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:
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.
I should have returned from Bali today. It’s spring school holidays this week in Singapore and we booked a villa in Bali from Sunday to Thursday. There was a lot of debate if we should cancel or not due to COVID19 but in the end we decided to go. We were planning on chilling in isolation in our villa for 5 days.
It all started out good, on Saturday afternoon the airport was less busy than it could be but it was not a ghost town. The flight was only half full, and we made it through immigration in Bali in less than an hour —which is a rare feat. We checked in and enjoyed swimming in our private pool all morning Sunday.
Then, Sunday afternoon we found out that Singapore was going to impose 14 day Stay Home Notice [moh.gov.sg] (SHN) to all travelers from ASEAN countries entering Singapore after 23:59 on the 16th of March. So we decided to try and change our flights from Thursday to Monday. It was remarkable painless, the Singapore Air website worked well, somewhat surprisingly. We flew in at 10:30 PM on Monday.
So, all good. Right?
Nope. Today, due to a large surge in imported cases, made up mostly of Singaporeans and residents that were returning form overseas, the government announced [moe.gov.sg] mandatory Leave Of Absence [moh.gov.sg] (LOA) for students and staff in public schools who have recent travel history to lots of places, including to Indonesia (link is for an older advisory so the list of affected countries is now longer but the rest of the order is the same)
14 days from the date of return… meaning my kids can’t go to school next week, until April 1st (ha ha ha…). And while the LOA for the kids does not mean my wife or I are locked in, effectively one of us is as no one else can come over to watch the kids. So they are stuck in here with me for the next two weeks doing e-learning…
We’re more than a month into COVID-19 now. Time to write something about it. Things have calmed down in the past week or so but everything is on edge. While things in Singapore seem to be under control the economy is so deeply dependent on people shopping and dinning out and Business travel, in and out, that other countries inability to control the outbreak could tank Singapore very quickly.
Singapore’s preparedness for an epidemic is impressive, I guess having a recent memory of one helps. I personally missed the SARS outbreak [wikipedia.org] in Singapore but it killed 33 people here. When I first came here in late 2004, over a year after SARS, things had settled down. Even so there were a lot of reminders, many signs in public and workplace toilets about how to wash hands, widespread use of hand sanitizers —both personal portable bottles and larger bottles at hotel receptions and other public places— and people using surgical masks when they had any cough or other sign of illness. Over the intervening years most of that has gone away…
As I said, things seem to have mostly settled down but all the precautions are back with a bang. Hand sanitizer is everywhere again; at the coffee shops, at the restaurants, in office lobbies. Many people are wearing masks —the government keeps telling people you only need a n95 mask if you have flu like symptoms, in which case get yourself to a doctor to be tested— but there is a large number of people who are just wearing them all the time. Entrances to office buildings have thermal scanners. Business Continuity Planning is a hot topic. Many companies, including one of my local customers are using “Blue-Green” teams; staff at one site are forbidden to visit the second site and vice-versa and they are forbidden to meet outside the sites as well. Our onsite teams can’t visit our company offices. Other places have staggered working hours. Schools have canceled most activities; my older daughter missed her fifth year over seas trip last year as it was supposed to be to Hong Kong and the riots got in the way, and now COVID-19 has caused school to cancel her sixth year camp week, so sad. And since Singapore has “community spread” of the virus (meaning locals with no travel history to China or other direct link have caught the virus locally) my planned travel to South Africa next week has been canceled by the customer.
And a few weeks ago it was full on panic mode… there was a lot of panic buying and hoarding, I spend close to an hour in line to buy a few things I needed for packing school lunches because I could not get a slot for delivery via Amazon Prime, my usual way of doing weekly shopping. I saw people buying 96 rolls of toilet paper, 24 two-liter waters, shopping carts full of instant noodles or rice. I didn’t take any amazing photos but the internet has not disappointed, these are from a few WhatsApp groups, all scenes in Singapore:
The government is trying to keep people informed, setting up a WhatsApp group with regular updates, which link to more detailed updates posted on government websites:
The efficiency of Singapore’s tracing of the transmission is a bit scary. I guess it’s the positive side of all the CCTV surveillance cameras around the island.
