I Might Be A Bit Preoccupied
On second thought, that whole "let's build a Crazy New Thing" energy I had might just get preempted by something shiny getting released tomorrow:
On second thought, that whole "let's build a Crazy New Thing" energy I had might just get preempted by something shiny getting released tomorrow:
I'm going to try to do a better job of recording my development process here, and to that end, I wanna talk about my latest Big Shiny Idea.
My Majel project was mostly well-received, but the most common piece of feedback I got was how hard it was to install. The dependency on Mycroft really kicked the project in the nuts because Mycroft isn't really user-friendly and the company behind it doesn't appear to be prioritising that aspect because they intend to make their money selling physical devices.
On top of that, Mycroft isn't exactly ideal for this sort of thing, since it's operating on the same premise as Alexa & Google Home: it's actively listening for commands which means there's a constant battle between being able to hear said commands and you know, playing music. I'm just tired of saying "Hey Mycroft... HEY MYCROFT" and getting nothing because it can't tell the difference between my voice and the one on the tv.
So I have a new plan, with a new architecture, and dreams of usability. Fun stuff!
At the moment in my head there are at least 3 components: the "orchestrator", the cloud service, and the remote.
This is basically what Majel already is, but I'm going to refactor it to leverage pyautogui and control your whole desktop rather than just your browser.
No more yelling at the screen. You have an app on your phone consisting of a two buttons:
stop, along with the possibility of a few presets you use often. These buttons send messages to the orchestrator to tell it what to do.
There's no reason this has to be just a mobile app though. It can be a tap on your watch, or an IOT button if you like.
Unfortunately, after a lot of digging, I've found that there's no (easy) way that you can have a web app or mobile app talk to an unencrypted websocket. There's restrictions built into most platforms that block that sort of thing, so you have to encrypt the traffic, and the easiest way for non-nerds to do that is to use a 3rd-party service. This is that service: a dumb relay between remotes and orchestrators that itself cannot impersonate a remote (for obvious security reasons). This cloud service could be self-hosted of course, but for new users, or people who just don't care about that sort of thing, remotes & orchestrators will connect to
So that's the idea. I'm still in the planning phase, but I've got a lot of energy behind me on this for the moment. We'll have to see where that leads. For now, here's the diagram I worked out tonight:
I have science running through my veins!
I'll be 42 this July, which was enough for me to make the cut for the UK's COVID vaccination programme. Registration was remarkably easy, and unfettered by any attempts by private businesses to inject themselves into the process: I received a text last week that directed me to the official NHS website, entered a few bits of confirmation info, selected a date and time, and I was done! All I had to do was show up.
Today I rode my bike down the road to a converted bowling club where a dozen volunteers shepherded us around and moved us into a waiting space, to the nurses who jabbed us, and back to another waiting space where they ask us to stick around just in case. That's where I am right now, and I'm thinking I'll stick around a while longer 'cause I want to be sure I'm alright.
I received the Oxford/Astra-Zeneca vaccine, which wasn't my preference, but you take what you can get. This is an adenovirus-based vaccine that likely comes with fun side effects like fever, muscle pain etc. There's also a very small risk of blood clots that I have to be aware of, but the risks are tiny in comparison to actually getting COVID, so I'll take it.
Part of me feels a bit guilty though. I'm benefitting here from "vaccine nationalism", the process of rich countries buying up global stock and vaccinating their whole populations first before poorer countries can get access. I'm at a much lower risk than an 80 year old man in India, and yet I'm now (partially) protected, and that man is going to die. This whole ordeal has been an exercise in understanding monkeyspheres and I don't think I've really come to terms with any of it yet. I just wanted my family protected, and then me protected... is it really so wrong to prioritise these above strangers on the other side of the world?
The question is broader though, as we begin to see how the virus is mutating in India and other similarly unprotected populations. Perhaps selfishness isn't enough. Vaccine nationalism may even prove itself to be a fault in the system that COVID exploits. Only time will tell.
I've bowed out of Twitter. Possibly forever, at least I hope so. I still post there, but I'm not using it anymore: no likes, no retweets, I'm not even reading other people's tweets. Twitter is now just a posting board where I write stuff like announcements for new blog posts or links to things I find interesting. You can "like" my stuff, retweet it or not, I don't care. This is just a one-way affair for me now.
This has come as part of a growing problem I've been noticing with Twitter and a few other social networks. I'm not alone of course: people are leveraging network effects to destroy others. Often these attacks are based on lies or just bad information, but the common thread is that it's always an overwhelming planetary overreaction resulting in a mob calling for someone's head. It's idiotic, a toxic nightmare wrapped in addiction to rage-bait.
