Sunday, 15 July


Link [Scripting News]

Poll: What will we witness tomorrow when Trump and Putin hold their joint press conference?


Nokia 6.1: best answer to "What Android phone should I buy?" [OSNews]

As someone who spends a lot of time with smartphones, I often get asked, "Hey Ron, what Android phone should I buy?" The high-end answer is usually easy: buy a Pixel phone. But not everyone is willing to shell out $650+ for a smartphone, especially the types of casual users that ask for advice. Beyond the flagship smartphones, things get more difficult within the Android ecosystem. Motorola under Google used to be great at building a non-flagship phone, but since the company was sold to Lenovo (which gutted the update program), it has been tough to find a decent phone that isn't super expensive. Enter HMD's Nokia phones, an entire lineup of cheap smartphones ranging from $100 to $400. HMD recently launched the second generation of its lineup, with phones like the Nokia 2.1, 3.1, and 5.1. We recently spent time with the highest end phone in this series that happens to be one of the few HMD devices for sale in the US: the Nokia 6.1. And for $269, you get a pretty spectacular-sounding package of a Snapdragon 630, a 5.5-inch 1080p screen, stock Android 8.1, fast updates, and a metal body.

Nokia's Android phones seem well underway to become the default choice for people who want a good Android phone with fast updates at a decent price.

Debian 9.5 "released" [OSNews]

The Debian project is pleased to announce the fifth update of its stable distribution Debian 9 (codename stretch). This point release mainly adds corrections for security issues, along with a few adjustments for serious problems. Security advisories have already been published separately and are referenced where available. Please note that the point release does not constitute a new version of Debian 9 but only updates some of the packages included. There is no need to throw away old stretch media. After installation, packages can be upgraded to the current versions using an up-to-date Debian mirror.

I'm not a fan of publishing items for every single distribution release - other sites do that way better than I ever could - but there are a few distributions I do try to keep up with, and considering just how fundamental Debian is to many popular Linux distributions, it's always been an exception.

A look at Chrome's new tab design [OSNews]

Chrome is getting a major redesign soon, and this week new changes have started to land in the Chrome's nightly "Canary" build. Google is launching a new version of Material Design across its products, called the "Google Material Theme," and after debuting in Android P and, it's starting to roll out across other Google's major products. On Chrome, this means major changes to the tab and address bar.

I haven't tried the new redesign yet - I don't use Chrome anyway - but judging by the screenshots, I can't say I'm a fan.


‘Copyright’s True Purpose Is Dead, It Never Existed’ [TorrentFreak]

We’re all familiar with the statement that piracy is “killing” the music industry.

It’s one of the main arguments used to argue in favor of stronger copyright enforcement and legislation.

The underlying idea is that strong copyright protection ensures that artists get paid. More money then opens the door to more artistic creations. But is that really the case?

Glynn Lunney Jr, law professor at Texas A&M University, has his doubts.

When the first wave of widespread online piracy hit in the late nineties, copyright holders called for stronger protections. This eventually resulted in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, commonly known under the acronym DMCA, which was passed nearly twenty years ago.

At the time, Professor Lunney declared that this would be the death of copyright. The DMCA would mainly serve the interests of large monopolies, not the independent creators, he envisioned. This would kill the true purpose of copyright, which is the progress of arts and science, as defined by the constitution.

In a new follow-up essay, Lunney looks back at his earlier predictions, with fresh evidence. As is turns out, he was wrong. The DMCA did little to stop the piracy epidemic. But while music industry revenues tanked, there was still plenty of creative output.

The professor doesn’t retract his early criticism of the DMCA, but he now sees that copyright never really served to promote the public interest.

In an ideal world, more money should lead to more creative output, but according to data presented Lunney’s new essay, the reality is quite different. Instead, it suggests that more money leads to less creative output.

Relying on music sales data dating back to the fifties, adjusted for inflation, and comparing that to a database of most-streamed tracks on Spotify in 2014, the professor reveals an interesting trend. There is no greater preference for music created in the high revenue periods, on the contrary in fact.

This is backed up by other data presented in Lunney’s book Copyright’s Excess, which also fails to find evidence that more money means better music.

“There is no evidence that more money meant more or better music. To the contrary, when I found a statistically significant correlation, I found that more money meant fewer and lower quality hit songs,” the professor writes.

The question is, of course, why?

According to the professor, it’s simple. Overpaid artists don’t work harder; they work less.

“These misdirected and excess incentives ensure that our most popular artists are vastly overpaid. By providing these excess incentives, copyright encourages our superstar artists to work less,” Lunney writes.

This suggests that more money for the music industry means less music. Which is the opposite of the true purpose of copyright; to facilitate the progress of arts and science.

It’s a controversial thought that relies on quite a few assumptions. For example, looking beyond the big stars, more money can also mean that more artists get paid properly, so they can make a decent living and dedicate more time to their music.

Also, even in the lower revenue periods, when music piracy is at its height, the top artists still make millions.

The professor, however, is convinced by the data he sees. Adding to the above, he shows that during high revenue periods the top artists made fewer albums, while they produced more albums and hits during tough times.

“As a result, when revenues were high for the recording industry, as they were in the 1990s, our top artists produced fewer studio albums and fewer Hot 100 hits in the first ten years of their career,” Lunney writes.

“In contrast, when revenues were low, both in the 1960s before the sound recording copyright and in the post-file sharing 2000s, our top artists produced more studio albums and more Hot 100 hits.”

Among other things, the data show that the most prolific artists in the study, the Beatles and Taylor Swift, had their first Hot 100 hits in 1964 and 2006, respectively. Both were low revenue years.

It’s a thought-provoking essay which undoubtedly will be countered by music industry insiders. That said, it does highlight that there’s not always a positive linear link between music industry revenue and creative output.

“For the United States recording industry over the last fifty years, more money has not meant more and better music. It has meant less. The notion that copyright can serve the public interest by increasing revenue for copyright owners has, at least for the recording industry, proven false,” Lunney notes.

“Copyright is dead. The DMCA did not, however, kill it. Copyright, in the sense of a law intended to promote the public interest, never existed at all. It was only ever a dream,” he adds.

And the DMCA?

Ironically, major copyright groups are increasingly complaining that the ‘outdated’ law is not fit to tackle the ongoing piracy problem. Instead, they see the DMCA’s safe harbor as a major roadblock which allows services such as YouTube to “profit from piracy.”

The same YouTube, however, is used by tens of thousands of artists to create content and get their work out to the public. It’s proven to be a breeding ground for creative talent, some of which have grown out to become today’s biggest stars. Even those who started as ‘pirates’…

Copyright, as we know it today, is not dead, but it sure is complicated.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.


Kernel prepatch 4.18-rc5 []

The 4.18-rc5 kernel prepatch has been released. "For some reason this week actually felt very busy, but the rc5 numbers show otherwise. It's all small and calm, and things are progressing nicely."


Ben Carson wants to raise rents on public housing tenants by 300%+, attacking elderly, people with disabilities and working poor [Boing Boing]

Housing and Urban Affairs Secretary Ben Carson has asked for Congress's approval to hike rents on people living in federally subsidized housing, with a planned increase of more than 300%; he claims the rent hikes will incentivize public housing tenants to seek work. (more…)

Diane Feinstein has lost the California Democrats' Senate-race endorsement to a left-wing insurgent long-shot [Boing Boing]

Kevin De León has done the impossible: he flipped nearly every undecided vote on the California Democratic Party executive board to win the party's endorsement in the upcoming Senate race with 65% of the vote, defeating the incumbent, far-right Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who has a long track record of backing the finance industry, war, and mass surveillance -- who scored a mere 7% of the vote. (more…)


Link [Scripting News]

Buster Keaton's philosophy: "I always want the audience to out-guess me, and then I double-cross them."


Avowed "utopian anarchist" Elon Musk is also one of the top donors to the GOP "Protect the House" PAC [Boing Boing]

Elon Musk, an avowed utopian anarchist, is one of the top fifty donors to the Republican Protect the House PAC, having funneled $38,900 to support the group's mission of protecting Republican Congressional seats. (more…)

Chinese iPhones crash when users try to type Taiwanese flag characters [Boing Boing]

A now-fixed bug in Ios caused Chinese-localized Iphones to reboot any time the user tried to enter the character combination for a Taiwanese flag or the word "Taiwan"; the bug was caused by Apple's China-only censorship and surveillance software. (more…)

The world's most popular smartphones are underpowered, unusable hot messes [Boing Boing]

The "next billion" are the holy grail of tech and mobile companies -- the next billion users to come online, from the poor world, whose preferences and norms regarding technology have yet to be formed. (more…)

Sky blue, water wet, porn filters don't work [Boing Boing]

In Internet Filtering and Adolescent Exposure to Online Sexual Material, two researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute reveal their empirical findings on the efficacy of porn filters -- the online systems that are supposed to stop users from seeing sexual images, videos, and text. (more…)


America's largest fast-food chains forced to end conspiracy not to hire people looking for better-paid McJobs [Boing Boing]

Wage stagnation in the USA has many causes: both the destruction of trade unions and the erosion of labor protections in the law (these two things are connected) are obvious culprits, and do much to explain how real wages could be falling even as unemployment has gone down. (more…)


The economics of Walkaway [Cory Doctorow's]

Edgeryders’ Alberto Cottica has published a detailed analysis of the economics of Walkaway, at the micro-, mezzo-, and macroscale. It’s a good, crisp analysis that really captures what I was going for.

Writers are notoriously bad at knowing what they’re doing and why, and good criticism is just as interesting for writers to read as it is for readers.

The economics in Walkaway are my attempt to nail down a bunch of half-formed ideas that have been knocking around in my own thoughts for decades. Cottica’s analysis actually improves on some of what I was able to do, and was a great read.

These statements are important in Walkaway, because they dispose of methodological individualism. The reasoning works like this:

1. Most people like building things together. As long as the two elements of building and sociality are present, you do not need to obsess too much about incentives. In practice, you can blackbox individual behavior: observe what they do, then build a model in which they do it. No need to derive this behavior as the equilibrium strategy of a problem. This is a position close to behavioral economics.

2. What matters, instead, are technologies for cooperation. Groups of humans that are better at cooperating will prosper at the expense of other groups that are not as good. Groups of humans get better at cooperating by adopting systems of rules that make cooperation easier. Therefore, humans are subject to evolutionary pressure both at the individual level and at the group level, and the in the group level the pressure is cultural. This is the interpretation proposed by cultural evolution biologists like E.O. Wilson and Joseph Henrich.

3. It follows that an effective economic theory should not focus on individual behavior as an equilibrium of a set of individual incentives, but on system-level behavior as an equilibrium of interaction protocols.


Today in GPF History for Sunday, July 15, 2018 [General Protection Fault: The Comic Strip]

"Wielding such power is dangerous... and once revealed, cannot be hidden..."


Link [Scripting News]

Poll: Choose one, France or Croatia? âš˝ď¸

Link [Scripting News]

If you’re a developer who works inside a news org, here’s a plan for how to create a great set of whitelists of news that’s trying to get it right. This is based on what I learned bootstrapping blogging and podcasting. The same ideas should work for journalism, at least as starting points. We have to work together, and not wait for the tech industry to do it, imho. We can do it. Programmers can save the world. (Not really exaggerating.)

Link [Scripting News]

New personal description on Twitter profile page. "American software developer, blogger, inventor of new media types."


Jordan Peterson Interview [Nina Paley's Blog]

Jordan Peterson interviewed me last year (Seder-Masochism was not yet finished when we spoke) and finally the video is up. We talk about the Old Testament, religion, art, inspiration, and copyright, among other subjects.


flattr this!


A single typo wrecked Aliens: Colonial Marines [OSNews]

In what feels like The Games Story Of The Year, during the Steam summer sale the much reviled Gearbox title Aliens: Colonial Marines was marked down to a stupidly low three dollars. A modder happened to notice that in the INI file for the game, there is a single typo that is - get this - responsible for many of the awful AI choices that the xenomorphs make in the game... Like running directly at you on their hind legs instead of crawling on the walls and using ducts to surprise you. A once horribly broken game is now... Functioning? Thanks to a single letter? Sure. That's about at 2018 as a games industry story can get.

This is amazing.


Link [Scripting News]

Happy to report that an SQLite test app took about ten minutes to write and install. They make it sound like installing the native portion is some huge deal. It's not. I would share what I have so far, but I just followed the instructions on this page. They work, and the demo app works. I have an interesting project in mind, but first I have to learn more about SQLite to see if it's feasible. Still diggin. đŸš€


Suffocating Financial Power Means Mismatches in Copyright Cases [TorrentFreak]

Entrepreneurs on the Internet face risks that are in many ways the same as those operating in the physical realm. All have to find a suitable market while combining hard work, skill, and elements of luck to create a sustainable and profitable business model.

While there are plenty of opportunities out there to do things that other people have already done, the online world presents a whole raft of new possibilities to build projects in areas where few – if any – have trod before.

Take for instance Megaupload, the file-hosting site created by Kim Dotcom, which initially tried to solve the problem of sending files that were too big to email. Or TVAddons, the portal created by Canadian Adam Lackman, that set out to become the world’s leading repository of third-party Kodi media player addons.

Both businesses thrived for many years, working within what they believed to be the parameters of the law.

In Megaupload’s case, taking down content when asked to do so and working with copyright holders to ensure a smooth relationship. In TVAddons case, never hosting or linking to copyrighted content at all and never responding to copyright complaints – because none were ever received.

Now, however, both companies are resigned to history. Megaupload was shut down in 2012 and TVAddons (in its original form) was shuttered in 2017. While the force used against both has been documented in detail (few need to be reminded of the helicopters and armed police in Dotcom’s case or the specialist warrant used against Lackman) both have faced an onslaught of legal action.

Last week, Dotcom revealed that in the 2,375 days since the raid and after reporting for bail 670 times and appearing in court for 165 days, he has spent $40 million on legal fees.

Quite clearly Kim Dotcom is no ordinary person. Conjuring up $40m in legal fees is an astonishing feat, not least since the man was supposedly near destitute just a few short years ago.

But despite spending dangerously close to six whole months in court and more money than most of us could hope to see in several lifetimes, Dotcom is no closer to finding out whether his Megaupload operation was legal or not. Most proceedings thus far have dealt with how his case was (often wrongly) handled in New Zealand and whether or not he should be extradited to the United States.

Letting that sink in, the legality of Megaupload and the actions of its operators is yet to be determined on the merits, yet Dotcom has already spent $40m defending his corner. Whether you support the man or not, whether you believe Megaupload was brilliant innovation or the epitome of infringement, the numbers are staggering and are as far away from a reasonable fight as one can imagine.

Granted, someone with fewer abilities and resources than Dotcom would have been shipped off to the U.S. years ago where the case would’ve been decided much more cheaply. However, that would’ve been done under a system that tends to listen to arguments more closely when they’re made by defendants with huge financial resources.

That status certainly isn’t a good fit for TVAddons founder Adam Lackman who, unlike Dotcom, doesn’t appear to have the ability to conjure up millions of dollars to pay his lawyers.

On numerous occasions over the past 12 months, Lackman has turned to users of the now reborn TVAddons to ask for their financial support to help fight his case against the largest telecoms companies in Canada. He’s currently asking for their help again to raise CAD$55,000+ that must be paid to the plaintiffs in his case after he contested a search warrant.

Bailiffs have already been to Lackman’s home trying to recover the cash (or goods) but left when they could find little of value. TVAddons now say that they’re in a precarious position.

“It seems that the companies suing us (Bell, Rogers, Videotron, TVA) are trying to use this debt to force our founder into bankruptcy and therefore force him to settle with them, even though he did nothing wrong. This way they can avoid the issue being heard in court,” the site explains.

The last sentence in this statement raises a point that is regularly made in David vs Goliath-type copyright cases. The big companies who bring these cases are regularly accused of not wanting to have cases heard on the merits.

Their critics claim that if they can string things out long enough, defendants like Lackman – or indeed Kim Dotcom – will eventually fold under the pressure.

While that doesn’t seem to be on the cards in the Megaupload case, Lackman seems to be dangerously close to the edge. Just like Dotcom, there’s no shortage of people who would be happy to see him go under but that wouldn’t just be bad for him.

Whether they beat Lackman before or during trial, the plaintiffs in the TVAddons case want to create the impression that by “merely hosting, distributing and promoting Kodi add-ons, the TVAddons administrator is liable for inducing or authorizing copyright infringements later committed using those add-ons.”

That analysis is from the EFF, who note that a victory would “create new uncertainty and risk for distributors of any software that could be used to engage in copyright infringement.”

But while a decisive win for the telecoms companies on these grounds would be considered a success, a clear and early capitulation by Lackman would give the public the impression they would’ve won anyway.

Both outcomes would serve the purpose of deterring people from making a business on the back of their content – no matter how remotely nor how many third-parties are involved. It’s not hard to see why this is the end goal.

Lackman informs TF that so far he has spent over CAD$80,000 on legal bills, but “owes significantly more than that” to his own lawyers. That’s on top of the CAD$55,000+ he currently owes the plaintiffs plus anything he may spend at trial, if it even gets there.

In comparison, Kim Dotcom’s $40m is monopoly money to most of us, but whichever scenario one takes, the suffocating financial power faced by defendants in these case means inevitable mismatches.

Whether one thinks of these disrupters as heroes or calculating crooks is a matter of opinion (and there’s no shortage of people on both sides of that fence), but it’s likely that many will agree with the notion that getting a fair trial, on the merits of what has been accused, should be the target society aims for.

The current system doesn’t seem to allow for that.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.


Steve Kemp: Automating builds via CI [Planet Debian]

I've been overhauling the way that I build Debian packages and websites for myself. In the past I used to use pbuilder but it is pretty heavyweight and in my previous role I was much happier using Gitlab runners for building and deploying applications.

Gitlab is something I've no interest in self-hosting, and Jenkins is an abomination, so I figured I'd write down what kind of things I did and explore options again. My use-cases are generally very simple:

  • I trigger some before-steps
    • Which mostly mean pulling a remote git repository to the local system.
  • I then start a build.
    • This means running debuild, hugo, or similar.
    • This happens in an isolated Docker container.
  • Once the build is complete I upload the results somehere.
    • Either to a Debian package-pool, or to a remote host via rsync.

Running all these steps inside a container is well-understood, but I cheat. It is significantly easier to run the before/after steps on your host - because that way you don't need to setup SSH keys in your containers, and that is required when you clone (private) remote repositories, or wish to upload to hosts via rsync over SSH.

Anyway I wrote more thoughts here:

Then I made it work. So that was nice.

To complete the process I also implemented a simple HTTP-server which will list all available jobs, and allow you to launch one via a click. The output of the build is streamed to your client in real-time. I didn't bother persisting output and success/failure to a database, but that would be trivial enough.

It'll tide me over until I try ick again, anyway. :)


First annual condiment showcase [Seth's Blog]

Totally off topic, a few condiments most people don’t know about that I’m happy to bring to your attention.

$5 each will buy you a month’s worth of delight. It’s hard to beat.

Here they are with links, but you can find them locally, I hope.

Lao Gan Ma Chili Crisps are numbing and spicy and a simple way to make just about anything taste more zingy than it used to. Tao Huabi, the founder of the company, retired a few years ago, finishing her career as a billionaire–even though she was raised in poverty, without ever going to school.

Al Wadi Pomegranate Molasses has exactly one ingredient, I’ll let you guess what it is. Put it on salad or on ice cream, or rice. Or your finger.

Lime Pickle is a miracle concoction, one that most people who don’t grow up with it will walk on by at the Indian market. I have no idea which brand is the best, they all seem different but equally interesting. How this product could possibly be produced, packaged and brought to your home for so little money is yet another miracle.

Fallot Dijon Mustard is not the mustard that is made by a vast mass marketer. It is the mustard made by someone who truly cares about mustard.

And the last one is the most basic of all. Maldon salt. I don’t know why. I just know it’s way better.

With nothing but these five condiments, I could happily eat beans, kale and rice for the rest of my days.


Why Boaty McBoatface had to be torpedoed | David Mitchell [David Mitchell | The Guardian]

When it comes to important stuff such as naming boats or theatres, petitioners can’t always have the casting vote

The hull of the ship they’re not actually going to call Boaty McBoatface is complete. By the time you read this, it will probably have already slid into the River Mersey, bobbed along massively for a bit and then been tugged off into a harbour. It won’t be the first time that’s happened.

It’s going to be called the RRS Sir David Attenborough instead of Boaty McBoatface, despite the fact that Boaty McBoatface won an online poll to decide its name. I think we can all agree, though, that RRS Sir David Attenborough is a much more sensible name. Then again, to put the contrary point of view, RRS Sir David Attenborough is a much more sensible name.

Continue reading...


More Mystery Sketches [Skin Horse]


Shaenon: Another sketch from my current mystery project.

Channing: Intrigued levels rising. What could it be, I wonder?

I’m not being coy, I really don’t know.


Link [Scripting News]

Have you ever had a thought "Geez this person just needs to read the article," so you say so, and they reply with something like "Thanks. I did need to read it." đŸ’Ľ

Saturday, 14 July


Rightscorp Prompted The RIAA to Sue Internet Provider [TorrentFreak]

Two years ago, several major record labels filed a lawsuit against Internet provider Grande Communications.

The labels argued that the ISP’s subscribers engaged in more than a million BitTorrent-based infringements, yet it took “no meaningful action to discourage this continuing theft.”

While the RIAA is not a party to the case, on paper at least, the music group’s lawyers are closely involved in the matter. From the earliest stage, it provided the labels with legal assistance.

That said, filing a lawsuit against the Internet provider was not the RIAA’s idea originally. It was brought to their attention by none other than the piracy-settlement outfit Rightscorp.

In fact, the RIAA wasn’t even aware of any of the copyright infringement allegations before Rightscorp alerted the group.

This was revealed by the RIAA itself in a recent court filing, where the music group objects to handing over information regarding certain communications it had with Rightscorp.

“RIAA first learned of Defendants’ misconduct when Rightscorp approached RIAA in January 2016 regarding potential litigation arising from evidence of copyright infringement by Grande’s subscribers,” the RIAA writes.

“RIAA, on Plaintiffs’ behalf, retained Rightscorp as a litigation consultant with respect to Grande’s subscribers’ online infringement of Plaintiffs’ works, and that engagement resulted in the filing of this lawsuit.”

Rightscorp’s consulting in anticipation of the lawsuit wasn’t cheap. We previously revealed that the RIAA paid over $300,000 to the company in 2016, which represented approximately 44% of its total revenue for that year.

At the time it wasn’t clear what this money was for. However, the RIAA’s new filing shows that Rightcorp helped the music group and its members to carve out their legal strategy.

“RIAA’s considerations that led to the engagement of Rightscorp and the filing of this lawsuit were legal strategy; and RIAA’s communications with Plaintiffs and Rightscorp involved counsel and were for the purpose of rendering legal advice about, and in anticipation of, potential litigation against Defendants.”

These details are made public now because the ISP has also taken an interest in the collaboration. As part of the ongoing discovery process in the case, Grande has requested testimony on the communications between Rightscorp, the RIAA, and the labels.

The RIAA, however, believes that these and other requests go too far.

For one, the music group argues that its communications with Rightscorp are protected under the “common interest privilege,” which can cover communications between parties with a common legal interest.

In addition, it argues that the communications among the RIAA, the labels, and Rightscorp are protected work. This can prohibit the discovery of material prepared, by or for an attorney, in preparation of litigation.

The RIAA also objects to several other testimony requests, including information regarding its business with anti-piracy outfit MarkMonitor, and the technical functionality of Rightscorp’s online infringement detection system.

It’s now up to the court to decide how much information the RIAA must disclose. However, we already know a bit more about how the lawsuit got started, which makes it clear that Rightscorp, which also provides crucial evidence for the lawsuit, was not just a bystander.

A copy of RIAA’s motion for a protective order is available here (pdf).

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.


Link [Scripting News]

Try a new form of protest. Block Trump on Twitter.


Smupdate [Whatever]

In other words, Smudge update! This little guy has been living it up here in the Scalzi compound and is being an adorable pain in the neck! He is the most playful kitten we’ve ever had, Sugar and Spice as kittens don’t even compare to how crazy this dude is. He loves chewing on cords, which is kind of an issue, especially since we have a lot of different chargers in this house. And he loves attacking literally any part of your body, not just toes, as most kittens do. He will straight up attack your hair or your thigh, totally unprovoked. He’s a real wild child.

But, as you can see, when he’s sleeping, he’s a little cuddly angel who does no wrong. He is also a major explorer! If you leave a door open, he will not hesitate to venture forth into the unknown. Smudge is also very unafraid of the other cats, even though they still largely dislike him. They hiss and bat at him, and yet he still charges at full speed towards them. He doesn’t take hints very well.

Well, anyways, enjoy this adorable picture of Smudge, and have a great day!



Just TWO DAYS LEFT of the Humble Book Bundle: Virtual Reality by... [Humble Bundle Blog]

Just TWO DAYS LEFT of the Humble Book Bundle: Virtual Reality by Springer Nature! 

This bundle contains over $1000 worth of tech ebooks, including Echoes of Other Worlds: Sound in Virtual Reality, Learn Unity for Android Game Development, Envisioning Holograms, and more.

Assets for Press and Partners


Link [Scripting News]

Braintrust query: I'm thinking about using an SQL database in an Electron app. I want to bake the database software into the app. Looks like SQLite is the best option. Any other ideas?


Link [Scripting News]

Humiliated. That's the word for how the United States is.

Today in GPF History for Saturday, July 14, 2018 [General Protection Fault: The Comic Strip]

"Nega-Trish" does her best to undo "Good Trish's" unintended meddling in her plans...


Listening when it's especially hard [Scripting News]

As I wrote earlier this week, listening is hard. It's even more difficult when someone wants to report a problem. This comes up in all kinds of relationships, it even models software bug reporting.

Here's a scenario. A person with a missing leg says "When you push me, I fall over and that hurts." Here's a list of possible responses, from best to worst.

  1. If you understand what they're saying, just say that, literally: "I understand what you're saying." If you don't understand, then say that, but only if you really don't understand.
  2. Don't defend yourself. For example "I didn't know you only had one leg," or "I didn't know if I push you you'll fall over." The person just wants to know you heard them. You're changing the topic to something about yourself. This leaves the question of whether you understood out there, unanswered.
  3. Don't argue. "The leg you say is missing is really just shorter than the other one, it's not actually missing." We're getting very far away from "I understand what you're saying."
  4. Even worse. "It never happened" or "I didn't push you over."
  5. Worst. "What about the time you said I was stupid."

I'm sure you see the analogy to software bug reporting. We want to know that something went wrong, so we can fix it, and make the product work properly. Same thing in personal relationships. If you care about the other person, you want to know that something you're doing is trouble for them, so you can stop doing it. There really is no better way to show that you care for them than listening when it's especially hard to.

Finally, why keep the response focused on the problem?

  1. It builds trust.
  2. It encourages the other person to report other problems, so the relationship can be further optimized.
  3. It makes for a happy family!


Link [Scripting News]

It seems to me AWS, with the combination of S3, Route 53 and the fact they have your credit card and shipping address, could turn HTTPS support into a checkbox.


Anti-Piracy Portal Blocked Due to Alleged Phishing & Malware [TorrentFreak]

After years of negotiations, last year UK ISPs began sending out piracy warnings to subscribers whose accounts are used to share copyright-infringing material.

The warning notices, sent out by ISPs including BT, TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Sky, politely inform account holders that their connections have been monitored sharing movies, music, TV shows and other content.

The notices are purely educational and no further threats are attached, a welcome approach to what can often be a difficult situation for both entertainment groups and the public.

This week, however, a reader sent us a warning he’d received from Virgin Media (redacted and truncated version below) which ended up piquing our interest.

The notice itself is pretty standard and advises the recipient to visit the Get it Right From a Genuine Site educational portal for more information. The recipient tried to do just that, following the hyperlink in the email. Unfortunately, things didn’t go to plan.

As seen from the image below, AVG immediately threw up a warning, advising the user to stay away from the site due to suspected malware.

Using a machine protected with Avast anti-virus, TorrentFreak followed the same procedure by clicking the hyperlink in the anti-piracy notice email and attempting to reach the GetitRight campaign site. We had broadly the same level of success.

Strangely, none of this came as a surprise to us because this isn’t the first time that there’s been a malware warning on the Get it Right domain.

Back in April, TorrentFreak discovered that the Get it Right site was being flagged as dangerous by several anti-piracy vendors. However, rather than expose people to a potentially dangerous situation (or cause unnecessary alarm), we took the decision to report the problems to an organization connected to Creative Content UK, the campaign behind the Get it Right site.

At the time we were told it was probably just a technical glitch and we were told it was being looked at. But now, several months later, things don’t seem to be any better and with letter recipients now experiencing the same problems, the issue is now known to the public.

The image below is from VirusTotal, which presents results from many anti-virus vendors. While most results are clear, it displays several serious warnings at the top of the list in addition to the issues we know exist with both AVG and Avast.

Precisely what the problem is here we don’t know. Visiting both http and https variants of the site produce malware warnings and there are even problems when trying to access the domain from third-party services.

For example, on the left-hand side of the Get it Right campaign’s Twitter account, one can find the usual information, including a summary of what the project is all about, where it’s located, and details of its website.

However, when clicking the link to access the campaign’s URL, Twitter steps in and prevents visitors from going any further.

Twitter’s warnings, that the site could “steal your password or other personal information” or install “malicious software programs on your computer”, hardly inspires confidence in those seeking advice about how not to pirate in the future. Somewhat ironically, it’s the kind of warning pirates are often told to expect on pirate sites.

As noted earlier, TF previously reported a security problem with the site several months ago but since such a long time has passed with no apparent action, mentioning it more openly will hopefully spring the campaign’s security people into clearing up the confusion.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.


‘Fountain’ matters now more than ever [Seth's Blog]

A hundred years ago, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, the original punk artist, and also a Baroness, created a work of art that caused a sensation.

Her friend (put that in air quotes, please) Marcel Duchamp came to her rescue when the work was originally rejected by the art show she submitted it to. He got it photographed and the world of visual art changed forever.

Over the ensuing years, Duchamp took ever more credit for the piece. It’s generally considered one of the most influential pieces of art of the 20th century, but until recently, the Baroness has been uncredited.

When Fountain first caused a stir, it represented a shift in art, from handmade to machine-made, from pre-photography to post. In some ways, it was the end of fine art as a craft.

I’ve been talking about Fountain in speeches for years. The combination of commonplace with daring made it a perfect example of what it means to leap. The statement was clear: The first person to install a urinal in a museum was an artist. The second was a plumber.

Fountain represents something more than that now. It also speaks to us about access, about credit and about status.

Who’s entitled to create? When someone contributes, are we open to hearing from them?

And Duchamp? Wrestling with his long hiatus from art (he played chess for decades instead), we can imagine that he was struggling to claim something that mattered, but of course, he wasn’t simply claiming, he was taking. Stealing the magic from someone else.

He lost his nerve, not his talent. Expectations cut both ways.

[If you’re interested, here’s where the original urinal came from. And here’s a picture of Travis with it, taken in July, 2018].



The Problem Solver [Scenes From A Multiverse]

Don’t worry, people who hoard billions of dollars will solve all our problems! When they feel like it! In whatever way gets the most attention!

I’m on vacation for the next week and change, watch this space for more.


Mom’s Defense of “Cheating” Fortnite Kid Fails [TorrentFreak]

Last year Epic Games decided to take several Fortnite cheaters to court, accusing them of copyright infringement.

Several of these lawsuits have been settled but there is one that proved to be somewhat of a challenge.

One of the alleged cheaters (who’s also accused of demonstrating, advertising and distributing the cheap via his YouTube channel) turned out to be a minor, who’s now referred to by his initials C.R. in the Carolina District Court. The game publisher wasn’t aware of this when it filed the lawsuit, but the kid’s mother let the company know, loud and clear.

“This company is in the process of attempting to sue a 14-year-old child,” the mother informed the Court last fall.

Among other defenses, the mother highlighted that the EULA, which the game publisher relies heavily upon in the complaint, isn’t legally binding. The EULA states that minors require permission from a parent or legal guardian, which was not the case here.

“Please note parental consent was not issued to [my son] to play this free game produced by Epic Games, INC,” the mother wrote in her letter.

After this letter, things went quiet. Epic managed to locate and serve the defendant with help from a private investigator, but no official response to the complaint was filed. This eventually prompted Epic to request an entry of default.

However, the court wouldn’t allow Epic to win this battle without a fight. Instead, it ruled that the mother’s letter should be seen as a motion to dismiss the case, to see if there were grounds to rule in her son’s favor.

This compelled Epic Games to respond to the mother’s letter in court. According to the game developer, most of the mother’s arguments failed to state a claim and were therefore irrelevant.

The only remaining issue was the lack of parental consent when C.R. agreed to the EULA and the Terms. However, in its response Epic Games pointed to jurisprudence, arguing that minors can’t void contractual obligations while keeping the benefits of the same contract.

This week US District Court Judge Malcolm Howard ruled on whether the case should be dismissed or not.

According to the rules, a court has to view a motion to dismiss in the light most favorable to the accuser, which is Epic Games. After a careful review of the mother’s letter, Judge Howard concludes that it’s not enough to drop the lawsuit.

