Categories
quotes

Parenting-Work Life Balance

I’m super worried, by the way, about the generation of workers who have kids under the age of 10 during the pandemic. Because in the short term, co-workers can be like, “Oh, so cute, your kids are on the Zoom call!” and then try to make accommodations for that. But in the long term, those workers are fundamentally not going to be able to be as productive as someone who’s been on their computer for eight hours at home with grown kids or without kids. Who’s going to get promoted two years from now? Or who’s going to lose their job two months from now? I really worry about that.

Melissa Mazmanian, interviewed by Joe Pinsker in The Atlantic for What America Asks of Working Parents Is Impossible [theatlantic.com]

I wonder if that will be the same visible impact on things like lifetime earnings and job advancement as graduating college during a recession?

I remember reading long ago that people who graduated in the middle of the dotcom bust were affected long term because they could not get jobs for a long time or had to take jobs with a lower salary (compared to what they would have expected a few years before or a few years after) and that dragged them down, as a group, year after year. They were something like three years behind for salary and position at any age versus the people who graduated a few years before or after them.

Categories
ranting

Broken Links

As of right now there are 173 broken links in the posts on confusion. That’s out of 1888 total links. This is according to the Broken Link Checker [workpress.org] plugin by WPMU DEV. The plugin automatically changes the link color to red with strikethrough text so you will see the broken links.

A blog post that links out the rest of the Internet is a little snapshot of part of the web from when the post was written and while the Internet never forgets [confusion.cc], it’s an ever changing place and many, many sites die all time time. Many personal sites disappear because the owner abandons them, maybe they shut them down purposely or maybe they just stopped paying the bills and moved on. Big sites redesign and move things around, so much for permalinks. I see a bunch of links to still active news sites but it seems the stories are no longer reachable by the link I used ‘back in the day’. Somehow it all reminds me of the way your memories are constantly shifting, adapting each time you remember them, a memory of a memory of a feeling of a time when…

I guess it’s just the inevitable consequence of being around for so long. This blog has been going for nearly 19 years. There are a few links that seem to be broken because of typos or other simple things including, embarrassingly, internal links to other Confusion posts. Those I will try and fix but most of the broken links will just stay there, you can’t change snapshots so why should I change the links?

Categories
books

Lovecraft Country

Author
Matt Ruff

I first heard about Lovecraft Country from a friend, a friend who lives in Sweden. He recommended it wholeheartedly, saying he read it several times. I picked it up a week or so later, just as the COVID19 pandemic was taking off. It was not long after I finished Lovecraft Country that the George Floyd protests started. Given the nature of the book it was a very timely read.

On Goodreads [goodreads.com]

Before we get to Lovecraft Country itself, it’s worth noting that I have read all of H. P. Lovecraft’s fiction [goodreads.com], and I enjoy most of it. I am aware that he was a massive bigot, racist and anti-semitic, and many other -ists. I didn’t read more than a few of his non-fiction writings, is “essays” or letters, there is not reason to read it beyond a reminder of how nasty a person can be with their words. Good fiction, if lacking a lot of representation, but a nasty author.

This is the second recent book I have read that attempts to deal with Lovecraft’s bigotry by authors, who would have been on the receiving end of his bigotry, co-opting him. The other book is The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson. Johnson [goodreads.com]. That book takes place inside one of Lovecraft’s fictional worlds, the dream world, and aims to address Lovecraft’s sexism. Specifically the lack of female characters by populating the dream world with female characters, including the strong female lead.

Lovecraft Country on the other hand takes place in the “real world” where Lovecraft’s books exist, and so does Lovecraftian cosmic horror. So Lovecraft Country addresses Lovecraft’s rabid racism by casting as it’s protagonists a group of Black Americans living during the height of Jim Crow America. Lovecraftian cosmic horrors alongside the everyday, real, horrors of American racism.

