Here’s a thing, October 05, 2017

As I endeavor to re-establish writing here as a regular and consistent project, I’m reminding myself of two things that helped me in the past.

First and foremost, it’s about the writing and the finished product over the page views and vanity metrics. No one’s biography or Wikipedia page says “and lo they were followed by many social media influencers and gathered many thousands of impressions!”

Second, no weblog is better than the one you already have. Resist the urge to roll your own tools and just write.

By virtue of Apple Music’s “For You” tab, I came upon the musical landscape of Tim Heckler. If wooshy, atmospheric ambient experimental/electronic music is your thing, you should check it out.

Also, you should listen to lots of Nina Simone.

The notes, October 04, 2017

I’m intrigued by folks having luck building virtualized development environments for localhost setups. It sounds like fun to work in this kind of workflow. I never want to do the legwork to make this work, though.

I did the preliminaries for this last year and ended up turning back from it. I understand Docker and virtualization superficially at best. I don’t want to impose it on teammates. It’s still too hard to search for Unix-y error messages and fix your development environment. Trying to figure out if your host Unix, Docker, or a virtualized Unix are the problem is not something I wanted to do to someone else.

Is Amazon Lightsail a move by AWS into the space occupied by Linode, Digital Ocean, etc.? Related to virtualized localhost setups: someone write me a thing to drop my dotfiles from macOS onto a Digital Ocean, AWS, etc. instance and do development from an iPad, keyboard, and SSH client.

Hammerspoon is a really cool to do all-the-things with your keyboard and some Lua. I use it to launch/switch to my most frequent dozen apps and some light Markdown helpers. But, something about it is correspondingly creepy. It can, theoretically, scoop up every keystroke. (Which probably every bit of open source I install via Homebrew could, to be honest) But maybe I could replace it with a clever bit of Alfred workflow and scripting. Catch a triggering keystroke and then give me a constrained list of apps to switch to. Yes, this is a very strange way to hit Command-Tab! I wonder how well a few custom Alfred workflows fit into a dotfiles repo.

Afternoon notes, October 03, 2017

Someone will always have a slicker Git workflow than you. For example,Auto-squashing Git Commits for clever rebasing.

The passage of time is weird, lately. Nonetheless, it’s surprising that the Dynamo white paper is ten years old. Ten years of NoSQL hype. Even from a naive yours truly.

I’ve been using the fish shell for about five months and it is pretty great. A shell with human affordances! It has very good guesses about what I want to do (completions) and what I want it to remember (history). You can configure it with a web interface or regular-old dotfiles. It doesn’t do anything bizarrely different from your typical Unix-style shell, namely bash, so there’s not much new to learn and when I SSH to a server, I don’t wonder what kind of weird contraption I’m interacting with. I haven’t bothered to learn its scripting language because I’ve decided no one should learn those anymore and they should use Ruby, Python, Go, etc. for that kind of thing.

Morning notes, October 03, 2017

I like Bluebottle’s coffee subscription service a lot. The web app is well done and having coffee magically appear in my mailbox means I have far fewer “awww heck we’re out of coffee until I go to a coffee shop” moments. However, I do occasionally mess up the timing, such as right now, and then I have a very first world problem.

Scheduling my time on social media and capping the total time spent, not unlike watching a regular TV show, is an idea with some appeal. It’s probably a good idea for moderating how much daily news one consumes, as well.

I was looking at WP-CLI so I could automate some housekeeping tasks on this blog. It’s pretty close to what I’d like to use, the ideal being something closer to t. I’m a little wary of installing a PHP tool though. It’s probably the language tribalism talking though. Seems pretty likely I’d save time using someone else’s PHP than figuring it out on my own.

When my brain storms

I do my best thinking:

  • In the shower. I love to take long showers, and I love my tankless water heater.
  • While talking. Something about my brain is wired directly to my mouth.
  • When I’m not thinking. See also, the value of letting your mind idle, wander, or just walking away from a tricky problem.

Your thinking may vary!

We should get back to inventing jetpacks

I don’t like using services like Uber, Twitch, or Favor. I want to like them, because the underlying ideas are pretty futuristic. But the reality of these services is that the new boss wants to squeeze their not-even-employess-anymore just as badly the old boss did. It feels manipulative, like buying a car. Except I’m abetting the manipulation too. :(


The contrast between the gig economy’s rhetoric (everyone is always connecting, having fun, and killing it!) and the conditions that allow it to exist (a lack of dependable employment that pays a living wage) makes this kink in our thinking especially clear.

What happens when the gig economy tries to turn a profit? The race downwards will squeeze out all of their contractors until they can replace them all with automated drivers, commoditized personalities, and punitively-low ad revenue sharing rates. This sounds horribly dystopian but I’m pretty sure it’s already happening. See also: when Google kneecapped bloggers as a side-effect of end-of-lifing Reader and changing Pagerank.

The New York Times, Platform Companies Are Becoming More Powerful — but What Exactly Do They Want?