“As detailed in plaintiff’s response memorandum, defendant has not shown that the complaint fails to allege sufficient facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face,”

“[T]herefore, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, plaintiff has stated a plausible claim, and the motion to dismiss must be denied.”

The accused cheater now has two weeks to file a formal response to the complaint. If that doesn’t happen, Epic Games is likely to ask for a default judgment.

Based on previous cases, the game publisher is not likely to demand a high damages claim. Instead, its main goal appears to be to stop the cheaters’ infringing activities, and prevent others from doing the same.

A copy of US District Court Judge Malcolm Howard order on the motion to dismiss is available here.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.


Steinar H. Gunderson: Solskogen 2018 [Planet Debian]

I've been so busy I've forgotten to blog: Solskogen 2018 is underway! And so is the stream. has it all, and Saturday evening (CEST) is the big night; the home page has schedule (scroll down), and everything you missed is going up on the The YouTube channel as soon as time and bandwidth permits. :-)


Global PC shipments grew 1.4% in Q2 2018, first time in 6 years [OSNews]

The PC market has seen its first growth quarter in six years, according to research firm Gartner. The streak is over: Gartner found PC shipments were up globally in Q2 2018, the first quarter of year-over-year global PC shipment growth since the first quarter of 2012. Gartner estimates that worldwide PC shipments grew 1.4 percent to 62.1 million units in Q2 2018. The top five vendors were Lenovo, HP, Dell, Apple, and Acer. Lenovo in particular saw big gains (its highest growth rate since the first quarter of 2015), although that's largely due in part to the inclusion of units from its joint venture with Fujitsu.

The economic crisis is over, and people and companies are buying PCs again.

Friday, 13 July


The Andromeda journey continues [OSNews]

Multiple sources have told me that Microsoft plans to overhaul the software and hardware before releasing the device. At this time, the software and hardware do not create a compelling solution that would move the needle for Microsoft and more importantly the Surface brand which is why when it came to the ‘go, no go' decision earlier this year, it was not given the green light. [...] What you need to know about Andromeda is that the project is still alive inside of Microsoft but that it will not be released anytime soon. The company will re-work the hardware and software, see if it will move the needle, and if not, re-work again, until they find the right formula. Microsoft will not ship a project simply because the first phase is done, they are trying to get this right so that they don't have another Lumia/Surface RT project on their hands.

There's just not enough UWP applications at this point in time to support such a device.


[$] Tracking pressure-stall information []

All underutilized systems are essentially the same, but each overutilized system tends to be overloaded in its own way. If one's goal is to maximize the use of the available computing resources, overutilization tends not to be too far away, but when it happens, it can be hard to tell where the problem is. Sometimes, even the fact that there is a problem at all is not immediately apparent. The pressure-stall information patch set from Johannes Weiner may make life easier for system administrators by exposing more information about the real utilization state of the system.


New Books and ARCs, 7/13/18 [Whatever]

Friday the 13th is a lucky day here at the Scalzi Compound, because I get to show off all these new books and ARCs to you. What here would you consider yourself lucky to read? Tell us all in the comments!



News Post: Denouement [Penny Arcade]

Tycho: And so, after going through all the stages of grief or whatever, young Gabriel emerged stronger and armed with talk show platitudes. He can now play Symmetra without a nagging pain, and with enough success that he’s returned to the fold.  It’ll be interesting to see if the rework is enough to have her find play in the next season.  The stuff I watched from dangerous avian warlord A_Seagull was incredibly communication heavy, but when it worked, the shit she can enable - for example, literally impossible flanks - are scary enough to warrant a look down here in the…


What we need from news orgs re fake news [Scripting News]

Here's a timeline.

  1. Each news org should produce a list of news orgs they feel produce news that's not fake. Each should use whatever criteria they feel is right. Publish the list.
  2. Evolve the lists over time. This problem is not going to be solved overnight. The process will take years to sort out. In the process we will learn a lot. If it works, it will transform news to make it much more useful because it's online and not print.
  3. Techies, both companies and individuals, will build news products based on the feeds. For example, Facebook might offer a choice of news selected by different news orgs. An open source group could create software that flows Twitter-like news feeds from the lists.
  4. This will become competitive. Some pubs' lists will fall out, others will rise to the top. There will be surprises.
  5. Include blogs in the list, blogs that cover territory that you cover. For example, the NYT would include bloggers who cover neighborhoods. Tech pubs would include tech bloggers.
  6. Include your entire news flow in your list. Amazingly some news orgs do not have a comprehensive list of every news article they publish in reverse-chronologic order.
  7. You may choose to make your list a feature of your news site. You may also use other organizations lists as a feature on your news site.
  8. Let's discuss our experiences at a future-of-news conference. After a few months' experience we should be ready to learn from each other.
  9. This is not something tech companies can do for you. People whose work is producing news should come up with ideas for figuring out what is and isn't reliable news.
  10. The canonical "fake news" site, Infowars, will of course produce their own list of reliable feeds. Totally valid. People who want to be informed by them may choose to do so.


bisco: Fifth GSoC Report [Planet Debian]

No shiny screenshots this time ;-)

In the last two weeks i’ve finished evaluating the SSO solutions. I’ve added the evaluation of ‘ipsilon’, a python based single sign on solution. I’ve also updated the existing evaluations with a bit more information about their possibility to work with multiple backends. And i’ve added gitlab configuration snippets for some of the solutions. Formorer asked me to create a tabular overview of the outcome of the evaluations, so i did that in the README of the corresponding salsa repository. I’ve also pushed the code for the test client application i used to test the SSO solutions.

This week i used to look into the existing Debian SSO solution that works with certificates. The idea is not to change it, but to integrate it with the chosen OAuth2/SAML solution. To test this, i’ve pulled the code and set up my own instance of it. Fortunatly it is a Django application, so i now have some experience with that. Its not working yet, but i’m getting there.

I’ve also reevaluated a design desicion i made with nacho and came to the same conclusion: that storing the temporary accounts in ldap too is the way to go. There are also still some small feature requests i want to implement.


Sean Whitton: Debian Policy call for participation -- July 2018 [Planet Debian]

Thanks to efforts from several contributors I was able to push a substantive release of Policy a little over a week ago. It contains a lot of changes that I was very pleased to release:

 debian-policy ( unstable; urgency=medium
   * Policy: Update section 4.1, "Standards conformance"
     Wording: Ian Jackson
     Seconded: Sean Whitton
     Seconded: Holger Levsen
     Closes: #901160
   * Policy: Require d-devel consultation for each epoch bump
     Wording: Ian Jackson
     Seconded: Sean Whitton
     Seconded: Paul Gevers
     Closes: #891216
   * Policy: Document Rules-Requires-Root
     Wording: Niels Thykier
     Wording: Guillem Jover
     Wording: Sean Whitton
     Seconded: Paul Gevers
     Closes: #880920
   * Policy: Update version of POSIX standard for shell scripts
     Wording: Sean Whitton
     Seconded: Simon McVittie
     Seconded: Julien Cristau
     Seconded: Gunnar Wolf
     Closes: #864615
   * Policy: Update version of FHS from 2.3 to 3.0
     Wording: Simon McVittie
     Seconded: Sean Whitton
     Seconded: Julien Cristau
     Closes: #787816
   * Add reference link to section 4.1 to section 5.6.11.

We’re now looking forward to the rolling Debian Policy spring at DebCamp18. You do not need to be physically present at DebCamp18 to participate. My goal is firstly to enable others to work on bugs by providing advice about the process and how to move things along, and secondarily to get some patches written for uncontroversial bugs.

See the linked wiki page for more information on the sprint.


Today in GPF History for Friday, July 13, 2018 [General Protection Fault: The Comic Strip]

Wait... is this meta-humor? It sure smells like meta-humor to me...


07/13/18 [Flipside]

It turns out I will not be able to get into Anime Iowa this weekend. I guess they have a policy about not selling any tables at the show, even if they have no-shows. That's different from last year. Oh well.


Link [Scripting News]

The hideous entity that walks among us as “Paul Manafort” slips on its human skin-suit for a quick mugshot.


Louis-Philippe Véronneau: Taiwan Travel Blog - Day 5 [Planet Debian]

The view from my hostel this morning

This is the fourth entry of my Taiwan Travel blog series! You can find posts on my first few days in Taiwan by following these links:

Old Zhuilu Road (锥麓古道)

Between all the trails I did in the Taroko National Park, I think this one was the best.

Old Zhuilu Road has quite a story behind it. It was built in the 1910s under the Japanese occupation of the Taiwan island. Most of the trail already existed, but the Japanese forced the natives to make it at least a meter large everywhere (it used to be only 10cm wide) using dynamite.

It's quite sad that such a beautiful trail is soaked the in blood of the Taroko natives.

The path at the top of Old Zhuilu Road

The Japanese wanted to widen the trail to be able to bring cannons and weapons up the mountain to subdue the native villages resisting the occupation. They eventually won and killed a bunch of them.

Even though this trail is less taxing than the Dali-Datong trail I did two days ago, it easily scores a hard 3/5 as half of the path is made of very narrow paths on the side of a 700m cliff. Better not trip and fall!

Sadly out of the original 10km, only a third of the trail is currently open. A large typhoon destroyed part of the path a few years ago. Once you arrive at the cliffside outpost you have to turn back and start climbing down.

Night market in Xincheng (新成乡)

Tonight was the night market in Xincheng township, the rural township where my hostel is located. I was pretty surprised by how large it was (more than 50 stalls) considering that only 20'000 people reside in the whole township. The ambiance was great and of course I ended up eating too much.

Looking down into the abyss

Fried and grilled chicken hearts, fried bits of fat, fried fish balls, grilled squid, hollow egg-shaped cakes, corndogs, sausages, soft-serve ice cream, sweet black tea, I guess I should have paced myself.

Although the food stalls were numerous, there were also a large number of clothes vendors, random toys stalls for the kids and a bunch of electronic pachinko machines where old people were placing bets on one another. The kids were pretty funny: since I seemed to be the only westerner in the whole market, they kept coming in groups of 3 or 4 to laugh at me for not speaking mandarin, and then left running and squealing when I started talking to them.

Blurp! More chicken hearts please!

Warning: Ruler is not to scale [The Old New Thing]

Some time ago, I received a promotional can of powdered baby formula that included the following complimentary growth ruler. I display it here next to an actual ruler.

Makes me wonder how accurate their measuring cups are.

When generating a random password, the result must still be a valid string [The Old New Thing]

A customer had a problem with auto-generated random passwords. Their password generator generated a string by choosing each character randomly with a code unit from U+0001 to U+FFFF. (They avoided U+0000 because that is the string terminator.) They didn't mind that the resulting passwords were untypeable, because the passwords were going to be entered programmatically.

Things seemed to work great. One computer created the account with the untypeable password, and another computer was able to log in with that password.

But occasionally, they would find that the first computer would create the account, but the second computer couldn't use it to sign in. If they re-ran the password generator, then everything worked again. If they went back to the original password, it stopped.

They were occasionally generating haunted passwords.

If you take a bunch of randomly-generated code units, the result may not be a legal Unicode string. This is true for UTF-16LE (which is the default encoding used by Windows) as well as UTF-8.

What is going on is that occasionally, the random number generator will produce an invalid Unicode string, like say, a high surrogate not followed by a low surrogate. When the account is created locally, the UTF-16LE string is passed directly to the underlying service, which creates the account with the specified password as-is.

The string is then transmitted to the other computer, and the other computer tries to sign in with that password. However, the network protocol for the service specifies that the password is encoded as UTF-8 before being hashed or encrypted or whatever it is that network protocols do to protect passwords.

The problem is that an invalid UTF-16LE string cannot be converted to Unicode code points, and therefore cannot be re-encoded as UTF-8 for transmission on the wire. At best, you get U+FFFD REPLACEMENT CHARACTER, which says "Um, there was something here, but it wasn't a valid Unicode code point, so I have no way of expressing it."

The password goes out over the wire, and the server receives the UTF-8 string and transcodes it back to UTF-16LE, and the strings don't match because invalid strings do not round trip from UTF-16LE to UTF-8 and back.

The solution to the problem is to stop generating garbage strings that aren't even legal. They can generate the same amount of random data (preserving entropy), but convert it to Unicode via an encoding like base64 which is guaranteed to produce a legal string.


Anti-Piracy Group BREIN Plans to Target ‘Frequent’ Seeders [TorrentFreak]

For many years, the Netherlands has been a relatively safe haven for online pirates.

Downloading movies without permission was not punishable by law, as long as it was for personal use. This changed in 2014 when the European Court of Justice spoke out against the tolerant stance.

In response, the Dutch Government quickly outlawed unauthorized downloading. However, breaking the habits of a large section of the population remains a challenge to date.

While local anti-piracy group BREIN has been very active in its enforcement actions, these only affect a small group of people. To expand its reach, the group previously obtained permission from the Dutch Data Protection Authority to track and store the personal data of alleged BitTorrent pirates.

By using in-house software that automatically gathers IP-addresses of seeders, hundreds if not thousands of copyright infringers can be easily pinpointed.

Two years have passed since BREIN first announced this strategy, but thus far it has resulted in little action. According to BREIN director Tim Kuik, the plans were delayed until the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect.

However, the plans to go after pirates are still on. The group plans to target both initial uploaders as well as frequent seeders.

“The approach of the first and large uploader works well, but there is a larger group of users of file-sharing platforms that serve as a source,” Kuik tells Tweakers.

“Because they make frequent use of it and remain active as a seeder, we believe that they play an essential role in maintaining the system.”

Kuik does not want to reveal details on how the system operates. As a result, it is not clear, for example, when exactly a BitTorrent user is considered to be a ‘frequent seeder.’

“I don’t want move ahead of things, but the system will take random samples within a certain period of time. When you rise to the top, you fall within the enforcement model,” Kuik notes.

The above suggests that BREIN is mostly interested in structural seeders who upload content for a longer period of time. That said, Dutch torrent users have more to fear than BREIN alone.

Movie distributor Dutch FilmWorks (DFW) also received permission from the Data Protection Authority to monitor and track BitTorrent pirates. They are, perhaps, less likely to be reserved.

When we reached out to the movie distributor a few weeks ago, the company indicated that it would release more news on its plans soon. Thus far, however, no start date has been announced. The same is true for BREIN.

While tracking IP-addresses of BitTorrent users is easy, contacting them might still prove to be a challenge. The rightsholders will require cooperation from the ISPs, or a court order to receive the personal details of the alleged infringers, to make their plan work.

And even then, they have to cross their fingers and hope that BitTorrent pirates don’t run to streaming services.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.


The Big Idea: Raz Greenberg [Whatever]

My first personal awareness of Hayao Miyazaki didn’t occur until I was well into adulthood, but for Raz Greenberg, his journey with the great animator started much earlier, and led him to write a book on the filmmaker, Hayao Miyazaki: Exploring the Early Work of Japan’s Greatest Animator.


The roots of the big idea behind my book, Hayao Miyazaki Exploring the Early Work of Japan’s Greatest Animator, go back to a childhood experience I share with many other members of my generation – that is, kids who grew up in Israel of the 1980s. We only had one television channel back then, the national broadcast channel, and it had a very strict, pedagogic agenda about what kids are supposed to be watching. One show that fell into this category, which the channel broadcasted many, many times during that decade (almost every other summer vacation), was known in Hebrew as Halev (“Heart”). It was an animated adaptation of a short story included in Edmondo de Amicis’ classic 1886 children’s novel of the same name, and it followed a courageous boy named Marco on his journey from Italy to Argentina to find his mother, after letters from her stopped coming.

The original novel, with its deep patriotic themes, was already considered a classic in Israel; many young Israeli parents who read it in their childhood were overjoyed to discover it again and watch the show with their children, following Marco’s weekly adventures all the way to the happy end. But there was one element in the show that left both its young Israeli viewers and their parents puzzled: why would a show about an Italian boy travelling to Argentina have Japanese end credits?

Yes, that was my generation’s first major exposure to anime. We’ve had a couple of science fiction shows to watch as well (Star Blazers and Battle of the Planets), but for the most part, we were raised on a healthy diet of Japanese-produced adaptations of classic children’s literature, with Halev being the one show that all the ‘80s children remember.

Flash forward to the end of the ‘90s: my interest in comics led me to the discovery of the world of anime and manga, which in turn led me to major in Asian studies during my BA. It wasn’t long before I became acquainted with the works of Hayao Miyazaki, first through his incredible manga epic Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and later through his films. This was a few years after Princess Mononoke made a lot of noise in the Japanese box office, and a few years before Spirited Away made Miyazaki a household name all over the world, a time when little of Miyazaki’s work was actually available in translation, but even the very few items I could get my hands on made me fall completely in love with what I saw. The more I got into Miyazaki’s work, the more I realized that something in his design style feels very familiar. A few searches through the internet revealed that indeed, Miyazaki was one of the animators who worked on Halev.

My initial reaction was “cool!” and that was pretty much it. But when I started working on my MA thesis about childhood in Miyazaki’s films, by which time most of his cinematic filmography became available for the non-Japanese audience, I realized that this filmography actually tells only part of the story. Miyazaki directed his first feature-length film in 1979; during the 16 years that preceded this movie, he worked as an animator in other people’s films and television shows, and also as a director in various televisions projects. There was an entire Miyazaki filmography here to be discovered beyond his familiar cinematic work. At some point, I realized that I want to write a book about it.

I started collecting materials – relevant films, television episodes, comics, books, articles and interviews. As often happens, other stuff got in the way: I was struggling with my PhD thesis (my academic focus now being animation theory in general, rather than Japanese animation), work, other stuff… but when I finally set down, and started writing, I began to understand that it was no coincidence that the animator who worked on a Halev is also responsible for classics like My Neighbor Totoro, other than the very obvious elements of the former that echo in the latter.

Like all great storytellers, Miyazaki’s works are about people – and whether these people come from Japan, Italy or anywhere else, he always takes his audience in an unforgettable journey as they watch his protagonists grow emotionally. Exploring Miyazaki’s early works and seeing how they inspired (as explained in the book’s concluding chapters) his later acclaimed works gave me a fascinating perspective on how Miyazaki himself grew as an artist. I hope readers will find it equally fascinating.


Hayao Miyazaki: Exploring the Early Work of Japan’s Greatest Animator: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s site.


Notes on xrefs [Scripting News]

One year ago today I introduced a feature that allowed me to include a post from Scripting News within another post. Here's the example, and the video demo. I wondered if I would use the feature. I haven't. But I forgot it was there, and forgot how it works. There's a CSS problem that's shown up, when I increased the size of the titles on the story pages. I'll fix that now.

This is a test. Breakage fixed. I changed the way permalinks to stories work. If an item has subs it's rendered on its own page. The URL will be different, so it has to be parsed differently when setting up the xref node. So this points to a story on its own page, and I'm going to work on the code to detect this and properly compute the location of its corresponding JSON file.

For the test above, the xref value is

The JSON derived from that URL should be

This node is an xref. That means that in the OPML, it has an xref attribute, which is a link to a story on this blog. It's converted to the URL of a JSON file, which is then read, and included under this headline when it's expanded.


Security updates for Friday []

Security updates have been issued by Debian (cinnamon), Fedora (docker, firefox, jetty, and knot-resolver), Oracle (gnupg2), Scientific Linux (gnupg2), SUSE (gdk-pixbuf, java-1_8_0-openjdk, libopenmpt, php7, and rsyslog), and Ubuntu (dns-root-data, dnsmasq, and thunderbird).


Link [Scripting News]

Follow-up to yesterday's addition. Here's why it's interesting to put the RSS in the GitHub repo. You can see what changed. Of course that's what River5 is for. But it's interesting to see it in GitHub. Like many things on the net, both GitHub and RSS are about "what changed."

Google isn't going to like this [Scripting News]

After forcing a change to HTTPS, there are going to be other requirements. They'll try to eliminate fake news from the web as Facebook is trying (and failing) to eliminate it from their silo. That's the slippery slope they are starting down. They may not feel they have a lot to lose, but we do. Last year I wrote a piece about why I like to develop on the open web. If I get an idea for a feature, I can just do it. I could wait forever for Facebook, they don't listen to me (neither does Google) but I listen to me. I can do it without getting the approval of a big company -- that's the magic of an open platform. I will never give that up. I'd rather retire to Italy and make pottery and drink espresso and bubbly water. Grazie!

Predictive Vindictive Text – DORK TOWER 05.07.18 [Dork Tower]

Hey! Dork Tower has a Patreon campaign with wonderful backers who the webstrips happen. And there’s bonus comics! And swag! Check it out, why don’t you? Join the fun! FUN!


1126: Battle Cry [Order of the Stick]


Steve Kemp: Odroid-go initial impressions [Planet Debian]

Recently I came across a hacker news post about the Odroid-go, which is a tiny hand-held console, somewhat resembling a gameboy.

In terms of hardware this is powered by an ESP32 chip, which is something I'm familiar with due to my work on Arduino, ESP8266, and other simple hardware projects.

Anyway the Odroid device costs about $40, can be programmed via the Arduino-studio, and comes by default with a series of emulators for "retro" hardware:

  • Game Boy (GB)
  • Game Boy Color (GBC)
  • Game Gear (GG)
  • Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
  • Sega Master System (SMS)

I figured it was cheap, and because of its programmable nature it might be fun to experiment with. Though in all honesty my intentions were mostly to play NES games upon it. The fact that it is programmable means I can pretend I'm doing more interesting things than I probably would be!

Most of the documentation is available on this wiki:

The arduino setup describes how to install the libraries required to support the hardware, but then makes no mention of the board-support required to connect to an ESP32 device.

So to get a working setup you need to do two things:

  • Install the libraries & sample-code.
  • Install the board-support.

The first is documented, but here it is again:

 git clone \

The second is not documented. In short you need to download the esp32 hardware support via this incantation:

    mkdir -p ~/Arduino/hardware/espressif && \
     cd ~/Arduino/hardware/espressif && \
     git clone esp32 && \
     cd esp32 && \
     git submodule update --init --recursive && \
     cd tools && \

(This assumes that you're using ~/Arduino for your code, but since almost everybody does ..)

Anyway the upshot of this should be that you can:

  • Choose "Tools | Boards | ODROID ESP32" to select the hardware to build for.
  • Click "File | Examples |ODROID-Go | ...." to load a sample project.
    • This can now be compiled and uploaded, but read on for the flashing-caveat.

Another gap in the instructions is that uploading projects fails. Even when you choose the correct port (Tools | Ports | ttyUSB0). To correct this you need to put the device into flash-mode:

  • Turn it off.
  • Hold down "Volume"
  • Turn it on.
  • Click Upload in your Arduino IDE.

The end result is you'll have your own code running on the device, as per this video:

Enough said. Once you do this when you turn the device on you'll see the text scrolling around. So we've overwritten the flash with our program. Oops. No more emulation for us!

The process of getting the emulators running, or updated, is in two-parts:

  • First of all the system firmware must be updated.
  • Secondly you need to update the actual emulators.

Confusingly both of these updates are called "firmware" in various (mixed) documentation and references. The main bootloader which updates the system at boot-time is downloaded from here:

To be honest I expect you only need to do this part once, unless you're uploading your own code to it. The firmware pretty much just boots, and if it finds a magic file on the SD-card it'll copy it into flash. Then it'll either execute this new code, or execute the old/pre-existing code if no update was found.

Anyway get the tarball, extract it, and edit the two files if your serial device is not /dev/ttyUSB0:


One you've done that run them both, in order:

$ ./
$ ./

NOTE: Here again I had to turn the device off, hold down the volume button, turn it on, and only then execute ./ This puts the device into flashing-mode.

NOTE: Here again I had to turn the device off, hold down the volume button, turn it on, and only then execute ./ This puts the device into flashing-mode.

Anyway if that worked you'll see your blue LED flashing on the front of the device. It'll flash quickly to say "Hey there is no file on the SD-card". So we'll carry out the second step - Download and place firmware.bin into the root of your SD-card. This comes from here:

(firmware.bin contains the actual emulators.)

Insert the card. The contents of firmware.bin will be sucked into flash, and you're ready to go. Turn off your toy, remove the SD-card, load it up with games, and reinsert it.

Power on your toy and enjoy your games. Again a simple demo:

Games are laid out in a simple structure:

  ├── firmware.bin
  ├── odroid
  │   ├── data
  │   └── firmware
  └── roms
      ├── gb
      │   └── Tetris (World).gb
      ├── gbc
      ├── gg
      ├── nes
      │   ├── Lifeforce (U).nes
      │   ├── SMB-3.nes
      │   └── Super Bomberman 2 (E) [!].nes
      └── sms

You can find a template here:


Andrej Shadura: Upcoming git-crecord release [Planet Debian]

More than 1½ years since the first release of git-crecord, I’m preparing a big update. Not aware how exactly many people are using it, I neglected the maintenance for some time, but last month I’ve decided I need to take action and fix some issues I’ve known since the first release.

First of all, I’ve fixed a few minor issues with installer some users reported.

Second, I’ve ported a batch of updates from a another crecord derivative merged into Mercurial. That also brought some updates to the bits of Mercurial code git-crecord is using.

Third, long waited Python 3 support is here. I’m afraid at the moment I cannot guarantee support of patches in encodings other than the locale’s one, but if that turns out to be a needed feature, I can think about implementing it.

Fourth, missing staging and unstaging functionality is being implemented, subject to the availability of free time during the holiday :)

The project is currently hosted at GitHub:

P.S. In case you’d like to support me hacking on git-crecord, or any other of my free software activities, you can tip my Patreon account.

Gas Pump Hack [Schneier on Security]

This is weird:

Police in Detroit are looking for two suspects who allegedly managed to hack a gas pump and steal over 600 gallons of gasoline, valued at about $1,800. The theft took place in the middle of the day and went on for about 90 minutes, with the gas station attendant unable to thwart the hackers.

The theft, reported by Fox 2 Detroit, took place at around 1pm local time on June 23 at a Marathon gas station located about 15 minutes from downtown Detroit. At least 10 cars are believed to have benefitted from the free-flowing gas pump, which still has police befuddled.

Here's what is known about the supposed hack: Per Fox 2 Detroit, the thieves used some sort of remote device that allowed them to hijack the pump and take control away from the gas station employee. Police confirmed to the local publication that the device prevented the clerk from using the gas station's system to shut off the individual pump.

Slashdot post.

Hard to know what's true, but it seems like a good example of a hack against a cyber-physical system.


Four short links: 13 July 2018 [All - O'Reilly Media]

Technology Change, Rebuild Warnings, Google Cloud Platform, and Vale Guido

  1. Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change (Neil Postman) -- a 1998 talk that just nailed it. (1) culture always pays a price for technology; (2) the advantages and disadvantages of new technologies are never distributed evenly among the population; (3) every technology has a philosophy that is given expression in how the technology makes people use their minds, in what it makes us do with our bodies, in how it codifies the world, in which of our senses it amplifies, in which of our emotional and intellectual tendencies it disregards; (4) A new medium does not add something; it changes everything; (5) media tends to become mythic. (via Daniel G. Siegel)
  2. Five Red Flags Signaling Your Rebuild Will Fail -- No clear executive vision for the value of a rebuild; You’re going for the big cutover rewrite; The rebuild has slower feature velocity than the legacy system; You aren’t working with people who were experts in the old system; You’re planning to remove features because they’re hard.
  3. Good, Bad, and Ugly of Google Cloud Platform -- informative, and well-written—e.g., While GCP services exhibit strong consistency, I can’t always say the same thing for the documentation.
  4. Guido Takes "Permanent Vacation" as Python's BDFL -- prompted in part by a particularly contentious language change proposal. I don't ever want to have to fight so hard for a PEP and find that so many people despise my decisions. I would like to remove myself entirely from the decision process. [...] I'll still be here, but I'm trying to let you all figure something out for yourselves. I'm tired, and need a very long break. Thanks for your years of service, Guido.

Continue reading Four short links: 13 July 2018.

The secret to building and delivering amazing apps at scale [All - O'Reilly Media]

Javier Garza details the ingredients you need to build and deliver an app your users will love.

Continue reading The secret to building and delivering amazing apps at scale.

Error'd: All the Way from Sweden [The Daily WTF]

"And to think, this price doesn't include assembly," wrote Adam G.   Martin B. writes, "Don't worry...I'm sure you'll find your group eventually."   "As...


Feeds | JavaCard: The execution environment you didn’t know you were using [Planet GridPP]

JavaCard: The execution environment you didn’t know you were using s.aragon 13 July 2018 - 9:34am

By Vasilios Mavroudis and Petr Svenda. This is the story of the most popular execution environment, its shortcomings, and how open source and hacking saved the day.According to recent revelations, the MINIX operating system is embedded in the Management Engine of all Intel CPUs released after 2015. A side-effect of this is that MINIX became known as the most widespread operating system in the world almost overnight. However, in the last decade another tiny OS has silently pushed itself into even more devices around the world while remaining unknown to most: JavaCard.

Feeds | Workshop Report: Software Reproducibility – How to put it into practice? [Planet GridPP]

Workshop Report: Software Reproducibility – How to put it into practice? s.aragon 12 July 2018 - 9:59am

On 24 May 2018, Maria Cruz, Shalini Kurapati, and Yasemin Türkyilmaz-van der Velden led a workshop titled “Software Reproducibility: How to put it into practice?”, as part of the event Towards cultural change in data management – data stewardship in practice held at TU Delft, the Netherlands. There were 17 workshop participants, including researchers, data stewards, and research software engineers. Here we describe the rationale of the workshop, what happened on the day, key discussions and insights, and suggested next steps.


A catastrophe journal [Seth's Blog]

Worth a try if you think it might help the way you talk to yourself (which is worse, certainly, than the way anyone else talks to you).

Every time you’re sure you’ve blown it, completely blown it, that you’re certain you’re going to get disbarred, fired, demoted—becoming friendless, homeless and futureless—write it down in your Catastrophe Journal.

A simple blank book, always use the same one.

Just a few sentences, that’s all you need. Write down:

  • What you did that was so horrible.
  • The consequences you expect since the world as you know it is now coming to an end.

Do this every time a catastrophe occurs.

What you’ll find, pretty certainly, is that two things happen:

  1. You will realize over time that your predictions of doom don’t occur, and
  2. As soon as you begin writing down the details, the cycle we employ of making the details worse and worse over time will slow and stop.

A month of persistence is usually all you need to begin to break the habit.

It’s not really a catastrophe. It simply feels that way.


Russia Adopts Draft to Prohibit ‘Piracy-Enabling’ Software [TorrentFreak]

At the turn of the century, most online piracy was carried out using software applications. With their inbuilt search features, tools such as KaZaA and eDonkey were all the rage.

With the advent of BitTorrent, however, a dual approach was required. While the file transfers themselves still took place in torrent clients, the .torrent files (which contain instructions on where to obtain content) had to be downloaded from indexing sites such as The Pirate Bay.

These days that same system is still used by millions but pure web-based streaming platforms are also extremely popular. Alongside, there’s also a huge selection of software applications, many of them designed for mobile devices, that either utilize existing web resources or have their own infrastructure to supply content.

Thus far, tackling these tools hasn’t proven easy. Kodi-based tools, Popcorn Time, Terrarium TV, Showbox and many other platforms are still going great guns, despite several efforts to bring them down. Over in Russia, however, the authorities believe that new legislation will bring about the desired result.

This week the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, adopted in the first reading a draft law that will give authorities power to prohibit access to software applications through which pirated content is being distributed.

The draft is an amendment to anti-piracy legislation which currently refers to potentially infringing sites as “information resources”. The draft introduces the term “software application” which could refer to desktop software but is mainly directed at apps running on mobile devices including phones, tablets or set-top box variants.

The current draft envisions rightsholders filing complaints with telecoms watchdog Roscomnadzor when copyright-infringing content is being made available through a particular piece of software. It’s then for Roscomnadzor to identify the owner of the software application and instruct him to remove the content in question. If that fails to take place, local ISPs will be ordered to render the software inaccessible.

While blocking regular websites isn’t particularly difficult, software applications present a much more challenging scenario, not least since they can be downloaded from thousands of websites and can change hands in seconds. They also tend to rely on several underlying systems, each with their own ranges of IP addresses that may, or may not, be exclusively used for illegal purposes.

All this means that the government is gearing up for what is likely to be a complex battle to block pirate applications. Only adding to the problems is the existence of applications that can be used to share copyrighted content but aren’t necessarily designed for that purpose. How these will be tackled will remain to be seen.

Ultimately the authorities understand how difficult and resource intensive this will be. Already there are calls for existing budgets to be boosted to accommodate the plans but currently, the draft contains no such guarantees.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.


Comic: Denouement [Penny Arcade]

New Comic: Denouement


The Starcaster Chronicles 06.26 [Ctrl+Alt+Del Comic]

Aaaaand… /issue.

As anxious as I am to continue this story right this second, I need to take a break and do some other stuff. I promise though, I will try to not let this be the only issue of Starcaster we do this year.

I ran a poll, and based on the results I do believe we have the support to move Starcaster to a Patreon campaign and get the issues out faster, but I’m not going to rush into that just yet. I’m currently working on the first Starcaster book collecting issues #1-5, and I would kind of like to see how that does before making a decision.

I mentioned this last week, but we are on last call for Australians/New Zealanders to grab one of the CAD 1.0 Box Sets from the Australian warehouse. Next week I’m going to see about possibly moving those books to somewhere in Europe to offer to UK/European customers a better shipping rate.


