and I'm so glad that I was able to attend. The wedding was lovely, and the country, beautiful. The food was good, the people friendly, and the view from our hotel room was awesome. Twitter has a few pictures.

Vancouver & Kelowna

The biggest news of the year is of course that my niece, Lucy was born! I was careful to time our trip home to coincide for her birth, but she had the indecency to be born a couple weeks premature, so when we finally showed up, we got to visit her in the hospital.

The trip home was also an opportunity to introduce Christina to Vancouver in the summer time. We also had an engagement party there so my family that can't make the trip to Greece would have an opportunity to spend some time with Christina. There's a great big blog post about it if you're curious.

Brussels

I was in Brussels twice in 2016. Once for my annual trip to FOSDEM, and later for Freedom not Fear, a series of meetings & workshops around freedom, surveillance, and politics in the EU. The former was great (it always is), and the latter, combined with my experience at Mozfest this year has given me some serious insight into the nature of EU politics. I want to do a separate post about that later though.

Madrid

There was another RIPE Meeting in 2016, and I showed up for that hackathon too. We didn't win though -- I think -- I had to leave before the announcements, but I don't think we did. The project was called "Pinder" or, Tinder for peering and the presentation is here, the code here, and an explanation over at peer.sexy.

Αθήνα, Again

One last trip back to Greece this year to make up for all the time Christina lost while working on her PhD. This was primarily a Christmas trip, so it was all just meeting with family, eating far too much, and exchanging presents. I also used some of the down time to work on my own family project that I mentioned in a previous post: my grandpa's video archive. There are some photos here if you're curious.

Professional

This was a big year for me professionally. I started contracting, started working for government, and took on a lead role at another company. I also almost got a job I desperately wanted, so I'm including that here too.

UKTI

The move to the UK started with my first (and likely last) government job ever. This was big money and a big title combined with everything you've heard about government work and more. I have never been more angry and frustrated on the job than I was there, but I probably would have stuck it out were it not for the fact that they were selling weapons to people what shouldn't have them.

Gynii-Me

In parallel to my work at UKTI, I started helping out a brand-new start up with occasional technical advice in what their options were for building a women's fertility web platform. I don't get paid, but I do help out where I can, vetting agency proposals and explaining complex technical topics to the company CEO. It's a fun side gig, and they're good people so I'm happy to help where I can.

Cyan

I moved from UKTI to a company called Cyan/Connode who were super-convenient, as they had a London and Cambridge office and we were moving up there in a few months. I helped them out on the technical front, and helped management understand a little about why they were having retention problems, but was terribly unhappy, so I got out of there after a few months.

Mozilla

In my quest to get out of Cyan, I applied to Mozilla for what would have been a pretty amazing position: engineer on the incredibly popular Mozilla Developer Network. Unfortunately, while I made it to the very last round, I didn't get the job, which sucked, but it was an honour to make it that far anyway.

Money Mover

I ended up moving on to a fintech company that has an office just outside of Cambridge and wonderful staff of truly friendly and engaged people. Seriously, best work environment ever. It's a small team right now, but we'll be growing in 2017. My role is Lead Developer which is pretty fabulous, and my current Big Job is picking up the code left from an agency that did the bulk of the work for the company over the last few years and making it ours. Having worked at a few agencies in the past, I suppose I deserve this :-/

Projects

Like every year, I overextended myself on New Projects as well as building on the old.

Paperless

Early in the year, I suddenly lost interest in my super-popular project, Paperless when I discovered that there was an eerily-similar project out there doing things better than I had. I didn't really do much more than field pull requests for much of the year, but toward the end, there seems to be a lot more interest all of a sudden, and I've started doing a little more work on it.

There seems to be a "market" for a project like Paperless which is much less complicated and capable of running on lighter hardware.

Korra

Working for government introduced me to the clusterfuck that is "security" in large office environments. I wrote something fun & easy to self-host and it got a reasonable amount of attention on Reddit and at the London Django meetup.

Basically, Korra lets you share files easily, without special software, and securely so that you don't have to do insane things like email people's passports or private government documents around.