Links between previous cases found
3. Further epidemiological investigations and contact tracing have uncovered links between previously announced and new cases. This was made possible with the assistance of the Singapore Police Force.
Six of the locally transmitted confirmed cases (Cases 31, 33, 38, 83, 90 and 91), as well as Cases 8 and 9, are linked to The Life Church and Missions Singapore. These six cases are linked to another 23 confirmed cases (Cases 48, 49, 51, 53, 54, 57, 58, 60, 61, 62, 63, 66, 67, 68, 70, 71, 73, 74, 78, 80, 81, 84, 88) who are linked to the Grace Assembly of God.
Nine of the confirmed cases (Cases 19, 20, 21, 24, 25, 27, 28, 34 and 40) are linked to…
I think a lot of Singapore’s ability to handle this is not replicable in other places. The foundation and the money, is just not there and the face that Singapore is so small that there is no issues with coordination across city, state and local agencies and officials.
In the beginning COVID-19 spread quickly in Singapore, we were number two after China (a very distant number two…) but we have dropped down to number six now. Hopefully the rest of the world gets things under control quickly, but I doubt it.
A few months ago Netflix released a show, Green Eggs and Ham, based on the Dr. Seuss classic.
In the first episode there is a scene where one of the protagonists walks through a big office full of “bean counters and pencil pushers.” The room is filled with characters at desks literally counting beans, one at a time, or pushing pencils across a desk, one at a time. It’s a funny sight, if a bit predictable, but after watching it I felt that it was a lazy joke but there was something else about it I couldn’t put my finger on.
Describing it the next day to a colleague it came to me: the problem was that pencil pushers and bean counters is simply not Seussian! Seussian is defined as:
Relating to or characteristic of the Dr. Seuss series of children’s books, especially in being whimsical or fantastical.“
Dr. Seuss wrote about people who make thneeds or sneeches with and without stars on their bellies. About wacky Wednesday’s and fights over which side you should butter your bread on. He wrote about wockets in pockets and a fox who wears socks while rhyming. I just don’t feel like he would fill an office with bean counters and pencil pusher —at least not by those names, beans and pencils are too mundane for Dr. Seuss.
Bean counters and pencil pushers called to my mind a different authorial adjective —Kafkaesque.
Characteristic or reminiscent of the oppressive or nightmarish qualities of Franz Kafka’s fictional world.
But that’s not right. The bean counters and pencil pushers are not nightmarish or oppressive (at least not in the show, I’ve met some that are in real life!) I thought of kafkaesque as more “absurdity of modern life.” But the dictionary disagrees. Maybe pencil pushers and bean counters would be more Roald Dahl, not Wonka but the world outside the factory gates? I’m not sure. I even looked up The Myth of Sisyphus [wikipedia.org] which is about the absurdity of life in the modern world, but it resulted in a bit of circular reasoning as “The essay contains an appendix titled “Hope and the Absurd in the work of Franz Kafka”. And “[Camus] maintains that Kafka fails as an absurd writer because his work retains a glimmer of hope.” So maybe pencil pushers and bean counters are kafkaesque after all. It’s all so confusing. But the central premise stands: they are not seussian.
Dr. Seuss used his wacky worlds to write about many real world problems: deforestation, racism, the nuclear arms race… [buzzfeed.com] but I don’t remember any about pointless jobs. Pointless jobs, or bullshit jobs [wikipedia.org] are plague on society that has been around since before Dr. Seuss, and I expect will continue for many years to come… but that theory is a topic for another day.
There was an eclipse today in Singapore. Unlike the last one [confusion.cc] this was an annular eclipse, so at maximum there was a “ring of fire” (aka an annulus, hence the name.)