Girl Genius for Friday, July 13, 2018 [Girl Genius]

The Girl Genius comic for Friday, July 13, 2018 has been posted.


Asking the Big Questions [Diesel Sweeties webcomic by rstevens]

sleep is dumb

PRO TIP: Never ask Red Robot where he got his hat.

However, please DO ask about how I have a limited run of 25 black and pink pixel heart pins on the store today...



Link [Scripting News]

Brits want to know why Donald Trump is such a.. you should listen.


Smoke Alarm [QC RSS]

Raisins are bad imo


What You Should Be Watching: Final Space [Whatever]

Hello, everyone, and welcome to another edition of “What You Should Be Watching”! Today I’ll be telling you about Final Space, a TBS original adult cartoon. It’s a sci-fi that takes place in an Earth where aliens are totally normal, and the Earth has a military-style organization called “Infinity Guard” that has spaceships and lasers and all that cool stuff.

There’s only ten episodes currently, but the plot is pretty interesting. Basically, there’s this super adorable planet-destroying creature (see above) that the bad guy, Lord Commander, is after. The main character, Gary, a prisoner aboard an Infinity Guard prison ship, finds the little creature floating around in space, and now Lord Commander is after Gary in pursuit of the super weapon, who is now named Mooncake. The ten episodes follow Gary and Mooncake on their adventure to save the universe and stop Lord Commander, and include a variety of interesting characters you’re sure to love.

If you’re thinking, “another sci-fi adult cartoon right after Rick and Morty?” I can assure you, the two are pretty different. And what’s wrong with there being more than one sci-fi adult cartoon out at a time? Don’t you all like sci-fi?

Anyways, not only is this show super cool because of its sci-fi technology and weapons and cool planets and aliens, but also it’s hilarious! It made me bust up laughing a good number of times. It’s not just what’s said out loud that’s funny, it’s a lot of little things, like the fact one of the characters is named Avocado, or that the main character can never obtain the chocolate chip cookies he so desperately wants. It’s honestly really funny without being that “too vulgar” or offensive kind of funny that a lot of adult cartoons seem to do.

It’s also surprisingly emotional! I actually teared up, like, three times! The characters have real backstories and emotions, and a lot of them have very realistic personalities.

Anyways, I highly recommend this show to anyone who likes funny, action-packed cartoons. If you’ve seen it, did you like it? Do you have a favorite character? Let me know, and as always, have a great day!


Nintendo hid a NES emulator inside GameCube's Animal Crossing [OSNews]

Fans of the early-2000s era GameCube version of the original Animal Crossing likely remember the game including a handful of emulated NES titles that could be played by obtaining in-game items for your house. What players back then didn't know is that the NES emulator in Animal Crossing can also be used to play any generic NES ROM stored on a GameCube memory card.

One has to wonder if there's any code from open source emulators in there.

Synaptics hints at "next-generation" security OS from Microsoft [OSNews]

Synaptics and AMD today announced that they're teaming up on a biometric security solution for consumer and business PCs built on AMD platforms. But for Microsoft watchers, the most curious portion of the announcement is that the biometric tech is squarely focused on a mysterious "next-generation operating system" from Microsoft. [...] It's not entirely clear what the biometric security OS is that Synaptics is referring to, as Microsoft itself hasn't announced any forthcoming releases. However, it could be related to a Microsoft project called Polaris, a more modern version of Windows 10 for desktops that Windows Central senior editor Zac Bowden reported on earlier this year. Built on an internal project called Windows Core OS, which aims to turn Windows into a modular OS, Polaris is said to focus on desktop, laptop, and 2-in-1 form factors. The goal of Polaris is to provide a shell that Windows users are familiar with, but while leaving behind legacy components in favor of UWP apps. According to our reporting, Polaris would still be able to utilize some form of virtualization to run Win32 programs. However, dropping legacy cruft would, in theory, allow Microsoft to create a more secure version of Windows 10.

That's basically what I've been wanting Microsoft to do for a decade now, so I hope this is actually true. It'd be a big, bold move, but Win32 has run its course, and it needs to be contained and phased out.

Thursday, 12 July


Ambitious browser mitigation for Spectre attacks comes to Chrome [OSNews]

Google's Chrome browser is undergoing a major architectural change to enable a protection designed to blunt the threat of attacks related to the Spectre vulnerability in computer processors. If left unchecked by browsers or operating systems, such attacks may allow hackers to pluck passwords or other sensitive data out of computer memory when targets visit malicious sites. Site isolation, as the mitigation is known, segregates code and data from each Internet domain into their own "renderer processes," which are individual browser tasks that aren't allowed to interact with each other. As a result, a page located at that embeds ads from will load content into two separate renderer processes, one for each domain. The protection, however, comes at a cost. It consumes an additional 10 to 13 percent of total memory. Some of the performance hit can be offset by smaller and shorter-lived renderer processes. Site isolation will also allow Chrome to re-enable more precise timers, which Google and most other browser makers disabled earlier this year to decrease chances of successful attacks.


Friday Squid Blogging: Antifungal Squid-Egg Coating [Schneier on Security]

The Hawaiian bobtail squid coats its eggs with antifungal bacteria.

As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven't covered.

Read my blog posting guidelines here.



Guido van Rossum resigns as Python leader []

Python creator and Benevolent Dictator for Life Guido van Rossum has decided, in the wake of the difficult PEP 572 discussion, to step down from his leadership of the project. "Now that PEP 572 is done, I don't ever want to have to fight so hard for a PEP and find that so many people despise my decisions. I would like to remove myself entirely from the decision process. I'll still be there for a while as an ordinary core dev, and I'll still be available to mentor people -- possibly more available. But I'm basically giving myself a permanent vacation from being BDFL, and you all will be on your own."

Nintendo's weirdest, and maybe rarest, classic console yet [OSNews]

The collectability of Nintendo's "classic mini" consoles cannot be overstated. Even after restocking the NES Classic Edition's original limited supply this year, the company has barely been able to keep up with demand for both its NES- and SNES-flavored dips back into the nostalgia pool, in the West or elsewhere. But if you thought those systems were limited and coveted enough, you ain't seen nothing. This week, Nintendo went one further by releasing a special-colored, new-games version of one of these systems, designed and marketed specifically for fans of Japanese Shonen Jump manga series like Dragon Ball, Captain Tsubasa, and Fist of the North Star. Shortly before Amazon Japan sold out of its allocation on Sunday morning, we slammed down $87 USD and placed an order to see what the Shonen Jump 50th Anniversary Famicom Classic Mini was all about. We quickly learned that this official Nintendo product is far from a slapdash release with a logo painted on.

Nostalgia is one hell of a drug.

Apple partnered with Blackmagic Design on an external GPU [OSNews]

Apple finally found some time to spec bump the Touchbar models of their MacBook Pro laptops (without fixing the keyboard, so buyer beware), and alongside it, the company announced an external GPU enclosure it created in partnsership with Blackmagic.

Alongside the release of new MacBook Pros, the company has taken an extra step toward embracing the tech by giving its seal of approval to a new system from Blackmagic - the simply named Blackmagic eGPU. The company does these kinds of partnerships from time to time - the LG UltraFine 5K Display being perhaps the most notable example. The $699 accessory features an AMD Radeon Pro 580 graphics card and 8GB of DDR5 RAM in a fairly small footprint. There's an HDMI port, four USB 3.1s and three Thunderbolt 3s, the latter of which makes it unique among these peripherals. The company says the on-board cooling system operates pretty quietly, which should fit nicely alongside those new, quieter MacBook keyboards.


Transfer of pywer [Lambda the Ultimate - Programming Languages Weblog]

Guido van Rossum is "resigning" from being the Python BDFL: "I'm basically giving myself a permanent vacation from being BDFL, and you all will be on
your own." Apparently running a language can be tiring... It will be interesting to see what happens next.

Higher Order Functions Considered Unnecessary for Higher Order Programming [Lambda the Ultimate - Programming Languages Weblog]

Joseph A. Goguen, Higher Order Functions Considered Unnecessary for Higher Order Programming (1987).

It is often claimed that the essence of functional programming is the use of functions as values, i.e., of higher order functions, and many interesting examples have been given showing the power of this approach. Unfortunately, the logic of higher order functions is dicult, and in particular, higher order unication is undecidable. Moreover (and closely related), higher order expressions are notoriously dicult for humans to read and write correctly. However, this paper shows that typical higher order programming examples can be captured with just rst order functions, by the systematic use of parameterized modules, in a style that we call parameterized programming. This has the advantages that correctness proofs can be done entirely within rst order logic, and that interpreters and compilers can be simpler and more ecient. Moreover, it is natural to impose semantic requirements on modules, and hence on functions. A more subtle point is that higher order logic does not always mix well with subsorts, which can nonetheless be very useful in functional programming by supporting the clean and rigorous treatment of partially dened functions, exceptions, overloading, multiple representation, and coercion. Although higher order logic cannot always be avoided in specication and verication, it should be avoided wherever possible, for the same reasons as in programming. This paper contains several examples, including one in hardware verication. An appendix shows how to extend standard equational logic with quantication over functions, and justies a perhaps surprising technique for proving such equations using only ground term reduction.

This (old paper) proposes an interesting approach for formulating functional programs. But can this truly subsume all uses of higher order functions? I don't see the paper address how the uses of higher order functions in general can be replaced (not that I have a counterexample in mind).

Anyone familiar with the OBJ language? Do other languages share this notion of 'modules', 'theories'?


Link [Scripting News]

Silent Movie GIFs is great. They show you tiny scenes from a silent movie, and then another and another, spaced out over hours. Here's a scene from the Buster Keaton movie One Week.

Link [Scripting News]

I did a bit more development work today on a project that stores stuff on GitHub as if it were a long-term place, a place to create a historic record. Of course I question that, I did when they were an independent company. Now that GitHub is owned by Microsoft, I still question it. Not sure if it's more or less likely to survive as-is for the indefinite future. Made me wonder what Microsoft could do to reassure developers, so we'd feel comfortable treating it as a permanent resource. Clearly that's in their interest. Microsoft has embraced open source, now I wonder if they have what it takes to be a leader.


Petter Reinholdtsen: Simple streaming the Linux desktop to Kodi using GStreamer and RTP [Planet Debian]

Last night, I wrote a recipe to stream a Linux desktop using VLC to a instance of Kodi. During the day I received valuable feedback, and thanks to the suggestions I have been able to rewrite the recipe into a much simpler approach requiring no setup at all. It is a single script that take care of it all.

This new script uses GStreamer instead of VLC to capture the desktop and stream it to Kodi. This fixed the video quality issue I saw initially. It further removes the need to add a m3u file on the Kodi machine, as it instead connects to the JSON-RPC API in Kodi and simply ask Kodi to play from the stream created using GStreamer. Streaming the desktop to Kodi now become trivial. Copy the script below, run it with the DNS name or IP address of the kodi server to stream to as the only argument, and watch your screen show up on the Kodi screen. Note, it depend on multicast on the local network, so if you need to stream outside the local network, the script must be modified. Also note, I have no idea if audio work, as I only care about the picture part.

# Stream the Linux desktop view to Kodi.  See
# for backgorund information.

# Make sure the stream is stopped in Kodi and the gstreamer process is
# killed if something go wrong (for example if curl is unable to find the
# kodi server).  Do the same when interrupting this script.
kodicmd() {
    curl --silent --header 'Content-Type: application/json' \
         --data-binary "{ \"id\": 1, \"jsonrpc\": \"2.0\", \"method\": \"$cmd\", \"params\": $params }" \
cleanup() {
    if [ -n "$kodihost" ] ; then
        # Stop the playing when we end
        playerid=$(kodicmd "$kodihost" Player.GetActivePlayers "{}" |
                            jq .result[].playerid)
        kodicmd "$kodihost" Player.Stop "{ \"playerid\" : $playerid }" > /dev/null
    if [ "$gstpid" ] && kill -0 "$gstpid" >/dev/null 2>&1; then
        kill "$gstpid"
trap cleanup EXIT INT

if [ -n "$1" ]; then


pasrc=$(pactl list | grep -A2 'Source #' | grep 'Name: .*\.monitor$' | \
  cut -d" " -f2|head -1)
gst-launch-1.0 ximagesrc use-damage=0 ! video/x-raw,framerate=30/1 ! \
  videoconvert ! queue2 ! \
  x264enc bitrate=8000 speed-preset=superfast tune=zerolatency qp-min=30 \
  key-int-max=15 bframes=2 ! video/x-h264,profile=high ! queue2 ! \
  mpegtsmux alignment=7 name=mux ! rndbuffersize max=1316 min=1316 ! \
  udpsink host=$mcast port=$mcastport ttl-mc=$mcastttl auto-multicast=1 sync=0 \
  pulsesrc device=$pasrc ! audioconvert ! queue2 ! avenc_aac ! queue2 ! mux. \
  > /dev/null 2>&1 &

# Give stream a second to get going
sleep 1

# Ask kodi to start streaming using its JSON-RPC API
kodicmd "$kodihost" Player.Open \
        "{\"item\": { \"file\": \"udp://@$mcast:$mcastport\" } }" > /dev/null

# wait for gst to end
wait "$gstpid"

I hope you find the approach useful. I know I do.

As usual, if you use Bitcoin and want to show your support of my activities, please send Bitcoin donations to my address 15oWEoG9dUPovwmUL9KWAnYRtNJEkP1u1b.

Today in GPF History for Thursday, July 12, 2018 [General Protection Fault: The Comic Strip]

A number of surprising faces return as everyone chips in with the flood relief effort...


YouTube Launches “Copyright Match” Tool to Protect Initial Uploaders [TorrentFreak]

Millions of YouTube channel operators use the platform to distribute their own creations, from their latest musical compositions, to tutorials, reviews, or news segments.

While most remain unique, many of the most popular creators are plagued by people who rip their content from the site before re-uploading it to their own YouTube channel. It’s a quick way of grabbing thousands of views with minimal effort while denying creators clicks that would otherwise generate them revenue.

With the vast majority of YouTube content available free to all, there are few excuses for this kind of behavior and for many of the larger channels, it’s become a real thorn in the side. Now, however, YouTube says it’s releasing its new ‘Copyright Match’ tool to mitigate the problem.

“We know how frustrating it is when your content is uploaded to other channels without your permission and how time consuming it can be to manually search for these re-uploads,” says Fabio Magagna, Product Manager for the Copyright Match tool.

“We currently provide a number of ways for copyright owners to protect their work, but we’ve heard from creators that we should do more and we agree.”

Copyright Match, which uses similar technology to YouTube’s Content ID system, is designed to detect re-uploads of content to other channels. Once a user uploads a video, YouTube will scan subsequent uploads to see if they are the same or “very similar” to the original.

If a match is found, the original uploader will receive a notification in his or her YouTube panel which will give them several options.

The first option for a user with a ‘match’ notification is to do nothing, something that may come in handy for someone who simply wants to spread a message as far and wide as possible.

The second possibility is to get in touch with the secondary uploader. This could lead to a productive discussion (such as a gentle request to remove the video, perhaps) or, quite possibly, something a little more aggressive.

Finally, users can simply ask that YouTube takes the video down, an option that comes with options of its own.

“When you request removal you can do so with or without a 7-day delay to allow the uploader to correct the issue themselves. Takedown requests will be reviewed to make sure they comply with YouTube’s copyright policies,” Magagna explains.

While YouTube will carry out its own checks, the company advises users to review each incidence of ‘Copyright Match‘ to ensure that they do indeed own the rights to the matched content and that the copy infringes on their rights.

It’s important to note that in some cases, a match might not necessarily mean that an infringement has taken place.

“You should not file a copyright takedown request for content that you do not own exclusively, such as public domain content. You should also consider whether the matched content could be considered fair use or could be subject to some other exceptions to copyright and hence not require permission for reuse,” YouTube notes.

Magagna, who is also heavily involved with YouTube’s Content ID system, says that the Copyright Match tool will begin rolling out in the coming days to protect channels with substantial numbers of subscribers. Longer term, however, it should become available to all.

“Next week, we’ll start rolling this tool out to creators with more than 100k subscribers. As this is a powerful feature, we will monitor usage closely and will continue to expand over the coming months with the long-term goal of making it available to every creator in the YouTube Partner program,” Magagna concludes.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.

Real ideas yesterday on MSNBC [Scripting News]

Most of the time I spend watching MSNBC is a waste, but yesterday there were two items that were important.

  1. On MTP Daily, an interview with Senator Mike Rounds, R-SD, carefully explaining how Trump still has the support of his constituents, but they don't like what he's doing with tariffs. I think this is a must-listen, a real milestone, imho.
  2. On The Beat, author Tony Schwartz, interviewed about the angry Trump baby blimp in London, said it's funny (it is!) but is far from where we should be focused. He says getting non-voters to vote is where our attention should be. Couldn't agree more. I want a system, where voters have buddies, like sponsors in a 12-step program, who they commit to voting, and they engage on Election Day and make sure they do. They escort them to the poll if necessary. We should have drills. What an incredible demonstration that would be. Far more powerful than a march. Think about it.


[$] Six (or seven) new system calls for filesystem mounting []

Mounting filesystems is a complicated business. The kernel supports a wide variety of filesystem types, and each has its own, often extensive set of options. As a result, the mount() system call is complex, and the list of mount options is a rather long read. But even with all of that complexity, mount() does not do everything that users would like. For example, the options for a mount operation must all fit within a single 4096-byte page — the fact that this is a problem for some users is illustrative in its own right. The problems with mount() have come up at various meetings, including at the 2018 Linux Storage, Filesystem, and Memory-Management Summit. A set of patches implementing a new approach is getting closer to being ready, but it features some complexity of its own and there are some remaining concerns about the proposed system-call API.

The Big Idea: Jay Schiffman [Whatever]

What is best in life? If you are, say, Conan the Barbarian, you have one sort of answer. If you are Jay Schiffman, or one of his characters in his novel Game of the Gods, your answer might be very different indeed.


There are two aspects of my life that have significantly shaped my worldview, and in turn, influenced my novel Game of the Gods. Family and politics.

Therein lies the big idea.

I’m from a big family, married into a big family, and have created a big family of my own. If numbers matter: my wife and I have 6 kids; my wife is from 6, and I’m from 4. I can fill a small school bus with nieces and nephews and they just keep coming. Even if I wasn’t close with my kin (I am), the sheer volume of siblings, in-laws, cousins, nieces, and nephews would probably define who I am. I can throw a rock and hit a relative.

Similarly, my love of politics, academic background as a political scientist, and my current political obsessions have greatly influenced my work as a writer. I’ll keep my political views to a bare minimum and simply say I’m a political junkie addicted to all things Trump. A New York Times piece about the underbelly of Trump, Inc., coupled with a caffeine chaser, is my drug of choice.

Politics and family lie at the heart of my novel and pump life into its dramatic passages and character development. At its core, my novel is a sci-fi action adventure. The main character, Max Cone, is an accomplished military leader and judge in a futuristic nation that is losing its power. His family is taken and his friends are killed. He assembles an unconventional band of outcasts to help him fight for his loved ones. This talented, but unpredictable group must navigate a dangerous world filled with despots. Action drives the narrative, but what motivates the characters is integral to the story.

If there is a single animating idea tying these disparate characters together it’s the significance of close personal relationships versus collective identities. For some characters in Game of the Gods, the bonds of family are far more important to their human experience than transcendent ties to religion, country, or politics. “Truth” is more likely to come from a child’s hug than from a charismatic clergyman. Some characters know who they are and what’s important to them, while others struggle aimlessly—meandering through different “isms” and oscillating between the terra firma of family and the lofty dogmas of religious movements.

The tension between close family ties and transcendent ones often takes the form of characters questioning what they once believed to be right. For some characters, questions arise about the truthfulness of a father or spouse, and for others it’s their faith in the divine.

Max was once a “True Federate,” an accomplished military commander and the highest judge in the Federacy. But we learn early on of his disillusionment, and soon after, the heartbreaking reasons why. In Max’s case, the love of family and nation are in direct conflict. The Federacy deemed his wife a traitor and punished her harshly as a result. Max recognizes that she was in fact disloyal, but he cannot forgive the Federacy for her punishment. As we follow Max on his adventures, his relationship with his wife, country, and God are called into question and he must come to terms with the authenticity of each.

Max’s group of outcasts faces similar existential concerns. Mavy Sway, a loyal emissary for the world’s most powerful religious leader, the Holy Father, balances the love of her family with her desire to see the truth about God’s purpose. Trace Rollins, a natural cynic, spends much of his life shuffling through different collective identities—revolutionary, partisan, abstainer, dissident. Finally, he gives up and becomes a drug addict. But whereas Mavy has a major crisis of faith in her family and her God, Trace, an otherwise lost soul, never questions his commitment to his loved ones. Each member of Max’s group struggles with questions of identity and meaning.

Except one. Pique Rollins.

Although Pique is only 13 years old, it is not her age that causes her not to question. To the contrary, it is her wisdom.

I should say here that Pique is my favorite character and one that is modeled on women in my family I greatly admire. Pique has all the “answers” to life, but only because she has so few questions. She’s content. She knows herself. There’s no existential crisis. No need for deeper meaning. She finds fulfillment in friends and family.

When Max first interviews Pique to see if she’s worthy of becoming a Federate citizen, she tells him that all he needs to know about her is that she’s a good fighter and she doesn’t lie. To the extent Pique has a guiding moral philosophy, it’s humility about sweeping claims.

In an important exchange between Pique and Mavy, we see their different worldviews, and Max’s take on it:

“Either there’s one righteous path that the Holy Father is leading us down or there isn’t,” Mavy says. “If you prove to me that the Holy Father isn’t the shepherd I believe him to be, then I don’t know what to make of this reality we’re living in. I need to trust him. You hear me. I need to trust him.”

Pique nods her head as if she understands. She doesn’t, but the most important thing for her is that Mavy feels like she does. For Pique, it’s not about Truth with a capital “T.” It never has been. It’s about the little truths people share every day: honesty, caring for loved ones, showing compassion to strangers, being better than our instincts. Her idea of what’s important couldn’t be farther from Mavy’s. “I’m a good fighter and I don’t lie,” Pique tells her. “I don’t understand a lot more than that. I’m not sure I want to. But I know one thing. Someday, I hope you and I can be close. Like sisters. Okay. You and I can be sisters.”

Pique understands what I—and my alter-ego Max Cone—only sometimes appreciate. When you’re surrounded by loving friends and family, there’s little reason to search elsewhere.


Game of the Gods: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.


Link [Scripting News]

I wonder why more American congresspeople don’t have blogs and podcasts. It seems they would want to communicate regularly with their constituents. Twitter has severe limits, as everyone knows.

A mutual defense pact against racism [Scripting News]

A Twitter account called Black and Proud addresses white people:

  • Please stop saying 'I don't see color.' Instead -- I see you and your struggle, because of your skin color. I will stand with you to end racism.

I agree. Race is visible, and the statement that you don't see it is ludicrous. We see it. To say otherwise is to push it aside. I've written about this a few times before, once in an explainer about Black Lives Matter, and what it means, from a white person's perspective.

I want to do more. I feel compelled, not just to make life safer and simpler for people of color, but also to put up a roadblock to racism, to let it know that it will encounter resistance. Some things are better kept under cover. Racism for sure is one of them.

In the past I've proposed that we all wear Martin Luther King buttons. I felt his image was perfect because he's a black man, he preached non-violence, and was active, not passive, in his quest for equality and fairness. A white person wearing a MLK button makes a statement of equivalence. Treat me as you would treat a black person. If a majority of whites wore these buttons it would make a promise to our fellow citizens, that if there's trouble, we're standing with you. When there's trouble.

It would be like Article 5 in NATO. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. As a white person I can't become black. But I can make a statement that I stand with people of color.


Sextortion Scam Uses Recipient’s Hacked Passwords [Krebs on Security]

Here’s a clever new twist on an old email scam that could serve to make the con far more believable. The message purports to have been sent from a hacker who’s compromised your computer and used your webcam to record a video of you while you were watching porn. The missive threatens to release the video to all your contacts unless you pay a Bitcoin ransom. The new twist? The email now references a real password previously tied to the recipient’s email address.

The basic elements of this sextortion scam email have been around for some time, and usually the only thing that changes with this particular message is the Bitcoin address that frightened targets can use to pay the amount demanded. But this one begins with an unusual opening salvo:

“I’m aware that <substitute password formerly used by recipient here> is your password,” reads the salutation.

The rest is formulaic:

You don’t know me and you’re thinking why you received this e mail, right?

Well, I actually placed a malware on the porn website and guess what, you visited this web site to have fun (you know what I mean). While you were watching the video, your web browser acted as a RDP (Remote Desktop) and a keylogger which provided me access to your display screen and webcam. Right after that, my software gathered all your contacts from your Messenger, Facebook account, and email account.

What exactly did I do?

I made a split-screen video. First part recorded the video you were viewing (you’ve got a fine taste haha), and next part recorded your webcam (Yep! It’s you doing nasty things!).

What should you do?

Well, I believe, $1400 is a fair price for our little secret. You’ll make the payment via Bitcoin to the below address (if you don’t know this, search “how to buy bitcoin” in Google).

BTC Address: 1Dvd7Wb72JBTbAcfTrxSJCZZuf4tsT8V72
(It is cAsE sensitive, so copy and paste it)


You have 24 hours in order to make the payment. (I have an unique pixel within this email message, and right now I know that you have read this email). If I don’t get the payment, I will send your video to all of your contacts including relatives, coworkers, and so forth. Nonetheless, if I do get paid, I will erase the video immidiately. If you want evidence, reply with “Yes!” and I will send your video recording to your 5 friends. This is a non-negotiable offer, so don’t waste my time and yours by replying to this email.

KrebsOnSecurity heard from three different readers who received a similar email in the past 72 hours. In every case, the recipients said the password referenced in the email’s opening sentence was in fact a password they had previously used at an account online that was tied to their email address.

However, all three recipients said the password was close to ten years old, and that none of the passwords cited in the sextortion email they received had been used anytime on their current computers.

It is likely that this improved sextortion attempt is at least semi-automated: My guess is that the perpetrator has created some kind of script that draws directly from the usernames and passwords from a given data breach at a popular Web site that happened more than a decade ago, and that every victim who had their password compromised as part of that breach is getting this same email at the address used to sign up at that hacked Web site.

I suspect that as this scam gets refined even more, perpetrators will begin using more recent and relevant passwords — and perhaps other personal data that can be found online — to convince people that the hacking threat is real. That’s because there are a number of shady password lookup services online that index billions of usernames (i.e. email addresses) and passwords stolen in some of the biggest data breaches to date.

Alternatively, an industrious scammer could simply execute this scheme using a customer database from a freshly hacked Web site, emailing all users of that hacked site with a similar message and a current, working password. Tech support scammers also may begin latching onto this method as well.

Sextortion — even semi-automated scams like this one with no actual physical leverage to backstop the extortion demand — is a serious crime that can lead to devastating consequences for victims. Sextortion occurs when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if you don’t provide them with images of a sexual nature, sexual favors, or money.

According to the FBI, here are some things you can do to avoid becoming a victim:

-Never send compromising images of yourself to anyone, no matter who they are — or who they say they are.
-Don’t open attachments from people you don’t know, and in general be wary of opening attachments even from those you do know.
-Turn off [and/or cover] any web cameras when you are not using them.

The FBI says in many sextortion cases, the perpetrator is an adult pretending to be a teenager, and you are just one of the many victims being targeted by the same person. If you believe you’re a victim of sextortion, or know someone else who is, the FBI wants to hear from you: Contact your local FBI office (or toll-free at 1-800-CALL-FBI).


Jonathan Dowland: The Cure's 40th Anniversary [Planet Debian]

Last Saturday I joined roughly 65,000 other people to see the Cure play a 40th Anniversary celebration gig in Hyde Park, London. It was a short gig (by Cure) standards of about 2½ hours due to the venue's strict curfew, and as predicted, the set was (for the most part) a straightforward run through the greatest hits. However, the atmosphere was fantastic. It may have been helped along by the great weather we were enjoying (over 30°C), England winning a World Cup match a few hours earlier, and the infectious joy of London Pride that took place a short trip up the road. A great time was had by all.

Last year, a friend of mine who had never listened to the Cure had asked me to recommend (only) 5 songs which would give a reasonable overview. (5 from over 200 studio recorded songs). As with Coil, this is quite a challenging task, and here's what I came up with. In most cases, the videos are from the Hyde Park show (but it's worth seeking out the studio versions too)

1. "Pictures of You"

Walking a delicate line between their dark and light songs, "Pictures of You" is one of those rare songs where the extended remix is possibly better than the original (which is not short either)

2. "If Only Tonight We Could Sleep"

I love this song. I'm a complete sucker for the Phrygian scale. I was extremely happy to finally catch it live for the first time at Hyde Park, which was my fourth Cure gig (and hopefully not my last)

The nu-metal band "Deftones" have occasionally covered this song live, and they do a fantastic job of it. They played it this year for their Meltdown appearance, and a version appears on their "B-Side and Rarities". My favourite take was from a 2004 appearance on MTV's "MTV Icon" programme honouring the Cure:

3. "Killing An Arab"

The provocatively-titled first single by the group takes its name from the pivotal scene in the Albert Camus novel "The Stranger" and is not actually endorsing the murder of people. Despite this it's an unfortunate title, and in recent years they have often performed it as "Killing Another". The song loses nothing in renaming, in my opinion.

The original recording is a sparse, tight, angular post-punk piece, but it's in the live setting that this song really shines, and it's a live version I recommend you try.

4. "Just Like Heaven"

It might be obvious that my tastes align more to the Cure's dark side than the light, but the light side can't be ignored. Most of their greatest hits and best known work are light, accessible pop classics. Choosing just one was amongst the hardest decisions to make. For the selection I offered my friend, I opted for "Friday I'm In Love", which is unabashed joy, but it didn't meet a warm reception, so I now substitute it for "Just Like Heaven".

Bonus video: someone proposed in the middle of this song!

5. "The Drowning Man"

From their "Very Dark" period, another literature-influenced track, this time Mervyn Peake's "Gormenghast": "The Drowning Man"

If you let the video run on, you'll get a bonus 6th track, similarly rarely performed live: Faith. I haven't seen either live yet. Maybe one day!

Why does a non-recursive Read­Directory­ChangesW still report files created inside subdirectories? [The Old New Thing]

A customer used the Read­Directory­ChangesW function to monitor a directory for changes, asking for notifications only for changes directly in the directory being monitored (bWatchSubtree = false). But they found that the Read­Directory­ChangesW function reported a change even when they created a file in a subdirectory, rather than in the directory being monitored.

For example, if they asked to monitor the directory C:\dir1, and a file was created at C:\dir1\dir2\file, the Read­Directory­ChangesW function reported a change, even though the file was created in a subdirectory, and the request was for a non-recursive monitor.

What gives?

We saw some time ago that the purpose of the Read­Directory­ChangesW function is to allow you to maintain a local copy of the contents of a directory: The idea is that you make an initial pass over the directory with Find­First­File/Find­Next­File, and then you use the notifications from the Read­Directory­ChangesW function to make incremental updates to your local copy.

And what happened here is that the contents of an enumeration of the C:\dir1 directory did in fact change. What changed is the last-modified date on C:\dir1\dir2!


Link [Scripting News]

I'm now archiving the RSS file for Scripting News in the GitHub repo, every night, along with the content of the blog for the day (in JSON, OPML and HTML). It'll be interesting to be able to track the changes to the file over (knock wood) long periods of time. Here's the source of the app that does the uploading. It's proven to be very reliable. đŸ’Ľ


My Three Sons, One a Parrot: A Twitter Story [Whatever]

It began innocently enough.

What a heartwarming tale of love and acceptance of Myke Cole, my son, who identifies as a parrot.



Security updates for Thursday []

Security updates have been issued by Arch Linux (qutebrowser), CentOS (firefox), Debian (ruby-sprockets), Fedora (botan2, git-annex, kernel, kernel-tools, and visualboyadvance-m), Mageia (chromium-browser-stable, graphviz, mailman, nikto, perl-Archive-Zip, redis, and w3m), openSUSE (nextcloud), Oracle (gnupg2), Red Hat (flash-plugin, gnupg2, and kernel), Slackware (bind and curl), SUSE (java-1_8_0-openjdk, php7, rsyslog, slurm, and ucode-intel), and Ubuntu (cups, libpng, and libpng, libpng1.6).


Louis-Philippe Véronneau: Taiwan Travel Blog - Day 4 [Planet Debian]

This is the third entry of my Taiwan Travel blog series! You can find posts on my first few days in Taiwan by following these links:

The Baiyang Waterfall

I had to take care of a few things this morning so I left the hostel a little bit later than I would have liked. I've already done quite a few trails and I'm slowly starting to exhaust the places I wanted to visit in the Taroko National Park, or at least the ones I can reach via public bus.

I've got another day left here and I plan to use the mountain permit I got to visit Old Zhuilu Road (锥麓古道) and then I'll cycle back to Hualien.

Baiyang Waterfall Trail (白杨步道)

I took the bus to go to Tianxiang (天祥), a mountain station about 20km inland from the Taroko National Park entrance. I considered riding my bike there but the mountain road has a lot of blind turns and buses frequently pass one another.

I wanted to visit the Baiyang Waterfall and the Huoran temple, but only found the trail for the waterfall. I blame the heavy construction work in the area.