Spirithunter

When I started commuting longer distances (to Cambridge from London for while) I started back in on Spirithunter, trying out Django's new Channels support (OMG it's awesome). However, when my commute shrunk to a 30min bike ride, all of that development stopped. I might pick it up again when I'm bored one day, or if Mihnea decides he wants to hack on it with me.

Global

I know that this is a personal blog, so it seems kind of silly to reflect on global events here, but these things affect me, so I thought it relevant.

#Brexit

What a disaster. After living here only a year, I'm not surprised at all that this country voted to Leave the EU, but I'm still saddened by it. It will take generations for this country to recover from this mistake, and knowing what I now know about British culture, I'm sure they'll find a way to look back on all of this as some sort of Trial they all had to go through, that they survived because Britain Prevails or some doublespeaking-fluff like that.

I'm more concerned about the rise in hate-crime here though, and the remarkable tendency people here have to blame immigrants for everything wrong with the country -- especially when it's plainly obvious that the current government's malevolent domestic policy is really what's at fault.

Trump

I called it and now it's going to happen. As an outsider, I kind of want to sit down and watch everything burn with a bowl of popcorn; this is after all what the public voted for. He, along with the Republican House and Senate are going to hollow out the US and give people everything they asked for. I can only hope that they serve as a cautionary tale for the rest of us.

Deaths

A lot of important people died this year: Bowie, Prince, and Castro to name a few. For me though, this will always be the year Leonard Cohen died. The world is diminished without him in it.

Of course Rob Ford and Antonin Scalia died this year too. I'm really not all that bothered by that. I suppose that's one of the greatest things about the Reaper: he doesn't care who you are. When it's your time, that's it.

Conclusion

So that was 2016. Hopefully at this time next year I'll be posting about how in 2017 I finally got Romanian citizenship, and how Christina and I finally have a date & location for our wedding.

I'd like to do some more travelling to undiscovered (by me) places this year. At the very least, I'd like to see more of Scotland and maybe even Romania and the Czech Republic. None of that is booked yet though.

Here's hoping fewer of our heroes than villains die in 2017.

December 31, 2016 12:38 +0000  |  Family Grandpa Programming 1

I built a thing for my family this Christmas and I wanted to post about it briefly.

If you're one of the few people dedicated enough to follow this blog, you'll know that my grandfather died last year, and that he was sort of the family videographer. What you likely don't know however is that this year, on my trip home I acquired his entire collection of DVDs that he'd been accumulating over the years.

This some really old stuff:

  • Around the Christmas tree when I was 3 or 4 years old
  • My dog learning tricks for the first time
  • My parent's wedding
  • My graduation
  • My mother as a child in Romania
  • My grandparents, so much younger, with friends in Romania
  • My niece, Violet

It was an amazing collection spanning 4 generations over 39 DVDs, and I spent a few days on that trip home ripping every last one of the disks onto a portable hard drive so I could take the raw data home for a special project.

Well that project is now finished, so for those of you who don't care about the technical aspects, here's the link. I shared the URL with my family by email on Christmas day since I was on the other side of the world for the holiday festivities this year, but all in all, it seems to have gone over well.

My father has suggested that I expand on the collection with my own videos in the future -- I may just do that, though I'm more of a still photos guy. We'll see.

The Technical

This whole thing was a HUGE pain in the ass, so I want to document the process, perhaps if only for future websurfers looking to do something similar.

The Problem

The videos were in DVD format. Thankfully, it was digital, but it's certainly not web-friendly. The video data needed to be ripped from the disks and compressed into a web-friendly format that was high-quality enough to preserve the video, but in a file small enough to stream to Canada-quality internet connections.

Also, the DVDs were terribly organised and not indexed in any way. The disks often had multiple title tracks, sometimes duplicate tracks, and there were tracks that just contained garbage data.

Oh, and there was a time constraint. I only had the disks for a few days when I was in Canada. I wasn't going to take them back to the UK with me.

