I've been feeling pretty creatively unfulfilled lately, and I think that's because my standards might be too high. I start a new coding project and think, "oh, this part would be better if I did it this way or had this other tool," then start building the tool, think, "oh this part would be better if ...", and repeat.

I won't say I'm a perfectionist, but I'm not far off. My standards are calibrated for industrial-strength enterprise software built by legions of engineers, not small projects built in my (rather limited) spare time. In those environments, handling every single corner case matters, as does testing the fuck out of everything. And so I never finish anything, because I need an entire team of engineers to write, "Hello, World!".

I know a lot of you fine folks are in the same boat. Whether it's art, or writing, or code, or music, I've lost count of how many times I've heard you say, "My work isn't good enough. There are so many ways this could be better." And maybe we're even right about that; striving to improve yourself and your work is a good thing.

But it's also really hard not to get sucked into the vortex of perfection, and lose sight of what you're trying to accomplish. So I often have to ask myself: "Is something shitty better than nothing?"

It's so much easier for me to make something when I don't care about the thing itself because either (a) I'm just fucking around, or (b) I need it for a specific purpose, so there is a clearly-defined goal and a desire to expend the minimum amount of effort. In fact, my most successful/complete projects almost entirely fall into category (b), even though those projects are probably the least rewarding.

I need to find a way through that dichotomy. How do I make any progress at all on something I really care about? How do I just write this blog post without worrying about where all the punctuation goes?

I need to make more cool shit, but I need to do it in a way that's actually rewarding and achievable. How do y'all do it?

— Des

I'm continuing to struggle with feeling like I have enough spoons (and so are a lot of other people I know). I feel like I should be able to power through an 8-hour workday, then come home and have enough energy left over to do literally anything else. But, especially over the last few weeks, that definitely has not been the case.

I was talking to Othercat about it, and I think there might be a couple reasons why.

Read more... )

To whom it may concern:

I'm writing to demand the immediate removal of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General of the United States. Then-Sen. Sessions lied under oath to Congress concerning his communication with Russian officials. In my view, this raises serious questions about Mr. Sessions's personal integrity, at a time when this country needs strong leadership and non-partisan investigators more than ever.

I urge you to take all necessary steps to remove Mr. Sessions from office immediately.

Best Regards,

I've been spending more and more time lately trying to keep up with the news. Quite frankly, it's overwhelming, and probably unhealthy—spending 2-3 hours a day reading about Donald Trump is enough to drive anyone crazy.

I think there are a few reasons for this: I just like reading, I'm afraid of missing something "important" (which my friends/coworkers/etc. will catch), and I'm afraid of missing something actionable. I don't want to find myself in a position where something Really Bad(tm) happened, and I didn't do everything I could to prevent it.

That said, I also need to make sure I take care of myself, and that means spending time on things that aren't politics. It means having my own hobbies and projects at home, spending time with friends, exercising, eating, sleeping, and generally relaxing.

So how do I balance my fear of missing out with taking care of myself?

The first and most important thing I need to do is limit my time in front of a news reader. I can make the choice that all of the aforementioned self-care tasks are more important than keeping abreast of everything that's going on.

I can also change how and when I check news. I can set guidelines like the following:

  • Always check my RSS reader before Twitter.
  • Sort articles newest-first so I'm starting with the most up-to-date information.
  • When I've spent "enough" time catching up, mark as read everything I didn't get to.

But I'm also thinking about how to best use the time I do spend on news, and the reality is, I'm spending a bunch of time just sifting through headlines looking for things that are relevant. I want to cast a wide net; I have probably 20 newsfeeds that I'm following (not counting "fun stuff" like xkcd), and that means a lot of headlines. Maybe 1 out of every 30-40 headlines actually holds my interest, which is a pretty low signal-to-noise ratio.

So how do I reduce the noise? Can I still cast a wide net and see only the things that are most relevant across all my chosen sources?

By now you're probably thinking, "No, Des! This isn't a software problem!" And you're right, I'm not super keen on letting software decide what I do and don't see at any given moment, at least not without a clearly-defined, easy-to-understand set of rules governing that decision. But I do have to wonder if there's some socially-responsible way to do algorithmic filtering.