Formosan Rock Macaque, Yang Hsiao Chi, CC-BY-SA-4.0

Baiyang Waterfall was a very nice and leisurely trail. Paved all the way, it follows the Tacijili River (塔次基里) for a while. The trail starts by a tunnel 250m long carved into the mountain. There are no lights in there so it's pitch dark for a while!

I was very lucky to see a colony of bats sleeping with their pups at the exit of the entrance tunnel. So cute!

I also encountered a family of Formosan Rock Macaques in the forest next to the trail. Apparently, they are pretty common in Taiwan, but it was the first time I saw them. Andrew Lee tells me that if I want to meet more monkeys, I can go to the nearby hot spring and bathe with them. If it wasn't so darn hot I just might go.


WPA3 [Schneier on Security]

Everyone is writing about the new WPA3 Wi-Fi security standard, and how it improves security over the current WPA2 standard.

This summary is as good as any other:

The first big new feature in WPA3 is protection against offline, password-guessing attacks. This is where an attacker captures data from your Wi-Fi stream, brings it back to a private computer, and guesses passwords over and over again until they find a match. With WPA3, attackers are only supposed to be able to make a single guess against that offline data before it becomes useless; they'll instead have to interact with the live Wi-Fi device every time they want to make a guess. (And that's harder since they need to be physically present, and devices can be set up to protect against repeat guesses.)

WPA3's other major addition, as highlighted by the Alliance, is forward secrecy. This is a privacy feature that prevents older data from being compromised by a later attack. So if an attacker captures an encrypted Wi-Fi transmission, then cracks the password, they still won't be able to read the older data -- they'd only be able to see new information currently flowing over the network.

Note that we're just getting the new standard this week. Actual devices that implement the standard are still months away.


How to decide what product to build [All - O'Reilly Media]

Techniques for defining a product and building and managing a team.

Design is a process of making dreams come true.


LET’S PLAY A GAME. (I’m imagining the computer voice from the movie WarGames. GREETINGS PROFESSOR FALKEN...SHALL WE PLAY A GAME? Alas, I digress.)1

How many people do you think are on the following product or feature teams?

  • Apple’s iMovie and iPhoto

  • Twitter

  • Instagram

  • Spotify

Hint: the number is definitely smaller than you think.

  • Apple’s iMovie and iPhoto: 3 and 5, respectively2

  • Twitter: 5–73

  • Instagram: 13 when acquired for $1 billion by Facebook4

  • Spotify: 85

We also know that the team that created the first iPhone prototypes was “shockingly small.”6 Even Jony Ive’s design studio at Apple—the group responsible for the industrial design of every product, as well as projects like iOS 7—is only 19 people.7 And we can surmise that this group is broken up into smaller teams to work on their own individual projects.

Figuring out what product you’re going to build is an exercise in working through the research you’ve gathered, empathizing with your audience, and deciding on what you can uniquely create that’ll solve the problems you’ve found. But it’s also an exercise in deciding how big the team is and who’s on it.

Jeff Bezos of Amazon famously coined a term for teams of this size: the “two-pizza team.”8 In other words, if the number of people on a team can’t be fed by two pizzas, then it’s too big. Initially conceived to create “a decentralized, even disorganized company where independent ideas would prevail over groupthink,” there’s some surprising science that explains why teams of this size are less prone to be overconfident, communicate poorly, and take longer to get stuff done. In actuality, that probably caps this team at or around six people.

Enter the work of the late Richard Hackman, a professor at Harvard University who studied organizational psychology. He discovered that “The larger a group, the more process problems members encounter in carrying out their collective work...worse, the vulnerability of a group to such difficulties increases sharply as size increases.”9

Hackman defined “process problems” as the links—or, communication avenues—among the members in a team. As the number of members grows, the number of links grows exponentially. Using the formula n*(n–1)/2—where n is group size—Hackman found that the links among a group get hefty very quickly (Figure 1-1).

Figure 1-1. The larger a group gets, the more “process problems” a group faces. This requires increased communication and can slow down decision making. (Source: Messick and Kramer, The Psychology of Leadership.)

Even though math wasn’t my favorite subject in school, let’s go through a few team size scenarios. Let’s start with Bezos’s recommended team size of six—assuming that two pizzas are appropriate for six people (although, I’ve been known to put away a whole pizza on my own from time to time):

  • Bezos’s preferred team size of 6 people has only 15 links to manage.

  • Increase that number to 10, and you already have 45 links to manage.

  • If you expand to the size of where I work every day, Tinder—70 people—the number of links grows to 2,415.

But managing more communication links isn’t the only problem groups face when they increase in size.

Larger teams get overconfident. They believe they can get things done quicker, and have a tendency “to increasingly underestimate task completion time as team size grows.” In 2010, organizational behavior researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and UCLA conducted a number of field studies confirming these findings.10 In one of their experiments, they observed teams tasked with building LEGO kits. Teams with two people took 36 minutes to complete the kit, while four-person teams took over 44 percent longer.

But the four-person teams believed that they could complete the LEGO set faster than the two-person team.

That’s why the notion of the two-pizza team is so powerful. It’s a simple concept that’s easily understood by anybody within your organization, and can be used to combat the “let’s throw more bodies at the problem” mentality that some organizations might be used to using.

OK, so we’ve figured out how big your team should be. But who should be invited to the party?

Everybody loves to be in product meetings. Especially when you’re in the deciding phase of deciding what to build.

Even Steve Jobs loved being in the room during this phase. “He told me once,” said Glenn Reid, former director of engineering for consumer applications at Apple, “that part of the reason he wanted to be CEO was so that nobody could tell him that he wasn’t allowed to participate in the nitty-gritty of product design.”11

Treat this process like you’re the bouncer at Berghain nightclub in Berlin.12 (Hint: it’s practically impossible to get in if you don’t speak German. And even then, Sven the bouncer, “a post-apocalyptic bearded version of Wagner,” enforces an obscure dress code that nobody can seem to crack.)

So, who’s in the room together? How much do they know about the pains you’ve found? And how do you frame the discussion?

At this point, you should have everyone who’s going to be involved in the creation of the product on the team. An example of this could include:

  • The product designer or product manager (depending on how your organization is set up, and if you’ll be working with someone else who will be designing the product).

  • The engineer(s) with whom you’ll be working to build the product—typically frontend and backend.

  • A representative from the team that will be launching and promoting the product; this could be someone from marketing or public relations to create a feedback loop between what will be promised to your customers and what your product is actually capable of doing.

While at KISSMetrics, Hiten Shah structured these teams with

...a product manager, a designer, and an engineer. Sometimes it’s multiple designers, multiple engineers, and sometimes it’s an engineering manager.

At times it can even be, sometimes, someone from marketing, if that makes sense, or even someone from sales. I mean, we have tried different methods. I’d say for different things, small things, big product releases, a whole product, it’s going to be different and for the stage of the company it’s going to be different.

Party Like It’s 1991

Regis McKenna had something to say about this process. When he saw how fast technology was changing society in 1991, he realized—like our friend Neil McElroy at Proctor & Gamble—that a new role would need to be formalized. This person would be “an integrator, both internally—synthesizing technological capability with market needs—and externally—bringing the customer into the company as a participant in the development and adaptation of goods and services.”13

If your eyes glazed over reading that, well, you should read it again. Because McKenna was responsible for launching some of the hallmarks of the computer age: the first microprocessor at Intel, Apple’s first PC, and The Byte Shop, the world’s first retail computer store. Oh, and one more thing: he was the guy behind the “startup in a garage” legend first made famous with Apple’s early days.

So, did you read it again? Did anything seem familiar?

Hey, he’s describing you!

You’re the product designer. The integrator. You’re the customer’s champion, their expert, their advocate.

This process requires you to lead your team through the research; to propose product ideas to eliminate your customer’s pain or find their joy effectively.

That, of course, means that everybody involved in building the product must be intimately familiar with the research that’s been conducted on your audience.

Take the opportunity as an “integrator” to build on your strengths as a team: what innovative technologies and design can you apply to the problem at hand? Even better, what can you and your team uniquely build for this audience?

I thought Josh Elman (Greylock Partners, Zazzle, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter) had a great insight on this part of the product creation process:

The first thing is you have to trust your team. I think that sounds obvious, but it’s much harder in practice. I think a lot of structures and processes are built on the fact that there isn’t innate, get your team’s help in how to solve the problem. The team knows what they can build. The team knows how it can be developed. The designers know what kinds of things are designable and natural in the product and what kinds of things are not. All of this matters.

Don’t forget the Pain Matrix (Figure 1-2). What are the observations you made that fit into the upper-right quadrant where there is the most acute, frequent pain? How can you build your customers’ dream product? What are the pains that you’re uniquely capable of solving?

Figure 1-2. The Pain Matrix, a simple tool I created for myself. It’s intended to make sifting through and making sense of the research you’ve gathered much simpler.

The Pain Matrix is the perfect piece of collateral for when you’re hashing out what to build. This document becomes a communication device, an advocate for your customers. Everybody can see it and you can back it up with your data. Bonus points for direct quotes from your research.

“The thing to focus on is that yes, 100 percent of your users are humans,” Diogenes Brito, a product designer most recently at startup Slack, reminds us. “While technology is changing really, really rapidly, human motivations basically haven’t at all. Like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, that’s still the same. Designing around that, the closer you are to the base level of what humans desire, the more timeless it’ll be.”

To reiterate: don’t lose sight of the actual, observed, tangible pains and joys that you’ve researched. Resist the temptation to delve into hopes and dreams. Just throwing an “MVP” out into the wild to “validate” something you spend time building is a waste of time, money, and talent.

You’re better than that.

Now, all you have to do is keep everybody focused.

Keeping Everybody Focused

There’s always a big problem when the club-like euphoria from a product meeting starts to turn focus into chaos. How do you keep everybody on task and debating healthily?

I highly recommend a whiteboard for idea collection and harvesting. This serves three practical purposes:

  • It’s difficult to remember what was said. You don’t want good ideas getting lost simply because there were too many thrown around the room.

  • It allows you to be visual. Not all ideas can be verbally explained; a low-fidelity medium allows anybody to sketch the central core of the idea without unnecessary detail. This allows your team to get ideas out of their head on an equal playing field.

  • It lets you take advantage of the natural tendency for the group to forget which idea was contributed by whom. This naturally allows the best ideas to float to the top and the worst ones to sink to the bottom. It’s hugely beneficial, especially if the group has a lot of ideas. The key here is to avoid attaching names to ideas, so you can avoid hurt egos and the so-called not invented here syndrome. Called the Cauldron, this was a technique used by Apple—sometimes even with Steve Jobs in the room. According to Glenn Reid, the former director of engineering at Apple, the Cauldron “let us make a great soup, a great potion, without worrying about who had what idea. This was critically important, in retrospect, to decouple the CEO from the ideas. If an idea was good, we’d all eventually agree on it, and if it was bad, it just kind of sank to the bottom of the pot. We didn’t really remember whose ideas were which—it just didn’t matter.”14

There’s also the benefit of timed techniques, like one used at online publishing startup Medium. With the right group of people in the room, the problem that needs to be solved is defined and “you have two minutes to write down as many ideas as possible [to solve it],” director of product design and operations Jason Stirman told me. “Then you have five minutes to put the ideas on a whiteboard and explain them. Then you have another two minutes to add to ideas...the end result is you just get as many ideas as possible. So we do that a lot here. We brainstorm a lot.”

The “Working Backwards” Approach

There’s another technique used by Amazon that’s particularly powerful. Known as the “Working Backwards” approach, this technique calls upon the product owner to literally write a future press release for the product—as well as fake customer quotes, frequently asked questions, and a story that describes the customer’s experience using the product.

In your case, this could be a future blog post that you’d put out about your product or feature instead of a press release.

What’s particularly unique about this technique is that this document involves every part of your organization that’s required to make the product successful—not just product and engineering, but marketing, sales, support, and every other part of your company. In other words, it forces you to think about all of the aspects that can inform your product.

Werner Vogels, Amazon’s CTO, describes the rationale behind the process:

The product definition process works backwards in the following way: we start by writing the documents we’ll need at launch (the press release and the FAQ) and then work towards documents that are closer to the implementation.

The Working Backwards product definition process is all about fleshing out the concept and achieving clarity of thought about what we will ultimately go off and build.15

According to Vogels, there are four documents included in Working Backwards:

The press release

What the product does, and why it exists

The “frequently asked questions” document

Questions someone might have after reading the press release

A definition of the customer experience

A story of what the customer sees and feels when they use the product, as well as relevant mockups to aid the narrative

The user manual

What the customer would reference if they needed to learn how to use the product

This all might seem like a lot of frivolous upfront work, but the method’s been used at Amazon for over a decade. And if you use it in conjunction with the Sales Safari method outlined in Chapter 2, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more customer-centric approach to building products. That way, you’ll be working on ideas that have their foundation in what real people need, as opposed to coming up with ideas that you try to plug into an amorphous audience.

At the center of Working Backwards lies the press release. A document that should be no longer than a page and a half, it’s the guiding light and the touchstone of the product and something that can be referred to over the course of development.

“My rule of thumb is that if the press release is hard to write, then the product is probably going to suck,” writes Ian McAllister, a director at Amazon. “Keep working at it until the outline for each paragraph flows.”16

Amazon’s view is that a press release can be iterated upon at a much lower cost than the actual product. That’s because the document shines a harsh light on your answer to your customer’s pain. Solutions that aren’t compelling or are too lukewarm are easily identified. Nuke them and start over. All you’re working with at the moment is words.

“If the benefits listed don’t sound very interesting or exciting to customers, then perhaps they’re not (and shouldn’t be built),” McAllister writes. “Instead, the product manager should keep iterating on the press release until they’ve come up with benefits that actually sound like benefits.”

So what does this press release look like? Thanks to McAllister, we have a very specific outline of the documents Amazon uses in their product meetings:

  1. Heading: this is where you announce the name of the product. Will your target audience understand its meaning? Will they be compelled to learn more?

  2. Subheading: declare in one sentence who your product’s target market is, and how they’ll benefit from it.

  3. Summary: summarize the product and and its benefits. McAllister cautions that there’s a large chance that your reader will only make it this far, so “make this paragraph good.”

  4. Problem: this should be easy since it’s been the focus of your customer research. What’s the problem your product solves? What are the pains your customers are experiencing that justify this product’s existence?

  5. Solution: how does your product annihilate your customer’s pain in the most frictionless way possible?

  6. Quote from a Spokesperson in the Company

  7. How to Get Started: how does a customer take their first step into the larger world that’s your product? Describe your ideal first step that provides an immediate benefit.

  8. Customer Quote: what would your ideal customer say after they’d had their pains destroyed by your product?

  9. Closing, with a Call to Action

I think that this process—however laborious—endures at Amazon because it provides such clarity about what the product is going to be, and how it’s going to help your customers.

“Once we have gone through the process of creating the press release, FAQ, mockups, and user manuals, it is amazing how much clearer it is what you are planning to build,” writes Vogels. “We’ll have a suite of documents that we can use to explain the new product to other teams within Amazon. We know at that point that the whole team has a shared vision on what product we are going to build.”

Create a Product Guide

Before you finish defining what product it is you’ll be building, you’re going to want to leave with some paper in hand.

I love Cap Watkins’s approach. The vice president of design at Buzzfeed and former Etsy senior design manager keeps his team on task after the meeting by creating a key internal document. We’ll call this a product guide for the sake of discussion:17

At the end [of the product definition meeting], leave with:

What you’re doing.

Why you’re doing it (problems you’re trying to solve).

What success looks like (quantitatively and qualitatively).

The product guide helps you “keep yourself and your team focused and prevent design creep: if it doesn’t solve the problem or meet the goals, it doesn’t go into this version.”

The only two elements missing from this approach are who’s responsible for what pieces of the product, and when they’ll be done.

Pre-dating Steve Jobs, Apple created a rule for every project they undertake: the “Directly Responsible Individual,” or DRI. It’s a simple yet effective rule. By placing one’s name next to a task-to-be-completed in front of the entire company, you can be sure that individual feels more responsibility to perform.18

In your own internal product guide, use this rule and make sure that every line item has a DRI. Assign someone (or recruit volunteers) to complete each task. Make sure this is in place before you break up the meeting. Include it in your guide’s circulation.

It’s not enough to put people’s names next to line items. You and your team need dates, too. Do you need to do research for technological or data considerations? Do you need to build a prototype to see if a particular interface component is possible? Did you misinterpret something in your audience analysis? What can be executed upon immediately to challenge any outlying assumptions? Who needs to see what and when (other product teams, clients, bosses)? At what fidelity?

By giving every task a deadline, you’ll maintain momentum even when the initial enthusiasm of creating something new dies down.

But how should you build in accountability? How do you race against the clock to get something valuable out to your customers?

Customer retention company Intercom—whose clients include Shopify, InVision, and Rackspace—gives their product teams weekly goals to hit. “We believe you can achieve greatness in 1,000 small steps. Therefore we always optimise for shipping the fastest, smallest, simplest thing that will get us closer to our objective and help us learn what works. All our projects are scoped into small independent releases that add value to customers.”19

At AngelList, Graham Jenkin places a similar pressure on himself and his team to execute on a new product as quickly as possible—with a bias toward small chunks. “We’re always thinking about how are we going to execute this by the end of the day, or ‘how are we going to get this done this week? Can we get it done this week?’ If we can’t, maybe it’s the wrong problem to try to solve.” His approach is more of a rolling set of needs, rather than standing, arbitrary deadlines.

And my current employer, Tinder, holds product update meetings every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday—but only if there’s something to discuss. These meetings typically consist of the product team gathering feedback from each other on their own projects and asking for critiques or help solving any design challenges. Every Monday is a roadmap meeting where engineering, product, customer support, and marketing leads get into a room and update each other on the progress of their projects, while alerting the group if something new needs to be addressed.

Whatever the setup is at your company, remember that you’re the integrator. So be the leader. Be the customer’s advocate. Don’t settle for hand-waving and bravado.

You’re better than that. More talented. And probably better looking.

Shareable Notes

  • Defining what to build starts first with who’s in the room.

  • When choosing who’s in the room, follow Jeff Bezos’s “two-pizza team” rule: your team should be small enough that two pizzas could feed them. Typically, this comes out to about six people.

  • Only allow team members through the door if they’re educated on the research you’ve conducted on your audience. Use the Pain Matrix liberally.

  • Whiteboards are your friend. They help you remember what was said, allow you to be visual (sketching together brings teams together), and disassociate ideas from their inventors. This allows the best ideas to win without any regard for who invented them.

  • Amazon’s “Working Backwards” approach can help you pinpoint the product ideas that’ll solve your customer’s pains, versus creating something that’s too flashy or uninspired.

  • Leave this meeting with a key document: the product guide, which outlines what you’re building and who’s responsible for doing it.

Do This Now

  • Re-examine the knowledge your team has of your audience. Encourage them to study up on the research you’ve done so they can make more informed product decisions.

  • Think about how your product can really make your customers happy. Are you really bringing them joy? Are you truly able to alleviate their pains and satiate their needs?

  • Take stock of how your team conducts meetings and makes decisions. See if any of the techniques mentioned in this chapter can help you make more realistic decisions in a smaller time period.









9David M. Messick and Roderick M. Kramer, eds., The Psychology of Leadership: New Perspectives and Research (New York: Psychology Press, 2004), 131.










Continue reading How to decide what product to build.


CodeSOD: A Symbol of Bad Code [The Daily WTF]

As developers, when we send data over the network, we can usually safely ignore the physical implementation of that network. At some level, though, the bits you’re sending become physical effects in...

Shameless vs. shameful [Seth's Blog]

There aren’t many fundamental human emotions, and shame is certainly one of them.

Shame is usually caused by a collision between our behavior and our culture. Society uses shame to enforce norms and set standards. When you’re alone in the forest, there’s not a lot of shame.

Too often, marketers, politicians and others with money and power use shame as a cudgel, as a harsh tool to gain control. And it’s usually directed at those least able to thrive in the face of this sort of onslaught.

I’m not sure we’d want to live in a culture where shameful behavior is completely accepted, where sociopaths and selfish short-term people abuse our trust.

At the same time, I think we need to be really clear about the difference between shameful behavior and shaming a person.

Shaming a person is a senseless shortcut. When we say to someone, “you’re never going to amount to anything,” when we act like we want to lock them up and throw away the key, when we conflate the behavior with the human–we’ve hurt everyone. We’ve killed dreams, eliminated possibility and broken any chance for a connection.

The alternative is to be really clear about which behavior crossed the line. To correct that behavior at the very same time we open the door for our fellow citizen to become the sort of person we’d like to engage with.

“How dare you,” is a fine way to establish that people like us don’t do things like that. It is a norm-setting device, a clear indication that certain behaviors aren’t welcome and demand explanation.

As the media available to each of us turns just about every interaction into a worldwide, hyper-competitive conflict, there’s way too much shameless posturing and division. If you want to “win” in social media or politics, you’re no longer trying to be the class clown among twenty high school students, you’re racing to the bottom among a hundred million teenagers or candidates. Multiply that by every endeavor and you can see why there’s so much shameless posturing.

Racing to the top is far preferable. Because the problem with a race to the bottom is you might win. Or come in second, which is even worse.


Four short links: 12 July 2018 [All - O'Reilly Media]

Debugging, Just Code, Causal Inference, and Infosec

  1. Why Isn't Debugging Treated as a First-Class Activity? (Robert O'Callahan) -- Another of my theories is that many developers have abandoned interactive debuggers because they're a very poor fit for many debugging problems (e.g., multiprocess, time-sensitive, and remote workloads—especially cloud and mobile applications). Debugging isn't really taught at schools, either. It's an odd forensic science. What are your favourite debugging tutorials, papers, or books? Let me know: @gnat.
  2. Just Code Challenge -- I'm a little late, but it's still a good idea. The idea is for you to make one program (or app) a week throughout the summer. These apps don’t have to do anything fancy, although they should do something that is at least a little bit useful or fun. Any type of app counts—desktop, iOS, or web.
  3. Causal Inference Book -- The book is divided in three parts of increasing difficulty: causal inference without models, causal inference with models, and causal inference from complex longitudinal data.
  4. -- A collection of information security essays and links to help growing teams manage risks.

Continue reading Four short links: 12 July 2018.


Usenet Users Have Privacy Rights, But Pirates Can’t be Anonymous [TorrentFreak]

Dutch anti-piracy group BREIN has targeted pirates of all shapes and sizes over the past several years.

It’s also one of the few groups to systematically track copyright infringers on Usenet, which still has millions of frequent users.

BREIN sets its aim on prolific uploaders and other large-scale copyright infringers. After identifying its targets, it asks providers to reveal the personal details connected to the account.

Not all providers are eager to hand over this information.

This is also true for Newsconnection. The Usenet provider was previously ordered by a Dutch court to hand over the IP-addresses, payment information, name and email addresses of three of its users. However, the company appealed the verdict.

Newsconnection argued that, among other things, it doesn’t have direct access to the users’ IP-addresses because it’s merely a reseller The company added that the relevant jurisprudence in this area doesn’t apply in this case, since the company operates as an intermediary.

In a verdict issued this week, the Court of Appeal rejected these arguments. The Court stressed that it’s not impossible for the Usenet provider to get access to the information BREIN demands.

For example, Newsconnection can request IP-addresses of suspected pirates from its hosting provider. If a hosting provider refuses to hand over this information, then the Usenet provider can find another hosting partner that’s more cooperative.

Furthermore, the Court also states that, even though it’s a reseller, the Usenet provider must hand over the personal details it has on file for the alleged pirates BREIN identifies. This includes the user’s name and email address.

There is also some good news for Newsconnection and its users. BREIN requested the Usenet provider to organize its administration in such a way that it can identify users more easily while keeping more detailed personal information. The Court of Appeal argued that this goes too far as it might potentially violate the privacy of innocent customers.

The Court made it clear that Usenet users have a right to privacy. However, those who are suspected of copyright infringement can’t be anonymous. Tweakers highlights that the court specifically notes that BREIN’s rights to protect creators prevail over the anonymity of Usenet users.

During the appeal, BREIN suggested several steps Newsconnection should take to verify the accuracy of user data. The Court argued that it’s not up to BREIN to decide what steps the provider should take, but agreed that Newsconnection must take measures to ensure that the personal information provided by its users is verified.

“The intermediary must take measures to verify customer identity. BREIN cannot dictate what such measures are, the intermediary must decide that itself,” BREIN director Tim Kuik informs TorrentFreak.

“Also, the intermediary cannot hide behind dependency on a third party that is unwilling to cooperate. They must secure cooperation contractually or find another business partner,” Kuik adds.

TorrentFreak reached out to Newsconnection for a comment on the ruling but at the time of publication, we have yet to hear back.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.


1208 [LFG Comics]

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The Chuck Tingle book bundle has over $140 worth of signature... [Humble Bundle Blog]

The Chuck Tingle book bundle has over $140 worth of signature “tinglers”!

Get Game Of Butts: The Pounds Of Winter, Slammed In The Butt By The Prehistoric Megalodon Shark Amid Accusations Of Jumping Over Him, and more.

Plus, a Night Vale Presents special: Pounded in The Butt By My Podcast With Chuck Tingle!

(FYI, dear buckaroos, these books aren’t appropriate for children or the workplace. Unless you work at a butt store. We don’t judge.)

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[$] Weekly Edition for July 12, 2018 []

The Weekly Edition for July 12, 2018 is available.


Petter Reinholdtsen: Streaming the Linux desktop to Kodi using VLC and RTSP [Planet Debian]

PS: See the followup post for a even better approach.

A while back, I was asked by a friend how to stream the desktop to my projector connected to Kodi. I sadly had to admit that I had no idea, as it was a task I never had tried. Since then, I have been looking for a way to do so, preferable without much extra software to install on either side. Today I found a way that seem to kind of work. Not great, but it is a start.

I had a look at several approaches, for example using uPnP DLNA as described in 2011, but it required a uPnP server, fuse and local storage enough to store the stream locally. This is not going to work well for me, lacking enough free space, and it would impossible for my friend to get working.

Next, it occurred to me that perhaps I could use VLC to create a video stream that Kodi could play. Preferably using broadcast/multicast, to avoid having to change any setup on the Kodi side when starting such stream. Unfortunately, the only recipe I could find using multicast used the rtp protocol, and this protocol seem to not be supported by Kodi.

On the other hand, the rtsp protocol is working! Unfortunately I have to specify the IP address of the streaming machine in both the sending command and the file on the Kodi server. But it is showing my desktop, and thus allow us to have a shared look on the big screen at the programs I work on.

I did not spend much time investigating codeces. I combined the rtp and rtsp recipes from the VLC Streaming HowTo/Command Line Examples, and was able to get this working on the desktop/streaming end.

vlc screen:// --sout \

I ssh-ed into my Kodi box and created a file like this with the same IP address:

echo rtsp:// \
  > /storage/videos/screenstream.m3u

Note the IP address is my desktops IP address. As far as I can tell the IP must be hardcoded for this to work. In other words, if someone elses machine is going to do the steaming, you have to update screenstream.m3u on the Kodi machine and adjust the vlc recipe. To get started, locate the file in Kodi and select the m3u file while the VLC stream is running. The desktop then show up in my big screen. :)

When using the same technique to stream a video file with audio, the audio quality is really bad. No idea if the problem is package loss or bad parameters for the transcode. I do not know VLC nor Kodi enough to tell.

Update 2018-07-12: Johannes Schauer send me a few succestions and reminded me about an important step. The "screen:" input source is only available once the vlc-plugin-access-extra package is installed on Debian. Without it, you will see this error message: "VLC is unable to open the MRL 'screen://'. Check the log for details." He further found that it is possible to drop some parts of the VLC command line to reduce the amount of hardcoded information. It is also useful to consider using cvlc to avoid having the VLC window in the desktop view. In sum, this give us this command line on the source end

cvlc screen:// --sout \

and this on the Kodi end

echo rtsp:// \
  > /storage/videos/screenstream.m3u

Still bad image quality, though. But I did discover that streaming a DVD using dvdsimple:///dev/dvd as the source had excellent video and audio quality, so I guess the issue is in the input or transcoding parts, not the rtsp part. I've tried to change the vb and ab parameters to use more bandwidth, but it did not make a difference.

I further received a suggestion from Einar Haraldseid to try using gstreamer instead of VLC, and this proved to work great! He also provided me with the trick to get Kodi to use a multicast stream as its source. By using this monstrous oneliner, I can stream my desktop with good video quality in reasonable framerate to the multicast address on port 1234:

gst-launch-1.0 ximagesrc use-damage=0 ! video/x-raw,framerate=30/1 ! \
  videoconvert ! queue2 ! \
  x264enc bitrate=8000 speed-preset=superfast tune=zerolatency qp-min=30 \
  key-int-max=15 bframes=2 ! video/x-h264,profile=high ! queue2 ! \
  mpegtsmux alignment=7 name=mux ! rndbuffersize max=1316 min=1316 ! \
  udpsink host= port=1234 ttl-mc=1 auto-multicast=1 sync=0 \
  pulsesrc device=$(pactl list | grep -A2 'Source #' | \
    grep 'Name: .*\.monitor$' |  cut -d" " -f2|head -1) ! \
  audioconvert ! queue2 ! avenc_aac ! queue2 ! mux.

and this on the Kodi end

echo udp://@ \
  > /storage/videos/screenstream.m3u

Note the trick to pick a valid pulseaudio source. It might not pick the one you need. This approach will of course lead to trouble if more than one source uses the same multicast port and address. Note the ttl-mc=1 setting, which limit the multicast packages to the local network. If the value is increased, your screen will be broadcasted further, one network "hop" for each increase (read up on multicast to learn more. :)!

Having cracked how to get Kodi to receive multicast streams, I could use this VLC command to stream to the same multicast address. The image quality is way better than the rtsp approach, but gstreamer seem to be doing a better job.

cvlc screen:// --sout '#transcode{vcodec=mp4v,acodec=mpga,vb=800,ab=128}:rtp{mux=ts,dst=,port=1234,sdp=sap}'

As usual, if you use Bitcoin and want to show your support of my activities, please send Bitcoin donations to my address 15oWEoG9dUPovwmUL9KWAnYRtNJEkP1u1b.


Writing a Game Boy emulator [OSNews]

Eventually, I decided to write a minimalist Game Boy interpreting emulator, without support for custom mappers or sound, (and probably many inaccuracies). I called the project Cinoop. Cinoop is written in C and is open source. It can be run on Windows, DS, GameCube, 3DS, Linux based OSes, PSP, and PS4.

I used Apple's new controls to limit a teenager's iPhone time [OSNews]

I, for one, probably have a problem with compulsively picking up my phone. So when Apple announced new software to help people restrict the amount of time they spend on iPhones, I knew I had to test it on myself. I also wanted to try it on a "screenager", a teenager who is addicted to screens - exactly the kind of person generating so much concern. Just one problem: I don't have a child, so I needed to borrow one. Fortunately, my editor gleefully volunteered her 14-year-old, Sophie, to be a test subject. So last month, I lent Sophie an iPhone X loaded with an unfinished version of iOS 12, Apple's new operating system, that included the Screen Time feature, which is set for release this fall. We set up the account so that I was a parent, with the ability to set limits, and she was my child.

Modern technologies like smartphones and tablets really pose a new kind of problem for parents, and parents today are only just now finding out how to deal with these.

Since I happen to be remarkably aware of the harsh way parents tend to judge each other when it comes to how to raise children, I just want to point out that there really is no one true way to manage how children use these technologies, and on top of that, not every child is the same. And, of course, a child growing up in The Netherlands is not the same as that same hypothetical child growing up in Arco, Montana. In short, there's tons of variables here, so for the parents among us - for with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged and all that.


News Post: Crew 2 4 U [Penny Arcade]

Tycho: Certainly Mork has played it, and now I have as well.  That is to say, The Crew 2.  It’s interesting. I’d love to talk about it. I support what Groblin has said in the main: that these concepts map quite well onto an Action MMO constructs.  He suggested Destiny, which works, but you could just as simply use The Division.  There are games where you earn money and tune cars, Forza Horizon is probably the most compatible with me as a person, but it’s simply a fact that I’m never gonna be somebody who goes way into that kind of stuff.  Let me…

Wednesday, 11 July


Link [Scripting News]

Development of the RSS format didn’t peter out, it was frozen, so there could be as much interop as possible.


ARM kills off its anti-RISC-V smear site after own staff revolt [OSNews]

Arm has taken offline its website attacking rival processor architecture RISC-V within days of it going live - after its own staff objected to the underhand tactic. The site - - was created at the end of June, and attempted to smear open-source RISC-V, listing five reasons why Arm cores are a better choice over its competitor's designs. However, the stunt backfired, with folks in the tech industry, and within the company's own ranks, slamming the site as a cheap shot and an attack on open source.

Good on ARM's own employees for speaking up.


Small computer system supports large-scale multi-user APL [OSNews]

Another article from a very much bygone era - we're talking 1977, and for sure this one's a bit over my head. I like being honest.