The Process

It was basically done in three stages:

Raw DVD > .iso file > .webm file

The .iso file step was just a clean & easy way to back up all of the DVDs without having to worry about accidentally missing something while I was hurriedly trying to get through them all in Canada. By turning 39 DVDs into 39 files on a USB drive, I could be sure that I wouldn't accidentally lose data during the ripping process.

As it turns out, this was a good plan, since it took a few weeks of tinkering with this project before I realised that some disks had multiple titles on them.

The creation of the .iso files was easy. I just put the disk in the USB DVD drive I brought with me and typed this:

$ dd if=/dev/dvd of=/path/to/usb/hard-drive/disk-00.iso

Waited about 20min, then took the disk out, and repeated this... 39 times.

The creation of the actual video file on the other hand was the big problem. There are lots of sites out there that claim to tell you how to do this, and very few of them have anything helpful. I think that this is because the end goal is rarely understood up front. Sometimes people are trying to encode DVDs into a high quality file for local playback, and the settings for that are rather different from what someone would want to do to encode for a web-friendly format.

There's also a wide variety of tools out there, most of which are buggy, unsupported, don't have a port for Gentoo, or just plain suck. The most common recommendation I found was for Handbrake, which is an impressive GUI for ripping videos but for me:

  • It didn't encode files that were high enough quality given the file size
  • It didn't make web-friendly formats. Even when you tick the box to make it web-friendly, the output file doesn't stream in Firefox. I didn't test other browsers.
  • It was terribly slow to find all the tracks, apply the settings I wanted and then wait to see if things panned out. There's no command-line interface to make things easier.

All of this lead to a lot of frustration and weeks of tinkering, finally leading me to a site that gave me the magic ffmpeg incantation to generate a web-friendly file:

$ ffmpeg \
  -i /path/to/input.mp4 \
  -vpre libvpx-720p \
  -pass 1 -passlogfile ffmpeg-18 -an -f webm \
  -y /path/to/output.webm && \
  ffmpeg -i \
  /path/to/input.mp4 \
  -vpre libvpx-720p \
  -pass 2 -passlogfile ffmpeg-18 -acodec libvorbis -ab 100k -f webm \
  -y /path/to/output.webm

Of course this assumed a .mp4 input file, and I wanted to rip straight from the .iso, so after much digging, I discovered that ffmpeg has a means of concatenating (chaining) video inputs and it can read straight from a DVD's .VOB file. With this nugget of knowledge, all I had to do was mount the .iso locally and compile a list of files conforming to this naming convention:

VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_#.VOB

With that information, I wrote a quick shell script that ended up generating a great big queue file of commands that look a lot like this:

ffmpeg -i \
'concat:/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_1.VOB|/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_2.VOB|/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_3.VOB|/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_4.VOB|/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_5.VOB' \
-vpre libvpx-720p -pass 1 -passlogfile ffmpeg-18 -an -f webm \
-y /home/daniel/Projects/Grandpa/htdocs/vid/18.webm && \
ffmpeg -i \
'concat:/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_1.VOB|/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_2.VOB|/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_3.VOB|/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_4.VOB|/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_5.VOB' \
-vpre libvpx-720p \
-pass 2 -passlogfile ffmpeg-18 -acodec libvorbis -ab 100k -f webm \
-y /home/daniel/Projects/Grandpa/htdocs/vid/18.webm

Unfortunately, ffmpeg doesn't really do threading very well, and the prevailing advice out there appears to be that you should just thread the process yourself rather than ask ffmpeg to try to use all your CPUs itself. For this bit, I wrote a very simple paralleliser in Python and magically, all of the cores on my super machine could crunch Grandpa's videos, 16 at a time.

Finally, I wrapped the whole thing in a simple script that mounted all of the .isos simultaneously and then ran the paralleliser, and ran that in a tmux session so I could get on a plane and Fly to Greece while my computer did its thing for two days.

While I was in Athens, I spent a day or two fiddling with the site itself, getting video.js to work the way I wanted it to and playing with Select2 to try and get an interface that the non-technical people in my family could follow. I wish I had better skills in this area 'cause frankly, the site is kinda ugly, but at least it's functional now.