Lovecraft Country is a collection of linked stories, focused around a the protagonists and their repeated encounters with the members of a secret society. Magical rituals, cosmic portals, potions and spells abound. There is even a monster or two. But there are also racist cops, racist shop owners and racist random strangers. The racism is both active; vulgarities and violence perpetrated sadistically, and passive; condescending tones, stares and casual disrespect and disregard. I can’t imagine how true it is, what it was —what it is— like to experience this type of bigotry in real life. It was oppressive and ever present in the story.

The climax of the racism is a flashback to the events of Tulsa Race Massacre [wikipedia.org]. An event that I first remember hearing about a few years ago. I don’t remember being taught about it in high school, not in American History class or even in Ms. Reynolds African American Studies class. Maybe my memory fails me or maybe it says something about American racism that the trauma of an event like that is not a shared public memory, like Pearl Harbor or 9/11 or Kent State.

Another aside: this is the second work I’ve come across this year that includes reference to the Tulsa Race Massacre as a key background event for the characters. The other being HBO’s Watchmen series. So maybe in the future what happened in Tulsa will be part of the collective American psyche.

I won’t spoil the Lovecraftian aspects of the stories, only note that there is a lack of cyclopean masonry and eldritch horrors. Lovecraft Country is more the The Colour out of Space and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward than The Call of Cthulhu or The Shadow over Innsmouth. But the real horror remains the ever present racism.

I really enjoyed Lovecraft Country, I will read it again, and I hope the upcoming HBO series is as good. I would put Lovecraft Country up there with To Kill a Mockingbird and Invisible Man [confusion.cc] in giving me some vague understanding of how racism affects people through literature.

Categories
technical

Thematic cleaning

It should be obvious to anyone familiar with the site giving it even a passing glance from today that the theme has been changed. I switched to the default WordPress “Twenty Twenty” theme. I added bunch of custom CSS to override the theme and make it look more like confusion has looked for the past 14 years or so…

Why? Well, I’ve been running on a home grown theme that grew as a hack of the original default theme, ether known as Michael Heilemann’s “Kubrick” theme. But it was a mess of legacy crap; HTML that predated XHTML, then was XHTML, then no one gave a shit about XHTML anymore so I stopped making sure changes validated, CSS that started with CSS1, passed right over CSS2 as far as I remember and had some CSS3, oh, JavaScript, early jquery libraries!

I was tinkering with it lately and just decided it needed a complete rewrite. I had about 500 lines of CSS and when I looked at the Twenty Twenty theme they have ten times that. Providing responsive layout and handling all the layout code generated by various Gutenberg blocks. Besides the CSS there are hundreds of lines of PHP and HTML in various template files, way more files than are in the old Confusion theme. It would be a lot of work to start from scratch, it might be fun, but it would also take me ages given the priority I assign to managing this site. So better off trying to use a ready made them.

But, I will miss the layout, the simplicity, of the old Confusion theme. I used the Custom CSS feature to skin the Twenty Twenty theme to resemble the old Confusion theme, but there is still a long way between the two. There are also a ton of things that must be broken. I hope I can work through those in the next few weeks. Ah, debugging in production! Wish me luck.

Categories
ranting

Lost opportunity

Speaking with a friend on the current round of riots in America, we ended up discussing what, I think, is happening with America today. So let me indulge in a little un-researched ranting, no supporting links or data, just my take. It’s my blog.

So, what is the underlying problem that ties together the current riots, against racism and police brutality, Nazi’s in Charlottesville, with the Occupy Wall Street protest and with the election of Donald Trump and the campaign of Bernie Sanders, with the opioid crisis and many, many, many other issues. The problem in America today, the number one problem, is lack of opportunity.

Racism, police brutality, out of work middle class, and many other things are problems in and off themselves —and they are big problems, racism in particular is such an foundational problem we have still not figured out how to fully deal with, but I’ve talked about that before (here [confusion.cc], here [confusion.cc], here [confusion.cc], here [confusion.cc]… here [confusion.cc])— but lack of opportunity has become such a big, entrenched problem that it exacerbates all those other problems. It has created so much fuel across so many people, ready to go up in flames, all it needs is the right spark.