APL (A Programming Language) is an interactive language that allows access to the full power of a large computer while maintaining a user interface as friendly as a desktop calculator. APL is based on a notation developed by Dr. Kenneth Iverson of IBM Corporation over a decade ago, and has been growing in popularity in both the business and scientific community. The popularity of APL stems from its powerful primitive operations and data structures, coupled with its ease of programming and debugging. Most versions of APL to date have been on large and therefore expensive computers. Because of the expense involved in owning a computer large enough to run APL, most of the use of APL outside of IBM has been through commercial timesharing companies. The introduction of APL 3000 marks the first time a large-machine APL has been available on a small computer. APL 3000 is a combination of software for the HP 3000 Series II Computer System2 and a CRT terminal, the HP 2641A, that displays the special symbols used in APL.



[$] Signing and distributing Gentoo []

The compromise of the Gentoo's GitHub mirror was certainly embarrassing, but its overall impact on Gentoo users was likely fairly limited. Gentoo and GitHub responded quickly and forcefully to the breach, which greatly limited the damage that could be done; the fact that it was a mirror and not the master copy of Gentoo's repositories made it relatively straightforward to recover from. But the black eye that it gave the project has led some to consider ways to make it even harder for an attacker to add malicious content to Gentoo—even if the distribution's own infrastructure were to be compromised.


The Humble Comics Bundle: Dungeons & Dragons 2018 by IDW! We... [Humble Bundle Blog]

The Humble Comics Bundle: Dungeons & Dragons 2018 by IDW! 

We joined IDW’s adventuring party to resurrect a bundle of D&D comics… plus a few new treasures. Score stories like Shadows of the Vampire, The Legend of Drizzt: Neverwinter Tales, and Legends of Baldur’s Gate. No dice required to get rolling on this reading!

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Notorious ‘Hijack Factory’ Shunned from Web [Krebs on Security]

Score one for the good guys: Bitcanal, a Portuguese Web hosting firm long accused of helping spammers hijack large swaths of dormant Internet address space over the years, was summarily kicked off the Internet this week after a half-dozen of the company’s bandwidth providers chose to sever ties with the company.

Spammers and Internet service providers (ISPs) that facilitate such activity often hijack Internet address ranges that have gone unused for periods of time. Dormant or “unannounced” address ranges are ripe for abuse partly because of the way the global routing system works: Miscreants can “announce” to the rest of the Internet that their hosting facilities are the authorized location for given Internet addresses. If nothing or nobody objects to the change, the Internet address ranges fall into the hands of the hijacker.

For years, security researchers have tracked the suspected theft of millions of IPv4 Internet addresses back to Bitcanal, which was also doing business under the name “Ebony Horizon.” Experts say shortly after obtaining a chunk of IP addresses, Bitcanal would apparently sell or lease the space to spammers, who would then begin sending junk email from those addresses — taking full advantage of the good or at least neutral Internet reputation of the previous owner to evade anti-spam blacklists.

Much of the hijacked address space routed by Bitcanal was once assigned to business entities that no longer exist. But some of the more brazen hijacks attributed to Bitcanal and its customers involved thousands of Internet addresses assigned to active organizations, such as the company’s well-documented acquisition of address space assigned to the Texas State Attorney General’s office, as well as addresses managed by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Bitcanal’s reputation finally caught up with the company late last month, when anti-spam activist and researcher Ron Guilmette documented yet another new major IP address hijack at the company and challenged Bitcanal’s upstream Internet providers to stop routing traffic for it (KrebsOnSecurity has published several stories about previous high-profile IP address hijacks involving spammers who were flagged by Guilmette).

Guilmette said Bitcanal and its proprietor — Portuguese businessman Joao Silveira — have a well-documented history of “behaving badly and coloring outside the lines for literally years.”

“His actions in absconding with other people’s IP address space, over the years, are those of either a spoiled child or else those of a sociopath, depending on one’s personal point of view,” Guilmette said. “In either case the Internet will, by and large, be glad to see his backside, and will be better off without him.”

Doug Madory, a researcher for Internet performance management firm Dyn (now owned by Oracle), published a blog post chronicling Bitcanal’s history as an address “hijack factory.” That post also documents the gradual ostracization of Bitcanal over the past week, as one major Internet exchange after another pulled the plug on the company.

Dyn’s depiction of Bitcanal’s final remaining upstream Internet provider pulling the plug on the company on July 10, effectively severing it from existence on the Web. Source: Dyn.

Reached for comment just days before Bitcanal was shunned by all of its peering providers, Mr. Silveira expressed shock and surprise over what he called unfair attacks against his company’s reputation. He blamed the besmirchment on one or two “bad” customers who abused his service over the years.

“My thought is that one or two customer in my network maybe [imitated] people acting like a client and force the errors or injecting bad network space,” Silveira said in an emailed response to KrebsOnSecurity. “I am not the problem and this public trial and conviction will not solve the prefix hijacking matter. If these questions remain without solution, those actors will keep doing it.”

Another business tied to Mr. Silveira suggests that Bitcanal/Ebony Horizon has long been actively involved in obtaining sizable chunks of Internet address space on behalf of its clients. The same contact phone number that once existed on the (now unreachable) home page of also appears on the homepage of, a company that advertises the ability to lease large chunks of Internet address space.

Bitcanal owner Joao Silveira.

The current WHOIS registration records for are mostly redacted by domain registrar GoDaddy, but the name Ebony Horizon appears as the current business name, and Mr. Silveira’s name is on the original domain registration records from 2016, according to historic WHOIS records maintained by DomainTools [full disclosure: DomainTools is an advertiser on this blog].

Much of the content on seeks to answer questions about what customers should expect when leasing address space from the company, including the possibility that some leased address ranges could be flagged as malicious or spammy by, an anti-spam group whose spam blacklists are relied upon by many ISPs to block large-scale spam campaigns. Prior to Bitcanal’s final disconnection this week, Spamhaus had blacklisted virtually all of Bitcanal’s address ranges as sources of spam and/or malicious email.

“Legitimate IP address space brokers don’t need to spend a lot of ink telling their customers how to avoid getting their shiny new IP address blocks listed by Spamhaus, or how to get them unlisted by Spamhaus, or what to do about it if the shiny new block they just purchased is already listed by Spamhaus,” Guilmette said.

Because the global routing of Internet address space is largely based on trust relationships between and among network operators, those operators have an obligation to ensure they’re not inadvertently facilitating the hijacking of Internet address space.

Perhaps coincidentally to the disconnection of Bitcanal, the RIPE Network Coordination Centre — one of the five global Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) providing Internet address allocations — on July 10 published an analysis of route hijacking activity across the Internet. The analysis includes a set of tips for network operators to help avoid contributing to the overall problem.


Warner Bros Presses Library to Rename ‘Harry Potter Festival’ [TorrentFreak]

Harry Potter is without a doubt one of the biggest entertainment brands in the world.

As a result, the various copyright holders are very protective of their asset, sometimes to the extreme.

For example, publisher Pottermore previously tried to censor J.K. Rowling’s Wikipedia page, as well as several unrelated entries. While this may have been a mistake, other enforcement actions clearly arent.

When an underground restaurant tried to host a Halloween party with a Harry Potter theme a few years ago, Warner Bros. lawyers came knocking. Trying to avoid trouble, the owner quickly changed the name of the event to the ‘Generic Wizard night.’

That Warner Bros. is protective of its Harry Potter rights also became clear in Denmark this week after a local festival was forced to change its name.

For more than a decade a local library in Odense has organized a Harry Potter festival, with great success. The non-profit event transformed from a small gathering of wizard enthusiasts to a festival with thousands of visitors.

While the library is proud of this achievement, Warner Bros. was growing more and more concerned.

Initially, the movie studio condoned the use of Harry Potter’s name, but this year that stopped being the case. Warner Bros. lawyers informed the festival that it could no longer use names and images related to the Harry Potter movies.

“Over the years, we have been in continuous dialogue with Warner Bros. Studios, which administer all rights regarding the Harry Potter universe,” says Kent Skov Andreasen, Head of Odense’s Libraries and Citizens’ Service.

“The dialogue has been positive and we respect the fact that the company now estimates that the festival has reached a size and spread which means that they ask us to change the name moving forward.”

The name change has quite a few implications. For example, the festival’s original domain name, can no longer be used, and even the event’s Facebook page has been pulled offline.

As for the new name? The Library has picked “Magical Days in Odense” as the provisionary working title, but that might change going forward. The organizers don’t want to worry about copyright disputes, they just want to give children and their families a great time.

“We can continue but must call it something else. Whether it will be magical days or ‘the festival whose name cannot be mentioned’. We do not want to stop,” Søren Dahl Mortensen, project manager and librarian tells BT.

“There are many children who are sitting and wearing suits at home and really preparing themselves,” Mortensen adds.

While many of the festival visitors might not appreciate the name change, it is no surprise that Warner Bros. is protecting its brand. One non-profit festival is probably not a problem, but others may follow, which may ultimately compete with the studio’s commercial ventures.

More information about the upcoming Harry Potter Magical Days festival is available at the new non-infringing Facebook page, or at the new Potter-less domain name.

No Potter

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.


Link [Scripting News]

The problem for Jim Jordan, as far as I'm concerned, is I saw him cross-examine Rod Rosenstein. Just a couple of weeks ago. I know how corrupt his mind is. So matter how sincere he sounds I know his word means nothing. There is no honor in that man.


A set of stable kernel updates []

Greg Kroah-Hartman has released stable kernels 4.17.6, 4.14.55, 4.9.112, 4.4.140, and 3.18.115. As usual, they contain important fixes and users should upgrade.


Quicklisp news: July 2018 Quicklisp dist update now available [Planet Lisp]

Hi everyone! There's a new Quicklisp update for July, and regular updates should resume on a monthly schedule.

I'm using a new release system that involves Docker for easier build server setup and management. It took a while to get going but it should (eventually) make it easier for others to run things in an environment similar to mine. For example, it has all the required foreign libraries needed to compile and load everything in Quicklisp.

Here's the info for the new update:

New projects:

  • april — April is a subset of the APL programming language that compiles to Common Lisp. — Apache-2.0
  • aws-foundation — Amazon AWS low-level utilities — BSD
  • binary-io — Library for reading and writing binary data. — BSD
  • cl-bip39 — A Common Lisp implementation of BIP-0039 — MIT
  • cl-bnf — A simple BNF parser. — MIT
  • cl-generator — cl-generator, a generator implementation for common lisp — MIT
  • cl-patterns — Pattern library for algorithmic music composition and performance in Common Lisp. — GNU General Public License v3.0
  • cl-progress-bar — Display progress bars directly in REPL. — MIT
  • clad — The CLAD System. — BSD
  • concrete-syntax-tree — Library for parsing Common Lisp code into a concrete syntax tree. — FreeBSD
  • definitions — General definitions reflection library. — Artistic
  • eclector — A Common Lisp reader that can adapt to different implementations, and that can return Concrete Syntax Trees — BSD
  • flute — A beautiful, easilly composable HTML5 generation library — MIT
  • froute — An Http routing class that takes advantage of the MOP — MIT
  • language-codes — A small library mapping language codes to language names. — Artistic
  • lichat-ldap — LDAP backend for the Lichat server profiles. — Artistic
  • multilang-documentation — A drop-in replacement for CL:DOCUMENTATION providing multi-language docstrings — Artistic
  • multiposter — A small application to post to multiple services at once. — Artistic
  • sandalphon.lambda-list — Lambda list parsing and usage — WTFPL
  • sel — Programmatic modification and evaluation of software — GPL 3
  • system-locale — System locale and language discovery — Artistic
  • taglib — Pure Lisp implementation to read (and write, perhaps, one day) tags — UNLICENSE 
  • terrable — Terragen TER file format reader — Artistic
  • tooter — A client library for Mastodon instances. — Artistic
  • trace-db — Writing, reading, storing, and searching of program traces — GPL 3
  • umbra — A library of reusable GPU shader functions. — MIT
Updated projects3d-matrices3d-vectorsagnostic-lizardalexaaws-sign4base-blobsbodge-blobs-supportbodge-chipmunkbodge-nanovgbodge-nuklearbordeaux-threadsbt-semaphorecavemanceplcepl.drm-gbmcerberuschirpcl-algebraic-data-typecl-asynccl-autorepocl-cognitocl-conllucl-darkskycl-flowcl-formscl-gamepadcl-geoscl-gobject-introspectioncl-gophercl-hamcrestcl-interpolcl-liballegrocl-libsvm-formatcl-mechanizecl-mpicl-muthcl-online-learningcl-pslibcl-pythoncl-random-forestcl-readlinecl-rediscl-rulescl-sdl2cl-strcl-tomlcl-yesqlclackclawclipcloser-mopclosure-htmlclssclxcodexcoleslawcommon-lisp-actorsconfiguration.optionscroatoancurry-compose-reader-macrosdelta-debugdeploydexadordjuladmldocumentation-utilsdocumentation-utils-extensionsdoubly-linked-listdufydynamic-mixinselffare-scriptsfemlispfftflareflexi-streamsforfreebsd-sysctlfxmlgamebox-frame-managergamebox-mathglsl-specglsl-toolkitglyphsgolden-utilsgraphgsllharmonyhelambdaphunchensocketironcladjoselichat-protocollichat-serverliblichat-tcp-serverlisp-chatlistopiamaidenmcclimmedia-typesmitoninevehomer-countopticloverlordoxenfurtparachuteparseqparser.inipathname-utilspgloaderphysical-quantitiesplumppostmodernppathpythonic-string-readerqbase64qlotqt-libsqtoolsrandom-samplerovertg-maths-dot2serapeumshadowsimple-flow-dispatcherslimespinneretstaplestring-casestumpwmsxqlthe-cost-of-nothingtriviatrivial-ldaptrivial-mmapubiquitousuiopunit-formulavarjowebsocket-driverwhofieldsxhtmlambdaxlsxxml-emitter.

Removed projects: binge, black-tie, cl-ctrnn, cl-directed-graph, cl-ledger, cl-scan, readable, spartns.

The projects removed either didn't build (cl-directed-graph) or are no longer available for download that I could find (everything else).

To get this update, use (ql:update-dist "quicklisp").



Today in GPF History for Wednesday, July 11, 2018 [General Protection Fault: The Comic Strip]

Few people seemed to get this one, but to myself, my wife, and five others, it's HILARIOUS...


[$] Emacs & TLS []

A recent query about the status of network security (TLS settings in particular) in Emacs led to a long thread in the emacs-devel mailing list. That thread touched on a number of different areas, including using OpenSSL (or other TLS libraries) rather than GnuTLS, what kinds of problems should lead to complaints out of the box, what settings should be the default, and when those settings could change for Emacs so as not to discombobulate users. The latter issue is one that lots of projects struggle with: what kinds of changes are appropriate for a bug-fix release versus a feature release. For Emacs, its lengthy development cycle, coupled with the perceived urgency of security changes, makes that question even more difficult.


Louis-Philippe Véronneau: Taiwan Travel Blog - Day 2 & 3 [Planet Debian]

My Taiwan Travel blog continues! I was expecting the weather to go bad on July 10th, but the typhoon arrived late and the rain only started around 20:00. I'm pretty happy because that means I got to enjoy another beautiful day of hiking in Taroko National Park.

I couldn't find time on the 10th to sit down and blog about my trip, so this blog will also include what I did on the 11th.

Xiaozhuilu Trail (小锥麓步道)

Suspension bridge in Xiaozhuilu

The first path I did on the 10th was Xiaozhuilu to warm my muscles a little bit. It links the Shakadang Trail to the Taroko Visitor center and it's both easy and enjoyable. The path is mainly composed of stairs and man-made walkways, but it's the middle of the forest and goes by the LiWu river.

To me, the highlight of the trail was the short rope suspension bridge. How cute!

Dekalun Trail (得卡伦步道)

Once I finished the Xiaozhuilu trail, I decided I was ready for something a little more challenging. Since the park was slowly closing down because of the incoming Typhoon Maria, the only paths I could do were the ones where I didn't need to ride a bus.

I thus started climbing the Dekalun Trail, situated right behind the Taroko Visitor Center.

Although the path is very steep and goes through the wild forest/jungle, this path is also mainly man-made walkways and stairs. Here is a forest interpretation poster I really liked:

The leaves of a tree are its name cards. The name cards of the Macaranga tree are very special. They are large and round and the petiole is not on the leaf margin, it is inside the leaf blade. They are called perforated leaves and look like shields. [...] The Macaranga tree is like a spearhead. When the village here relocated and the fields were abandoned, it quickly moved in. The numerous leaves form a large umbrella that catches a large amount of sunlight and allows it to grow quickly. It can be predicted that in the future, the Macaranga will gradually be replaced by trees that are more shade tolerant. In the meantime however, its leaves, flowers and fruits are a source of food loved by the insects and birds.

A very fengshui tree yo.

Here is a bonus video of one of the giant spiders I was describing yesterday being eaten by ants. For size comparison, the half step you can see is about 10cm large...

Dali - Datong Trail (大礼-大同步道)

The Dekalun Trail ends quite abruptly and diverges into two other paths: one that goes back down and the other one that climbs to the Dali village and then continues to the Datong village.

The view from Dali Village

It was still early in the afternoon when I arrived at the crossroad so I decided that I was at least going to make it to Dali before turning back. Turns out that was a good idea, since the Dali path was a really beautiful mountainside path with a very challenging heigh difference. If the Dekalun Trail is a light 3/5, I'd say the Dali trail is a heavy 3/5. Although I'm in shape, I had to stop multiple times to sit down and try to cool myself. By itself the trail would be fine, but it's the 35+°C with a high level of humidity that made it challenging to me.

Once I arrived at Dali, I needed a permit to continue to Datong but the path was very easy, the weather beautiful and the view incredible, so I couldn't stop myself. I think I walked about half of the 6km trail from Dali to Datong before running out of water. Turns out 4L wasn't enough. The mixed guilt of not having a mountain permit and the concern I wouldn't have anything left to drink for a while made me turn back and start climbing down.

Still, no regrets! This trail was clearly the best one I did so far.

A Wild Andrew Appears!

So there I was in my bed after a day of hiking in the mountains, ready to go to sleep when Andrew Lee reached out to me.

He decided to come by my hostel to talk about the DebConf18 daytrip options. Turns out I'll be the one to lead the River Tracing daytrip on the MeiHua river (梅花溪). River tracing is a mix of bouldering and hiking, but in a river bed.

I'm a little apprehensive of taking the lead of the daytrip since I don't know if my mandarin will be good enough to fully understand the bus driver and the activity guide, but I'll try my best!

Anyway, once we finished talking about the daytrip, Andrew proposed we go to the Hualien night market. After telling him I wasn't able to rent a bike because of the incoming typhoon (nobody would rent me one), we swerved by Carrefour (a large super market chain) and ended up buying a bicycle! The clerk was super nice and even gave me a lock to go with it.

I'm now the proud owner of a brand new Giant bicycle for the rest of my trip in Taiwan. I'm retrospective, I think this was a pretty good idea. It'll end up cheaper than renting one for a large amount of time and will be pretty useful to get around during DebConf.1 It's a little small for me, but I will try to buy a longer seat post in Hualien.

Music and Smoked Flying Fish

After buying the bike, I guess we said fuck the night market and met up with one of Andrew's friend who is a musician and owns a small recording studio. We played music with him for a while and sang songs, and then went back to Andrew's place to eat some flying fish that Andrew had smoked. We drank a little and I decided to sleep there because it was getting pretty late.

Andrew was a wonderful guest and brought me back to my hostel the next day in the afternoon after showing me the Hualien beach and drinking some tea in a local teashop with me. I had a very good time.

What an eventful two days that was! Turns out the big typhoon that was supposed to hit on the 11th turned out to be a fluke and passed to the north of Taiwan: in Hualien we only had a little bit of rain. So much for the rainpocalyspe I was expecting!

Language Rant bis

Short but heartfelt language rant: Jesus Christ on a paddle-board, communication in a language you don't really master is exhausting. I recently understood one of the sentences I was trying to decipher was a pun and I laughed. Then cried a little.

  1. If you plan to stay in Taiwan after DebConf and need a bicycle, I would be happy to sell it for 1500 NTD$ (40€), half of what I paid. It's a little bit cheap, but it's brand new and comes with a 1 year warranty! Better than walking if you ask me. 


Security updates for Wednesday []

Security updates have been issued by Debian (cups), Oracle (kernel and qemu-kvm), Red Hat (ansible, kernel, kernel-rt, and qemu-kvm), Scientific Linux (kernel and qemu-kvm), Slackware (thunderbird), and Ubuntu (curl, firefox, imagemagick, and xapian-core).


The Boss Monster DORK TOWER [Dork Tower]

Hey! Dork Tower has a Patreon campaign with wonderful backers who the webstrips happen. And there’s bonus comics! And swag! Check it out, why don’t you? Join the fun! FUN!


Richard Stallman - « Contrôle ton ordinateur pour ne pas être contrôlé ! » (EduCode, Brussels, Belgium) [Events]

Richard Stallman will be speaking at the EduCode 2018 (2018-08-27–29). His speech will be in French. It will be nontechnical and the public is encouraged to attend.

Location: Bozar (École des Beaux Arts, Centre for Fine Arts), Rue Ravenstein 21, 100 Bruxelles, Bélgique (Belgium)

Important: Please note that, while registration is required, for Day 1 and Day 3, it can be done anonymously, in cash and at the venue.

Please fill out our contact form, so that we can contact you about future events in and around Brussels.


Const methods don’t prevent a method from having side effects [The Old New Thing]

In my musing on whether people write insane code with multiple overlapping side effects with a straight face, I noted that raising a warning on any code that depends on the order of evaluation would generate a lot of false positives, such as

total_cost = p->base_price + p->calculate_tax();

It has been argued that this is merely evidence that the calculate_tax method should be const.

Well, except it may not be const. For example, calculate_tax needs to look up the tax rate, which means it needs to look up the tax region, and it may decide to cache that information in the object so that future tax calculations can be more efficient. Which means non-const.

And then there's this:

total_cost = apply_discount(p->base_price) + p->calculate_tax();

This is still a potential dependency upon the order of evaluation, because the apply_discount function might modify the thing that p points to.

It's unlikely, but technically legal.

In practice, nearly everything you write is potentially dependent upon the order of evaluation, but in practice it isn't because you are not a nincompoop. But the compiler doesn't know that. The compiler must adhere to the letter of the language standard, because it has to compile insane code as well as sane code.

Maybe you'll say, "Fine, the compiler shouldn't complain about potential order of evaluation dependencies in sane code." But now the argument is circular: What is sane code? Code that isn't dependent upon order of evaluation.

Bonus reading: You don't know const and mutable. Which introduces yet another wrinkle into the story.


Incompetence By Design [George Monbiot]

As state bodies are dismantled, corporations are freed to rip the living world apart

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 4th July 2018


It feels like the collapse of the administrative state – and this is before Brexit. One government agency after another is losing its budget, its power and its expertise. The result, for corporations and the very rich, is freedom from the restraint of law, freedom from the decencies they owe to other people, freedom from democracy. The public protections that constrain their behaviour are being dismantled.

An example is the cascading decline in the protection of wildlife and environmental quality. The bodies charged with defending the living world have been so enfeebled that they now scarcely exist as independent entities. Natural England, for example, has been reduced to a nodding dog in the government’s rear window.

Its collapse as an autonomous agency is illuminated by the case that will be heard next week in the High Court, where two ecologists, Tom Langton and Dominic Woodfield, are challenging its facilitation of the badger cull. That the cull is a senseless waste of life and money is well established, but this is only one of the issues being tested. Another is that Natural England, which is supposed to assess whether the shooting of badgers causes wider environmental harm, appears incapable of discharging its duties.

As badger killing spreads across England, it intrudes upon ever more wildlife sites, some of which protect animals that are highly sensitive to disturbance. Natural England is supposed to determine whether allowing hunters to move through these places at night and fire their guns has a detrimental effect on other wildlife, and what the impact of removing badgers from these ecosystems might be. The claimants allege that it has approved the shooting without meaningful assessments.

Some of its decisions, they maintain, are farcical. In Dorset, for example, Natural England assumed that overwintering hen harriers and merlins use only one out of all the sites that have been designated for their protection, and never stray from it. It makes the same assumption about the Bewick’s swans that winter around the Severn estuary. That birds fly, enabling them to move from one site to another, appears to have been overlooked.

Part of the problem, the claimants argue, is that staff with specialist knowledge have been prevented from making decisions. The location of the badger cull zones is such a closely guarded secret that Natural England’s local staff are not allowed to see the boundaries. As a result, they can make no meaningful assessment of what the impact might be. Instead, the decisions are made in distant offices by people who have not visited the sites.

I wanted to ask Natural England about this, but its external communications have been shut down by the government: any questions now have to be addressed to Michael Gove’s environment department, Defra. Defra told me “staff carrying out this work have all the necessary information. It would be inappropriate to comment on an ongoing legal matter.” How can Natural England be an independent body when the government it is supposed to monitor speaks on its behalf?

Another example of how far Natural England has fallen is the set of deals it has struck with grouse moor owners, allowing them to burn protected habitats, kill protected species and build roads across sites that are supposed to be set aside for wildlife. For several years, the redoubtable conservationist Mark Avery has been fighting these decisions. This May, Natural England conceded, in effect, that he was right. The agency that is meant to protect our wild places has been colluding in their destruction.

A correspondent from within Natural England tells me its staff are so demoralised that it has almost ceased to function. “Enforcement, for example, is close to non-existent … Gove seems to have somehow both raised the profile of environmental issues whilst simultaneously stripping the resources … it has never been as bad as this.”

In March, the House of Lords reported that Natural England’s budget has been cut by 44% since it was founded in 2006. The cuts have crippled both its independence and its ability to discharge its duties. It has failed to arrest the catastrophic decline in our wildlife, failed to resist the housebuilders trashing rare habitats and abandoned its regulatory powers in favour of useless voluntary agreements. As if in response, the government cut the agency’s budget by a further 14%.

Dominic Woodfield, one of the claimants in the court case next week, argues that Natural England has been “on death row” since it applied the law at Lodge Hill in Kent, where the Ministry of Defence was hoping to sell Britain’s best nightingale habitat to a housing developer. Natural England had no legal choice but to designate this land as a site of scientific interest, hampering the government’s plans. As the government slashed its budget and curtailed its independence, the agency’s disastrous response has been to try to save itself through appeasement. But all this has done is to alienate its defenders, reduce its relevance and hasten its decline. “There are still good people in Natural England. But they’re broken. They talk very slowly because they’re thinking very carefully about everything they say.”

If this is happening before we leave the European Union, I can only imagine where we will stand without the protection of European law. The environmental watchdog that, according to Michael Gove, will fill the role now played by the European Commission, will know, like Natural England, that its budget is provided by the government and can be cut at the government’s discretion. What is to prevent it from being nobbled as other agencies have been?

Already, the deliberate mutilating of the administrative state, delivering incompetence by design, has released landowners, housebuilders and assorted polluters from regulatory restraint. Only through European law have government agencies been forced to discharge their duties. Brexit strips away this defence. And if, as some propose, it paves the way for One Nation Under Gove, we should, the evidence so far suggests, be even more alarmed.

But some of us are now mobilising to turn the great enthusiasm for wildlife and natural beauty in this country into political action, and to fight the dismantling of the laws that protect our precious wild places. Watch this space.

In Memoriam [George Monbiot]

As our wildlife and ecosystems collapse, remembering is a radical act.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 29th June 2018

It felt as disorientating as forgetting my pin number. I stared at the caterpillar, unable to attach a name to it. I don’t think my mental powers are fading: I still possess an eerie capacity to recall facts and figures and memorise long screeds of text. This is a specific loss. As a child and young adult, I delighted in being able to identify almost any wild plant or animal. And now it has gone. This ability has shrivelled from disuse: I can no longer identify them because I can no longer find them.

Perhaps this forgetfulness is protective. I have been averting my eyes. Because I cannot bear to see what we have done to nature, I no longer see nature itself. Otherwise, the speed of loss would be unendurable. The collapse can be witnessed from one year to the next. The swift decline of the swift (down 25% in five years) is marked by the loss of the wild screams that, until very recently, filled the skies above my house. My ambition to see the seabird colonies of the Shetlands and St Kilda has been replaced by the intention never to visit those islands during the breeding season: I could not bear to see the empty cliffs, whose populations have crashed by some 90% this century.

I have lived long enough to witness the vanishing of wild mammals, butterflies, mayflies, songbirds and fish that I once feared my grandchildren would experience: it has all happened faster than even the pessimists predicted. Walking in the countryside or snorkelling in the sea is now as painful to me as an art lover would find her visits to a gallery, if on every occasion another Old Master had been cut from its frame.

The cause of this acceleration is no mystery. The United Nations reports that our use of natural resources has tripled in 40 years. The great expansion of mining, logging, meat production and industrial fishing is cleansing the planet of its wild places and natural wonders. What economists proclaim as progress, ecologists recognise as ruin.

This is what has driven the quadrupling of oceanic dead zones since 1950; the “biological annihilation” represented by the astonishing collapse of vertebrate populations; the rush to carve up the last intact forests; the vanishing of coral reefs, glaciers and sea ice; the shrinkage of lakes, the drainage of wetlands. The living world is dying of consumption.

We have a fatal weakness: a failure to perceive incremental change. As natural systems shift from one state to another, we almost immediately forget what we have lost. I have to make a determined effort to remember what I saw in my youth. Could it really be true that every patch of nettles, at this time of year, was reamed with caterpillar holes? That flycatchers were so common I scarcely gave them a second glance? That the rivers, around the autumn equinox, were almost black with eels?

Others seem oblivious. When I have criticised current practice, farmers have sent me images of verdant monocultures of perennial rye grass, with the message “look at this and try telling me we don’t look after nature”. It’s green, but it’s about as ecologically rich as an airport runway. One of my readers, Michael Groves, records the shift he has seen in the field beside his house, where the grass, that used to be cut for hay, is now cut for silage. Watching the cutters being driven at great speed across the field, he realised that any remaining wildlife would be shredded. Soon afterwards, he saw a roe deer standing in the mown grass. She stayed throughout the day and the following night. When he went to investigate, he found her fawn, its legs amputated. “I felt sickened, angry and powerless … how long had it taken to die?”. That “grass-fed meat” the magazines and restaurants fetishise? This is the reality.

When our memories are wiped as clean as the land, we fail to demand its restoration. Our forgetting is a gift to industrial lobby groups and the governments that serve them. Over the past few months, I have been told repeatedly that the environment secretary, Michael Gove, gets it. I have said so myself: he genuinely seems to understand what the problems are and what needs to be done. Unfortunately, he doesn’t do it.

He cannot be blamed for all of the fiascos to which he has put his name. The 25-year plan for nature was, it seems, gutted by the Prime Minister’s office. The environmental watchdog he proposed was defanged by the Treasury (it has subsequently been lent some dentures by Parliament). Other failures are all his own work. In response to lobbying from sheep farmers, he has allowed ravens, a highly intelligent and long-lived species just beginning to recover from centuries of persecution, to be killed once more. There are 24 million sheep in this country and 7400 pairs of ravens. Why must all other species give way to the white plague?

Responding to complaints that most of our national parks are wildlife deserts, Gove set up a commission to review them. But governments choose their conclusions in advance, through the appointments they make. A more dismal, backward-looking and uninspiring panel would be hard to find: not one of its members, as far as I can tell, has expressed a desire for significant change in our national parks, and most of them, if their past statements are anything to go by, are determined to keep them in their sheepwrecked and grouse-trashed state.

Now the lobbyists demand a New Zealand settlement for farming after Brexit: deregulated, upscaled, hostile to both wildlife and the human eye. If they get their way, no landscape, however treasured, will be safe from broiler sheds and mega-dairy units, no river protected from run-off and pollution, no songbird saved from local extinction. The merger between Bayer and Monsanto brings together the manufacturer of the world’s most lethal pesticides with the manufacturer of the world’s most lethal herbicides. Already the concentrated power of these behemoths is a hazard to democracy; together they threaten both political and ecological disaster. Labour’s environment team have scarcely a word to say about any of it. Similarly, the big conservation groups, as usual, have gone missing in inaction.

We forget even our own histories. We fail to recall, for example, that the Dower report, published in 1945, envisaged wilder national parks than we now possess, and that the conservation white paper the government issued in 1947 called for the kind of large-scale protection that is considered edgy and innovative today. Remembering is a radical act.

That caterpillar, by the way, was a six spot burnet: the larva of a stunning iridescent black and pink moth that once populated my neighbourhood and my mind. I will not allow myself to forget again: I will work to recover the knowledge I have lost. For I now see that without the power of memory, we cannot hope to defend the world we love.



Sunset for Liberal Democracy [George Monbiot]

The denial of popular sovereignty by mainstream leaders allows demagogues like Trump to pose as democratic champions.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 18th June 2018


He gets almost everything wrong. But last weekend Donald Trump got something right. To the horror of the other leaders of the rich world, he defended democracy against its detractors. Perhaps predictably, he has been universally condemned for it.

His crime was to insist that the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) should have a sunset clause. In other words, it should not remain “valid indefinitely”, but expire after five years, allowing its members either to renegotiate it or to walk away. To howls of execration from the world’s media, his insistence has torpedoed efforts to update the treaty.

In The Rights of Man, published in 1791, Thomas Paine argued that “Every age and generation must be as free to act for itself, in all cases, as the ages and generations which preceded it. The vanity and presumption of governing beyond the grave is the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies.” This is widely accepted – in theory if not in practice – as a basic democratic principle.