Unfortunately some clouds rolled in just before maximum and so the eclipse was partially, and sometimes totally obscured. Still I managed to get some dramatic shots, as in a scene from Game or Thrones or The Witcher.
After cleanup I have about 90 photos [flickr.com], some taken with the 200 millimeter lens and some with a 500 mm with a 2x extension tube, so 1000 mm. The ring of fire above was taken with the 200 mm. The one below, taken just after second contact, as the moon begins to move off of the disc of the sun, shows a small dot of light at the bottom, disconnected from the rest of the crescent of the sun. Proof that the moon is not a smooth sphere. Cool. Super cool!
For all the reasons to hate Facebook, there are some times when it is an amazing tool. I am currently in Amsterdam for holiday and the other morning while I was scrolling through Facebook I happened upon a post from an old colleague who lives in Moscow. Coincidentally he was in Amsterdam for a few days of work. So we managed to meet up for drinks and dinner after a decade. This is one of the best reasons to keep Facebook. I suck at keeping in touch with friends who live overseas, but I do stalk a significant number of them on Facebook. It’s a double edged sword because I don’t interact with them but I do feel like I’m still in touch with them. So, as dangerous as Facebook is if you are a bit picky about your friends post significant things and things like travel to your friends it can yield some serendipitous moments.
Facebook isn’t alone. I am writing this while waiting for another ex-colleague who lives in Amsterdam that I have kept up with, off-and-on, via a WhatsApp group. But even my WhatsApp groups are mostly random, far between posting of funny things or rankings and not real contact. Oh well.
The moral of this story should be “I should be a better friend”. But I prefer: post enough of your life to Facebook so others, who you have selectively chosen —never post to the open internet, remember the internet does not forget— can stalk you.
Vice has a story about how the fragmentation of the streaming video market is driving people back to piracy to get their fix. It focuses a lot on the cost of having all the streaming services —welcome back to the cable era— but it has less to say about a major issue with streaming services: different launch dates and offerings by country.
As a Star Wars fan in Singapore my only option to watch The Mandalorian before the internet shoves terabytes of spoilers in front of my eyes is to pirate it. There is no official launch date for Disney+ in Singapore yet. What the fuck house house of mouse? I understand the level of technical complexity to rolling out global services on this scale. Netflix only conquered the world a few years ago but it suffered for many years from VPN leakage. And Hulu and other streaming services still don’t have global offerings. Maybe a VPN will work for D+?
A major part of the issue with most streaming services is how content has always been distributed. It complicated but in general studios make a show and its purchased (before or after being made) by a distributor who, well, distributes it. In the old days it was distributed physically, with rolls of film shipped around. Back in high school the older brother of a friend was the manager of a local theater and the amount of money they spent to rent the reels of film for a new movie was crazy. I understand why the popcorn and coke is so expensive, I suspect that even with digital distribution the cost didn’t go down… just more profit.
Under this physical distribution model it took a lot of layers of middlemen to get content around the world. And contracts were put in place. As new distribution technology and new touch points with consumers emerged the same model was used. So someone could own the broadcast rights to a move and someone else the digital distribution and someone else the physical distribution (DVDs). And of course exclusivity of a popular title meant more money. Back when music streaming and download was the big battleground another friend was in charge of the Nokia “comes with music” product where Nokia bundled a year of streaming with your phone. He had a small army of lawyers working for most of a year to get the required rights contracts in place, just for Singapore!
Now Disney is the owner of it’s own content, and the distributor via Disney+. So why can’t I watch The Mandalorian in Singapore?