Opportunity is the cornerstone of the social contract that is The American Dream. The idea that there is opportunity for all those who just work hard to achieve their dreams. That even if you are down, even if you have to fight against the other problems, there is still a light at the end of the tunnel if you march on long enough. But for most people today there is no light at the end of the tunnel —or if there is it’s an oncoming freight train.

Opportunity has always been the American answer to the question; what do I get for being American? Opportunity was baked into the fabric of America, “the land of opportunity”. It drove immigration and lingering the memory of it still drives immigration today.

For a long time, as long as we were physically expanding the nation people could follow opportunity westward; homesteaders, 49ers, and other waves (and again, racism was part of it, manifest destiny and whatnot). Later industrial expansion took over as the main driver of opportunity, it overlapped with westward expansion in the latter 19th century and overtook it in the 20th century. Or, at least for the first 50 to 75 years of the century. Opportunity was factory jobs, coal mining, and a thousand other industrial jobs as well as all the jobs created to support those industries and their workers, to provide them food, clothing, housing, entertainment, and vacations.

Since physical and industrial expansion have come to an end our society has failed to find any other way to provide opportunity that is within the reach of all. Sure there are still opportunities out there, become a famous actor or a sports star or found the next Amazon or Facebook. These sort of long shot opportunities have always been there but for the majority who fail there was still enough opportunity to make a decent living, to put food on the table and take care of your family, to do better than your parents. But that’s gotten harder and harder and for a long time now the bread and butter opportunities have been fading, factories closed, mines closed, small towns faded. For a long time we accepted this as the inevitable march or capitalism, the “menial jobs” go overseas but we were all going to be saved by jobs in “the service economy”, computer programming and banking back office jobs. Marketing and advertising. That worked for a while but the offshoring of those jobs has accelerated to the point where even the firmly middle class, college graduates can clearly hear the train whistle. People are treading water, the poor have fewer and fewer avenues to move up, the middle class are backsliding.

The dwindling of opportunity has been a long slow march, and we have not faced it head on because of our twin beliefs in Capitalism and Individualism. Uncontrolled capitalism, and the religious belief in the markets that has dominated for decades means the government has failed to take any meaningful steps to ensure people have opportunity. “The market will allocate resources in the most optimal way.” But “the market” only cares about shareholder value, and if shareholder value is increased by stock buy backs, stashing cash is low tax territories, and offshoring jobs to the lowest cost places, then it’s not creating opportunity. The stock market no longer reflects the success of the nation as a whole, while corporations do better and better, and the the rich get richer, the average American is making less money, getting poorer, doing worse than their parents. Globalization has lifted millions out of poverty, but is also creating a new poor in the very countries that created and championed the system.

I’m not against globalization. I’m not against capitalism. I’m not against individualism. But the role of the government should include guiding these things for the betterment of the nation as a whole. To ensure that the benefits of the system are spread across as many people as possible. Something both parties have failed to do as long as I have been alive. And I think the lack of acknowledgement of the problem is part of what prevents finding a solution. Until we start talking about the problem as an disease to be cured rather than individual symptoms to be managed. The disease is “lack of opportunity” while factory closures, fading small towns, inner city poverty and many more are all symptoms. We can medicate the symptoms for a time but the disease is still gnawing away at America.

Anyway, I’m running out of steam but let me consider for a few moments how to treat the disease: What treatment do we prescribe? Do the old medicines work? “Trickle down” is a favorite but it doesn’t seem to work. The extra money is no longer spent in America, it’s sent overseas to be stashed in tax free havens or invested in lower cost economies or to prop up the stock prices through stock buy backs. This won’t work without strings attached to ensure that the money is used in a way that creates opportunities for average people in America.

