Husband, father, Mozillian, Python/Django hacker, brewer and imbiber of beer, guitarist, skeptic, and tubist
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I'm Loyal to Nothing Except the Dream

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There is much I take for granted in my life, and the normal functioning of American government is one of those things. In my 46 years, I've lived under nine different presidents. The first I remember is Carter. I've voted in every presidential election since 1992, but I do not consider myself a Democrat, or a Republican. I vote based on leadership – above all, leadership – and issues.

In my 14 years of blogging, I've never written a political blog post. I haven't needed to.

Until now.

It is quite clear something has become deeply unglued in the state of American politics.

As of 2017, the United States, through a sequence of highly improbable events, managed to elect an extremely controversial president.

A president with historically low approval ratings, elected on a platform many considered too extreme to even be taken literally:

Asked about Trump’s statements proposing the construction of a wall on the US-Mexico border and a ban on all Muslims entering the country, Thiel suggested that Trump supporters do not actually endorse those policies.

“I don’t support a religious test. I certainly don’t support the specific language that Trump has used in every instance,” he said. “But I think one thing that should be distinguished here is that the media is always taking Trump literally. It never takes him seriously, but it always takes him literally.”

The billionaire went on to define how he believes the average Trump supporter interprets the candidate’s statements. “I think a lot of voters who vote for Trump take Trump seriously but not literally, so when they hear things like the Muslim comment or the wall comment their question is not, ‘Are you going to build a wall like the Great Wall of China?’ or, you know, ‘How exactly are you going to enforce these tests?’ What they hear is we’re going to have a saner, more sensible immigration policy.”

A little over a week into the new presidency, it is obvious that Trump meant every word of what he said. He will build a US-Mexico wall. And he signed an executive order that literally, not figuratively, banned Muslims from entering the US — even if they held valid green cards.

As I said, I vote on policies, and as an American, I reject these two policies. Our Mexican neighbors are not an evil to be kept out with a wall, but an ally to be cherished. One of my favorite people is a Mexican immigrant. Mexican culture is ingrained deeply into America and we are all better for it. The history of America is the history of immigrants seeking religious freedom from persecution, finding a new life in the land of opportunity. Imagine the bravery it takes to leave everything behind, your relatives, your home, your whole life as you know it, to take your entire family on a five thousand mile journey to another country on nothing more than the promise of a dream. I've never done that, though my great-great grandparents did. Muslim immigrants are more American than I will ever be, and I am incredibly proud to have them here, as fellow Americans.

Help Keep Your School All American!

Trump is the first president in 40 years to refuse to release his tax returns in office. He has also refused to divest himself from his dizzying array of businesses across the globe, which present financial conflicts of interest. All of this, plus the hasty way he is ramrodding his campaign plans through on executive orders, with little or no forethought to how it would work – or if it would work at all – speaks to how negligent and dangerous Trump is as the leader of the free world. I want to reiterate that I don't care about party; I'd be absolutely over the moon with President Romney or President McCain, or any other rational form of leadership at this point.

It is unclear to me how we got where we are today. But echoes of this appeal to nationalism in Poland, and in Venezula, offer clues. We brought fact checkers to a culture war … and we lost. During the election campaign, I was strongly reminded of Frank Miller's 1986 Nuke story arc, which I read in Daredevil as a teenager — the seductive appeal of unbridled nationalism bleeding across the page in stark primary colors.

Daredevil issue 233, page excerpt

Nuke is a self-destructive form of America First nationalism that, for whatever reasons, won the presidency through dark subvocalized whispers, and is now playing out in horrifying policy form. But we are not now a different country; we remain the very same country that elected Reagan and Obama. We lead the free world. And we do it by taking the higher moral ground, choosing to do what is right before doing what is expedient.