What kind of tradeoffs would be necessary? Sources notwithstanding, could we even reach something that approximates "unbiased" and "fact-based" (or at least, not consistently biased in any particular direction)? Can we avoid the pitfall of, "this is popular, therefore it's right"?

I'm not sure much of this is possible without human intervention (and probably isn't possible even with human intervention). But it would be interesting to try.

— Des

First, the full text of the Ninth Circuit ruling on the government's motion to re-instate Trump's executive order on immigration. Predictably (and happily), the Court unanimously decided to leave the stay in place. But there were a few juicy tidbits:

The Government contends that the district court lacked authority to enjoin enforcement of the Executive Order because the President has “unreviewable authority to suspend the admission of any class of aliens. [p.13, emphasis mine] ...

There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy. [p.14]

Damn right there's no precedent. This isn't a dictatorship.

The Government has argued that, even if lawful permanent residents have due process rights, the States’ challenge ... is moot because several days after the Executive Order was issued, White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II issued “[a]uthoritative [g]uidance” stating that sections 3(c) and 3(e) of the Executive Order do not apply to lawful permanent residents. At this point, however, we cannot rely upon the Government’s contention that the Executive Order no longer applies to lawful permanent residents. The Government has offered no authority establishing that the White House counsel is empowered to issue an amended order superseding the Executive Order signed by the President and now challenged by the States, and that proposition seems unlikely. [p.21-22, emphasis mine]

It's interesting that the White House seems to think an opinion issued by one of their lawyers holds any kind of legal authority. I have to wonder how many other instances of this happened in previous administrations.

On a different note, here's a paper exploring public reaction to various kinds of protest in a lab setting. I think they're reaching a bit with their conclusions; real life is messy and this paper describes a series of tightly-controlled experiments. But I've also seen some of what they're describing, and I'm reasonably convinced they're right: protests need to be just disruptive enough to raise public awareness, but not so disruptive/extreme that the public becomes hostile to the cause.

Keith Ellison is one of the two top contenders to chair the Democratic National Committee. Mother Jones takes a look at his background. My takeaway is he's a fighter more than he's a negotiator, and he understands the importance of individual outreach. I think he'd be a better fit than Tom Perez, if for no other reason than he's willing to kick out the lobbyists and big corporate donors, which would give him room to re-focus the party on people.

Wholesale ethics violations continue, surprising nobody.

And finally, some interesting opposition research, also from The Guardian.

— Des

The Internet, large corporations (even brick-and-mortar stores), your credit card companies, etc. are all collecting and selling your personal information. Other companies are buying that information, aggregating it, and using it to build a detailed psychological profile of you. That profile, in turn, is being used to target you with fine-tuned, individually-tailored ads and political messages.

The Data That Turned the World Upside Down

Psychologist Michal Kosinski developed a method to analyze people in minute detail based on their Facebook activity. Did a similar tool help propel Donald Trump to victory? Two reporters from Zurich-based Das Magazin went data-gathering.​

The end result, in at least one recent political race of consequence:

From July 2016, Trump's canvassers were provided with an app with which they could identify the political views and personality types of the inhabitants of a house. It was the same app provider used by Brexit campaigners. Trump's people only rang at the doors of houses that the app rated as receptive to his messages. The canvassers came prepared with guidelines for conversations tailored to the personality type of the resident.

Trump's data-driven approach meant that his people were able to focus on the people that mattered most—the bystanders most receptive to his message. (Compare this to Clinton's failed model-based approach to campaigning.)

Liberal organizations can learn from this—these are powerful tools, and they're available to anyone with the budget. How many receptive bystanders in swing states could we have recruited to vote for Clinton if we had been paying attention to the data?

Individuals can learn from this, too—when you use those loyalty cards, or when you "Like" that post, you're making it just a little bit easier for a stranger, armed with a bunch of data about you, to change your mind.

— Des

I was listening to the radio on my way home from work this evening, and they did a spot on the recent UC Berkeley protests. I couldn't help but notice that most of the airtime was devoted to discussion of the violence that had taken place, and relatively little time was spent on the actual reason for the protests. They even went out of their way to call attention to the fact that a couple Republicans were injured in the protest.