What about A new New Deal, a “Green New Deal”? It will have to generate opportunity in America; factories to build the turbines, research and development departments that employ people by the tens or hundreds of thousands, so that employees have money to spend on houses and goods locally to fill houses and activities to enjoy leisure time, supporting construction and the service industry.

That’s just trickle down by another name… if the factories or research and development jobs are off-shored then it won’t change anything. But we believe too strongly in free markets to do anything to ensure companies create opportunity at home, “that’s socialism!”

Universal Basic Income? Also “evil socialism”. And while it might keep people feed and clothed, create a much needed safety net how will it create opportunity for people? Once food and shelter are dealt with how do people get ahead? Masses of under employed people with no hope breed problems everywhere in the world, and it does not end well for governments and the rich. If people can’t see a better future under the current system they will look for scapegoats or other outlets for their frustration and energies. It gives rise to all of the ugly -isms of the world.

OK, enough for one post. I’m rambling. In summary: I think the political narrative in America needs to start talking about how we create opportunity and what the governments role in creating opportunity needs to be.

Categories
sounds

Taps at dad’s funeral

I haven’t posted in my sounds category for a while. Time to fix that. There are a few recordings on my phone that are worth posting. This one is self explanatory. Few people would have guessed it looking at my Dad during my lifetime but he served in the Navy. He even did a tour on a ship in Vietnam. He was discharged for medical reasons, a form or arthritis that was never definitively identified but the pain it caused him was a major contributing factor in his other health issues as he got older and more and more sedentary.

When he died in 2017 we managed to get a flag guard from the local Naval Reserve Centre to attend the funeral and perform the flag folding and play taps. I snuck in a recording of taps. I’ve always liked taps played on a single bugle. Not sure where I first heard it, probably a Donald Duck cartoon or a Loony Toons.

Categories
ranting

Caffeine Addiction

APC_3049

These are my Greenberry’s mugs. I got these mugs 25 and 23 years ago. The older one, the blue one, I got at the start of my senior year the year my caffeine addiction really started. That year I had early morning honors English at 7:30AM, and after school I was working in Ponderosa in the kitchen. To get to school on time I had to get up about 6AM and I usually got home around midnight. So, even if I didn’t do all —or any— of my homework, I got about 5 hours of sleep a night. Even those night I didn’t work I was usually out with friends or watching movies and playing games in the basement. So I can’t actually blame it on work but…

I don’t remember how I discovered coffee, I had never liked coffee before. Although to be fair coffee before was nuclear sludge at my moms office, no one in my house drank coffee at home, we were a tea house. In any case I became totally addicted to coffee over the course of senior year. This was before the Starbucks invasion, at least in Charlottesville, so there were few coffee shops. My favorite coffee was from the Mud House on the downtown mall. My friends and I used to gather there many evenings to attend the jam sessions and slam poetry; even days I had to work I would often stop by before work. I think there is still a Mud House mug at my mom’s house, it’s a smaller plastic mug that still has the yellow and orange Mud House griffin on it.

The Mud House was my favorite but I drank Greenberry’s more often for two reasons: one, the mug is bigger, and two, Greenberry’s was on the way to school. So I could start my day with a quad-shot latte. And some how my English teacher still had to tell the girl next to me to wake me up when class ended most days. I sat in the back next to a wall covered in one of those green chalkboards, I slept with my head leaning against the chalkboard, not even trying to fool the teacher. Not sure how I managed to pass that class with a good grade.

By the time senior year ended I think I was drinking two rounds of quad-shot lattes a day, plus Mountain Dew at lunch time and a couple of glasses of Coke or Dr. Pepper at work (it was free for staff). So I was totally hooked on caffeine to say nothing about the excessive sugar intake from the sodas. After school ended it shifted more to coffee but still, I was drinking the equivalent of 12 or more espresso shots a day!