Even if the people of the US, Canada and Mexico had explicitly consented to Nafta in 1994, the idea that a decision made then should bind everyone in North America for all time is repulsive. So is the notion, championed by the Canadian and Mexican governments, that any slightly modified version of the deal agreed now should bind all future governments.

As it happens, the people of North America did not explicitly consent to Nafta. They were never asked to vote on the deal, and its bipartisan support ensured that there was little scope for dissent. The huge grassroots resistance in all three nations was ignored or maligned. The deal was fixed between political and commercial elites, and granted immortality.

In seeking to update the treaty, the three countries candidly sought to thwart the will of the people. Their stated intention was to finish the job before Mexico’s presidential election in July. The leading candidate, Andres Lopez Obrador, has expressed hostility to Nafta, so it had to be done before the people cast their vote. They might wonder why so many have lost faith in democracy.

Nafta provides a perfect illustration of why all trade treaties should contain a sunset clause. Provisions that made sense to the negotiators in the early 1990s make no sense to anyone today, except fossil fuel companies and greedy lawyers. The most obvious example is the way in which its rules for investor-state dispute settlement have been interpreted. These clauses (Chapter 11 of the treaty) were supposed to prevent states from unfairly expropriating the assets of foreign companies. But they have spawned a new industry, in which aggressive lawyers discover ever more lucrative means of overriding democracy.

Chapter 11 grants opaque panels of corporate lawyers, meeting behind closed doors, supreme authority over the courts and parliaments of its member states. An investigation by BuzzFeed revealed that such provisions have been used around the world to halt criminal cases, overturn penalties incurred by convicted fraudsters, allow companies to get away with trashing rainforests and poisoning villages, and, by placing foreign businesses above the law, intimidate governments into abandoning public protections.

Under Nafta, these provisions have become, metaphorically and literally, toxic. When Canada tried to ban a fuel additive called MMT, a potentially dangerous neurotoxin, the US manufacturer used Chapter 11 to sue the government. Canada was forced to lift the ban, award the company $13 million in compensation and issue a public apology. After Mexican authorities refused a US corporation permission to build a hazardous waste facility, the company sued before a Nafta panel, and extracted $15 million in compensation. Another US firm, Lone Pine Resources, is currently suing Canada for $118 million, because the government of Québec has banned fracking under the St Lawrence River.

As the US Justice Department woke up to the implications of Chapter 11, BuzzFeed records, it began to panic: it realised that it “could severely undermine our system of justice” and grant foreign companies “more rights than Americans have”. One official noted that “no one thought about this when Nafta implementing law passed.”

Nor did they think about climate breakdown. Nafta obliges Canada not only to export most of its oil and half its natural gas to the US, but also to ensure that the proportion of these fuels produced from tar sands and fracking does not change. It forbids Canada to leave its most polluting fossil fuels in the ground. As a result, the Canadian government cannot adhere to both its commitments under the Paris agreement on climate change and its commitments under the North American Free Trade Agreement. While the Paris commitments are voluntary, Nafta’s are compulsory.

Were such disasters foreseen by the negotiators? If so, the trade agreement was a plot against the people. If not – and the evidence strongly suggests they were not – its unanticipated outcomes are a powerful argument for a sunset clause. The update the US had in mind was also a formula for calamity, that future governments might wish to reverse. But this is likely to be difficult, even impossible, without the threat – currently forbidden – of walking out.

Those who defend the immortality of trade agreements argue that it provides certainty for business. It’s true that there is a conflict between business confidence and democratic freedom. This conflict is repeatedly resolved in favour of business. That the only defender of popular sovereignty in this case is an odious demagogue illustrates the corruption of 21st-century liberal democracy.

There was much rejoicing this week over the photo of Trump being harangued by the other G7 leaders. But when I saw it, I thought, “the stitch-ups engineered by people like you produce people like him.” The machinations of remote elites in forums such as the G7, the IMF and the European Central Bank and the opaque negotiation of unpopular treaties destroy both trust and democratic agency, fuelling the frustration that demagogues exploit.

Trump was right to spike the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He is right to demand a sunset clause for Nafta. When this devious, hollow, self-interested man offers a better approximation of the people’s champion than any other leader, you know democracy is in trouble.


Butchery of the Planet [George Monbiot]

Defending the living world and its people requires a shift from meat to a plant-based diet

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 8th June 2018

Whether human beings survive this century and the next, whether other lifeforms can live alongside us: above all this depends on the way we eat. We can cut our consumption of everything else close to zero and still drive living systems to collapse, unless we change our diets.

All the evidence now points in one direction: the crucial shift is from an animal- to a plant-based diet. A paper published last week in Science reveals that while some kinds of meat and dairy production are more damaging than others, all are more harmful to the living world than growing plant protein. It shows that animal farming takes up 83% of the world’s agricultural land, but delivers only 18% of our calories. A plant-based diet cuts the use of land by 76% and halves the greenhouse gases and other pollution caused by food production.

Part of the reason is the extreme inefficiency of feeding livestock on grain: most of its nutritional value is lost in conversion from plant protein to animal protein. This reinforces my contention that if you want to eat less soya, you should eat soya: most of the world’s production of this crop, and the accompanying destruction of forest, savannah and marshland, is driven by the wasteful practice of feeding animals on food that humans can eat.

More damaging still is free range meat: the environmental impacts of converting grass into flesh, the paper remarks, “are immense under any production method practiced today”. This is because so much land is required to produce every grass-fed steak or lamb chop. Though roughly twice as much land is used for grazing worldwide than for crop production, it provides just 1.2% of the protein we eat. While much of this pastureland cannot be used to grow crops, it can be used for rewilding: allowing the many rich ecosystems destroyed by livestock farming to recover, absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, protecting watersheds and halting the sixth great extinction in its tracks. The land that should be devoted to the preservation of human life and the rest of the living world is used instead to produce a tiny amount of meat.

Whenever I raise the crucial issue of yield per hectare, I receive a barrage of vituperation and abuse. But I’m not having a go at farmers, just pointing out that the figures don’t add up. We can neither feed the world’s growing population nor protect its living systems through animal farming. Meat and dairy are an extravagance we can no longer afford.

There is no way out of this. Those who claim that “regenerative” or “holistic” ranching mimics nature deceive themselves. It relies on fencing, while in nature wild herbivores roam freely, often across vast distances. It excludes or eradicates predators, crucial to the healthy functioning of all living systems. It tends to eliminate tree seedlings, ensuring that the complex mosaics of woody vegetation found in many natural systems – essential to support a wide range of wildlife – are absent.

The animal industry demands ever greater assaults on the living world. Witness the badger slaughter in the UK, now spreading across the country in response to the misguided requests of dairy farmers. People ask how I would justify the return of wolves, knowing that they will kill some sheep. I ask how they justify the eradication of wolves and a vast range of other wildlife to make way for sheep. The most important environmental action we can take is to reduce the amount of land used by farming.

Unless you can cook well – and many people have neither the skills nor the space – a plant-based diet can be either boring or expensive. We need better and cheaper vegan ready meals and quick and easy meat substitutes. The big shift will come with the mass production of cultured meat. There are three main objections. The first is that the idea of artificial meat is disgusting. If you feel this way, I invite you to look at how your sausages, burgers and chicken nuggets are currently raised, slaughtered and processed. Having worked on an intensive pig farm, I’m more aware than most of what disgusting looks like.

The second objection is that cultured meat undermines local food production. Perhaps those who make this claim are unaware of where animal feed comes from. Passing Argentinian soya through a nearby pig before it reaches you does not make it any more local than turning it directly into food for humans. The third objection has greater merit: cultured meat lends itself to corporate concentration. Again, the animal feed industry (and, increasingly, livestock production) has been captured by giant conglomerates. But we should fight to ensure that cultured meat does not go the same way: in this sector as in all others, we need strong anti-trust laws.

This could also be a chance to break our complete dependence on artificial nitrogen. Traditionally, animal and plant farming were integrated through the use of manure. Losses from this system led to a gradual decline in soil fertility. The development of industrial fertilisers saved us from starvation, but at a high environmental cost. Today, the link between livestock and crops has mostly been broken: crops are grown with industrial chemicals while animal slurry stacks up, unused, in stinking lagoons, wipes out rivers and creates dead zones at sea. When it is applied to the land, it threatens to accelerate antibiotic resistance.

In switching to a plant-based diet, we could make use of a neat synergy. Most protein crops – peas and beans – capture nitrogen from the air, fertilising themselves and raising nitrate levels in the soil that subsequent crops, such as cereals and oilseeds, can use. While the transition to plant protein is unlikely to eliminate the global system’s need for artificial fertiliser, the pioneering work of vegan organic growers, using only plant-based composts and importing as little fertility as possible from elsewhere, should be supported by research, that governments have so far conspicuously failed to fund.

Understandably, the livestock industry will resist all this, using the bucolic images and pastoral fantasies that have beguiled us for so long. But they can’t force us to eat meat. The shift is ours to make. It becomes easier every year.

Other People’s Money [George Monbiot]

Make bosses pay for the disasters they cause

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 24th May 2018


Once more, they walk away. The senior bosses at Carillion, like those at RBS, Northern Rock and a host of other corporate zombies, went home to count their undiminished millions. The pain they inflicted was felt by others. Reckless greed paid out again.

The Commons report on this fiasco is one of the most damning assessments of corporate behaviour parliament has ever published. But it’s still pathetic. While it scorches the company’s executives and board and laments the weakness of the regulators, it scarcely touches the structural causes that make gluttony a perennial feature of corporate life.

The problem begins with an issue the report does not once mention: the extreme nature of limited liability. To allow the owners of a limited company to risk nothing but the money they have spent on shares is to grant them free, uncapped indemnity against the risks they impose on others. It’s the equivalent of permitting drivers to take to the roads without buying insurance, knowing that if they cause a crash they will carry no more than the cost of replacing their own car, regardless of the expense, injury and death they might impose on others.

The current model of limited liability allowed the directors and executives of Carillion to rack up a pension deficit of £2.6 billion, leaving the 27,000 members of its schemes to be rescued by the state fund (which is financed by a levy on your pension – if you have one). This indemnity permitted the owners of the company to walk away from the £2 billion it owed to its suppliers and subcontractors. The same free pass landed the cost of rescuing the public services so foolishly entrusted to this company back on the government.

A recent study exposes a direct link between the generosity of the limited liability regime and the corporate incentive to dump costs on other people. In 1998 the US Supreme Court ruled that parent companies were liable for only narrowly defined harms caused by their subsidiaries. The study reveals that in the aftermath of this decision, toxic emissions by subsidiary companies in the US rose by an average of 10%, as they cut investment in abatement technologies.

Limited liability not only allows companies to act recklessly with regard to the interests of others – it obliges them to do so. Directors have a fiduciary duty to use all legally available means to maximise shareholder value. Limited liability compels them to externalise risk.

There is no way that fossil fuel companies could pay for the climate breakdown they cause. There is no way that car companies could meet the health costs of air pollution. Their business models rely on dumping their costs on other people. Were they not protected by the extreme form of limited liability that prevails today, they would be obliged to switch to clean technologies.

Various estimates put the cost that businesses dump on society at somewhere between 4% and 20% of GDP. In other words, it exceeds the rate of economic growth. Were such costs internalised, the economy would have to be run on an entirely different basis. Human health and the survival of the natural world would come first; corporate greed would come last.

Executive incentives also conflict with the interests of society. Even as Carillion spiralled down, pay and bonuses spiralled up. The UK Corporate Governance Code recommends that directors who fail in their duties should forfeit some of the pay they would otherwise have received, but the details are left to the discretion of their companies. In Carillion’s case, the remuneration committee defined the terms so narrowly that even total failure did not trigger a clawback of the executives’ vast bonuses.

Its long-term incentive plans were useless. The finance director, Richard Adam, had a stack of performance shares that were held back for three years, ostensibly to prevent reckless behaviour. But the Commons report alleges that his “accounting tricks” propped up the value of the shares until the day they became payable, whereupon he sold them. Within two months, their value had fallen by three quarters. Even when they work well, such incentives protect only the interests of the corporation, rather than the interests of society.

So what is to be done? The first step, I believe, is a radical reassessment of limited liability. A recent paper by the US law professor Michael Simkovic proposes that companies should pay a fee for this indemnity, calibrated to the level of risk they impose on society. Why, after all, should this insurance be free? As numerous leaks show, companies tend to be far more aware of the risks they inflict than either governments or the rest of society. The fees they are prepared to pay for limited liability will reveal their own assessment of the costs they currently externalise. Antisocial practices could be progressively priced out.

As for the executives, I have a tentative proposal of my own. Any manager earning more than a certain amount – say £200,000 – would have half their total remuneration placed in an escrow account, which is controlled not by the company but by an external agency. The deferred half of their income would not become payable until the agency judged that the company had met the targets it set on pension provision, workers’ pay, the treatment of suppliers and contractors and wider social and environmental performance. This judgement should draw on mandatory social and environmental reporting, assessed by independent auditors.

If they miss their targets, the executives would lose part or all of the deferred sum. In other words, they would pay for any disasters they impose on others. To ensure it isn’t captured by corporate interests, the agency would be funded by the income it confiscates.

Are these the right solutions? I’m not yet sure. So please support them, oppose them or suggest better ideas in the comment thread. I know that, at best, they address only part of the problem. Should corporations in their current form exist at all? Is capitalism compatible with life on earth? Radical as they sound, the ideas in this column are small steps. But by comparison to the timid measures in the Commons report, they’re giant strides.


Price Less [George Monbiot]

The “natural capital” agenda is morally wrong, intellectually vacuous, and most of all counter-productive

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 15th May 2018


Never mind that the new environmental watchdog will have no teeth. Never mind that the government plans to remove protection from local wildlife sites. Never mind that its 25-year environment plan is all talk and no action. We don’t need rules any more. We have a pouch of magic powder we can sprinkle on any problem to make it disappear.

This powder is the monetary valuation of the natural world. Through the magic of the markets, we can avoid conflict and hard choices, laws and policies, by replacing political decisions with economic calculations.

Almost all official documents on environmental issues are now peppered with references to “natural capital” and to the Natural Capital Committee, the Laputian body the government has created to price the living world and develop a set of “national natural capital accounts”. The government admits that “at present we cannot robustly value everything we wish to in economic terms; wildlife being a particular challenge.” Hopefully, such gaps can soon be filled, so we’ll know exactly how much a primrose is worth.

The government argues that without a price, the living world is accorded no value, so irrational decisions are made. By costing nature, you ensure that it commands the investment and protection that other forms of capital attract.

This thinking is based on a series of extraordinary misconceptions. Even the name reveals a confusion: natural capital is a contradiction in terms. Capital is properly understood as the human-made segment of wealth that is deployed in production to create further financial returns. Concepts such as natural capital, human capital or social capital can be used as metaphors or analogies, though even these are misleading. But the 25-year plan defines natural capital as “the air, water, soil and ecosystems that support all forms of life”. In other words, nature is capital. In reality, natural wealth and human-made capital are neither comparable nor interchangeable. If the soil is washed off the land, we cannot grow crops on a bed of derivatives.

A similar fallacy applies to price. Unless something is redeemable for money, a pound or dollar sign placed in front of it is senseless: price represents an expectation of payment, in accordance with market rates. In pricing a river, a landscape or an ecosystem, either you are lining it up for sale, in which case the exercise is sinister, or you are not, in which case it is meaningless.

Still more deluded is the expectation that we can defend the living world through the mindset that’s destroying it. The notions that nature exists to serve us; that its value consists of the instrumental benefits we can extract; that this value can be measured in cash terms; and that what can’t be measured does not matter have proved lethal to the rest of life on Earth. The way we name things and think about them – in other words the mental frames we use – helps determine the way we treat them.

As the cognitive linguist George Lakoff points out, when you use the frames and language of your opponents, you don’t persuade them to adopt your point of view. Instead you adopt theirs, while strengthening their resistance to your objectives. Lakoff argues that the key to political success is to promote your own values, rather than appease the mindset you contest.

The natural capital agenda reinforces the notion that nature has no value unless you can extract cash from it. Dieter Helm, who chairs the government’s preposterous committee, makes this point explicit: the idea that nature has intrinsic value, independent of what humans can take from it, he says, is “dangerous”. But this dangerous idea has been the motivating force of all successful environmental campaigns.

The commonest response to the case I’m making is that we can use both intrinsic and extrinsic arguments for protecting nature. The natural capital agenda, its defenders say, is “an additional weapon in the fight to protect the countryside”. But it does not add, it subtracts. As the philosopher Michael Sandel argues in What Money Can’t Buy, market values crowd out non-market values. Markets change the meaning of the things we discuss, replacing moral obligations with commercial relationships. This process corrupts and degrades our intrinsic values and empties public life of moral argument.

It is also, his examples show, counterproductive: financial incentives undermine our motivation to act for the public good. “Altruism, generosity, solidarity and civic spirit are … like muscles that develop and grow stronger with exercise. One of the defects of the market-driven society is it lets these virtues languish.”

So who will resist this parched, destructive mindset? Not, it seems, the big conservation groups. In this month’s BBC Wildlife magazine, Tony Juniper – who in other respects is an admirable defender of the living world – reveals that he will use his new post as head of campaigns at WWF to promote the natural capital agenda.

Perhaps he is unaware that in 2014 WWF commissioned research to test this approach. It showed that when people were reminded of the intrinsic value of nature, they were more likely to defend the living planet and support WWF than when they were exposed to instrumental and financial arguments. It also discovered that using both arguments together produced the same result as using the financial argument alone: the natural capital agenda, in other words, undermined people’s intrinsic motivation.

Has this been forgotten? Sometimes I wonder whether anything is learnt in conservation, or whether the big NGOs are forever destined to follow a circular track, endlessly repeating their mistakes. Rather than contributing to the alienation and disenchantment the commercial mindset fosters, they should help to enrich our relationship with the living world.

The natural capital agenda is the definitive expression of our disengagement from the living world. First we lose our wildlife and natural wonders. Then we lose our connections with what remains of life on Earth. Then we lose the words that described what we once knew. Then we call it capital and give it a price. This approach is morally wrong, intellectually vacuous, emotionally alienating and self-defeating.

Those of us who are motivated by love for the living planet should not hesitate to say so. Never underestimate the power of intrinsic values. They inspire every struggle for a better world.

The Oxytocin Tent [George Monbiot]

The wonderful things I learnt during my treatment for prostate cancer

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 9th May 2018


If I could turn back the clock, magically deleting my prostate cancer, the surgery I needed and its complications, would I do so? It seems an odd question. But I find it surprisingly hard to answer.

It wasn’t a lot of fun. I stopped breathing in the recovery room, which felt as if I were drowning. I hated being catheterised. The painkillers I took locked up my bowels, forcing me to excavate them by hand, as straining could have torn the delicate stitching above them. I succumbed to a post-operative infection, that kept me awake for seven nights. Just as the infection passed, the muscles around the operation site went into spasm, causing such pain that I found myself curled up on the floor, nails hooked into the carpet. After three days of this I was rushed to hospital, unable to pee, as everything had clamped shut. Having another catheter inserted, three weeks after the first one had been removed, felt like a miserable regression.

But I feel I have learnt more about myself and the world around me over the past two months than over the preceding twenty years. The first revelation was the astonishing power of human kindness. The team that treated me, at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, made me feel I was part, however briefly, of a vast but close family. The consideration of the doctors and nurses, who managed to create the impression that they had all the time in the world, even as they were rushed off their feet; the instant responses of the ward and the triage team whenever I ran into trouble after I was discharged; the regular phone calls the surgeon made to see how I was coping were more than just professionalism. It felt like care in every sense. I am convinced, in the light of my research for our album about loneliness, that this attention was crucial to my recovery.

At home, I came to think of my bed as an oxytocin tent. The hugs my family gave me relieved both pain and the symptoms of fever faster than any of the drugs I took: the analgesic effect of physical contact, now widely documented, has not been exaggerated. And I drew courage from the thousands of wonderful messages I received. Thank you.

With this help, I discovered unimagined strengths. You can make resolutions that seem plausible – until they are fully tested. In the last article I mentioned the three principles that, I felt, were essential to happiness: imagine how much worse it could be, rather than how much better; change what you can change, accept what you can’t; and do not let fear rule your life.

So did they work, or did I abandon them and freak out? They held up remarkably well. By reciting them to myself every day – before the operation, in its aftermath, during the complications and as the test results loomed – I never wavered, never fell prey to fear or anxiety. Knowing that I was in the best possible hands, I accepted what every day brought without worrying about what might happen on the next.

I felt not only that those three principles had been vindicated, but that they could be assimilated into a broader rule, namely: the state of being for which we should strive is to be attached to life without being possessive of it. We should seek to love our lives and live fully, but not to extend them indefinitely. We should love our children exuberantly, but not cling to them or curtail their freedoms. We should treasure the material world, without seeking to own and control it.

The doctrines informing us that virtue, purity, jnana or sunyata can be achieved, in some interpretations, by detachment from the physical senses and the material world – whether Classical, Christian, Hindu or Buddhist – hold little appeal for me. A large body of literature suggests that well-being is intimately linked to attachment; not only to other people, but also to the natural world. As Jeremy Lent argues in his life-changing book The Patterning Instinct, the association of the tangible world with corruption, pollution and obstacles to enlightenment has informed our disdain for nature and accelerated its destruction, with devastating effects on our happiness.

But while attachment seems vital, in both senses of this word, liberating myself from the urge to possess has proved an astonishing antidote to fear and tension. I resolved to enjoy whatever life I had, and not to regret its loss if it seemed to be drawing to an end. The strength this lent me will enhance as many years as remain.

As it happens, I have been astonishingly lucky. That spasming appears to have been the short-term pain that presaged long-term gain. My wonderful surgeon, Alastair Lamb, applying recent research, used a technique that involves preserving more of the urethra. It feels like a breakthrough. One possible side-effect of this procedure is the hypercontinence I suffered. As soon as the second catheter was removed, this relaxed into normal continence, a result I had not expected for a long time, if ever. Until recently, such an outcome would have been unthinkable.

Similarly, albeit with the help of the blue pill, I have regained full erections. While I can no longer ejaculate, as seminal fluid is produced by the prostate, orgasms feel just as they did before. (Forgive me if I’m oversharing. Our health – men’s health in particular – has been plagued by undersharing). Again, this recovery seems remarkably fast. After my last article, several well-wishers told me “I’ll be rooting for you.” Thank you, but it is no longer necessary.

Most importantly, my test results suggest the operation has been successful. I’ve been given a 90% chance that the cancer will not return in the next five years. I feel I’ve been granted another life.

The quest now is to ensure that other men are as lucky as I have been. Above all, this means developing better diagnostic tests, to ensure that prostate cancer, as mine was, is caught early. An analysis published in March concluded that the standard (PSA) test produces so many false positives and – more dangerously – false negatives that it has “no significant effect on prostate cancer mortality” over the following 10 years. Several promising improvements are being developed, including a cluster of tests called Stockholm3 and the mpMRI scan.

But much more funding is needed to assess and universalise them. The £75 million the government promised last month will help, but it’s not enough. The March for Men and other campaigns by groups such as Prostate Cancer UK seek to fill the gap – please support them.

I will not abandon this issue, but I look forward to returning next week to the topics that still frighten me. The argumentative old git is back.



Payments for Not Mugging Old Ladies [George Monbiot]

This is George Monbiot’s response to the government consultation document Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit

Submitted to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 29th April 2018

I am a journalist, author and environmental campaigner. I am contracted by The Guardian to write a weekly column. I have no landholding or other direct financial interest in the questions addressed here.

Response to Chapter 2: reform within the CAP

The consultation asks: How can we improve the delivery of the current Countryside Stewardship scheme and increase uptake by farmers and land managers to help achieve valuable environmental outcomes?

I am concerned by the policy aim in the consultation document of “cutting red tape by reducing evidence requirements to the minimum necessary, to lessen burdens on the customer while continuing to make sure we achieve our environmental outcomes.” There is plenty of evidence to suggest that regulations, enforcement and monitoring are woefully lacking in several crucial areas.

The Rivers Trust has shown how infrequent soil inspections by the Rural Payments Agency are, and how feeble their powers of investigation and enforcement[1]. For example, if RPA inspectors wish to determine whether soil compaction is taking place, they need to dig holes in the fields with a spade, to look at what has happened to the soil layers. But they do not possess the power to conduct an “invasive investigation”, which is the official term for digging a hole. So they are not permitted even to detect, let alone enforce, a breach of the compaction rules.

In 2015, I came across a severe pollution incident in the River Culm in Devon, in which almost all lifeforms other than sewage fungus had been wiped out by continuous pollution from a dairy farm over several months[2]. After I reported this to the Environment Agency, it told me that it would be taking no action against the farmer, because “the long-term ecological impacts on the environment were fortunately low”. It made this assessment on the grounds that there was “no evidence of a fish kill”. Of course there was no evidence of a fish kill: after several months of chronic pollution, there were no fish left to kill. After relating this astonishing decision in the Guardian[3], I was contacted, separately and confidentially, by two staff members at the Agency. They told me they had been instructed to disregard all incidents of this kind. The cause, they believed, was political pressure from the government.

Regulation, monitoring and enforcement of environmental damage caused by farming are patchy, feeble and in some policy areas almost non-existent in this country. To reduce them further would be reckless.

Response to Chapter 3: An ‘agricultural transition’

The consultation asks: What is the best way of applying reductions to Direct Payments?

Of these proposals, the simplest, most just and most transparent is a cap on the amount that anyone can take in total farm subsidies. I believe this cap should be set at the same level as the cap imposed on other recipients of public benefits, namely £20,000 a year for a couple living outside London[4]. It is hard to see why the public money received by the poorest people in the nation should be capped at one level, while the public money received by some of the richest people in the nation (namely large landowners) should be capped at quite another. The onus should be on those who believe that there should be a higher cap for farm subsidy recipients than for ordinary benefit recipients to explain the principles that justify this difference.

Response to Chapter 4: A successful future for farming

The consultation asks: What are the priority research topics that industry and government should focus on to drive improvements in productivity and resource efficiency?

There has been a marked bias in research funding towards projects that benefit a particular model of farming: namely chemical- and capital-intensive agriculture. I believe this imbalance should be redressed with more research into organic and permacultural techniques.

Response to Chapter 5: Public money for public goods

While I believe that public money for public goods is a considerable improvement on the current dispensation – which in many cases amounts to public money for public harms – the principle still troubles me. Many of the public goods discussed here should be protected whether or not money changes hands. An adequate regulatory regime would defend them without the need for public payments.

Broadly speaking, subsidies are what governments use when regulatory policy fails. But ideological opposition to effective regulation, strongly reinforced by the lobbying activities of farming and landowning groups, ensures that public payments in some instances are the only remaining policy available instrument. While this is so, it is better that they be used for the purposes discussed in the consultation document than to inflict further environmental harm. But in the long run, the best solution remains strong public protections, set by government and properly monitored and enforced.

There is, I believe, a gap in the consultation document. It discusses only subsidies of the kind currently provided by the Common Agricultural Policy and their possible replacements, rather than other perverse incentives dispensed by the UK government.

For example, the subsidy scheme for the production of biogas through anaerobic digestion, sold to the public on the grounds that it would incentivise the use of crop wastes, slurry and sewage, immediately created, with the government’s blessing, a perverse incentive to produce virgin feedstocks. In particular, it has led to a boom in the growing of maize varieties bred for anaerobic digestion, with catastrophic impacts on soil health[5]. As these maize varieties can be grown only on the best arable land, this amounts to a financial incentive to compromise our future food security.

Another subsidy overlooked in the consultation document is the Renewable Heat Incentive payment used to great effect by broiler units. In some cases, this payment, which is often disproportionately lucrative, makes the difference between profitable and unprofitable operations, and as such should be considered an agricultural subsidy. The RHI represents poor value for public money and creates a perverse incentive for deforestation, in and beyond the UK, often causing net environmental harm.

Response to Chapter 6: Enhancing our environment

There are some good principles in this chapter. It is reassuring to see that the government wishes to improve the health of our soils and the water quality of our catchments. I support its proposal for buffer strips next to waterways, multi-annual agreements and schemes open to nearly all land managers.

In particular, I support the notion of funding for collaborative projects at landscape and catchment level. I would go so far as to suggest that river catchments should become the unit of administration for environmental services. Currently, with catchments split between local authorities and other regulatory bodies, policy can often be fragmented and mutually contradictory. This can lead to negative outcomes, such as destructive floods. The authority responsible for ensuring that towns at the bottom of the catchment are not damaged by floods should be the same authority responsible for ensuring that natural flood management at the top of the catchment makes them less likely.

 But two issues in this chapter concern me.

It claims that capital grants for sustainable practices and the reduction of negative environmental impacts helps to introduce the “polluter pays principle”. But this is not polluter pays; it is polluter no longer gets paid. In other words, rather than being fined for breaking environmental regulations, land managers would forfeit public payments which would have been received for not causing environmental harm. This is an important distinction, that the consultation paper repeatedly fudges. It takes us back to the point I made about regulation versus subsidies in my response to Chapter 5.

While I agree that the current regulatory regime governing Pillar II payments is often prescriptive, restrictive and perverse, I would caution that the “user-friendly design” with which the government aims to replace it should be clearly and transparently regulated, and effectively monitored and enforced. It is crucial that the resources dedicated to monitoring and enforcement, which have been cut to the bone in recent years, are enhanced, in order to support the credibility of the scheme.

Response to Chapter 7: Fulfilling our responsibility to animals

The consultation asks: Do you think there is a strong case for government funding pilots and other schemes which incentivise and deliver improved welfare?

It proposes “pilot schemes that offer targeted payments to farmers who deliver higher welfare outcomes in sectors where animal welfare largely remains at the legislative minimum.”

This preposterous suggestion falls clearly into the “payments for not mugging old ladies” category. It reveals that the government believes that the welfare of farm animals established by the legislative minimum is inadequate, and should be enhanced. If this is the case, the inadequate welfare standards should be raised through legislation, rather than left to the economic calculations of the farmer. The government’s proposal would create a lottery for farm animal welfare, rather than the high and consistent standards it should seek.

While better and more consistent labelling should be introduced and enforced through regulation, to rely on this mechanism for enhanced animal welfare also creates a lottery. Even with better information, consumers are often poorly equipped to decide: rushed, distracted and likely to choose on the grounds of cost above other considerations. Again, if the government wants higher standards of animal welfare – as it should – it should set these standards, rather than leaving them to chance.

Response to Chapter 8: Supporting rural communities and remote farming

The consultation asks: How should farming, land management and rural communities continue to be supported to deliver environmental, social and cultural benefits in the uplands?

While both traditional farming cultures and enhanced environmental quality are worthy values, this chapter makes the mistake of assuming that these values are in harmony. In reality, some traditional farming practices, such as extensive grazing in the uplands, are highly detrimental to environmental quality. There is scope for a robust debate about the best balance to be struck between these different goods, but this debate cannot happen if we continue to pretend that the two values are aligned.

Sheep grazing in the uplands inflicts environmental harm out of all proportion to the amount of food it produces. My own rough estimates (there are no official or academic figures) suggest that around 4 million hectares of land in the UK are grazed by sheep[6], an area roughly equivalent to all our arable and horticultural land. Yet they produce, in terms of calories, 1.2% of our food (imports and exports are closely balanced[7]).

Across much of this land, almost all the bird and wild mammal species that would otherwise live there have been extirpated through grazing and predator control, vegetation structure is extremely poor and invertebrates remarkably sparse. A study in the Cairngorms found that wooded habitats are eleven times richer in nationally important species than grassland, and thirteen times richer than moorland[8],[9]. The figures are even starker when you consider creatures found nowhere else in Britain. There are 223 such species on the Cairngorms massif. One hundred of them are associated with woodland or trees. But just one (a fungus that lives on bilberry leaves) requires moorland for its survival.

Sheep are a fully automated system for environmental destruction, selectively grazing out tree seedlings and all other edible plants, leaving behind a highly impoverished and restricted flora, offering very few niches for animals. Were these 4 million hectares not grazed to the quick to produce a remarkably small amount of meat, they could otherwise become our great wildlife preserves, and would be likely also to have a greatly enhanced capacity to store carbon and hold back floodwater.

I am not proposing that sheep be removed from he entire upland area. I am proposing that we have an honest and well-informed discussion about the balance to be struck between protecting traditional sheep farming culture, which is valuable, and protecting and enhancing ecological integrity, which is also valuable. This discussion should be informed by the recognition that there is a conflict between these objectives.

Response to Chapter 11: Protecting crop, tree, plant and bee health

The consultation asks: What support, if any, can the government offer to promote the development of a bio-secure supply chain across the forestry, horticulture and beekeeping sectors?

It cites the creation of the UK Plant Health Risk Register as an example of strengthening bio-security. But this is a feeble measure by comparison to the scale of the threat we face from diseases such as Xylella fastidiosa. New hosts for this disease are being discovered all the time, to the extent that the only safe assumption is that almost any species could be a potential carrier. By the time a full list of hosts is added to the register, the disease will almost certainly have arrived here.

Even in economic terms, let alone in ecological and aesthetic terms, the scale of the losses that can be inflicted by the import of novel plant pests and diseases greatly outweighs the value of the cross-border horticultural trade. There is a simple and proportionate solution: a moratorium on the import of all live plants other than those grown through tissue culture (propagation in sterile conditions).