I had to cut myself out for the good of my own soul: I'm sure I've been part of the problem at one point or another, and it was a matter of time before I became a target of the mob.
If you're a Twitter user, you know the feeling: you have a thought or opinion that you know might be misconstrued, misunderstood, or even deliberately taken out of context. You choose not to share that thought, for fear of losing your job and having your name somehow associated with Nazism, trasphobia, or racism. This is cancel culture and contrary to what many on the Left like to pretend, it absolutely is a problem in our ranks.
There are small groups of horrible people who fancy themselves Warriors for Good that will happily leverage hordes of hate and abuse at people for a tweet. They will dig into your history, misrepresent you to your employer, your friends, and your family all in an effort to somehow "win" and get rid of you. These people use Twitter like the Church used blasphemy laws: the goal is always the same: control language to promote orthodoxy.
I've felt this way for a while, but didn't have a fire set under me until Lindsay Ellis posted this rock-solid takedown of the whole affair she's been dealing with. It's long, but I strongly encourage you to watch it. Go get yourself a slice of pie and cup of coffee and just take it in. Maybe it'll inspire you the way it did me.
She makes a lot of solid points in there, but the one that stands out the most for me is the fact that these people only attack those who feel shame: those of us capable of reasoned reflection are also the kinds of people who would be disturbed by this form of attack. We're also the kinds of people who could have a rational conversation about the subject, but these people don't want a rational conversation. They want blood.
The actually horrible people, the Nazis, the transphobes, the racists: they don't care. True to form though, the Left Eats Itself at every opportunity.
So I'm checking out of Twitter. It's a company that drives chaos for financial gain, that profits from pain and suffering, and I'm ashamed to admit that I've very likely been a part of it. That is, until now.
This is a story about something that didn't seem like a Big Deal, but turned into one, but eventually wasn't a problem at all.
Anna has a favourite thing: rocks. This girl cannot get enough of them. Ever since she was 1 and I was taking her for a walk/tumble around town trying to wait out the pandemic, she would be captivated by gravel driveways and pebbled flowerbeds.
As she's gotten older though, (she's almost 2½!) she's gotten more adventurous. Christina will take her for walks through the bramble fields near our home so she can collect roughly 1kg of rocks in her bucket and then proceed to throw them into a the pond. These days, she doesn't settle for just a gravel drivway, no. Now she jams her tiny hands into any pile of mud or cluster of bushes, trying to capture her own Best Specimen.
As you might imagine, that's not exactly a safe thing for a toddler to do. She doesn't understand what thorns are, and is still working out basics like force and momentum. She'll fall flat on her face, jam her hand deep into mud, and often scratch herself on one thing or another. Generally I chalk it all up to learning through doing though: so long as her injuries aren't life-threatening, I'm happy to see her get hurt. It means she's learning.
That was, until last week when she came home from yet another romp through the brambles howling like the world was ending. The poor girl had a splinter, a bad one at that. Somehow she'd managed to get a long, thin piece of wood jammed right from the tip of her thumb to just above the nail bed. It was long, barbed, and just under the nail so you could see it, but removing it was impossible -- even if she weren't squirming and screaming the whole time. I did try though. It was not appreciated.
Out of an abundance of caution, we decided to call
111, a free service here in the UK that fields dumb medical questions when you don't want to bother a proper doctor. You call them, explain the situation, answer a few questions and they either refer to you a doctor or give you some basic advice.
So while Christina was trying to calm Anna down with some Hilda (as an aside, you should absolutely see this show if you haven't already. It's great tv for kids and adults), I was upstairs on the phone with a nice woman who was kind enough not to laugh at me when I told her I was calling about a splinter. She took my information and told me she'd get back to me later that evening. This was around 1830h.
After Hilda had worked her magic, Anna was able to get to sleep. I guess the pain had subsided or at least dulled a enough that she could ignore it. Christina got her down around 1930h, and at about 2100h, we got a call back from a paediatrician that asked us to please bring her into the after-hours clinic. Apparently, this was a bigger deal than it sounded.
We woke the kid (she was not happy), called a cab, and headed over to the hospital only to find that due to COVID, only one parent was permitted to bring her inside. I would have to wait outside in the cold (good thing I brought my warm coat).
So while Christina was inside (they moved them to a private room, rather than keeping everyone in a big waiting room) trying to keep Anna calm and prepping her for what was coming: doctors, cold hands, probably a little pain, I was pacing outside trying to keep warm and entertained with my phone's dwindling battery life.
Two hours and one bird-shitting-on-me episode later, they came out with an excited and very chatty Anna and a bottle of antibiotics. Apparently this was a Big Deal: there was a piece of foreign organic material stuck in my kid that couldn't be removed which posed a serious risk of infection. She would have to have surgery to have it removed, complete with general anaesthetic, since there was no way Anna would tolerate both a couple of needles in her hand and some stranger cutting open her thumbnail. Everything was scheduled for a few days later.
