Cyber roundup

The Cyber is big again. Huge. I think that Trump’s talk about The Cyber at this week’s debate got a bunch of people talking about cyberpunk. At least, that’s what it looked like in my feeds. I noticed a lot of posts about cyberpunk stuff which I’ve collected here:

Someone built an Ono Sendai Cyberspace 7 deck (the computer used by the protagonist in Neuromancer):


They replaced the keyboard on a Commodore 64 case and stuck a Raspberry Pi 3 in it, but the design is obviously the best thing about it.

Someone else is using the cyberpunk aesthetic for designing their computer space:

Cyberpunk VR Battlestation

And of course someone took the time to adapt the concept art from Cyberpunk 2077 for the Trump campaign:

Cyberdrumph 2016

I wonder if cyberpunk is going to have a kind of retro-futurism revival. It is a sad reminder of the unstoppable march of time to think that the thing that was futuristic in high school is now retro. Time to invest in trenchcoat and mirrored sunglasses.

How to put Amazon Echo shopping list items in Wunderlist

First off, if you use iOS and don’t have an Echo, use Kitchen Sync for your shopping list. It’s organizes everything by area and works with iCloud so it’s super easy to share a list with your family. Plus Adam is a good guy.

We use Wunderlist for our shopping list, so I set up an IFTTT recipe to put our Echo’s shopping list into Wunderlist.

Here’s how you can too:

  1. Go to Mail to Wunderlist Settings and set your Gmail address to go to your shopping list.
  2. Add this recipe (be sure to put as the email address):IFTTT Recipe: Add Alexa shopping list items to Wunderlist connects amazon-alexa to gmail

Some caveats: IFTTT checks the shopping list roughly every 15 minutes, so if something is time sensitive you’re better off using the Wunderlist app. It also doesn’t update the Alexa shopping list when you check it off in Wunderlist, but who looks at the Alexa shopping list anyway?

What I’m Drinking: Bell’s Oktoberfest

Bell's Oktoberfest LabelIt’s September so tonight I’m drinking Bell’s Oktoberfest.

Oktoberfests are sometimes generalized as VMOs because of the overlap between the Vienna Lager, Märzen, and Oktoberfest styles.

Bell’s Oktoberfest is a great beer for when the evenings are getting colder, or in our case just as warm but rainy.

The main thing you notice from an Oktoberfest should be the malt. I enjoy a caramel sweetness in the finish that stays with you, almost cloying, and when the color also evokes caramel. There are definitely dryer and lighter takes on the style too. Bell’s hits the malt notes I love.

The malt should be balanced with noble hops. I couldn’t tell you what Bell’s is using, however I recently had Devil’s Backbone’s Vienna Lager and loved the taste of Saaz hops in the style. As a point of reference, Saaz is the signature hop taste of Bell’s Oberon.

Another Oktoberfest I’ve loved, at the suggestion of my brother Charles, is Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen. That my be the best example of the style available. If you can find a bottle this fall I strongly recommend you pick one up. I also really enjoyed Flying Dog’s Dogtoberfest although I haven’t seen it in Southeast Michigan in a few years.

On the flip side is Sam Adams’ Octoberfest. It’s a super tasty beer! But it doesn’t have the toasty sweet malt or noble hops I’m looking for in an Oktoberfest. It might be because I have killed my taste buds and need more malt & hops, but I look for more in an Oktoberfest.

Are there any other VMOs I should check out?

Man Caves and Men

This Guy Studies Man Caves for a Living; Here’s What He’s Learned

There’s a lot of good stuff in here, but the most interesting thing to me was that a man caves are an aspirational space driven by loneliness. If you build it they will come.

Almost every guy tells me he’ll use it to “have people over and entertain.” The conversation gets awkward, though, when I ask him who he’ll have over. Because often, the men will explain, “I don’t have time to have friends over right now. I work a lot and I have children, so I don’t really have friends. But eventually this will be a neighborhood hangout for guys.”

I think it plays into the idea of man caves being a fantasy — a fantasy of male friendship and camaraderie. Research shows that men don’t have as many friends as women, and the kinds of friendships they do have are much less meaningful than those available to women. So maybe part of what they’re building with a man cave is a fantasy of different relationships with men.

Maybe man caves are a symptom of the loss of third places in our lives. We build home bars because our zoning laws prevent us from putting a neighborhood pub actually in a neighborhood. All these people are building a shared space in their home with no one to share it.