This continued for a few years, somewhere along the way I got a second Greenberry’s mug so one could be at home in the wash while I had the other. Then, in 1999, while I was going through a phase of self-improvement —the same one that turned me vegetarian— I quit caffeine cold turkey for a year. No coffee, no soft drinks, no caffeine period. Also, this is where I developed a habit of drinking water, I had always had water at school and at home —until they added chlorine to our well water making it nasty— but outside tap water at home and drinking fountains at school I was used to drinking sweet tea or sodas with meals. To cut out caffeine and at the same time limit sugar I ended up on mostly ice water.

When I quit I suffered. For about a week I had splitting headaches and issues concentrating and staying awake. I was generally miserable for a few weeks. But I adjusted and eventually by 2001 I started drinking coffee again, and (diet) soda. Coffee was driven by college, sitting around drinking with friends on campus and in DC on the weekends. Soda was because there was a fridge filled with it at work —the perks of being a software developer during the dot com boom.

As an aside, my favorite coffee shop in DC was XandO’s, which later merged with Cosi. Other than coffee the best thing at XandO’s was the s’mores. A plate of gram crackers, marshmallows and chocolate bars with a flaming tiki statue in the middle. Wish I had a photo of that!

These days the main tipple in my Greenberry’s mugs is ice water, it’s almost all I drink at home. Usually one or two mugs full a day. The insulated mug works well, keeping my water ice cold long enough for me to finish it and the size is great. My wife keeps telling me to get rid of the mugs, especially the blue one as it is all ragged around the lip. But this style of mug is not something you can find these days, everything is more fancy. I don’t know, maybe I’ll get a couple of nice insulated metal cups from Starbucks or The Coffee Club one day but for now my Greenberry’s mugs are still precious to me.

Categories
technical

Achievement unlocked: Padlock

The COVID19 lockdown here in Singapore gave me some time to dig into an issue that has been bugging me about Confusion.cc for a while. Since before browsers started indicating sites which don’t use HTTPS it’s been in my to-do list. I looked into it when I first moved the site to AWS but didn’t get it done. So the other day I sat down and figured it out. Wasn’t that hard. I originally thought I would put the SSL on a Elastic Load Balancer on AWS but given that you have to pay for the ELB and this site hardly justifies any infra based on visits… I decided not to worry about the fact that my first try didn’t work and I kept digging into ways to enable HTTPS on the site. In the end I found letsencrypt.org [letsencrypt.org] which is dedicated to helping sites move to HTTPS.

I stumbled again trying to follow their simple instructions because their automated tool, certbot [eff.org] from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, didn’t know what to do on a Amazon Linux 2 box. It told me I would need to install all the dependencies and such myself and directed me to documentation which was a dead link… (see here: letsencrypt.readthedocs.io [readthedocs.io], nice 404). So… back to Google, or actually DuckDuckGo [duckduckgo.com] in my case. And after a few permutations of terms I found this tutorial on AWS: Configure SSL on Amazon Linux 2 [amazon.com]. And that worked like a charm.

But still, no padlock…

Screenshot of Chrome address bar showing Confusion.cc with "Not Secure" indicator.
HTTPS but no padlock

Lucky Let’s Encrypt directs you to SSL labs‘ [ssllabs.com] SSL Server Test page where you can check on your site. A few minutes later the problems were listed on the report page. A couple of hard failures where I was loading things from other sites over HTTP, font libraries from Google. and a bunch of soft failures related to old images what were linked with HTTP not HTTPS. A quick edit of the site header page fixed the Google font libraries link and a quick search and replace on old posts, using the Search Regex plugin (which I installed long ago to fix some other things) and viola! Achievement unlocked, site locked:

Screenshot of Chrome address bar showing Confusion.cc with secure indicator icon - a locked padlock.
Shiny new padlock
Categories
photos travel

Petra, Jordan, November 2019

I have been visiting the holy land [confusion.cc] since 2007 and since day one I have planned to visit Petra [wikipedia.org]. I’ve been dreaming about visiting Petra since I was 11 years old and first learned of its existence, like so many people, from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. And every time I started making plans they fell through. But finally, in November 2019 I managed to make the trip.