On surgery day, Christina took Anna in on her own (no sense in my going since I couldn't come in with them) and I waited at home, working like it was a regular day. Christina kept me updated over Signal complete with pictures, and Anna came through the whole thing groggy and grumpy, but totally fine. She did however have a massive bandage over her entire thumb, but she adapted to that in a few hours.
The bandage came off on its own today (it's been almost a week) and we've got another doctor's appointment tomorrow to check on it and make sure everything is as it should be. I had a look though and the doctors did a great job. They took as little of the nail off as possible and it's already growing back nicely.
The NHS is beloved in this country, and it's easy to see why. Exceptional medical care was offered in a timely manner, all covered by public funds. Had we lived in a less-developed country like the US, Christina and I might have looked at each other and said: "It's just a splinter. She'll probably be fine" rather than risk the costs of a hospital visit. Had the NHS doctor's concerns been realised at that point and she'd developed an infection, things could have been Very Bad.
The NHS is wonderful. It should be funded properly. If you vote Tory, kindly go fuck yourself.
Not long after we were told that she'd need surgery, I hopped on Amazon and bought Anna a pair of these to aid in her future exploits. Hopefully, we can get her to keep them on while she forages to prevent this from happening again.
She'd better become a geologist, botanist, or something. A story like this isn't nearly as endearing to tell when your kid becomes an accountant.
It's been a long time since I posted a movie review, but this blog has been so dire for so long, I thought it a nice change of pace.
I've seen a lot of movies over the years, but only a select few were so very terrible that they get the coveted 0/5. The only other one that comes to mind at the moment was the fantastically terrible Eyes Wide Shut where I walked out of the theatre relieved that there would never be another Kubrick film. Snowpiercer however has joined these ignoble ranks.
Spoilers: though I would think I'm doing you a favour by giving you one more reason not to see this movie
The story goes that a bunch of scientists thought they'd fix global warming by putting a chemical in the atmosphere, but they made a mistake that somehow turned the planet into a frozen wasteland. Instead of bunkering down underground and concentrating our energy sources to generate heat in one place, some "brilliant" individual built a train that travels all around the world in roughly one year. In constant motion, this train of fewer than a hundred cars apparently has the only living creatures left on the planet on board.
Our Hero (played by Captain America](https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0262635/)) lives in the tail of the train where all the poor people live, and he leads a rebellion to take control of the train so his people won't starve anymore. The rebellion ends with nearly every insurrectionist killed, and the Boss of the Train offering his job to Captain America after he explains that this has all be part of his Super Enlightened Class War. Instead, our hero blows up the fucking train, killing all but two people, effectively ending the human race.
(As if that plot wasn't enough)
Yes the ending was stupid, but that's just a fragment of the disjointed, nonsensical ridiculousness of the movie. There's so, so much more. Really the problem with Snowpiercer is that it tries to pretend that it's science fiction (there is absolutely no science in this movie) when it's really poorly written fantasy. Had they declared that the train is made of magic, a lot of the problems could have been explained away (though the premise is still ridiculous), but they didn't do that. Instead, they just put a bunch of people on a train and said "it's cold outside".
The idea of a train being a solution to the problem of keeping humanity alive in this situation is nuts. Movement costs a lot of energy, movement through massive cold at crazy speeds costs a shittone of energy. Couple this with the fact that a few hundred people (not to mention food and other resources) must live exclusively on this tiny train, and you've got an entire movie premise that's absurd on its face.
Assuming for the moment that the train itself is magic such that it can run 24/7 on magic fuel that weighs nothing and takes up no space, are we also expected to believe that the tracks laid all over the planet in a post-apocalypic hellscape never need maintenance, even with a magic train ripping over them in -100C once a year?
The characters are left completely undeveloped. Not one of them shows any growth, let alone demonstrates any characteristics that makes you want to like them or identify with them.
I think the director watched Old Boy and thought: "lets do that hammer in the hallway scene, but for like, 2 hours". The action is ridiculous, poorly choreographed and completely illogical. If you want to stop a rebellion on a train, you don't fill a car full of blindfolded men with hatchets and wait for the rebellion to come to you. You vent the cars and let everyone freeze until they submit or die.
Then there was the just plain stupid gun battle between cars as the train rounded a loop. Captain America has an automatic weapon (short range, high bullet count, low accuracy) and he's shooting holes in the window (-100C anyone?) so he can hopefully get a bullet through a 3cm hole a few hundred metres away in high winds on a train moving at crazy speeds. This is made more ridiculous by the fact that the Bad Guy is trying exactly the same thing on his end.