I exercised my rights as a American citizen and I voted, yes. But I mostly ignored government beyond voting. I assumed that the wheels of American government would turn, and reasonable decisions would be made by reasonable people. Some I would agree with, others I would not agree with, but I could generally trust that the arc of American history inexorably bends toward justice, towards freedom, toward equality. Towards the things that make up the underlying American dream that this country is based on.

This is no longer the case.

I truly believe we are at an unprecedented time in American history, in uncharted territory. I have benefited from democracy passively, without trying at all, for 46 years. I now understand that the next four years is perhaps the most important time to be an activist in the United States since the civil rights movement. I am ready to do the work.

  • I have never once in my life called my representatives in congress or the house. That will change. I will be calling and writing my representatives regularly, using tools like 5 Calls to do so.

  • I will strongly support, advocate for, and advertise any technical tools on web or smartphone that help Americans have their voices heard by their representatives, even if it takes faxing to do so. Build these tools. Make them amazing.

  • I am subscribing to support essential investigative journalism such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post.

  • I have set up large monthly donations to the ACLU which is doing critical work in fighting governmental abuse under the current regime.

  • I have set up monthly donations to independent journalism such as ProPublica and NPR.

  • I have set up monthly donations to agencies that fight for vulnerable groups, such as Planned Parenthood, Center for Reproductive Rights, Refugee Rights, NAACP, MALDEF, the Trevor Project, and so on.

  • I wish to see the formation of a third political party in the United States, led by those who are willing to speak truth to power like Evan McMullen. It is shameful how many elected representatives will not speak out. Those who do: trust me, we're watching and taking notes. And we will be bringing all our friends and audiences to bear to help you win.

  • I will be watching closely to see which representatives rubber-stamp harmful policies and appointees, and I will vote against them across the ticket, on every single ticket I can vote on.

  • I will actively support all efforts to make the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact happen, to reform the electoral college.

  • To the extent that my schedule allows, I will participate in protests to combat policies that I believe are harmful to Americans.

  • I am not quite at a place in my life where I'd consider running for office, but I will be, eventually. To the extent that any Stack Overflow user can be elected a moderator, I could be elected into office, locally, in the house, even congress. Has anyone asked Joel Spolsky if he'd be willing to run for office? Because I'd be hard pressed to come up with someone I trust more than my old business partner Joel to do the right thing. I would vote for him so hard I'd break the damn voting machine.

I want to pay back this great country for everything it has done for me in my life, and carry the dream forward, not just selfishly for myself and my children, but for everyone's children, and our children's children. I do not mean the hollow promises of American nationalism

We would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.

Is not nationalism—that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder—one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?

These ways of thinking—cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on— have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.

… but the enduring values of freedom, justice, and equality that this nation was founded on. I pledge my allegiance to the American dream, and the American people – not to the nation, never to the nation.

Daredevil issue 233, page excerpt

I apologize that it's taken me 46 years to wake up and realize that some things, like the American dream, aren't guaranteed. There will come a time where you have to stand up and fight for them, for democracy to work. I will.

Will you?

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pmac
53 days ago
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Powerfully well said.
Atlanta, GA
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4 public comments
StunGod
36 days ago
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Sharing, in case it causes one more person to read and be moved to do more than complain on the internet. Really a powerful essay.
Portland, Oregon, USA, Earth
samuel
38 days ago
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This is incredible and considering the source, it's going to be read by a lot of people.
The Haight in San Francisco
moschlar
49 days ago
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… but the enduring values of freedom, justice, and equality that this nation was founded on. I pledge my allegiance to the American dream, and the American people – not to the nation, never to the nation.
Mainz, Deutschland
wmorrell
52 days ago
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And the nerds start to get a little more woke.

Video-conferencing the right way

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I work from home. I have been doing so for the last four years, ever since I joined Mozilla. Some people dislike it, but it suits me well: I get the calm, focused, relaxing environment needed to work on complex problems all in the comfort of my home.

Even given the opportunity, I probably wouldn't go back to working in an office. For the kind of work that I do, quiet time is more important than high bandwidth human interaction.