This would stimulate the domestic nursery sector, and avoid absurd situations such as the mass import of ash seedlings from the Netherlands (often grown from seed exported from the UK), bringing into this country Chalara dieback (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus). This is likely to require negotiation with the World Trade Organisation. Shakespeare remarked that these islands are a “fortress built by Nature for herself against infection”. We should endeavour to keep them that way.

[1] The Rivers Trust, 2011. Defra Strategic Evidence and Partnership Project.







[8] “Despite being the main habitat for some 39% of important species, woodlands cover only about 17% of the land area of the Cairngorms. In contrast, moorland appears to support only 3% of the Cairngorms’ important species, but covers some 42% of its area.”

[9] P.Shaw and DBA Thompson, 2006. The nature of the Cairngorms: diversity in a changing environment. TSO: Edinburgh. 444 pp. ISBN: 9780114973261


Close Harmony [George Monbiot]

Why loneliness afflicts us – and how we should address it, in words and music

A 20-minute video of a talk and concert by George Monbiot and Ewan McLennan, TEDxSouthampton, 23rd January 2017



The Mess We’re In [George Monbiot]

How did neoliberalism happen and what do we do about it?

A one-hour video of a discussion with John Lanchester at the London Review Bookshop, 14th July 2016

How to Really Take Back Control [George Monbiot]

Our multiple crises, and how we can escape them

A 1-hour video of George Monbiot speaking at Falmouth University, 17th March 2018

Replacing Neoliberalism [George Monbiot]

A new politics needs a new political narrative

A 13-minute video with George Monbiot for openDemocracy, 14th November 2017


Betrayal [George Monbiot]

Those who claim to defend the national interest are bent on its destruction

A 5-minute video with George Monbiot for Double Down News, 15th November 2017


Towering Injustice [George Monbiot]

Those who died in the Grenfell Tower fire were killed in an official war against public protections

A 4-minute video with George Monbiot by Double Down News, 11th July 2017


The Day I Became a Vegan [George Monbiot]

The extraordinary sequence of events that changed my diet

A 5-minute video with George Monbiot for Double Down News

A Corporation in Human Form [George Monbiot]

What drives Donald Trump – and the rest of the psychopathic political class

A 5-minute video with George Monbiot, by Double Down News, 7th August 2017

Ignoble Prize [George Monbiot]

If the Nobel Peace Prize means anything, it should be stripped from Aung San Suu Kyi for her complicity in the massacres in Myanmar/Burma

A 4-minute film with George Monbiot by Double Down News, 18th September 2017


Putting the World to Rights [George Monbiot]

How to fix our broken politics

A 30-minute podcast by George Monbiot with David Runciman for Talking Politics, 15th March 2018


What Makes Us Human [George Monbiot]

The extraordinary, under-recognised aspects of human nature

A 20-minute podcast of George Monbiot’s discussion with Jeremy Vine, Radio 2, 2nd March 2018

Aquamancy [George Monbiot]

How natural flood management could save homes and lives downstream

A 40-minute video of George Monbiot’s testimony to the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee, 3rd February 2016.


Link [Scripting News]

Trump is appalling. On behalf of my country, apologies to Canada, China, Germany and whoever he attacks next. Spread the word.

Link [Scripting News]

Small change to the Art Show app. We now only keep the 1000 most recent works of art. The array was starting to get big.


The Big Idea: Ruthanna Emrys [Whatever]

Community matters, even when or if your community is something… eldritch. As Ruthanna Emrys explains in her Big Idea for her newest novel, Deep Roots.


I’ve never lived among my own people. This was obvious to me, growing up, and I came to the logical conclusion that I must be an alien. Maybe I was from Pluto? My childhood grasp of comparative planetary ecology wasn’t very clear, but I definitely wasn’t from around here. Occasionally I found snatches of belonging at retreats and summer camps and holiday get-togethers. Eventually I pieced together the commonalities, and realized that I was not so much Plutonian as Jewish, learning to pass among Protestant neighbors and their culture almost, but not quite, entirely unlike the beliefs and assumptions I picked up at home.

Of course, by that time, I didn’t quite fit in with all-Jewish communities either. Instead, I became most comfortable in places with no majority at all. Urban cosmopolities, where no one is expected to be just like anyone else, and we build bonds around the assumption of mutual weirdness. But I always wondered what it would be like to fit in perfectly. To take for granted that my neighbors think and believe just as I do.

Aphra Marsh, the protagonist of Winter Tide and Deep Roots, had that—and lost it. Until she was twelve, all her neighbors learned Enochian alongside English, worshipped together at the Temple of Dagon, and walked down to the beach every evening to welcome their elders from the waves. Then came the raid.

Two decades later, Aphra and her brother were all that remained of the Deep Ones on land. In Winter Tide, they returned to the ruins of Innsmouth to recover a piece of their heritage—and ultimately promised to rebuild their childhood home. So in Deep Roots, they head for New York City, following the rumor of people who carry a trace of their family’s blood. Maybe enough that—if these lost cousins are willing to move back to the place their ancestors fled, and learn the ways once practiced there—their children might be strong enough to go into the waves as elders. Maybe enough that Aphra won’t truly be the last.

Of course, Aphra’s cousins have their own ideas about what they want to do with their lives, and their own communities, some of which aren’t just multicultural but multispecies. The Outer Ones offer the polar opposite of Innsmouth: a life of endless exploration and cosmopolitan conversation, at only the smallest of costs. It’s not what Aphra thinks she wants, but it’s closer to what she’s started to build. I wanted to explore the tension I’ve found in my own life, between the comfort of familiarity, and the risks and joys of living with difference. And, deeper, the ways that comfort can mask brittleness, and seeming risk can mask resilience.

If you do the math, I was writing Deep Roots in 2016. Actually, I was mostly not writing Deep Roots in 2016, an issue that I understand was somewhat common among my fellow authors. I would start on a scene, someone would say something horrible on the news, and I would spend the evening freaking out on Twitter. I figured I’d catch up after the election, when the grand drama of fighting back the Dark Lord would finally resolve and I’d be able to relax.

Obviously, I’d misidentified which book we were up to in the trilogy.

The election infuriated and terrified me. It also brought many things into clearer focus. One of those was how strongly I valued my cosmopolitan community, and the embrace of neighbors who didn’t expect me to fit neatly in a box. But another was how those communities can fail. Sometimes we love our neighbors—and sometimes we only manage a surface civility, without the deeper caring and respect that make relationships work. And so the story began to come together: one about the glories of Innsmouth and of New York, and the things that are hard to find in either place. It’s a story about learning what we really want out of community, and family, at those rare and terrible points where we’ve lost so much that we’re forced—and able—to build something new.


Deep Roots: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.



The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections [Original Fiction –]

A young food taster to the Traitor King must make a difficult choice in this story of pastries, magic, and revenge.



Saffron takes her customary place at the little round table on the dais of the Traitor King. Duke Michal, Regent to the Throne is his official title, but the hand-drawn postered sheets, the words whispered in back alleys all nickname him the same. She smiles warmly at the assembled guests, standing poised and waiting by their chairs, ready for the confections and amuse-bouches that have been a mainstay of the high table for the last year.

Saffron has been Confection Taster all that time, her husband Danny Head Pastry Chef. Their warm smiles have been perfected as the Traitor King’s power grows, inch by inch, as those who object to his grasp fail and fall, as the printers are vanished, as the daughters disappear from their homes. The little prince still sleeps in his nursery—but for how long? That is the question on everyone’s mind in the last year. Not a question uttered, but a question that stays poised on the tongue, and does not fall.

The Traitor King takes his place. He looks sternly around the table, watching to see if anyone dares sit or talk or breathe before him. Then he breaks into a jovial smile, and everyone exhales, and there is careful laughter: the Duke is in a good mood tonight. There will be candies and conversations, alliances formed and favors exchanged, perhaps a juggler hung for dropping the pins, but who minds the jugglers?

Saffron minds. She minds very much.

The first course! bids the Duke, and around the table the white-coated servants set down the gilded plates, each bearing the first bite-sized course, showcasing Danny’s skill. An identical plate is set next to Saffron, the Duke’s own plate, this one bearing a pastry twice as large as the others, so the Duke shall not lose any of the delight of his food to caution.

The Duke barely flicks his eyes Saffron’s direction. She knows what to do, and smiling, she cracks the thin toast in two with her fine silver fork, and takes her bite.


Rosemary Crostini of Delightfully Misspent Youth

Saffron knows this moment instantly. The angled sun falls in clean lines on the bakery floor. Daily Bread is the name on the hand-carved sign of the shop, for it is an ordinary bakery still. A younger Danny stands at the counter, just turning with flour-dusted chin to notice her. She has come here so often with the rosemary crostini that she has what the lords and ladies do not: an instant of double-memory, of twinned lives, as she breathes, and lets herself go, and tumbles five years into the past.

Her sister Rosie pushes her forward, hisses, “Your turn,” in teasing tones, and Danny and Saffron’s eyes lock.

Saffron swallows. Two girls on a rare free afternoon, on a mission to see who can charm the most treats out of willing young shopkeepers and clerks. Rosie is the younger by a year but the older in daring. Her funny, loyal sister has transformed this morning into a different girl, all curls and honeyed tones, a girl on a mission. So far she has acquired: Item (1) length of green velvet ribbon, long enough to tie back her gold-brown hair. Item (1) scrap of lace, to finish the wrists of the gloves she is making for Saffron. Surely Saffron could manage a chocolate, a tartlet, a bun?

And yet here she is, with the sinking feeling that she does not know how to flirt.

The kind-eyed young man—for now she no longer knows his name, she has the faint feeling that she has forgotten, there is something teasing at the back of her mind—well, he leans on the scarred wood counter and asks again if he can help.

“A. . .a rye bun, please,” she says at random.

“Just one then?” he says with amusement, and he reaches for it. The young man, so quiet on other occasions Saffron has come in, seems rather more self-possessed today, but who would not be at a girl stammering “bun”?

“Yes. No.” She can’t remember anything Rosie did to charm that ribbon off of the shopkeeper; all her wits have fled. “I mean, I may have forgotten my coins?”

“It’s a fine day when a beautiful girl comes into my grandfather’s bakery with no money, but only wants one poor little rye bun,” he says. “Hardly seems worthwhile to charge her.” She flushes; he understands the game and is teasing her.

Rosie elbows her; she should make her move. Say something pert in response; acquire the prize. Her coin is her flirtation, her smiles, she sees now that she and Rosie are paying after all, in a different kind.

But instead, behind the baker she sees a small waif, silhouetted in the back door to the shop. Saffron nods at the baker, points over his shoulder. “Do you have company?”

He turns, drops his teasing manner. “Jacky,” he says affectionately, and scoops several buns and a long thin loaf off of a different shelf. The small creature holds open his bag hopefully, and the day-old bread is placed inside. Jacky pulls out a single copper cent and gravely hands it to the baker, who as gravely accepts it. “My best to your mother,” the baker says, as the waif scampers off.

The young man turns back to the counter, and the kindness in his eyes is replaced by a different kind of warmth for Saffron, one that is gentle and interested, and possibly could be the same kind of warmth as for that little boy someday if she lets it, if she begins as she means to go on.

Saffron puts the coins on the counter for the rye bun. “Will you have coffee with me?” she says, clearly and calmly and forthrightly.

The flour-dusted young man takes her money and hands her the bun. Rosie snickers in the background, but the baker’s smiles are all for her. “Aye, and more.”


Saffron returns to herself, the delight of the memory still sharp on her tongue. Her eyes clear, she smiles warmly at the crowd. “This has always been one of my favorite recipes of Danny’s,” she tells them, and her gilded plate is passed to the Duke. He does not look at her as he picks up the second bite of golden-crusted toast, redolent with rosemary and crystals of sea salt. Danny was an excellent baker long before he started experimenting with the rose-thyme plant that causes the memories, and this crostini is no exception.

Around the table the noble sycophants follow the Duke’s example, and Saffron watches in amusement at seeing the whole table go slack, their eyes staring off into nothing as they remember.

At the edges of the room the white-coated servants, the red-coated guards go on alert. Saffron knows, for he has told her, that the commander of the guard dislikes these little interludes. But the Duke will have his perks, and further—she is told—it amuses the Duke to watch the lords and ladies squirm. Not all the confections Danny makes evoke pleasant memories, and during their time in the Duke’s palace, he has been encouraged to experiment. An invitation to a Temporal Confections dinner is equally coveted and feared, but never declined.

Around the table the diners slowly shake off the residue of the memory, come back to themselves with foolish smiles on their faces. Good, she thinks. Danny is outdoing himself tonight. Is that a hint of things to come? They are kept apart, in the castle, and she wishes they had some way to communicate, other than through memory. A memory can be directed, a little, if the eater has practice. Saffron knows what she wants to see with the Rosemary Crostini, and she knows Danny knows she will see it. It was a gift to her this night, that first flush of meeting, that moment trapped in time like a fly in amber.

A salad course of watercress and arugula is served, and wineglasses filled with a dry white. The Duke’s regular taster is given his salad, a fresh fork. She is a perpetually frightened-looking girl with honey-colored hair, but she is no milkmaid from the countryside. She is eighth in line to the throne, the granddaughter of kind Lord Searle, that same Lord Searle who would make a remarkably good regent—if he had not been accused of treachery by the Duke and disappeared into the maze of dungeons under the castle.

The girl retains many of her daytime privileges, but at dinner she sits at the Traitor King’s side, yet another hostage for others’ behavior. She tastes the requisite bite of the peppery greens, and then the plate is relayed to the Duke, and he picks up his own silver fork. Around the table the others join in, and Saffron and the girl fold their hands in their laps, and wait.


Fennel Flatbread of Sunlit Days Gone By

The sun is sparkling on the snow on the day Danny gets his first temporal pastry to work.

It is a Seventhday, and the shop is closed. They have been married for a year now; Danny’s grandfather has passed on, and the little bakery is all Danny’s. A small inheritance has allowed him to experiment; a small inheritance and a smaller glass bottle of dried rose-thyme that Danny’s grandfather gathered as a youth in the distant High Reaches. Despite its name, rose-thyme does not taste precisely like either; or, more correctly, it tastes like many more things than just those two flavors. It is a changeable plant; the method of preparation is key to bringing out a particular aromatic strain. More importantly, the method of preparation is key to evoking certain visions. As a child, Danny’s grandfather and his chums would chew on the flowers, which, when eaten plain, give brief flashes of déjà vu. He also told Danny that those who had once lived in the High Reaches had actual recipes that they swore could evoke glimpses of longer-ago memories, and indeed, at winter solstice every year, there was a certain currant cake made with the rose-thyme that would make everyone remember the previous solstice’s currant cake, and back and back, cementing the continuity of a long line of years.

All that was long ago, and Danny’s grandfather’s people were mostly scattered and gone, driven forth by the last king’s brother, whose dukedom was in the High Reaches, at the border of the country. He and his son, Michal, were reputed to be cold and cruel. Certainly they had destroyed Danny’s ancestral home. But the current King was kind, if perhaps a bit soft, and he had not taken steps to control his distant cousin anymore than his father had controlled his younger brother.

All this runs through Saffron’s head while she stands at the back of the shop, slowly kneading a mass of dough that will rise overnight for tomorrow’s buns. Watching the sky slowly darken, the snow clouds massing once more. Why is she thinking of the old king? But perhaps it is because of the clock tower bells. They have been ringing all morning, and she has not heard them ring like that since she was a child. Their slow pealing is an eerie counterpoint to the silent snow, the warm, empty shop. A cheerful whistle floats out occasionally from the other room of the bakery, punctuated with the sharp smell of dried fennel being crushed with mortar and pestle. Danny is experimenting yet again.

Someone bangs on the back door, and she opens it to a snowdrift. Little Jacky, older now. He comes in, stamps his feet.

“The King is dead,” he says, “Did you know?”

Of course, she thinks, the bells, and behind him the flurries have started again, the spangles of sun replaced by fat dots of white.

“Ma says they’ll make old Searle the regent. He’s a soft touch, that’s for sure. Gives out coppers to kids anytime you see him in the street. Hey, maybe he’ll give out silvers if he’s got a whole treasury.”

Saffron shakes her head. She saw the King speak, not two months ago. He was grieving for his wife’s death in childbirth, and the city grieved along with him. But. . . “He was so healthy.”

“Bloody flux,” Jacky says with certainty. “Got my cousin last month.” He holds out his palm. “I got five coppers for you this time. Been working for my uncle. What can I get with that?”

She ruffles his snow-dusted hair and hands over a hearty round loaf that didn’t sell, and several currant buns, only a little burnt.

He shouts his thanks and hurries off, running through the falling snow. His bit of red scarf flaps behind him; he shrinks smaller and smaller in the vanishing white. The king is dead, the poor little prince an infant. There will be change. Change is hard to weather. Change makes everyone skint, and keep their coins in their pockets.

But the people will still need bread, she thinks, as she watches the diagonal drifts. And there has been peace for so long. How can there not still be peace? Power will transfer, the reins will change hands, but she and Danny will have their bakery, their dough, their bread. They will focus on the rising of the yeast and the pounding of the dough and if they have to cut out currants for a time, well, plain buns sell nearly as well.

The clock tower bells ring all day and all night for the end of the king, the ending of the old era. She stands for some time, looking at the falling snow, until behind her Danny shouts, I have it, I have it, Saffron, I have it.

She turns to see the exult on his face, and he scoops her up and swings her around. He has been parceling out the last few sprigs of rose-thyme for months, trying recipe after recipe, running right through the last of the dried leaves.

Now he hands her a round circle of flatbread on a plate. It looks like any of Danny’s homey flatbreads, but smaller. A few bites only, and one bite is missing.

She knows already that there is something special about this moment. It is the sort of memory you recall for years after. A moment when the world changed around you. A moment etched with both beauty and loss, a moment that you leave behind as you move away from it, a moment you can never reach again.

Except, with what Danny has now made, perhaps you can.

Saffron takes the first bite ever of a temporal confections creation and falls back further still.

The world shifts around her. She is seven, and her mother is still living. The sun drifts golden onto a dew-spattered morning, and she shakes a magnolia tree onto Rosie, watching her sister laugh as the droplets spray—


“Another masterpiece,” says Saffron, and the same white-gloved servant passes her plate to the Duke. She shivers, deep inside, for she is not lying. Danny has been working on that linked memory trick for years. She has seen the Fennel Flatbread creation memory before, but she has never seen that magnolia tree memory within it. Usually the scene ends the moment Danny hands her the flatbread and she takes a bite.

Around the table eager hands reach for the plates, barely able to wait for the Duke. A Fennel Flatbread of Sunlit Days Gone By sounds delightful; not like any of the Duke’s nastier tricks. They all could use a moment of nostalgia, of respite from their grown-up cares. They eat, and Saffron watches them, still wondering how Danny triggered the second memory. Perhaps it was in the mashed fava bean dip served alongside, perhaps it is something in the flatbread itself. He has been working on reductions, on methods of increasing the intensity of the herbs. But of course, he has not been able to share anything with her since coming to the palace. And truly, it is better if she does not know. She has never been very good at dissembling, though she has been practicing in this last year. Readying the skill for the moment she needs it.

The words rise as the memories dissolve; the voices filled with emotion, with wonder.

—I was climbing a tree; it was cut down long ago

—I saw my mum, I haven’t seen her in years

—My boy was young again; he ran to me

The Duke scoffs. Whatever he has seen, it has made little impression. “Puerile fantasies,” he says, and swivels to eye Saffron. “I hope the next course will be more suitable to an. . .advanced palate.”

“Danny’s skill at arranging a balance of flavor and memory is unsurpassed,” Saffron says evenly. If she wished to gently push the Duke she would remind him of previous banquets; the one that ended with the nobles in tears; the one that ended with them overcome with patriotism, swearing oaths to the Traitor King. But she does not want to disturb the fragile balance. Danny is building to something, she is more and more certain. Which means that she is to taste, and be ready. Timing is critical in baking, and here so tonight.

Another course is served; a delicate shellfish bisque, but the nobles barely notice what they eat, lost in recounting, reliving, those long-ago moments, made real again for an instant. If the Duke were more observant, he would notice how even the sweetest memory has an edge, for it is something that is lost and will not come again. But perhaps Danny is lulling him, downplaying his skill with the more complicated memories; the ones that linger like the mold on cheese, the yeast in the sourdough, the bitter in the wine.

The bisque is finished—Saffron sometimes feels guilty that the main cooks no longer receive the attention they ought—and the servers return with the next pastry course.

Ah, thinks Saffron, who recognizes it immediately. Here we go into the darker turn.

She could almost be angry at Danny, but she knows whatever he plans tonight has a purpose. The Duke will feast on her tears, but so be it.

The silver fork cuts through the pastry and she takes a bite.


Rose-Pepper Shortbread of Sweetness Lost

She and Danny have been married for three years now. The bakery has picked up, now that they are offering a few unusual items right alongside the daily bread. There is still no baby, but they are happy with their bakery and their work, and they do not mind—too much. Danny bakes and she assists, Danny invents and she assists. But she does not mind that either, for she has found her own calling at the front of the shop, and it is matching people with the right pastry.

There is an art to knowing what people need. Oh, they would all take the flatbread if they could, but do they need it?

At first they do not advertise that there is anything special about some of the pastries in their shop. Danny is still working out the strengths and flavors. The first few pastries and confections come with barely a hint, a flash. A memory easily dismissed as natural. The sort of thing that keeps people returning to a bakery where they feel so content, so rejuvenated. So understood. With the increased income, Saffron arranges the shop and sews new curtains and freshens the paint. She hires Rosie to work alongside them, and that gives Danny more time to develop the recipes, strengthen the flavors. Rosie is a natural third point to their triangle; her open, gregarious warmth is a fire they kindle themselves by. She helps them turn the bakery from a shop to a café ; she encourages customers not to just buy their regular bread and go, but to sit and linger, try that extra morsel of unusual pastry and feel at peace.

This morning, Rosie is laughing with a regular about something that happened last night. Rosie has changed the last two years; her curls are the same, but she has swapped her ribbons and laces for steel-toed boots and the cry of Resistance.

Saffron understands that the new Regent Michal, at first so sympathetic, so distraught about the sudden treachery of Lord Searle, has slowly been closing his velvet glove around the city. She understands that there have been rumors of people taken. Rumors of Bad Things. But she only has one sister, and rumors are not here and now, they are not the shop and bread and cheese and chairs.

She pulls Rosie behind the counter, by the trays of day-old regular bread, and says as much.

Rosie’s chin sets. It is not the first time they’ve had this conversation. “I have to do something,” she tells Saffron. She drops her voice. “You know the little print shop, down the street?”

The printer. An outspoken, angry man. Yes.

“You know they took him, Saffy. Tortured him. Just for printing the truth about what’s been happening to the girls. The disappearances—”

“Who says, though?” says Saffron, who can’t believe in things happening to people she knows.

Rosie gives her a look. “His body was all covered up at the hanging. So you wouldn’t see what had been done to him. I saw—”

“You went there?”

“I can’t stay here, safe in a bakery,” says Rosie, voice rising. “I have to try.”

“We are doing good work here,” Saffron says, helplessly.

Rosie shakes her head. “This is not the only good work there is to be done. Can’t you see that?”

They are close to understanding each other, but then Saffron lets slip: “Can’t someone else do that work?” and that makes Rosie shake her head, and stomp away, off to heft some flour bags around, take out her frustration.

Yes, Rosie has changed. Or no, not changed, perhaps, but grown up. Matured into something that was there all along.

She can’t just stay in her bakery, Rosie says. But why not? Why can’t there be room for someone who takes care of people, one person at a time? Who feeds them bread for their bodies and confections for their souls and does good work on a single, individual level? Saffron is heavy with resentment, she is prickly with the wish to prove Rosie wrong.

That is when the enforcer comes in.

He wears the emblem of the palace; the R of the Regency, the eagle of the Duke. He saunters up and says politely, “We have reports of miscreants disturbing the peace last night.”

“Everything is just fine here,” Saffron says.

“And your employees?” he says. “Where were they?”

“We have but one,” she says, “and she is a law-abiding citizen.” Her heart is thumping inside and he can surely see her pallor. What did Rosie do? For that is her first thought, that Rosie and her group of troublemaker friends must have done something. This man would not be here for nothing. Around the store she sees the customers who have finished their pastries quietly slipping away, their peace at an end.

The enforcer’s eyes follow her gaze; he looks languidly around the room like a bored cat. “This is a sort of opium den, is it?” he says, gesturing at a man’s slack face.

“Merely a bakery,” Saffron says.

“Please produce your license,” he says, more politely yet, and she understands how to do this part, this part is rote. She gets it from the back room, a few steps away through that curtain. Her eyes sweep the room for Danny—surely Danny will know what to do—but he is out on a buying errand, and she sees only her sister, crouched and silent, hiding behind a barrel of flour.

Numbly she returns, shows the man the card that should make him leave.

He barely looks at it, lets it fall to the counter. “Please produce your sister,” he says, and this is the point she cannot forgive herself for, even as it happens.

I must not tell him where she is, she thinks. But she is too used to being law-abiding, and she has never tried to become good at deception. Her mouth hangs open for too long, her eyes flick to the wrong side. “I have not seen her today,” she stammers at last, and the enforcer just laughs at her.

He pushes past to the back, and he pulls her sister out. Rosie reams him with a pan, and then he casually punches her in the stomach, so hard she doubles over, and he drags her out, even as Saffron runs after them, armed with nothing. He throws her into a carriage—pushes Saffron down into the muck of the street—and then they are gone, and Saffron is weeping.

The scene jumps forward—another linked memory. Danny finding her in the streets, near the castle. Saffron ran after the carriage until she couldn’t run anymore, then she plodded after it till she reached its entrance to the gates, and when they would not let her in, she sunk down and stayed there. She doesn’t deserve to leave the muck, because she failed to save Rosie.

Another jump forward, because the hanging does not happen until an entire week later. The body is fully clothed, down to long sleeves and long gloves that Rosie was not wearing when she left. Saffron is left to imagine everything the cloth is hiding. Drawn iron wire fences the hanging square; it cuts red lines into Saffron’s palms. Around her the scent of lilacs blooms thick and sweet. It is spring.


Saffron comes back to herself in the banquet room, and her eyes are wet. She sits up straighter, calmly blots her eyes with her napkin. “The Rose-Pepper Shortbread of Sweetness Lost will show you someone you miss,” she says to the table. “All such sweet memories are tinged with sorrow.”

She nods to the servitor to take her plate to the Duke, smiles warmly at the table to put them at ease. “You will find notes of citrus and almond in the tasting,” she says. “We find it is one of the most popular pastries among the elderly.”

“I certainly hope you are not insinuating anything,” says the Duke, and then he laughs, and then they all do.

They take their bites and Saffron breathes out, concentrating on what Danny has done. Three jumps this time. Usually she sees just the bakery, or just the carriage, or just the hanging. Yet somehow he has strung memories together, finding a way to let the whole terrible story unfold.

If she had seen a fourth memory, it might well have been the aftermath. For it is a day not long after that when Danny starts experimenting on what he will call the bitter pastries. Not bitter in flavor, necessarily. Certainly deeper in flavor, more profound notes in the tasting. Memories that are both sweet and sour. Memories with a purpose.

The first one has a rose flavor, in honor of her sister.

Rosie is not the only person Saffron has lost in her life—her parents have both passed away—but she only ever sees Rosie when she eats the shortbread. She suspects that its creation is too inextricably bound up with her sister for her to ever see another. For awhile, there were many Seventhdays that she dedicated to nothing but the rose-pepper shortbread and her grief.

Many months later, when she is capable of feeling anything more than numb, Saffron takes her place again at the front of the shop. She understands then that this recipe is what she was lacking to give the customers. Not all customers can be helped with a fennel-bright flatbread, a happy moment. There are many who need a more profound searching into their past.

Around her now the nobles return from their journey, their faces a dizzying array of sadness, happiness, regret. It is a complex pastry.

The next food course is served—some sort of little trussed-up birds, but Saffron barely notices. She is elsewhere, considering what Danny has shown her, considering what next is to come.

She is not surprised when the silver bell rings and out comes the fourth of Danny’s creations tonight, another bitter pastry. It is not one that Danny has yet showcased at the castle. Only now does it make its appearance, and her heart quickens, her lips pucker, her mouth salivates for the taste.


Lemon Tart of Profound Regret

It is an ordinary day in the bakery, and Saffron looks around at her regulars with satisfaction. Everything they have worked for, coming to fruition. She is closer to contentment, closer to peace than she has been in over a year. The loss of her sister will never leave her, but it is a dull ache these days that only sometimes turns sharp, breaks her down in the middle of the bakery, hand on a bag of flour. The bakery has found a new normal, and there are customers to help.

The regulars, and she knows them by their orders.

Apple Turnover of Happier Times, aka, the bent old woman in the moth-eaten furs. Saffron saves the curtained alcove for her, and for the fifteen minutes it takes to eat that pastry, she’s lost in a haze of remembering. Children, thinks Danny, but Saffron thinks grandchildren. Either way she lost them during the brief, bloody uprising last spring, they agree on that.

Lavender Macaron of Long-Ago Flirtations, aka the angular man who still owns two silk scarves, despite the ever-increasing privations, despite the shabbiness of his old suit. He rotates the scarves day by day; green-stripe, violet dots. He takes tea with his macaron, and his lips curl in pleasure while he remembers. Obviously it’s a lover, but Danny is sure the lover disappeared in some dramatic way; attacking the palace, or daring to print anti-propaganda sheets. To have something worth remembering, you have to live first, says Danny, and then he looks sadly at his flour-dusted arms, knowing that he only runs a bakery.

Lemon Tart of Profound Regret, that’s the sad one. She’s young, too young to have so much Profound Regret in her life. But she comes every day at ten, testing her sorrow. Profound Regret shows you the biggest mistake you made, the one you brood over, and there are two kinds of people who buy it. The ones that make Saffron’s heart gladden are the ones who buy it infrequently. They descend into the despair of knowing what they did, just as fresh as the day it happened.

Then they go off and change, because of what they saw.

Saffron knows, because they come back to tell her. Not right at first. But they come back, several months later, and buy the tart again. And this time they see something else. Something less terrible. That’s how they know they’ve moved on.

Those are the ones Danny says the whole shop is worth it for. He’d do it all again. Some days it seems like you’re doing so little, but when he helps one of those people, his whole life is justified. On days that are really tough—the stories told about the Duke are worse than usual, the taxes are due, the Profound Regrets are too deep—Danny eats one of his Honey Chocolates of Well-Deserved Pride. He says it always shows him those moments, the ones when he helped people.

Their current Lemon Tart comes day after day. She’s not moving on. Danny thinks Saffron should intentionally mix up her order, give her a Honey Chocolate or an Apple Turnover and see if that helps her mindset change. Saffron is considering the merits of this when he comes in.

He’s supposed to be incognito but Saffron knows him instantly. She’s seen enough Resistance flyers to know how the Duke disguises himself when he wants to move around the city. His red hair is slicked back under a hooded cloak.

She tries not to start, but her body betrays her. She flushes, angry and scared all at once, and she knows he sees it.

“I have a mind to try one of your Honey Chocolates,” he says smoothly.

Her fingers are shaking as she reaches for it. This man of all men does not deserve to relive his best moments. She has thought for so long of Resistance. She could reach for the Mint Chocolate of Deep Despair, at least. After he tastes it, he will know that mint is not honey, and he will punish her somehow—execute her? Torture her, like her sister? But first he will suffer. Oh, he will suffer.

But it would not just be Saffron who suffers. It would be Danny. It would be the part-time employees. It would be the customers, for she is not naive enough to think that he would not seek his wrath on all who saw his humiliation. He must squash any hint of rebellion.

Or you are afraid, says a smaller voice still.

Saffron reaches for the chocolates and his eyes are heavy on hers; it seems he knows her thoughts. She knows why he comes unannounced. So she cannot slip him poison, not unless she has planned for this moment and made an entire tray of poisoned chocolates, and she has not.

“I am most delighted to sample what I have asked for,” he says, and there is a world of meaning in that tongue.

Her eyes close—her fingers close on the wrapper around the chocolate, bring it up. She puts it on the plate with nerveless fingers.

It is the Honey Chocolate.

Her voice shakes as she tells him the price. Her moment has come, her moment has gone.

The Duke takes the chocolate, sits down at a table in the corner. A young man leans casually against the wall, fiddling with his belt knife. He doesn’t fool Saffron. The Duke goes off into a haze of remembering and for eight heartstopping minutes she cleans the counter and tends to the customers as the Duke looks off in the distance and the young man watches the two of them, his eyes flicking back and forth, watching to see if the bakery worker has lied to the Duke.

She regrets her choice already. She does not need a Lemon Tart to know that.

She regrets it even more when, two nights later, the Duke’s guards take Danny out of their bed in the middle of the night.

She is left to make her own way to the castle and offer herself up as sacrifice. A willing check on any rebellious tendencies my Danny might have. To sell herself to the Traitor King.

A common food-taster.


Saffron blinks back tears. She has not seen Danny in so long. The Duke does not trust them together. He has taken Saffron’s measure—correctly assessed her as ineffectual, not a threat. She is plain, ordinary, and the Duke is not so foolish as to spend the coin of her in the wrong place. She is much more valuable alive and whole and as a check on Danny. So the Duke left her free rein of the upstairs servants’ quarters—as long as she does not enter the second kitchen. The second kitchen was turned over to Danny; his tools and herbs brought from the bakery, and he is confined to it. The only way they can communicate is through the confections themselves. There is always at least one confection during a meal that he knows will call up a sweet memory of the two of them—something she can feast upon for a week, and remember.