The two articles I could find on the topic from the same news station were titled, "Riot Forces Cancellation Of Yiannopoulos Talk At UC Berkeley", and "UC Berkeley Chancellor Blasts Violence Over Yiannopoulos Speech". Just as on the air, both articles lead with the violence and bury the reason for the protest in the middle of the article.

Looking at a few other (somewhat left-leaning, even) news agencies yields a selection of similar, mostly-negative headlines, with one or two neutrals or positives:

Similarly, on Twitter, the local journalists I follow were tweeting mostly pictures of fire and looting. (I won't link to their posts since there are a lot of them.)

Frankly, this looks bad for anti-fascists. Whether or not you think violent protest is okay in principle, our message is getting lost behind fear and violence.

When people see fire, shattered windows, and smashed ATMs, that's what they're going to focus on. It doesn't matter why people are lighting fires and breaking windows, it just matters that they are. Everything else they see—our message, the downtrodden masses, the police brutality—is colored by the fact that "protestors" started it. (And no, it doesn't matter that the provocateurs weren't part of the "official" protest. [link is to a local journalist])

I have not participated in any of the recent protests (large crowds are increasingly hard for my introverted self to handle). But when I was (non-violently) protesting for marriage equality in college, I would for the most part see three general classes of reaction:

  • From bigots: Scowls and/or heckling
  • From other supporters: Enthusiastic waving, honking, shouting, etc.
  • From unconcerned bystanders: "Why are they blocking the street?"

Presumably we are protesting because we're trying to make a change. To do that, we need to convince everyone we can that our change is the right thing to do. We're not going to convince the bigots, fascists, and so on; they've already made up their minds. We're not going to convince other supporters; they don't need convincing. That leaves people who are on the fence, unconcerned, uninformed, or just plain haven't thought about it much. These bystanders are our target audience.

Protests are a great way to get their attention; a little disruption goes a long way in getting bystanders to sit up and take notice. But when they do, they're first going to wonder, "Why are those protesters blocking the street?" It's incumbent on us to have a crystal-clear answer, and make sure that nothing distracts from that message.

"Black Lives Matter!"

"Women's rights are human rights!"

"Immigrants are welcome here!"

If a bystander's first impression is of fire and broken windows, that is how they'll remember our cause. If people are injured or killed, even if it's not our fault, that will stick in their minds more than anything we might have to say. Our opponents will use this to their advantage—they'll label us "violent extremists", they'll accuse us of trampling on their rights, they'll counter with their own, "reasonable"(-sounding) arguments, and those arguments will resonate all the more for standing in opposition to violent extremists.

Violence distracts from the message, and then—just as it did at UC Berkeley—it becomes the story. The message is forgotten.

— Des

deskitty: Angry pouncy siamese cat head (Default)

Jan. 29th, 2017 05:50 pm
Not going to make it to BLFC this year. The room block filled up way back in August while I wasn't looking, and the standard rate is way more than I'm willing to pay, given that they put us in a smoking room last year, and there does not seem to be a guaranteed way to get a non-smoking room.

I'm thinking of putting together a panel for the next FC or BLFC [I'm not going to make it] on how to protect yourself online. Some potential topics for discussion include:

  • What is "security"? What is "privacy"? (threat modeling)
  • What to look for in a "secure" service. (Not all security/privacy protections are the same; how to tell the difference.)
  • Browsing the Web (HTTP and HTTPS, certificates, etc.)
  • Chatting online (Telegram, WhatsApp, Signal, etc.)
  • File storage (Dropbox, SpiderOak, etc.)
  • Choosing secure passwords/passphrases
  • Protecting your phone and computer from attack

The EFF has a great resource that covers a lot of these topics. I would be leaning heavily on their material, and supplementing it with additional details that I've learned or researched (e.g. Telegram's over-hyped security).

If you're going to one of these conventions, would you be interested in such a panel? If so, what would you like to see/hear/learn about?

While I have a strong technical background, I'm not a career security expert. If you're an expert, or at least have a strong security background, would you be interested in reviewing my material and/or co-presenting?

Leave me your thoughts in the comments below.