So that's it. I hope that one day, someone will find this stuff useful. The ffmpeg incantations were especially difficult to find and assemble, so I figure that'll help someone eventually.

December 15, 2016 18:56 +0000  |  Engineering Ethics 5

Something amazing is happening in my industry right now and I want to take a minute to talk about it.

Americans are freaking out. They're staring down the barrel of the very real possibility that the Trump administration will draw up lists of Muslims living the United States. This is a dangerous first step toward dictatorship and the end of rule of law, and those of us paying attention are understandably worried.

The American engineering community is slowly arriving at a state of self consciousness though: a few of them have banded together and written a pledge stating in short, that if the US government wants to build technology to destroy the country, then they're going to have to find someone else to do it:

We, the undersigned, are employees of tech organizations and companies based in the United States. We are engineers, designers, business executives, and others whose jobs include managing or processing data about people. We are choosing to stand in solidarity with Muslim Americans, immigrants, and all people whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by the incoming administration’s proposed data collection policies. We refuse to build a database of people based on their Constitutionally-protected religious beliefs. We refuse to facilitate mass deportations of people the government believes to be undesirable.

We have educated ourselves on the history of threats like these, and on the roles that technology and technologists played in carrying them out. We see how IBM collaborated to digitize and streamline the Holocaust, contributing to the deaths of six million Jews and millions of others. We recall the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. We recognize that mass deportations precipitated the very atrocity the word genocide was created to describe: the murder of 1.5 million Armenians in Turkey. We acknowledge that genocides are not merely a relic of the distant past—among others, Tutsi Rwandans and Bosnian Muslims have been victims in our lifetimes.

Today we stand together to say: not on our watch, and never again.

And they didn't stop there. They've done what engineers do best, they built something: a platform to allow other people to add their names. The list currently stands at 1239 people with new pull requests (the process by which people request to be added) happening so fast that they literally have had problems keeping up.

What's more, the whole thing is being developed in the open and you can watch the process unfold. Just yesterday afternoon I was following this ticket where they were debating how to solve the onslaught of applicants and introduce some uniformity for scale. The software chosen was Free, Open, and conforming to a universal standard that's easy to follow.

What's exciting about this, for me at least, is that this could very well be the beginning of a Code of Ethics for software engineering: developed in the open by ourselves, in an effort to operate as a community for the greater good.

Ethics in engineering is nothing new of course. The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer has been a thing in Canada since 1922 in an effort to make sure that, in the interest of the Public Good, engineers who built bridges would adhere to ethics rather than employer directives.

Historically however, software engineering has been a Wild West of people doing whatever they want, with zero focus on the ethics of what we're doing. It's my hope that if anything comes out of a Trump presidency, a sense of responsibility for our actions should be it.

There's a lot of potential here. In an ideal world, I'd like to see companies and Free software projects adopting a policy of only collaborating with engineers who have signed the pledge: a simple declaration that we are thinking people with moral compasses who are responsible for our actions. In much the same way that companies, conferences, and projects have codes of conduct, I think it's time that we acknowledge that ethics should be an integral part of what we do.

This is just one project though, and a rather US-centric one at that, so I'm not sure it has the legs required to get us to where I think we need to be, but it's a start, and I'm absolutely thrilled that we're finally having this conversation.

November 16, 2016 18:59 +0000  |  Politics The United States 1

The outcome of the US presidential election was easily predicted. I say this because I was sure Trump would win as far back as May of this year. There seems to be a great many people still entirely surprised by the outcome though, so I thought I'd write down my reasoning.

There were two primary factors in Trump's taking of the White House. I'll deal with the minor reason first.

Sexism

It's still easier for most people to vote for a black man than it is for a white woman. The reasons for this are long and horrible, but this reality hasn't changed much in the last few thousand years. A woman may have a better chance now of winning an election, but sexism continues to stack the deck against every female candidate in most of the world.

It's a real problem, but I don't think it's nearly enough to explain why Clinton lost in an election that was the Left's for the taking.