For that matter, where the hell are they getting all of those bullets in the first place?
And the Bad Guy -- he was just... dumb. The dude is stabbed straight through his side, we watch him die and then 20min later he just shows up again without even a limp to fight with a bunch of coked-out strangers on a tiny bridge before the engine.
The director just wanted stupid gun battles and ridiculous hatchet fights in the dark with torches -- which to be clear, is totally fine but you can't do that and couch your story in any world with rules like our own.
This is really the whole "the premise is the problem" thing. Judging by what we saw in the movie, you've got, maybe a few hundred people on this "ark" train. Those people need the basics to just survive: food, water, shelter. There's a brief moment where they explain that the water actually comes from outside (ice is pulled from the air as they move to create water), the food bit however is where everything falls apart.
As our hero progresses through the train, he's introduced to all of the amazing things they have to keep them alive: there's a car that's just one big aquarium, another for hydroponics, and another that's a slaughterhouse, complete with hanging beef ribs... on a train with no cows.
Now ignoring for the moment the whole thing about eating animals without any animals around to eat, a fish tank the size of a train car is not enough to feed a few hundred people, not even just twice a year as they claim in the movie. A single hydroponics car is again, far too little To provide food for just 100 people indefinitely would likely require dozens of hydroponic cars like the one we saw.
Interestingly, while it's apparently so cold on earth that humans can't survive for more than 30minutes, there's still polar bears -- though it's not clear what they eat.
The Boss of the Train explains in his big monologue at the end that all of this has been part of his Grand Plan to thin the numbers of people in the tail of the train in an effort to keep things in "balance". While it's obvious that a train with limited resources would need to worry about such things, opting for armed rebellion is about the dumbest thing you can do in that situation.
He wanted to cut the population of the tail by 75%. He could have poisoned their food supplies, or just starved them out. He could have staged gladiator battles with the prize being promotion to a better place on the train. Anything else would have been less costly and less risky for the preservation of the train, but he opted to send blindfolded people with hatchets, guns and bombs to do battle in the dark with night vision goggles (why the hell do they have night vision goggles?). It's messy, pointlessly risky, destructive, and has absolutely no upside.
And finally the part that people point to to argue that this is some sort of thoughtful work of social commentary: the whole eugenics thing.
So it is. Now, as in the beginning, I belong to the front. You belong to the tail. When the foot seeks the place of the head, the sacred line is crossed. Know your place. Keep your place. Be a shoe.
It's clear in these (many) scenes that the writer is trying to appear thoughtful around things like class warfare and eugenics, but the attempts are so ham-fisted and obvious that they come across more like breaks in the story: they're telling you what the moral of the story is rather than letting you see it yourself or find your own message.
It's not even a well thought-out premise though. For all of the preaching about a system of delicate balance where everyone and everything must remain in their place, the people crammed into the tail never demonstrate any use to the train or its passengers. They perform no labour at all for any train function, and there are multiple references to them being "freeloaders" and stowaways. Indeed the only function they appear to serve is that their children are occasionally harvested to work in the train engine (our magic engine sometimes needs parts, but those parts don't exist anymore so children do the work instead because... reasons).
The people on the rest of the train don't seem to do much of anything really. With the exception of a few farmers and 1 teacher, everyone else we meet is a freeloader as well. The only reason they're not in the tail eating bug-bars is that they paid for a ticket.
In this world, class doesn't serve any real purpose. The people in the front of the train aren't afraid of being demoted, and the people in the back have no opportunity to move up. The people in the back don't do anything for the people in the front, and are more of a drain than anything else. They could just as easily have jettisoned the last few cars on the train and absolutely nothing would change... except that there wouldn't be a movie then, and I would have my two hours back.
People will tell you that this movie is all about the social commentary, but it's just not thought-out enough to qualify for this. Merely shouting "class war" every 20 minutes does not mean you've had anything valuable to say.
The biggest fault though is in the setting. So many of the idiotic, nonsensical problems in this movie could have been explained away if they'd bothered to think it through.
...but this is set in 2031 and the train had been running since 2014. There are rules in the universe they've set here, and they ignored them only when they want to do something stupid.
IMDB classifies this as "science fiction" which is just... insane. If anything it's anti-science. It's not fantasy either because they go to great lengths to remind us that they live in our world governed by common rules. Harry Potter, with magic wands and trolls, and flying cars is fantasy. Ant-Man, where there's a mysterious technology that makes you tiny is fantasy, Spider-Man with radioactive spider bites giving you super powers is fantasy. Snowpiercer is just... bad.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
The science was clear on all of this:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Despite the pandemic, there were a lot of things that happened worth noting that happened this year:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.