But this banquet has been leading her step by step forward, as if in a story. Both she and Danny know the purpose of the Lemon Tart too well. She has been reminded of how she failed to act, which must mean that he is prompting her that she will need to act. But in what way?

Perhaps it is poison, she thinks. Perhaps he is telling her that this is the only way to strike against the Duke. A slow-acting poison; something she will recognize, but must pretend to be fine.

But she can’t imagine Danny choosing that method, even if she ordered him to. And at this point, she would order him to. She stiffens her spine, watches the nobles eating their own lemon tarts. She has spent a year practicing dissembling. Her courage and her warm smiles will not fail her now. She is ready for whatever comes.

Or perhaps there is something else he is reminding her of. Those small jumps that the pastries have been taking. The Lemon Tart memory skipping ahead, to Danny’s disappearance, to her own application at the castle. Those are not part of the original memory. They are linked somehow, just as she saw with the crostini, with the shortbread. Not enough that anyone would notice, because no one understands the subtleties of how the pastries work, not like she and Danny. Were those extra memories there to warn her of something specific?

But maybe that is not it, either. Sometimes she thinks she is going mad. Danny is long gone, and these pastries are normal pastries done by a normal pastry chef, their memories some collective dream that she convinces the nobles to believe in, once a week.

The cheese plate comes and goes while she feels more and more adrift, lost in her own memories, wishful thinking, and nonsense. These banquets will go on for eternity, and she will eat lemon tarts of regret forever, and nothing will change.

For now the after-dinner liqueurs are being passed around, the meal is over, and there has been no dramatic change tonight. She is disappointed; she wants the Duke gone so badly that she almost feels she will run at him herself, with the silver fork. See what damage she can do before they kill her. Danny was always the patient one, the one performing the endless tweaking of recipes in search of the correct formula, the one able to wait until the exact moment. Cooking is all about timing.

Ah, but wait. There is one more plate. Her heart quickens—

But she can tell at a glance it is a chocolate, a dark chocolate-shelled truffle with an amber-colored drop at the top.

The Honey Chocolate of Well-Deserved Pride.

It makes her sick to think of the Duke eating this confection. Who knows what sort of disgusting thing the Duke will find pride in tonight?

She knows, for Danny has served this chocolate to the Duke before, that there is no outside morality imposed upon the choice of memory. Saffron always, invariably, sees one of the times she helped somebody. Danny sees those as well, or he sees moments of creation, breakthroughs of hard work and study.

The Duke saw a moment he cleverly destroyed a family. He told the table about it, in salivating detail, and the quiet bliss the nobles had found in the chocolates evaporated. Why would Danny grant him such?

The extra-large chocolate is set down before Saffron and she cuts it in two with her silver fork. It is in the last second before she takes her bite that she notices the color of the honey drop on top is a little deeper than usual. Molasses, perhaps, and it is her single clue that this is something different than what she is expecting.


Bitter Chocolate of Agony Observed

She falls, tumbling, faster and faster. It is a moment she has never seen before. She is five, and Rosie is four, and Rosie has been stung by a hornet. In real life she barely remembers this, but she is here now, and Rosie is wailing. She holds up her arm to show Saffron, and Saffron sees the welt. And then—she feels the welt. In seeing the pain of her sister, it triggers her own sense of pain, and her arm stings and swells with it. Rosie runs off to find their mother, and Saffron falls—

She is eleven, and her best friend has taken a header off of the chicken coop. Busted her nose but good. Saffron sees it, and her own face swells in response, painful, aching, broken. She helps her friend home, and at every step she feels the pain of the broken nose. Until the friend is turned over to her mother, and Saffron runs home, the pain dissolving, the memory released—

She is in the bakery, and the enforcer punches Rosie, and Saffron staggers back with the pain of it as they drag Rosie away—

She is at the hanging, and the body falls—

It is last year, and Danny has sliced right through the pad of his thumb with a bread knife. Skin wounds bleed like billy-o, and Saffron carefully stitches it up for him, feeling the pounding of the blood in her own thumb, feeling the piercing tugging of the thread pulling through. Through the roar of the pain she hears Danny musing: I wonder if I could do something with pain.

Why would you want to? says past Saffron.

You wouldn’t think a Lemon Tart of Regret would be useful, and yet.… says Danny. There might be something there.

Saffron laughs. Only you would slice open your thumb and wonder how to turn it into a new pastry. Go for it. But leave me out of this one.

Do you know how much I love you? says Danny.

And she is falling away from that memory, falling back to the table, even as her last words echo: I love you too. More than anything.…


The entire table is looking at her. She has been gone a few minutes longer than usual. Hopefully not so long as to give the game away. Her face, she feels now, is still wincing from the pain of the sliced thumb. She consciously relaxes her jaw, loosens her face, breathes.

She is supposed to entice the Duke to eat this chocolate. And how exactly is she going to do that, with everything she just saw plainly visible on her face to the whole table?

She waves at the servitor to take the other half of her chocolate to the Duke. She does not yet trust herself to speak.

The Duke looks at the half-eaten chocolate, then back at her. “For a moment I thought your husband had decided he was willing to poison you,” he says. “But now I see he is merely willing to torture you.”

That gives Saffron the thread to walk down. “His skill with confections is the most important thing to him,” she says, and she keeps her head high, not minding that her lip trembles. The Duke understands this. He will see himself in Danny.

“So explain to me why I, and my table, should go ahead and try this particular confection,” he says. “After seeing its most. . . interesting results.”

She looks evenly into his face. There is only one answer that will work with the Duke, and this is truth.

At least, part of the truth.

“You will see pain,” she said. “Not your own pain, but another’s. A moment of exquisite pain that someone else is suffering.”

The Duke’s face relaxes, just barely, and he laughs. “No wonder you were so conflicted. My little weaklings.” He gestures around to the table. “Go on, then. Eat.”

Her heart sinks, watching as one by one the reluctant guests pick up their chocolates, their faces frightened or stoic by turns. If the Duke does not eat his bite quickly, then this is for nothing. The nobles will spill to him everything they felt, and there will be no more chance to do this again, and she and Danny will be strung up for daring to oppose the Traitor King.

The memories for some of them will be long this time. She cannot help that. One lucky woman, younger than the rest, is shaking off the trance already. “I saw my brother break his arm,” she says, shuddering, and her hand unconsciously goes to her own arm.

Saffron breathes, willing the woman not to say any more. This is confirmation to the Duke that what she said is true. You see someone else’s pain. The chocolate is not poison. His face relaxes a tiny bit more, he is weakening. He wants to try it.

“You can aim for the right memory if you give it a nudge,” Saffron says, and this is true in general of their work, if irrelevant in the case of this particular chocolate where you will see everything. “Wouldn’t you like to see… what you did to my sister?” Her eyes meet his and she is breathing fast, she can’t help it, and he is feasting on every moment of her pain. If this works… .

The Duke’s eyes never leave hers as he raises the chocolate and places it on his tongue.


The linked memories keep the Duke under for three entire weeks, writhing in a remembering coma, first on his chair, then moved to his bed, then moved to the dungeon. For three weeks is enough time for someone to find the food-taster’s grandfather, and let him out, and for the whole chain of command to be rearranged. The Duke is declared incapacitated and relieved of his regency, and kind Lord Searle takes over in his place.

When the Duke finally does wake, the pain and malnutrition have left him wasted away to nothing. His eyes fall on a glass cake stand placed beside his filthy, flea-infested mattress, on the stones of the dungeon floor. Inside is a single chocolate, identical to the one he was served at his final dinner.

If he were stronger, one might call his laugh the laugh of someone who finally sees a worthy adversary at last.

The chocolate, of course, was made by a baker, a simple baker who refused the honor of being Regent Searle’s head pastry chef, and asked only to return home to his two loves: his work and his wife.

The chocolate was placed there by Saffron, who stayed to watch the Duke writhe for twenty minutes before she slipped silently away, knowing full well that that pain will account on her soul; that she will revisit this spot if she ever eats that particular chocolate herself again.

The Duke is never leaving this dungeon. And the only real question is, how does he wish to go?

Trembling hands knock the glass dome to the dungeon floor. It shatters, an echo that remains in the Duke’s ears long after the shards have come to rest.

The Duke takes his last bite of food ever on this earth, and remembers, as he falls.

Text copyright © 2018 by Tina Connolly
Art copyright © 2018 by Anna & Elena Balbusso


Why learning is the foundation of a solid talent strategy [All - O'Reilly Media]

Progressive organizations know that learning is as much about recruitment and retention as it is about development.

Read "Why learning is the foundation of a solid talent strategy"

Continue reading Why learning is the foundation of a solid talent strategy.


What machine learning means for software development [All - O'Reilly Media]

“Human in the loop” software development will be a big part of the future.

Machine learning is poised to change the nature of software development in fundamental ways, perhaps for the first time since the invention of FORTRAN and LISP. It presents the first real challenge to our decades-old paradigms for programming. What will these changes mean for the millions of people who are now practicing software development? Will we see job losses and layoffs, or will see programming evolve into something different—perhaps even something more focused on satisfying users?

We’ve built software more or less the same way since the 1970s. We’ve had high-level languages, low-level languages, scripting languages, and tools for building and testing software, but what those tools let us do hasn’t changed much. Our languages and tools are much better than they were 50 years ago, but they’re essentially the same. We still have editors. They’re fancier: they have color highlighting, name completion, and they can sometimes help with tasks like refactoring, but they’re still the descendants of emacs and vi. Object orientation represents a different programming style, rather than anything fundamentally new—and, of course, functional programming goes all the way back to the 50s (except we didn’t know it was called that). Can we do better?

We will focus on machine learning rather than artificial intelligence. Machine learning has been called “the part of AI that works,” but more important, the label “machine learning” steers clear of notions like general intelligence. We’re not discussing systems that can find a problem to be solved, design a solution, and implement that solution on their own. Such systems don’t exist, and may never exist. Humans are needed for that. Machine learning may be little more than pattern recognition, but we’ve already seen that pattern recognition can accomplish a lot. Indeed, hand-coded pattern recognition is at the heart of our current toolset: that’s really all a modern optimizing compiler is doing.

We also need to set expectations. McKinsey estimates that “fewer than 5% of occupations can be entirely automated using current technology. However, about 60% of occupations could have 30% or more of their constituent activities automated.” Software development and data science aren’t going to be among the occupations that are completely automated. But good software developers have always sought to automate tedious, repetitive tasks; that’s what computers are for. It should be no surprise that software development itself will increasingly be automated.

This isn’t a radical new vision. It isn’t as if we haven’t been working on automated tools for the past half-century. Compilers automated the process of writing machine code. Scripting languages automate many mundane tasks by gluing together larger, more complex programs. Software testing tools, automated deployment tools, containers, and container orchestration systems are all tools for automating the process of developing, deploying, and managing software systems. None of these take advantage of machine learning, but that is certainly the next step.

Will machine learning eat software, as Pete Warden and Andrej Karpathy have argued? After all, “software eating the world” has been a process of ever-increasing abstraction and generalization. A laptop, phone, or smart watch can replace radios, televisions, newspapers, pinball machines, locks and keys, light switches, and many more items. All these technologies are possible because we came to see computers as general-purpose machines, not just number crunchers.

From this standpoint, it’s easy to imagine machine learning as the next level of abstraction, the most general problem solver that we’ve found yet. Certainly, neural networks have proven they can perform many specific tasks: almost any task for which it’s possible to build a set of training data. Karpathy is optimistic when he says that, for many tasks, it’s easier to collect the data than to explicitly write the program. He’s no doubt correct about some very interesting, and very difficult, programs: it’s easy to collect training data for Go or Chess (players of every level have been recording games for well over 150 years), but very hard to write an explicit program to play those games successfully. So, machine learning is an option when you don’t know how to write the software, but you can collect the data. On the other hand, data collection isn’t always easy. We couldn’t even conceive of programs that automatically tagged pictures until sites like Flickr, Facebook, and Google assembled billions of images, many of which had already been tagged by humans. For tasks like face recognition, we don’t know how to write the software, and it has been difficult to collect the data. For other tasks, like billing, it’s easy to write a program based on a few simple business rules. It’s hard to imagine collecting the data you’d need to train a machine learning algorithm—but if you are able to collect data, the program you produce will be better at adapting to different situations and detecting anomalies, particularly if there’s a human in the loop.

Learning replacing code

Machine learning is already making code more efficient: Google’s Jeff Dean has reported that 500 lines of TensorFlow code has replaced 500,000 lines of code in Google Translate. Although lines of code is a questionable metric, a thousand-fold reduction is huge: both in programming effort and in the volume of code that has to be maintained. But what’s more significant is how this code works: rather than half a million lines of statistical code, it’s a neural network that has been trained to translate. As language changes and usage shifts, as biases and prejudices are discovered, the neural network can be revisited and retrained on new data. It doesn’t need to be rewritten. We shouldn’t understate the difficulty of training a neural network of any complexity, but neither should we underestimate the problem of managing and debugging a gigantic codebase.

We’ve seen research suggesting that neural networks can create new programs by combining existing modules. The system is trained using execution traces from other programs. While the programs constructed this way are simple, it’s significant that a single neural network can learn to perform several different tasks, each of which would normally require a separate program.

Pete Warden characterizes the future of programming as becoming a teacher: “the developer has to become a teacher, a curator of training data, and an analyst of results.” We find this characterization very suggestive. Software development doesn’t disappear; developers have to think of themselves in much different terms. How do you build a system that solves a general problem, then teach that system to solve a specific task? On one hand, this sounds like a risky, troublesome prospect, like pushing a rope. But on the other hand, it presumes that our systems will become more flexible, pliable, and adaptable. Warden envisions a future that is more about outcomes than writing about lines of code: training a generic system, and testing whether it meets your requirements, including issues like fairness.

Thinking more systematically, Peter Norvig has argued that machine learning can be used to generate short programs (but not long ones) from training data; to optimize small parts of larger programs, but not the entire program; and possibly to (with the help of humans) be better tutors to beginning programmers.

Data management and infrastructure

There are early indications that machine learning can outperform traditional database indexes: it can learn to predict where data is stored, or if that data exists. Machine learning appears to be significantly faster and require much less memory, but it is fairly limited: current tools based on machine learning do not cover multidimensional indexes, and assume that the database isn’t updated frequently. Retraining takes longer than rebuilding traditional database indexes. However, researchers are working on multidimensional learned indexes, query optimization, re-training performance, and other issues.

Machine learning is already making its way into other areas of data infrastructure. Data engineers are using machine learning to manage Hadoop, where it enables quicker response to problems such as running out of memory in a Hadoop cluster. Kafka engineers also report using machine learning to diagnose problems. And researchers have had success using machine learning to tune databases for performance, where it simplifies the problem of managing the many configuration settings that affect behavior. Data engineers and database administrators won’t become obsolete, but they may have to develop machine learning skills. And in turn, machine learning will help them to make difficult problems more manageable. Managing data infrastructure will be less about setting hundreds of different configuration parameters correctly than about training the system to perform well on your workload.

Making difficult problems manageable remains one of the most important issues for data science. Data engineers are responsible for maintaining the data pipeline: ingesting data, cleaning data, feature engineering, and model discovery. They are responsible for deploying software in very complex environments. Once all this infrastructure has been deployed, it needs to be monitored constantly to detect (or prevent) outages, and also to ensure that the model is still performing adequately. These are all tasks for which machine learning is well-suited, and we’re increasingly seeing software like MLFlow used to manage data pipelines.

Data science

Among the early manifestations of automated programming were tools designed to enable data analysts to perform more advanced analytic tasks. The Automatic Statistician is a more recent tool that automates exploratory data analysis and provides statistical models for time series data, accompanied by detailed explanations.

With the rise of deep learning, data scientists find themselves needing to search for the right neural network architectures and parameters. It’s also possible to automate the process of learning itself. After all, neural networks are nothing if not tools for automated learning: while building a neural network still requires a lot of human work, it would be impossible to hand-tune all the parameters that go into a model. One application is using machine learning to explore possible neural network architecture; as this post points out, a 10-layer network can easily have 1010 possibilities. Other researchers have used reinforcement learning to make it easier to develop neural network architectures.

Taking this further: companies like DataRobot automate the entire process, including using multiple models and comparing results. This process is being called "automated machine learning"; Amazon’s Sagemaker and Google’s AutoML provide cloud-based tools to automate the creation of machine learning models.

Model creation isn’t a one-time thing: data models need to be tested and re-tuned constantly. We are beginning to see tools for constant monitoring and tuning. These tools aren’t particularly new: bandit algorithms for A/B testing have been around for some time, and for many companies, bandit algorithms will be the first step toward reinforcement learning. Chatbase is a Google startup that monitors chat applications so developers can understand their performance. Do the applications understand the questions that users are asking? Are they able to resolve problems, or are users frequently asking for unsupported features? These are problems that could be solved by going through chat logs manually and flagging problems, but that’s difficult even with a single bot, and Chatbase envisions a future where many organizations have dozens or even hundreds of sophisticated bots for customer service, help desk support, and many other applications.

It is also possible to use machine learning to look for vulnerabilities in software. There are systems that will go over the code and look for known flaws. These systems don’t necessarily fix the code, nor do they promise to find every potential problem. But they can easily highlight dangerous code, and they can allow developers working on a large codebase to ask questions like “are there other problems like this?”

Game developers are looking to machine learning in several ways. Can machine learning be used to make backgrounds and scenes that look more realistic? Drawing and modeling realistic scenes and images is very expensive and time consuming. Currently, everything a non-player character (NPC) does has to be programmed explicitly. Can machine learning be used to model the behavior of NPCs? If NPCs can learn behavior, we can expect game play that is more creative.

Envisioning the future

What does the future look like for software developers? Will software development take the same path that McKinsey forecasts for other industries? Will 30% of the activities involved in software development and data science be automated?

Perhaps, though that’s a simplistic reading of the situation. Machine learning will no doubt change software development in significant ways. And it wouldn’t be surprising if a large part of what we now consider “programming” is automated. That’s nothing new, though: compilers don’t do machine learning, but they transformed the software industry by automating the generation of machine code.

The important question is how software development and data science will change. One possibility—a certainty, really—is that software developers will put much more effort into data collection and preparation. Machine learning is nothing without training data. Developers will have to do more than just collect data; they’ll have to build data pipelines and the infrastructure to manage those pipelines. We’ve called this “data engineering.” In many cases, those pipelines themselves will use machine learning to monitor and optimize themselves.

We may see training machine learning algorithms become a distinct subspecialty; we may soon be talking about “training engineers” the way we currently talk about “data engineers.” In describing his book Machine Learning Yearning, Andrew Ng says, “This book is focused not on teaching you ML algorithms, but on how to make ML algorithms work.” There’s no coding, and no sophisticated math. The book focuses almost entirely on the training process, which, more than coding, is the essence of making machine learning work.

The ideas we’ve presented have all involved augmenting human capabilities: they enable humans to produce working products that are faster, more reliable, better. Developers will be able to spend more time on interesting, important problems rather than getting the basics right. What are those problems likely to be?

Discussing intelligence augmentation in "How to Become a Centaur," Nicky Case argues that computers are good at finding the best answer to a question. They are fundamentally computational tools. But they’re not very good at finding interesting questions to answer. That’s what humans do. So, what are some of the important questions we’ll need to ask?

We’re only starting to understand the importance of ethics in computing. Basic issues like fairness aren’t simple and need to be addressed. We’re only starting to think about better user interfaces, including conversational interfaces: how will they work? Even with the help of AI, our security problems are not going to go away. Regardless of the security issues, all of our devices are about to become “smart.” What does that mean? What do we want them to do? Humans won’t be writing as much low-level code. But because they won’t be writing that code, they’ll be free to think more about what that code should do, and how it should interact with people. There will be no shortage of problems to solve.

It’s very difficult to imagine a future in which humans no longer need to create software. But it’s very easy to imagine that “human in the loop” software development will be a big part of the future.

Related content:

Continue reading What machine learning means for software development.


Department of Commerce Report on the Botnet Threat [Schneier on Security]

Last month, the US Department of Commerce released a report on the threat of botnets and what to do about it. I note that it explicitly said that the IoT makes the threat worse, and that the solutions are largely economic.

The Departments determined that the opportunities and challenges in working toward dramatically reducing threats from automated, distributed attacks can be summarized in six principal themes.

  1. Automated, distributed attacks are a global problem. The majority of the compromised devices in recent noteworthy botnets have been geographically located outside the United States. To increase the resilience of the Internet and communications ecosystem against these threats, many of which originate outside the United States, we must continue to work closely with international partners.
  2. Effective tools exist, but are not widely used. While there remains room for improvement, the tools, processes, and practices required to significantly enhance the resilience of the Internet and communications ecosystem are widely available, and are routinely applied in selected market sectors. However, they are not part of common practices for product development and deployment in many other sectors for a variety of reasons, including (but not limited to) lack of awareness, cost avoidance, insufficient technical expertise, and lack of market incentives
  3. Products should be secured during all stages of the lifecycle. Devices that are vulnerable at time of deployment, lack facilities to patch vulnerabilities after discovery, or remain in service after vendor support ends make assembling automated, distributed threats far too easy.
  4. Awareness and education are needed. Home users and some enterprise customers are often unaware of the role their devices could play in a botnet attack and may not fully understand the merits of available technical controls. Product developers, manufacturers, and infrastructure operators often lack the knowledge and skills necessary to deploy tools, processes, and practices that would make the ecosystem more resilient.
  5. Market incentives should be more effectively aligned. Market incentives do not currently appear to align with the goal of "dramatically reducing threats perpetrated by automated and distributed attacks." Product developers, manufacturers, and vendors are motivated to minimize cost and time to market, rather than to build in security or offer efficient security updates. Market incentives must be realigned to promote a better balance between security and convenience when developing products.
  6. Automated, distributed attacks are an ecosystem-wide challenge. No single stakeholder community can address the problem in isolation.


The Departments identified five complementary and mutually supportive goals that, if realized, would dramatically reduce the threat of automated, distributed attacks and improve the resilience and redundancy of the ecosystem. A list of suggested actions for key stakeholders reinforces each goal. The goals are:

  • Goal 1: Identify a clear pathway toward an adaptable, sustainable, and secure technology marketplace.
  • Goal 2: Promote innovation in the infrastructure for dynamic adaptation to evolving threats.
  • Goal 3: Promote innovation at the edge of the network to prevent, detect, and mitigate automated, distributed attacks.
  • Goal 4: Promote and support coalitions between the security, infrastructure, and operational technology communities domestically and around the world
  • Goal 5: Increase awareness and education across the ecosystem.


Reproducible Heisenbug [The Daily WTF]

Matt had just wrapped up work on a demo program for an IDE his company had been selling for the past few years. It was something many customers had requested, believing the documentation wasn't...

“You’ll pay a lot but you’ll get more than you paid for” [Seth's Blog]

This has always been a viable position in the marketplace.

For freelancers of every kind, it remains the best one.

The hard part isn’t charging a lot. The hard part is delivering more than the person paid for.

[I just discovered that I riffed on this three months ago. So, in the spirit of making sure we don’t waste a day, here’s some more on this topic…]

There’s a chasm.

On one hand, there are the endless promises and perfection that are promised by the short-term marketer and the aggressive salesperson.

And on the other, there’s the service provider, freelancer, bureaucrat and hard working frontline worker who’s on defense. Who wants the customer to accept the least, not the most.

One approach is to keep working to survive the chasm. To hype more and apologize later for all that hype.

The other approach, the one I’m hoping you’ll consider, is to charge enough (and then spend that money) to actually keep the big promises you just made.

A race to the top, one that doesn’t happen simply because you announced you’re going to try harder. It happens because you invest in training, staff and materials to make it likely you can actually keep that promise.


Four short links: 11 July 2018 [All - O'Reilly Media]

Metadata, AI Strategies, Program Synthesis, and Text-Based Browser

  1. You are your Metadata: Identification and Obfuscation of Social Media Users using Metadata Information -- We demonstrate that through the application of a supervised learning algorithm, we are able to identify any user in a group of 10,000 with approximately 96.7% accuracy. Moreover, if we broaden the scope of our search and consider the 10 most likely candidates, we increase the accuracy of the model to 99.22%. We also found that data obfuscation is hard and ineffective for this type of data: even after perturbing 60% of the training data, it is still possible to classify users with an accuracy higher than 95%. (via Wired UK)
  2. Overview of National AI Strategies -- where each country is at, what their goals are, etc.
  3. Building a Program Synthesizer -- Build a program synthesis tool, to generate programs from specifications, in 20 lines of code using Rosette. I'm interested in work people are doing to automatically create software. Like this example, most packages are still in a math-like larval stage. It's going to be interesting once they cross from "looks like a 1980s AI course" to "looks like Gmail".
  4. Browsh -- a text-based browser that uses the Firefox engine underneath (but rendering to text).

Continue reading Four short links: 11 July 2018.


230 [LFG Comics]

The post 230 appeared first on Tiny Dick Adventures.


‘Pirate’ Kodi Boxes Breach Copyright But Seller Threatens to “Wipe Floor” With Sky [TorrentFreak]

In 2017, Sky TV launched legal action in New Zealand against two companies – Hamilton-based My Box and Christchurch company FibreTV NZ.

Both companies sold Kodi-based devices that were configured to receive copyrighted content, including that for which Sky TV holds the rights.

Last November, the Christchurch District Court handed down an interim injunction against FibreTV based on the terms sought by Sky TV. The broadcaster was also awarded costs.

“The distributors pay nothing to the creators of the movies, TV and sports content, and simply cream off their fee, often in the hundreds of dollars,” said Sky spokesperson Kirsty Way.

“The court will liaise with Sky and Fibre TV lawyers to allocate a fixture for the summary judgment application in 2018.”

There are two key points in the case against Fibre TV.

Firstly, whether the company’s marketing claims surrounding its devices’ capabilities and legal status were misleading and deceptive, and secondly, whether the provision of addons that provide access to infringing content amounts to “authorization” under the Copyright Act 1994.

In an announcement this morning, Sky TV claimed victory against Fibre TV. The company said that the Christchurch District Court had determined that the company’s marketing had indeed been misleading. (An example of how the company operated was reported on Reddit last year.)

Fibre TV advertised itself as having “all of the content with none of the fees,” something which Judge MacAskill found to be in breach of the Fair Trading Act. The Judge further ruled that the sale of these “pre-loaded” devices to the public amounted to copyright infringement.

“It is great to have this matter clarified, as we were concerned that New Zealanders were buying these boxes under the false impression that they were legitimate – it simply wasn’t true,” says Sky TV General Counsel Sophie Moloney.

“Piracy is an ongoing problem for everyone in the content and creative sectors. Recent research shows that almost a third of New Zealanders are pirating, some as regularly as weekly, with one in ten saying it’s the way they ‘normally’ access content.”

According to Sky, around 100,000 Kiwis regularly use Kodi software to access TV, movies and sport without paying for that content. Some, the company says, have been duped into believing that is legal by companies including Fibre TV.

“[W]e just want to highlight to New Zealanders that ‘Kodi boxes’ like the Fibre TV ones breach copyright and do not have a legitimate place in our market,” Sky concludes.

The Court will now decide what happens to Fibre TV and their devices but in the meantime, the company seems in no mood to play it calm.

A representative told Stuff that it was not aware of Judge MacAskill’s ruling and the company was still waiting on a court date. When that arrives, the spokesperson predicted that Sky would not prevail.

“We intend to wipe the floor with Sky TV,” the company said.

Back in April, My Box NZ, another company being sued by Sky for selling piracy-configured Kodi devices, announced that it had been sold to a Chinese investor.

The High Court is yet to rule in the MyBox matter, but it’s Sky’s position that since its action is against both My Box NZ and founder Krish Reddy, the case will continue.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.


Minkush Jain: KubeCon + CloudNativeCon, Copenhagen [Planet Debian]

I attended KubeCon + CloudNativeCon 2018, Europe that took place from 2nd to 4th of May. It was held in Copenhagen, Denmark. I know it’s quite late since I attended it, but still I wanted to share my motivating experiences at the conference, so here it is!

I got scholarship from the Linux Foundation which gave me a wonderful opportunity to attend this conference. This was my first developer conference aboard and I was super-excited to attend it. I got the chance to learn more about containers, straight from the best people out there.

I attended the opening keynote sessions on 2nd May in Bella Centre, Copenhagen. The opening keynote was given by Dan Kohn, Executive Director, CNCF in an enormous hall filled with more than 4100 people. It was like everybody from the container community was present there!

The conference was very well organised considering the large scale of the event. People from all around the world were present, sharing their experience with Kubernetes.

Apart from the keynotes, I mostly attended beginner and intermediate level talks, due to the fact that some of the sessions required high technical knowledge that I didn’t possess yet.

One of the speech that I enjoyed was given by Oliver Beattie, Engineering head, Monzo Bank where he talked about the Kubernetes outrage that they experienced a few months ago and how they handled its consequences.

Other talks that interested me were how Adidas is using cloud native technologies and closing remarks given by the inspiring Kelsey Hightower. It was wonderful to see the growth of cloud and container technologies and its communities.

A large number of sponsor booths were present, including RedHat, AWS, IBM and Google cloud, Azure. They shared their workflow and technologies they were using. I visited several booths, interacted with amazing people and got lots of stickers and goodies!

I was fortunate enough to win two raffles conducted by the sponsors! A big thank you to node.js for the Raspberry Pi kit and Mesosphere for the drone.

Raffle Winner!

Our sponsors also organised Diversity Lunch event for the scholarship recipients. The committee had a great discussion on inclusion and diversity along with excellent meals.

I had face-to-face interactions with some inspiring developers and employees of tech giants. Being among the youngest to attend the conference, I had a lot to learn from everyone around me and grow my network.

On the day before the last, an all attendee party and dinner was held in Tivoli Gardens, in the heart of the city. The evening was filled with amusement rides, beautiful gardens, and more. What more would you expect?

Tivoli Gardens Event in Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen

I would like to express gratitude to CNCF, The Linux Foundation and Wendy West for this opportunity, and for helping the community involve more diversity. I look forward to attend more such events in the future!

Photographs by Cloud Native Foundation


The Remake [Scenes From A Multiverse]

Have you seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi? Me neither. Apparently a whole bunch of whiny, entitled, emotionally stunted “fans” did though, and they want it remade with more hookers and blackjack. Lucky for us, the remake is already playing in select locations throughout the multiverse due to interplane chronoton shift and a Popeye’s promotional campaign.


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Skin Horse XML 23:21, Sunday, 15 July 00:03, Monday, 16 July
Starslip by Kris Straub XML 23:21, Sunday, 15 July 00:03, Monday, 16 July
Tales From the Riverbank XML 22:56, Sunday, 15 July 23:45, Sunday, 15 July
The Adventures of Dr. McNinja XML 23:00, Sunday, 15 July 23:45, Sunday, 15 July
The Bumpycat sat on the mat XML 23:14, Sunday, 15 July 23:54, Sunday, 15 July
The Command Line XML 23:00, Sunday, 15 July 23:46, Sunday, 15 July
The Daily WTF XML 23:00, Sunday, 15 July 23:46, Sunday, 15 July
The Monochrome Mob XML 23:21, Sunday, 15 July 00:02, Monday, 16 July
The Non-Adventures of Wonderella XML 22:56, Sunday, 15 July 23:39, Sunday, 15 July
The Old New Thing XML 23:00, Sunday, 15 July 23:44, Sunday, 15 July
The Open Source Grid Engine Blog XML 23:07, Sunday, 15 July 23:54, Sunday, 15 July
The Phoenix Requiem XML 23:14, Sunday, 15 July 23:54, Sunday, 15 July
The Rogues Gallery XML 23:07, Sunday, 15 July 23:55, Sunday, 15 July
The Stranger, Seattle's Only Newspaper: Savage Love XML 23:00, Sunday, 15 July 23:45, Sunday, 15 July
TorrentFreak XML 22:56, Sunday, 15 July 23:39, Sunday, 15 July
towerhamletsalarm XML 23:00, Sunday, 15 July 23:46, Sunday, 15 July
Twokinds XML 23:21, Sunday, 15 July 00:03, Monday, 16 July
UK Indymedia Features XML 23:21, Sunday, 15 July 00:03, Monday, 16 July
Uploads from ne11y XML 23:00, Sunday, 15 July 23:46, Sunday, 15 July
Uploads from piasladic XML 22:56, Sunday, 15 July 23:39, Sunday, 15 July
Wayward Sons: Legends - Sci-Fi Full Page Webcomic - Updates Daily XML 23:00, Sunday, 15 July 23:46, Sunday, 15 July
What If? XML 23:21, Sunday, 15 July 00:02, Monday, 16 July
Whatever XML 22:56, Sunday, 15 July 23:45, Sunday, 15 July
Whitechapel Anarchist Group XML 22:56, Sunday, 15 July 23:45, Sunday, 15 July
WIL WHEATON dot NET XML 23:00, Sunday, 15 July 23:44, Sunday, 15 July
wish XML 23:00, Sunday, 15 July 23:45, Sunday, 15 July XML 22:56, Sunday, 15 July 23:39, Sunday, 15 July