The Establishment

Trump didn't win this election, Clinton lost it because she couldn't convince people to show up. Take a look at this chart showing the voter turnout over the last few elections (credit to dinoignacio via reddit). Trump rode the coattails of the Republican base who vote red regardless of the candidate, but the Left barely represented, begging the question: why not?

To answer this you need only look at the Bernie Sanders campaign. Here was a candidate who called for an end to money in politics, real socialised medicine, a focus on the environment, and on returning industry to the country. His focus on the future appealed to young people, his record on social policy encouraged the base, and his rhetoric on taking care of people hit hardest resonated with everyone who has been hurting over the last few years.

That last group is what matters because that last group is HUGE.

The truth is that in most Western nations, the US included, austerity and the right-wing have been at war with the working class for decades. In countries without an adequate social safety net (like the US), it's entirely common to have a household with two working parents and two children, and still not have enough to make ends meet. For those families just squeaking by, they live in fear of one of them losing their job, at which point they are literally homeless.

These people are angry, and they're scared, and the best that the Left could drum up was a woman whose dynastic name practically begs the spectre of corruption and hereditary rule. Clinton is the embodiment of "politics as usual" handed to a nation of people desperate for change.

At his core, Obama wasn't much different from Clinton in the ideals that capitalism somehow equals freedom, but importantly on the surface Obama was inspirational: the first black president, a Democrat who talks like a Kennedy. That man could have read the phone book to the public and the world would still have fallen in love with him.

But after eight years with him at the helm, the people are still scared and angry. They've barely survived a banking crisis that crippled the planet and saw not one rich white banker convicted. There are riots on the streets spurred by cops with military hardware murdering cvilians. They're still living paycheque to paycheque and the only explanation they're getting is from the Orange Beast on the right who is insisting that the immigrants are to blame for everything.

This was a hard sell, but the American people were ripe for a real shift in policy. So what did the Democratic party do? They sabotaged the Sanders campaign and assumed that fear of the damage Trump could do would be enough to get the plebs to vote blue.

The people are tired, angry, and scared. They want an end to corruption, to a government that doesn't understand or even hear their plight. They were told repeatedly by that establishment that a vote for Trump would be insane, that it would burn everything down. The trouble is, that's what the people want. The people want a revolution. They want to see muderous cops and "banksters" behind bars, they want an end to foreign wars, and they want coprorations out of politics.

This is a failure of the Left to give the people what they want. The left could have run an inspirational candidate, one who wanted the same thing 70% of Americans wanted. This was the opportunity to capture the White House, the Senate, Congress, and the Supreme Court for that revolutionary vision of the future.

But the Democrats wanted another Clinton.

That's why they got Trump.

October 15, 2016 16:08 +0000  |  Cycling London Moving United Kingdom 1

We've managed to get out of London and move up to Cambridge, and it is so much nicer here. Cambridge is almost everything London isn't: clean, quiet, bike-friendly, and accessible. Where in London it will take 40min to 2 hours on the dark, disgusting Tube to get anywhere and do anything, in Cambridge you just hop on your bike and you're anywhere in town in less than 20min. There are garden festivals in the big open parks that double as cow pastures, and the air is clean. London's air quality is a toxic mess and a constant reminder of how much (nearly) everyone living there hates it.

Where our London flat was a dark, damp, rat-infested ground-floor shithole, our Cambridge home is a big, beautiful two bedroom flat in a modern building with secure bike parking. The rooms are wired for ethernet and the wifi is crazy-fast, the rooms are warm and the showers (yes, that's showers plural) are spacious and just wonderful.

OMG I don't think I can convey how much better life in Cambridge is when compared to London.

Christina has settled into her job as lecturer at the university and despite her fears, I think she's getting the hang of it. Fresh out of her PhD, she's now a lecturer at one of the most prestigious universities on the planet. I'm really proud of her.