Yet, being able to talk to my colleagues and exchanges ideas or solve problems is critical to being productive. That's where the video-conferencing bit comes in. At Mozilla, we use Vidyo primarily, sometimes Hangout and more rarely Skype. We spend hours every week talking to each other via webcams and microphones, so it's important to do it well.

Having a good video setup is probably the most important and yet least regarded aspect of working remotely. When you start at Mozilla, you're given a laptop and a Vidyo account. No one teaches you how to use it. Should I have an external webcam or use the one on your laptop? Do I need headphones, earbuds, a headset with a microphone? What kind of bandwidth does it use? Those things are important to good telepresence, yet most of us only learn them after months of remote work.

When your video setup is the main interface between you and the rest of your team, spending a bit of time doing it right is far from wasted. The difference between a good microphone and a shitty little one, or a quiet room and taking calls from the local coffee shop, influence how much your colleagues will enjoy working with you. I'm a lot more eager to jump on a call with someone I know has good audio and video, than with someone who will drag me in 45 minutes of ambient noise and coughing in his microphone.

This is a list of tips and things that you should care about, for yourself, and for your coworkers. They will help you build a decent setup with no to minimal investment.

The place

It may seem obvious, but you shouldn't take calls from a noisy place. Airports, coffee shops, public libraries, etc. are all horribly noisy environments. You may enjoy working from those places, but your interlocutors will suffer from all the noise. Nowadays, I refuse to take calls and cut meetings short when people try to force me into listening to their surrounding. Be respectful of others and take meetings from a quiet space.

Bandwidth

Despite what ISPs are telling you, no one needs 300Mbps of upstream bandwidth. Take a look at the graph below. It measures the egress point of my gateway. The two yellow spikes are video meetings. They don't even reach 1Mbps! In the middle of the second one, there's a short spike at 2Mbps when I set Vidyo to send my stream at 1080p, but shortly reverted because that software is broken and the faces of my coworkers disappeared. Still, you get the point: 2Mbps is the very maximum you'll need for others to see you, and about the same amount is needed to download their streams.

You do want to be careful about ping: latency can increase up to 200ms without issue, but even 5% packet drop is enough to make your whole experience miserable. Ask Tarek what bad connectivity does to your productivity: he works from a remote part of france where bandwidth is scarce and latency is high. I coined him the inventor of the Tarek protocol, where you have to repeat each word twice for others to understand what you're saying. I'm joking, but the truth is that it's exhausting for everyone. Bad connectivity is tough on remote workers.

(Tarek thought it'd be worth mentioning that he tried to improve his connectivity by subscribing to a satellite connection, but ran into issues in the routing of his traffic: 700ms latency was actually worse than his broken DSL.)

Microphone

Perhaps the single most important aspect of video-conferencing is the quality of your microphone and how you use it. When everyone is wearing headphones, voice quality matters a lot. It is the difference between a pleasant 1h conversation, or a frustrating one that leaves you with a headache.

Rule #1: MUTE!

Let me say that again: FREAKING MUTE ALREADY!

Video softwares are terrible at routing the audio of several people at the same time. This isn't the same as a meeting room, where your brain will gladly separate the voice of someone you're speaking to from the keyboard of the dude next to you. On video, everything is at the same volume, so when you start answering that email while your colleagues are speaking, you're pretty much taking over their entire conversation with keyboard noises. It's terrible, and there's nothing more annoying than having to remind people to mute every five god damn minutes. So, be a good fellow, and mute!

Rule #2: no coughing, eating, breathing, etc... It's easy enough to mute or move your microphone away from your mouth that your colleagues shouldn't have to hear you breathing like a marathoner who just finished the olympics. We're going back to rule #1 here.

Now, let's talk about equipment. A lot of people neglect the value of a good microphone, but it really helps in conversations. Don't use your laptop microphone, it's crap. And so is the mic on your earbuds (yes, even the apple ones). Instead, use a headset with a microphone.