The piece also says a bit about the amount of control men feel they have over their spaces as well as their awareness of women’s experience of space in the home.

When I’ve asked straight men what role a man cave plays in their relationship, the most common answer I get is, “I feel like the whole house is hers. And this is a space for me.” When I follow up with, “Okay, but do you think she has spaces in the house as well?” They typically respond, “Absolutely! She has tons of spaces that are essentially hers.” When I press them on which rooms those are, they list off rooms associated with domestic labor, not with leisure — the kitchen, the laundry room, etc.

I think some of this has do with the fact that men feel as though the domestic space isn’t something they have ownership of. I also think it’s a result of men getting more leisure time than women in heterosexual relationships.

Me, I don’t have a man cave. I just have a basement office that I can hang ugly clown paintings, that has my work computer, gaming PC, some various computers I tinker with, a kegerator… OK, but it’s not a man cave because it’s not finished yet…

Photo credit: Cory Doctorow (CC BY-SA)

How Nextdoor reduced racist posts by 75%

In April, Nextdoor started a pilot program to see if it could change its interface to discourage its users from racially profiling people in their posts. A test group of neighborhoods were shown six different variations of the form used to make a “crime and safety” report for their neighborhood.

Some just saw the addition of new language: “Ask yourself: Is what I saw actually suspicious, especially if I take race or ethnicity out of the equation?” Some were asked to say in advance whether they were reporting an actual crime or just “suspicious activity.” Others actually had their posts scanned for mentions of race (based on a list of hundreds of terms Nextdoor came up with) and if a post did mention race, the user got an error message and was asked to submit more information about the person.

via How Nextdoor reduced racist posts by 75% | Fusion

I’ve never noticed any racial profiling on our Nextdoor community, but it’s not very high traffic (due to it splitting our subdivision up and an absentee lead). Still, it’s a really interesting approach when a lot of other social media sites are struggling with bad behavior.

Touch Disease

Today I learned I suffer from Touch Disease on my iPhone 6+. Symptoms include a touchscreen that doesn’t respond to your finger and a grey flickering bar at the top of the screen.

I thought my iPhone was just being weird but now I’m learning it’s an epidemic. The popular theory is that the chip responsible for dealing with multitouch is desoldering as the phone flexes.

In both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, the Touch IC chips connect to the logic board via an array of itty-bitty solder balls—“like a plate resting on marbles,” Jessa explains. Over time, as the phone flexes or twists slightly during normal use, those solder balls crack and start to lose contact with the board.

At least one Apple Genius has their head in the sand:

I’ve talked to other geniuses, I’ve talked to engineers via escalations, I’ve talked with management in touch with their higher ups. This issue is caused by logic board damage. And if you haven’t opened your phone, exposed it to liquid, or bent the enclosure, you won’t experience this issue.

✅ Haven’t opened my iPhone
✅ Haven’t exposed to liquid
✅ Haven’t bent the enclosure
✅ Starting to experience the issue

Meanwhile Touch Disease is now accounting for about 11% of Apple Store’s daily iPhone repairs. I really hope Apple does something to address this. Especially now that more folks are on BOYD plans and are starting to keep their phones more than 2 years (something I was planning on with my 6+).

Now is also a good time to be reminded that companies cannot legally void your warranty in the US if you repair your devices, but good luck getting companies to recognize that without a lawyer.

Photo Credit: Omar Jordan Fawahl (CC BY-SA)

Towards an understanding of technical debt – Laughing Meme

I’ve spent the last few years rather flippantly stating, “Technical debt doesn’t exist.”

What I was trying to say was, “I’m deeply uncomfortable with how our industry talks about this thing, I think it’s probably harmful, but I don’t know quite how to express what I mean. Also, given that everyone seems to be really focused on this tech debt concept, I’m kind of worried that the problem is me, not the term or the industry”.

When I first heard Peter Norvig say, “All code is liability”, that felt closer to right.

via Towards an understanding of technical debt – Laughing Meme

Ubuntu on Windows

Windows 10 Anniversary Update came out last week. I haven’t heard very many folks talking about  one of the most interesting features I’ve seen from the New Microsoft: Linux.