In terms of my career, things have been a little more bumpy. I didn't want to renew my contract working for the British Government, so I moved to a company that had a London & Cambridge office hoping to take some of the pain out of the move. Then the job at Mozilla came up, and I almost got it, and now I've decided to give up on contracting altogether in order to take a job at a local start-up as lead developer. My time with my current employer ends in less than a week and then I've got a week off before I start at Money Mover. Lots of moving around, but I think in this latest stop, I've found a good company that suits me.

It sure will be nice to be doing the start-up thing again. I've really missed it.

October 15, 2016 16:05 +0000  |  Self Reflection Strangers 1

Much of this blog recently has been a collection of elaborate updates, so allow me one post just to assemble some thoughts I've had over the past few days.

I made the unfortunate mistake yesterday of leaving for a trip to Brussels without my passport. I mean, it's just Belgium, why the hell would I need a passport to go to Belgium? Unfortunately I forgot that I live in "The America of Europe", a nation of the terrified and proudly uninformed -- they're not keen on open boarders here.

My feelings about the British aside, it remained that I wasn't about to be allowed on the train, so I had to go back to the ticket booth and try to exchange my ticket for one running the following day. The woman behind the desk was friendly and helpful, and in the end, my stupidity only cost me £60. In fact, I'm on the newly-booked train right now and expect to be arriving in Brussels in about 2hours.

Before I walked away from the counter though, it occurred to me that the tiny cupcakes I'd been carrying around for the last hour would never make it to Brussels, and I certainly wasn't going to eat them all, so I offered them to the nice young woman for being so helpful. Her eyes lit up: "Really? I have a colleague who's leaving the company today and he's my favourite person in the world. He's leaving right now. Here are your tickets, I gotta go!"

She hopped up from her desk and raced to the back of the office, disappearing through a staff door. I heard some shouting and cheering, and lots of other happy noises, and then I checked my phone for my route back to Cambridge.

When I knew where I was going, I started out of the station only to hear the sound of frantic footsteps coming in my direction. The woman was still so excited, but now she wanted to thank me properly. Gushing, she hugged me, afraid she was going to cry. Somehow, those nine tiny cupcakes had deeply affected her. I hugged her back and continued on my way.

We all have the tendency, occasional or otherwise, to forget that every person around us is in fact a living, breathing person, with a story of their own and deep emotional connections to people we will likely never meet. I know that I'm personally guilty of this more than I'm comfortable with, and this experience surprised me, so I wanted to share.

September 05, 2016 11:39 +0000  |  Employment Job Hunting 3

I suppose you could say that the process started years ago when I mused about applying to Mozilla. I was living in Amsterdam at that point and wanted a job where I could go into the office and have lunch with coworkers etc. so despite Andy's encouragement, I decided not to apply for a developer position there.

Years later another position opened up just as I was about to move to London, so I applied, got through a few rounds of interviews and then the position evaporated, changing to a junior-level role instead.

Later still another job opened for a developer tools role. I applied to that and ran aground on their new "HackerRank" coding test. These tests are terrible, but that's a rant for another time. Regardless, I bombed out on that application too.

Then a few months ago, Stephanie sent me a message telling me that her team had an opening for a senior Python developer. I applied not long after the role appeared on the site, along with Stephanie's recommendation. This time, I've managed to graduate past the terrible HackerRank test, and through all four rounds of interviews.

As I understand it, the verdict is supposed to come down tomorrow and I'm facing off against two other potentials. The anxiety around this whole thing is surprisingly crippling: this isn't just a job, it's Mozilla, the Good guys, a big important company that's on the front lines in the fight for the Open Web. I don't think I've ever wanted any job more than I want this one.

It's a long weekend in Canada & the US, so they won't be getting back to me 'till Tuesday, which means sometime between 8pm and 5am London time. I may not know anything until I wake up and check my phone on Wednesday morning. That's my last day at my current job (Cyan) for this week, since I took two days off to pack for our move to Cambridge, so this Wednesday is going to be messy, regardless of the Mozilla decision.

Update

Well I didn't get it. The main guy over there had some very nice things to say about me in the "we don't want you" email, but the reality is that I will not be working for the Good Guys this time around either :-(