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.

Categories
ranting

COVID19 Lockdown

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…

On the bright side we did miss a magnitude 6.3 earthquake in Bali [channelnewsasia.com] today.

Categories
photos

Simian Eyes 2.0

IMG_6656

Photo of a Long-tailed Macaque [wikipedia.org] taken at the Tree Top Walk [nparks.gov.sg] in the Central Catchment Nature Park (aka Macritchie Reservoir). Compare with 1.0 version [confusion.cc] from 2005.

Categories
quotes

Class War in America

For all the talk of market efficiency, the “information economy” has created a vast category of professionals who do nothing but copy and paste McKinsey info­graphics into presentations for no social or even narrowly commercial purpose.

Julius Krein, in The Real Class War article in American Affairs Journal

I know people like that.

A friend shared this some time ago. It’s an interesting, if long, article on where the classes and allegiances of Americans are and how they got to where they are. There is some emphasis on the rise of bullshit jobs and how they have somehow granted authority to loudmouths.

Best line:

Many of these people presumably possess some narrow technical ability, though if so, it is less and less evident. But they conspicuously lack any self-awareness, much less insight into issues of broader human concern, … The case of Donald Trump speaks for itself.

Julius Krein, in The Real Class War article in American Affairs Journal

Emphasis mine.

Categories
ranting

COVID-19

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 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…

Ministry of Health Singapore, “Three More Cases Discharged; Two New Cases of COVID-19 Infection Confirmed”, [moh.gov.sg] press release

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.