Platforms are, in a sense, capitalism distilled to its essence. They are proudly experimental and maximally consequential, prone to creating externalities and especially disinclined to address or even acknowledge what happens beyond their rising walls. And accordingly, platforms are the underlying trend that ties together popular narratives about technology and the economy in general. Platforms provide the substructure for the “gig economy” and the “sharing economy”; they’re the economic engine of social media; they’re the architecture of the “attention economy” and the inspiration for claims about the “end of ownership.”

After reading this, I started substituting “platform company” for “company building its own monopoly”. And then it all makes sense. Businesspeople say they love free markets, but give any rational-thinking business the chance and they will create so many “moats” and “barriers to entry” that they resemble tiny state enterprises more than a private business. See also: telecoms and airlines.

Anil Dash, Tech and the Fake Market tactic:

This has been the status quo for most of the last decade. But the next rising wave of tech innovators twist the definition of “market” even further, to a point where they aren’t actually markets at all.

Yes, my confirmation bias is burning. Yes, technologists are doomed to recreate the robber-baron past they didn’t study. Yes, we still have time to change this. Yes, our field needs an ethics refresher. Yes, we should get back to inventing jetpacks!

Healthcare is a multiplier, not a consumer good

Adam Davidson tells a personal story about a relative who, with health care, could’ve continued his career. Without that healthcare, he ended up addicted and in jail. What the GOP doesn’t get about who pays for health care:

However, dividing health expenditures into these categories misses an important economic reality: health-care spending has a substantial impact on every other sort of economic activity.

Healthcare isn’t consumption, like buying a TV or going to a movie. It is a Keynesian multiplier. Every dollar the government spends on it means an individual or business can spend more than a dollar on something productive in GDP terms.

UPS and FedEx can’t exist without public roads. Southwest and United Airlines can’t exist without the FAA. Lockheed and Northrop can’t exist without the Air Force. Walmart and McDonald’s can’t exist without food stamps. Entrepreneurs find it harder to start without individual access to healthcare.

Yet Republicans are opposed to the existence of all of these. Perhaps business in America relies on more subsidies and government services than Republicans are willing to admit!

Let’s price externalities, America

Hello, America. We have to talk. You are built on top of a mountain of federal (a trillion or so dollars) debt. That debt covers some things we need (roads, health care, social safety nets, education, scientific research) and subsidizes distasteful things (energy companies, military contractors, banks, real estate). You could consider that debt the tip of the iceberg. We can see how it contributes to the annual federal budget in dollars and by percentages. It’s a measurable, knowable thing.

Unfortunately, there’s also a ton of unmeasured debt we are accruing. We have to pay the price for it through social norms and charity. Here’s a hackish list:

  • food service is systematically underpaid so we tip them, most often poorly
  • the people who clean our hotel rooms are underpaid because they are invisible, unskilled, and often immigrant; depending on what you read, you should tip them but they also say you should hide your valuables from them so which is it, leave money laying around or distrust them not to rub your toothbrush in the toilet?
  • we pay a small tax on the amount of gasoline we use, but it is comically low, hasn’t gone up in years, and isn’t enough to pay for the usage of our crumbling roads, bridges, etc. sometimes it’s also used to pay for public transit, which is perverse during high gasoline prices if you’ve studied even rudimentary supply-and-demand
  • our children are raised mostly by women who are expected to just do it for free, despite what else they may want to do with their lives
  • we let financiers play with our retirement money, in theory because they know how to allocate it, get the occasional Google but more often some business tragicomedy, and in return they get to take a few percent off the top, which ends up being a huge number, for the service basically of them having gone to Harvard or their daddy knew a guy
  • millions of people live paycheck to paycheck, go hungry, go into massive debt if life comes at them wrong, etc. all because the Walmarts of the world (and there are way more than just Walmart) pay them next to nothing expecting the federal government to pick up the slack except the federal government has been systematically dismantled over the course of decades by men who fancy themselves smart enough to start The Next Walmart but in fact are barely smart enough to get themselves elected in a fair contest let alone actually lead a congressional district

But I digress and rant. And rant. Economists call these externalities. It’s when you have some accidental cost or benefit that is paid for by a third party, e.g. Walmart paying less than a living wage because the government will pick up the tab through welfare.

Point is, we’re underpaying for a lot of stuff. And that’s fun for some of us. We eat avocado toast, take exciting trips around the world, maybe drive race cars. We sort ourselves out so we don’t see the literally millions of people suffering because we’re not paying what it takes to give everyone a chance at doing better off than their parents or picking themselves up when life knocks them down. And then when some transparently awful populist blowhard runs for president, we’re shocked, just shocked, that he ends up winning.

Bring the higher taxes. Make me pay more to eat out. Charge me more for gas. I don’t mind thinking twice about whether I should subscribe to HBO and Showtime and Netflix. If I can’t go to Disney World as often, so be it.

It’s a small price to pay to have avoided what’s coming over the next four years: an increasingly unequal, unfair world for those of us who aren’t already doing great and white and male. Let me pay more for a greater country where everyone, not just the affluent, seek what it is that makes them happy in life without the fear of illness, bad circumstance, political or racial backlash. Let’s not lord that greater country over people to “motivate them to work harder and escape their current lot in life”. Let’s price the externalities that separate the concerns of the rich from the stresses of the poor and let’s all pay our share.