IMG_6888

I had one day, so it was a short trip and no doubt did not do Petra anything like justice. Logistics were a bitch, I got up at 3AM and went to the airport to catch a flight from Tel Aviv to Eilat at 5:30 AM. Once there I, and several others, tried to figure out what to do as no agent was there to meet us. After 45 minutes we eventually had an agent arrive and a few minutes later the bus which came from Tel Aviv also (you can save a 100 bucks or so on the tour by taking the bus which leaves at 3AM). After a 20 minute ride we arrived at the border crossing at Aqaba. You have to walk across the border and it’s very chaotic on the Jordanian side as lots of cruise ships dock in Eilat and people take day tours. Since the guides from Israel don’t seem to be able to cross, or at least they don’t —there were Israeli tourist who crossed with me— the various tour groups have to meet up with agents on the Jordanian side and go through the various customs and immigration processes. Lots of people speaking lots of languages and trying to communicate about a overly complicated process. Eventually I joined my tour group, we didn’t actually have much problem, and we boarded a bus. But the bus was too small, we had three people with no seats and it took 30 minutes to organize a second car to take them and meet us at Petra. Then we had another 15 minutes wait as we were stopped for something as soon as we started to pull away from the immigration center. Something not right with our papers…

Eventually we were on our way. The drive was beautiful, about two hours starting in the mountains and later over flat desert past Wadi Rum [wikipedia.org]. I would have loved to add a night to my tour to camp under the stars and then explore Wadi Rum, maybe next time. By the time we got to petra it was almost 2PM and our bus had to start back by 4PM (to make the mandatory “lunch” stop at a local restaurant and then drop people at Wadi Rum before making it back to the border crossing before it closed for the day.) So in the end, I had less than 2 hours at Petra. I did manage to see the key sights, or at least the sights on my must-see list. Waking down the Siq [wikipedia.org], the long, winding passage down into the ruins, and The Treasury [wikipedia.org].

IMG_6972

The Treasury, or Al-Khazneh, is the main attraction, the mausoleum who’s facade is featured in The Last Crusade. Sadly there were not Nazis or Crusader Knights, just tourists and camel rides. The Treasury comes into view at the end of the Siq framed by the curvy walls. You can see a small vertical slice as our round the last turn, which grows wider as until you emerge into an open area of shear walls with the Treasury in it’s full glory opposite the Siq. An amazing site, and worth the loss of sleep, the money and the hassle. 10/10 would go again.

In fact, I would love to go back and spend a full day exploring more of the ruins. I basically only made it through the Siq, past the Treasury and along the Street of Facades —lined with many tombs and mausoleums, some grand, some not much more than caves it seemed— and to the Amphitheatre. Beyond that there is the city proper, with ruins of Roman temples and more grand mausoleums, even a crusader fort somewhere. Alas, I had to be back at the bus by 4PM.

You can see my whole Petra, Jordan, November 2019 photoset on Flickr [flickr.com].

Categories
ranting

Hokusai Manga

Oh Japan. It’s so crazy. Never nuke a nation twice, right? Well I think they were crazy first.

One of the most famous images of Japan is The Great Wave off Kanagawa [wikipedia.org]:

The Great Wave off Kanagawa, by Hokusai

Hokusai is probably the most famous Japanese artist, and last November when we were in Amsterdam we can across a three book set of his wood block prints called Hokusai Manga [goodreads.com] at the Van Gogh museum shop. I didn’t buy it then but I got a copy later from Book Depository [bookdepository]. Flipping through it there are many silly, intentionally or not, prints of everyday life in Edo Japan. There are some very silly sumo and old men doing exercise. And then, on page 73 of volume one, “Edo Life” is this:

Geisha butt death ray!

Who knew gesha could shoot death rays out of their butts? So, yea, maybe the crazy wasn’t caused by the nukes. Maybe they were already crazy.