If you have a good webcam, it's somewhat ok to use the microphone that comes with it. The Logitech C920 is a popular choice. The downside of those mics is they will pick up a lot of ambient noise and make you sound distant. I don't like them, but it's an acceptable trade-off.

If you want to go all out, try one of those fancy podcast microphones, like the Blue Yeti.

You most definitely don't need that for good mic quality, but they sound really nice. Here's a recording comparing the Plantronic headset, the Logitech C920 and the Blue Yeti.

Webcam

This part is easy because most laptops already come with 720p webcam that provide decent video quality. I do find the Logitech renders colors and depth better than the webcam embedded on my Lenovo Carbon X1, but the difference isn't huge.

The most important part of your webcam setup should be its location. It's a bit strange to have someone talk to you without looking straight at you, but this is often what happens when people place their webcam to the side of their screen.

I've experimented a bit with this, and my favorite setup is to put the webcam right in the middle of my screen. That way, I'm always staring right at it.

It does consume a little space in the middle of my display, but with a large enough screen - I use an old 720p 35" TV - doesn't really bother me.

Lighting and background are important parameters too. Don't bring light from behind, or your face will look dark, and don't use a messy background so people can focus on what you're saying. These factors contribute to helping others read your facial expressions, which are an important part of good communication. If you don't believe me, ask Cal Lightman ;).

Spread the word!

In many ways, we're the first generation of remote workers, and people are learning how to do it right. I believe video-conferencing is an important part of that process, and I think everyone should take a bit of time and improve their setup. Ultimately, we're all a lot more productive when communication flows easily, so spread the word, and do tell your coworkers when they setup is getting in the way of good conferencing.

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pmac
60 days ago
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Fantastic advice!
Atlanta, GA
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200,000 years of human population growth in 5 minutes

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human-population-amnh

The American Museum of Natural History's hockey stick graph of explosive human population growth in the last 200 years is projected to increase in the short term, tapering off around 11 billion, give or take several billion depending on a few variables. (more…)

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pmac
130 days ago
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Awesome
Atlanta, GA
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If you've got nothing to hide...

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When it was revealed that every Government in the world was using technology to spy unlawfully on every other country, there was an arugment that this was acceptable "as long as you have nothing to hide". That argument is, of course, complete rubbish and individual freedoms and rights to privacy are extremely important.

But we've just witnessed in the US another problem with this argument. It's acceptable "as long as you have nothing to hide from every single government and authority that is going to possibly come after". For example, the current Canadian Liberal government might be "ok", but who's going to get elected next. And next? What happens if one of those governments is like the one coming into the US?

There is a chilling example of this in history. In the Netherlands they recorded peoples information in a census and that included peoples religion. In 1941 there were about 140,000 Dutch Jews living in the Netherlands. After the Nazi invasion there were an estimated 35,000 left. Because the Government had census data for them, it was easy for the Nazis to find and eliminate them using that data.

Some 75% of the Dutch-Jewish population perished, an unusually high percentage compared with other occupied countries in western Europe.

Wikipedia

As Cory Doctrow said today:

Most of my (admittedly small) readership lives in North America or Europe. That means there's likely a Government surveillance operation monitoring you. It could be internal (in my case CSIS) or external (in my case the NSA). Even worse, they share their information with each other through Five Eyes to get around laws. There is a:

"supra-national intelligence organisation that doesn't answer to the known laws of its own countries"

Edward Snowden, via Wikipedia

The US has just elected someone who repeatedly spews lies, rascism, sexism, hatred and profiling and has said he will go after his enemies [1]. That person will soon oversee the largest surveillance operation in the history of mankind. A surveillance operation that spys on the majority of people reading this blog. That should worry you.


[1] By enemies, that's the press, women who accuse him of doing the things he says he does and so on. But you know all this right?