After 20 years I have finally migrated off of the original confusion.cc server. Since I was in college confusion.cc has been hosted on a server in California. Originally on a physical box in a managed data centre, what is known as a Server Colocation or just “colo”, and later a virtual machine in the same centre. But I’m lazy and have not kept the server up-to-date since I migrated the family email server to a fully managed service ten years ago. And now the confusion.cc server is so out of date that it’s a hopeless task to try and update all the software. Things came to a head a few months ago with the release of WordPress 5.2 which requires PHP 5.6.20. Confusion.cc was limping along on PHP 5.2.5, from 2007!
So, now comes the end of the colo era for confusion.cc. The site is now running on AWS. But one does not move a two decade old website without a few issues…
After setting up a vanilla WordPress installation on an EC2 instance and a MySQL RDS instance I uploaded the confusion WordPress database and viola! What’s with all the funny characters showing up in the posts? Best I can tell the original WordPress version used on confusion (installed sometime around 2004, when WordPress was version 1!) defaulted to latin1 encoding but somewhere along the way I started using Unicode characters in posts. For some reason it all worked. Now however, the default WordPress installation uses UTF8, ergo gobbledygook… there are numerous posts out on the web documenting various ways of fixing the DB. Changing the DB config, the individual table config and even the table row config… and there are grep-sed-awk magic spells to cast on a dump file that you can then load into a new DB instance and after a few prays to the elder gods all your Unicodes are correct!
And then there was the one hack to just define the DB_CHARSET variable in the wp-config.php to ‘latin1’ and Cthulhu continues to dream, un-disturbed, in Rayleigh.
Once the posts were loading it was time to tackle all the other assets; scripts and images which on the old server were loaded from sub domains. Originally this was to allow browsers to download the assets in parallel. This is because browsers limit the number of concurrent connections to a sight. However since I don’t have an image heavy design and most scripts are loaded from other sites or CDNs I don’t think it’s a big issue. So I uploaded all the content to an S3 bucket. I had to replace all the links in the theme and posts and then add a mod_rewrite rule to redirect the requests to the S3 bucket.
I also had to drop the “/wp/” from the URL. Long ago when I setup WordPress on the colo I had other things running at the top level so putting the WordPress installation into a directory made sense. Today WordPress is the CMS for the whole site so this setup doesn’t make sense. So off with the “/wp/”, which meant meant updating any post linking back to a confusion post. (This also means that any link to a post from Google or any other random site would be broken. So I added another mod_rewrite rule). I also updated the WordPress settings. And as soon as I did all of this I couldn’t continue to load the pages using the EC2 instance IP. So I had to update the confusion.cc DNS records to point to the AWS site. So, technically it was at that point that confusion.cc moved over to AWS.
Then there was the issue with XML RPC. The WordPress apps were not working. After much investigation I managed to pin it down to lacking PHP support for XML RPC in the default installation. I had to install additional packages for PHP-XML, PHP-XMLRPC and PHP-GD.
The last two bugs turned out to be caused by the same thing. First there was an issue with the icons for the sharing buttons not displaying. The icons are actually a font loaded via CSS from the Jetpack WordPress plugin. Funny thing is they worked on the plugin configuration page but not the site itself. The second issue was with the navigation menu. Clicking on the categories, archives or search option did not display the DIV containing the forms, so there was no way to navigate via categories or archive links and you couldn’t search. On the bright side “Random” still worked. After much tinkering and investigation I found a PHP opening tag was messed up in the header.php file. What should have been “<?php” was just “<?”. No idea how that happened… gremlins.
There may be other things. With nearly two decades of cruft I’m sure I’ve missed something…
“I see we have the bus to ourselves,” she said. Julian cringed.
“For a change,” said the woman across the aisle, the owner of the red and white canvas sandals. “I come on one the other day and they were thick as fleas—up front and all through.”
“The world is in a mess everywhere,” his mother said. “I don’t know how we’ve let it get in this fix.”
Flannery O’Conner, in Everything That Rises Must Converge
O’Connor’s story is speaking about racisim in the 50s against blacks in the American south, the line before is “Everybody [on the bus] was white”. But, it would work today for others, Hispanics in America, Polish in England, Africans or Syrians in much of Europe. Bigotry is bad and the world is once again in a mess everywhere; people, even politicians, thinking and saying things like this.