— Des

Posting this here for posterity, and just in case any of you feel inclined to write similar letters. ;)

Dear Sen. Feinstein,

I’m a constituent from the Bay Area. I’m writing to let you know that I was, frankly, appalled by your vote to confirm Rep. Mike Pompeo as head of the CIA. A man who has a long track record of supporting both torture and mass surveillance has no place running an organization with a history of abusing and misusing its powers, even to the point of spying on you and your staff.

A man such as Rep. Pompeo has neither the willingness nor the capacity to bring this rogue agency in line, and I have no confidence in his desire or ability to follow the law and the Constitution when it comes to the privacy and due process rights of American citizens or citizens of other nations.

Furthermore, while I am well aware that you and I disagree on the issue of mass surveillance, you should know that a Pew Research survey conducted in 2015 showed that “65% of American adults believe there are not adequate limits on the telephone and internet data that the government collects.” While I don’t know (and Pew did not publish) the number for California specifically, you are clearly out of step with your constituents and the rest of the country on this issue. I hope you will take these views into consideration in your dealings with Director Pompeo and others in the intelligence community in the future.

Going forward, I expect you to thoroughly investigate all of Pres. Trump’s cabinet nominations, and vigorously oppose any nominees who have a history of (a) failing to recognize the serious threat to global security posed by climate change, (b) advocating for the imprisonment, deportation, or unequal treatment of any protected class (Muslims, Blacks, Latinos, LGBTs, etc.), (c) advocating for the repeal or dilution of the Voting Rights Act or similar provisions of law, or (d) disregarding established fact in favor of “alternative facts”, propaganda or similar fabrications. I expect you to oppose these nominations REGARDLESS of what might be said in their confirmation hearings.

In particular, I expect you to vigorously oppose the appointment of Sen. Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, and Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Both of these individuals are unfit to serve for some, if not all, of the reasons listed above.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Best Regards,

Spent the weekend dusting off my Dreamwidth account as a place to be both social AND long-form. (And by "dusting off", I mean I built a custom layout and theme. Hope you like it!)

While I have my website for long-form thinking, it's evolved to be something more formal than I want to use all the time, and it also doesn't really afford me the opportunity to interact with you folks, since there's no commenting system (and I don't want to go to the time and expense of maintaining one).

While I have Twitter, it's just not that useful for discussion of any kind. The tweet length is too short, and most nuance gets lost, leading lots of rage and little opportunity for substantial, thoughtful engagement. (And, to be clear, I'm just as guilty of this—I engage when I shouldn't, or when I should do so in another forum, and the discussion has a way of spiraling pretty quickly.)

LiveJournal used to fill that same social/thoughtful niche for me online, but they're no longer trustworthy as a company for a variety of reasons. So here we are. I like Dreamwidth's business model and if I find that I'm using them regularly, I intend to $upport their efforts.

It's funny to me that after all the "advances" in social media—Twitter, Google Plus, Medium, and so on—I still prefer to be on what is almost the same platform I was in the early 2000s. Sure, you can re-skin and update your UI, or improve/extend your back-end infrastructure, but there's just not much more to be done to improve a good ol' blogging service.

Hope to see y'all here soon.

— Des
deskitty: Angry pouncy siamese cat head (Default)


Aug. 26th, 2013 01:33 am
Hello, world!

I think I finally have the theme setup something like how I want it...

But, just in case I don't, here's some Latin:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Sed ut perspiciatis unde omnis iste natus error sit voluptatem accusantium doloremque laudantium, totam rem aperiam, eaque ipsa quae ab illo inventore veritatis et quasi architecto beatae vitae dicta sunt explicabo. Nemo enim ipsam voluptatem quia voluptas sit aspernatur aut odit aut fugit, sed quia consequuntur magni dolores eos qui ratione voluptatem sequi nesciunt. Neque porro quisquam est, qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit, sed quia non numquam eius modi tempora incidunt ut labore et dolore magnam aliquam quaerat voluptatem. Ut enim ad minima veniam, quis nostrum exercitationem ullam corporis suscipit laboriosam, nisi ut aliquid ex ea commodi consequatur? Quis autem vel eum iure reprehenderit qui in ea voluptate velit esse quam nihil molestiae consequatur, vel illum qui dolorem eum fugiat quo voluptas nulla pariatur?

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