I think part of the reason people aren’t excited is because they don’t understand what this is:

  • It’s not a virtual machine
  • It’s not a container like Docker
  • It’s not Cygwin – you can run pre-compiled ELF binaries

This is basically WINE in reverse – it translates Linux system calls to Windows system calls at runtime. That means it can run pretty much anything that Linux can. To take it for a test drive, I installed nvm and node, then Calypso and then ran make run. It worked! (I had to sudo apt-get install gcc g++ make first, but that’s just more proof that this is Ubuntu)

I love developing on Unix-like systems, and OS X macOS has been a great balance of a Unix system with good consumer support.  However I’m concerned that so much of Apple is focused on iDevices that they will start to care less and less about computer. As of August 23, it’s been 462 days since they have updated the MacBook Pro, and they’ve discontinued the Thunderbolt display.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is open-sourcing things left and right. And now actually running Linux on Windows, something that 10 years ago would have sounded ridiculous. It’s not perfect – the terminal window still sucks compared to iTerm or even – but now you can use a real OpenSSH instead of PuTTY. Maybe soon I can live the dream of the same machine for development and gaming.

The funny thing is that IBM tried this with Windows 20 years ago. IBM had OS/2, which had a Windows compatibility layer so that OS/2 could run Windows 3.1 apps. This backfired for IBM – as a dev if I have to choose between writing an app for OS/2 or Windows, why not write for Windows since it will run on both? A comment on Hacker News claims that the Linux subsystem was originally developed for Windows phones to run Android apps. Maybe Microsoft chose not to go down that path for fear of the same fate as OS/2 Warp?

I strongly recommend anyone who likes Linux command lines to give it a try to see what works and what doesn’t (I had to manually install the update first). There are a lot of shortcomings but if it’s supported this could lead to more devs switching back to Windows.

I’m an Automattician

At the beginning of August, I joined Automattic, a company that is closely tied to WordPress (but they are not one in the same). That probably means I should blog more.

I got excited about working at Automattic (or “a8c” as in an “a” followed by 8 letters followed by “c”) after talking with my once-and-future coworker Drew. Drew joined a8c last year and we were talking about how I love open source and the open web. He pointed out that a8c was all of those things and I should really look at signing on. The only hurdle was the hiring process.

Automattic’s hiring process is well documented (hn discussion) but appears to have evolved since that was written. My own process was résumé, then chat on Slack, then code test, then paid trial project, then a chat with Matt Mullenweg on Slack. Happily, that resulted in an offer and here I am.

The trial project is a great way to get to know how the company works, so you can get a feel for if this is really a place you want to work. Remember – interviews should be as much about finding out if you want to work there as a company finding out if they want you to work. Both parties are taking a risk with an accepted job offer. A trial project adds a lot of information which removes risk.

I’d love to tell you more about what I’m doing as a JavaScript engineer at a8c, but I’m not actually doing it yet. Everyone’s first 3 weeks is the same: support rotation. A couple days of training and then you are thrown into the deep end. It’s a really good exercise (and that word fits, since it’s something that creates growth even if it’s tough); it teaches you a lot about what users are doing and a lot about what goes on behind the scenes. It also communicates that the company really values user experience in a way no mission statement can.

I don’t know if the support rotation would work at other companies but it’s been a better on-boarding than I’ve experienced anywhere else. It might only work because WordPress is already familiar to new hires, unlike the financial services companies I’ve worked at in the past. It might be the culture of using internal blogs and chat so that there is a ton of searchable documentation. There’s also a tech talent war. I wonder if other companies would be able to hire if they said that you’d start off doing front-line support (and I wonder how many big egos a8c has avoided by warning new hires they’ll have to do front-line support).

I’m really excited to be working at a fully distributed company and at a place that believes in making the web a better place.

In Life-Imitates-Snow-Crash News…

E-residency: The power to choose your nation

At the time of writing, the e-residency project has just come out of its beta stage and has been fully live for two months. During the 60 days more than 4,000 people have signed up to become members, doubling the target number that was set for twelve months. Kotka may be getting carried away when he suggests that “hundreds of thousands, or millions will come after three or four years” but there is an element of truth to his words when he says that the scheme has “already found its place in history”.

By paying a paltry 50 euro fee anyone, anywhere in the world, is able to become an e-Estonian. You don’t become a resident of the country and it doesn’t allow any rights to move to the country, but it allows you to become a digital citizen and, as such, removes some national borders.

I’m looking forward to a future where I can use an app to gain citizenship to Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong or, at least become an annoying Brooklynite without having to move to Brooklyn. Plus you know that Elon Musk is eyeing Sealand for his startup virtual nation-state.