First an analogy: I’m sure it’s been used before but I was talking about climate change ether other day with a coworker and used this one; climate change is like lifestyle diseases. Like diabetes or high blood pressure or cholesterol, climate change is something we were warned about, that it would be a consequence of our continued bad behavior and, like lifestyle diseases, too many people have ignored the warnings. This is a particularly good analogy for my peers, we are in our forties and all that past bad behavior has started catching up with many of us. Too many of my coworkers are dealing with diabetes, high blood pressure or cholesterol.
So, climate change is like lifestyle diseases: it’s a problem created by the success of the first world, and you have been warned about it for years. Doctors have been telling you that present you needs to eat better to protect future you for most of your life. The doctors told you that you eat too much sugar and salt, that you get too little exercise. But present you figures “I can have one donut, I’m gonna start going to the gym” or “some salty fries won’t kill me, I’ll eat better tomorrow.” But future you never gets a chance to eat better and exercise because when the time comes present you is always making other plans and giving excuses. Then one day present you is pricking your finger every few hours to measure your blood sugar, or taking pills for high blood pressure or cholesterol. Present you has got to live with the consequences of all the bad behavior of past you and there is nothing future you can do about it anymore. Preventing the disease is always better than treating the disease, but past you always assumed future you would be better than present you ever was. Psychology knows this, that future you is always going to be better behaved until present you is future you and then you behave the same as past you always has; present you likes donuts and fries just like past you did.
Like first world lifestyle diseases, climate change was avoidable but past, and indeed, present humanity has failed to curb the bad behavior. The scientist have been warning us for years that we need to take better care of the environment to stop climate change. Now we have passed the point of preventative maintenance, where future humanity could have done better and everything would have been alright. But present humanity continued to be as bad as past humanity and now future humanity will need to manage the chronic disease we have infected the planet with.
Even if you don’t believe that climate change is man made we are to the point where we need to do something to stop the changes if we want to keep living. Just like changing your diet when you get diabetes or high blood pressure we need to change our consumption; less meat, less plastic, less fossil fuels. But once the disease has set in you can’t use change your diet and hope it will all be better, you need some medicine, you have to take pills or insulin shots.
Which brings us to thought two: we can’t rely on stopping our bad habits alone. We need to reduce our use of fossils fuels, stop using plastics, limit meat, and many other things too. But we need some medicine too. And just as science continues to look for a cure to diabetes and high blood pressure, to reverse the disease we need to invest in finding a cure for climate change that we have already caused. Here I want to see America take the lead, to get America out of this funk of “all we have is capitalism, all we have is making money.” I think America needs a collective challenge one a global level to invest itself in.
America needs a nation commitment to tackling a global level challenge to grow, we don’t seem to work well without a grand shared goal: ending the depression, saving the world from Nazis and Kamikaze, or beating the Russians to the moon. Since the fall of communism we have not had any real global challenges to rise to. So, since yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, I propose to tackle climate change in a similar way as we tackled the race to the moon. Let’s challenge America to return the atmosphere to the carbon dioxide level of 1900, by the year 2030, and keep it there.
“And keep it there” is an important part of that challenge. It means that we don’t get off the hook for changing our ways. We have to stop adding to the problem; stop adding to the carbon dioxide problem. Even if NASA and NOAA can develop a plan and succeed in sucking the excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere we need to find alternatives to putting it back. Even if they can return the atmosphere to 1900 we also need to see how we tackle plastics in the environment, industrial chemicals in the environment and massive distraction of the environment through logging and farming. And how do we help the people who are disaffected by fixing those problems. But “return the atmosphere to to the carbon dioxide level of 1900, by the year 2030, and keep it there” is a mission statement we can remember and America can take up a challenge for the good of all mankind.