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pmac
134 days ago
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Very well said
Atlanta, GA
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On Anniversary of the Patriot Act, Artist Passes Out Pocket Knives at the Airport

jwz
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Michele Pred handed out small pocket knives passengers arriving at San Francisco's International Airport to replace those that have been confiscated since the passage of the Patriot Act 15 years ago.

Dressed as a 1960s-era flight attendant (complete with an original hat worn by Pan Am stewardesses -- one of whom was her mother), Pred returned to travelers one of the most commonly confiscated items in airport security lines. The performance was, of course, sanctioned: she had received permission from the airport, obtaining a Free Speech and Expressive Activities Permit after a long application process. She specifically chose the two and a quarter-inch red knives as they are the most common of all those that TSA officers seize. To her, though small, the utilitarian object and the response its presence provokes at airports speak volumes about security culture.

"The text that I had printed on them was intended as a somewhat humorous way of driving home the notion that our focus on security has not only taken things away from us, but has not clearly explained what it has given back," Pred told Hyperallergic.

That such a thing as a "Free Speech and Expressive Activities Permit" even exists is possibly the most horrifying thing I've heard this week.

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

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pmac
142 days ago
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This woman is a hero
Atlanta, GA
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Benjamin Button Reviews The New MacBook Pro

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The new MacBook Pro shows that Apple is finally becoming serious about developers.

Gone is the gimmicky TouchBar, gone are the four USB-C ports that forced power users to carry a suitcase full of dongles. In their place we get a cornucopia of developer-friendly ports: two USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt 2 ports, a redesigned power connector, and a long-awaited HDMI port.

Photographers will rejoice at the surprising and welcome addition of an SDXC card reader, a sign that Apple might be thinking seriously about photography.

The new MagSafe connector is a bit of Apple design genius. The charging cord stays seated securely, but pops right off if you yank on it. No more worries about destroying your $2k laptop just by accidentally kicking a cord.

What hasn't changed: Apple has kept the beautiful Retina display, and storage and memory are the same as before. The new machines will be slightly thicker (to accomodate the USB ports) and 200 grams heavier, but it's not clear how this will affect battery life.

Interestingly, Apple has removed the fingerprint reader and its associated dedicated chip, perhaps assuming that developers would not comfortable with a machine they don't fully control.

The most obvious change is the redesigned keyboard. Removing the Touchbar creates room for a row of physical function buttons and, in a nice touch, an escape key. This isn't a perfect solution: the function buttons map to a confusing series of actions that can send windows flying around the screen with an errant keystroke, and the new physical off switch is too close to the backspace key. But it is certainly a huge step forward, and it will be interesting to see how software developers take advantage of this clever new feature.

Everything about the new machine seems designed for typists. The trackpad has been made smaller, so you're less likely to brush against it with your palm. The keys themselves are much more comfortable to type on, with improved key travel, a softer feel, and more satisfying tactile feedback. You no longer feel like you're tapping on the glass surface of an iPad. And not having a TouchBar means no longer having to look down at your hands all the time.

Despite the many improvements, Apple is actually dropping the price on its flagship 15" MacBook Pro by $400, another sign that they're serious about winning over developers.

The release is an encouraging sign of life at Apple, whose products have not seen significant changes since the company introduced a separate operating system for its laptops in 2019. There's even speculation that Apple may refresh its antiquated Mac Pro and desktop macs, neither of which have been updated since their release in 2022.

Rumors are also swirling that the company will add a headphone jack to its already popular iPhone. The announcement could come as early as this month.

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pmac
143 days ago
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LOL "Photographers will rejoice at the surprising and welcome addition of an SDXC card reader, a sign that Apple might be thinking seriously about photography."
Atlanta, GA
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theprawn
144 days ago
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"The most obvious change is the redesigned keyboard. Removing the Touchbar creates room for a row of physical function buttons and, in a nice touch, an escape key." 😂
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