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Progress on the book

1 min read

A sound shook Frances fully awake. Her dreams faded quickly into the cold air, her sleeping memories of San Francisco collapsing into the smell of stone and moss and rot.

There was someone in the house.

And so begins The Source, at least as the draft stands today.

What follows is an adventure that touches on accelerationism, climate change, capital, and the guilt of culpability.

I’m getting there.

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It's time to get real: I'm not 25 anymore

Time to get healthy

3 min read

Last week, without warning, my back went “crunch”.

I’ve been dealing with what feels like a painful, bruised coccyx ever since. It should heal up within a few weeks, but until then, getting up from a sitting or lying position is really hard, walking has been awkward, and I haven’t been able to pick up anything particularly heavy (like, just for example, a toddler who happens to be in the 99th percentile for his height).

I’m used to my body more or less working properly — and now it just doesn’t. It’s been unsettling. In the scheme of things, it’s much less problematic than the injuries a lot of people have to deal with, but it’s also a wake-up call.

Here’s what I think I need to do:

  • Commit to radically losing some weight. My weight when I arrived in California was 196 pounds. The last time I weighed in, it was something like 260.
  • Gain some strength and flexibility. Once my coccyx is healed I intend to start taking home fitness more seriously, and also (finally) get into yoga.
  • Actually use my fancy standing desk. I need to spend more of my time standing rather than sitting, and aim to stand for at least 60% of my day.
  • When I am sitting, I need to take my posture seriously. I’ve been sitting on a Wit SitOnIt task chair (the same kind we used to have at Matter), but I need something with more lumbar and posture support. Not least because the back support strip went “ping” a little while ago and I’ve been sitting with almost nothing behind me.

So. Changes afoot:

I’m upgrading my chair to a Herman Miller Aeron, which is stereotypical for a reason: it’s far better for posture. I managed to find it at a surplus store for a very deep discount on its eye-watering usual price.

I’ll be standing for most of my day. If you’re in a meeting with me, you can expect me to be bouncing around.

I’ll be taking more care about what I eat, mostly by trying to go for less calorie-dense food. In a significant change to my California lifestyle, I already don’t eat out much. But there’s more I can do: in particular, the more fresh vegetables I can include, the better.

I’m going to try and resume my walking habit: a long walk at night, listening to podcasts or audiobooks.

And yoga. Which I am terrified of. My relationship with my body is fraught. I’ve never been proud of it and I don’t think I can make it do very much. So as challenging as the stretching itself might be, the psychological component is pretty much the hardest thing to get over.

Unfortunately, I’m not 25 anymore. In itself, that’s a painful sentence to have to type. But here I am, firmly entering middle age, and I want to be around for a long time to come.

These changes might be challenging — both in themselves and as habits to stick to — but it’s clearly past time that I do something. My painful back is a small signal; without intervention, I expect others to follow. It’s time to get real.

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Building another big fediverse platform

1 min read

Purely hypothetically, I wonder what it would take to raise enough money to build another first-class fediverse platform for the mass market.

Not because there’s anything wrong with Mastodon (or Threads or Flipboard), but I think the fediverse would be healthier with another big platform in the mix.

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A computer can never be held accountable

Therefore a computer must never make a management decision

1 min read

I love this IBM slide circa 1979, which is more relevant today than ever:

A computer can never be held accountable; therefore a computer must never make a management decision

Simon Willison asked about the provenance. Jonty Wareing weighed in:

It was found by someone going through their father's work documents, and subsequently destroyed in a flood.

I spent some time corresponding with the IBM archives but they can't locate it. Apparently it was common for branch offices to produce things that were not archived.

The original source confirmed this a few years ago.

Still, it’s a really pertinent message, which is proving to be more timeless than expected.

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A jab back at Brexit (or a kick in the teeth)

The UK general election on July 4 is a symbol.

4 min read

Nigel bloody Farage

I grew up in Britain, but I was able to be there because of my European citizenship. When I moved to the US it was because my mother was terminally ill; I’d always assumed that I would go back. When the Brexit vote happened, I took it extremely personally: in lots of ways, the British public voted to throw people like me out.

In the interim, some people have assured me that, no, it’s not people like me. After all, I have a British accent, and if you didn’t actually know, you’d be forgiven for assuming that I was British. Of course, that’s a hugely xenophobic reflex: my British accent makes me okay, but someone else’s Polish accent means that they’re not. I stand with the people who more obviously come from somewhere else; I do, too. All of us are (or, I suppose, were) an active part of British society, integral parts of communities, and so on.

Brexit was offensive, stupid, counterproductive, and xenophobic. I’m not glad that Britain has been suffering the consequences of this own-goal, because so many of my friends still live there, and so many communities are suffering. Spitefully wishing ill on people who are hurting isn’t a good look. But I certainly have no love for the people who voted for this travesty.

It’s not fun to be barred from living in the place I called home. It happened at a time in my life when it was becoming apparent that there was a terminal, genetic disease that runs in my family; multiple family members had it, and I hadn’t yet had the genetic test that suggested my sister and I weren’t going to get it. It was the same year that Trump became President on a similarly anti-immigrant platform. Overall, it was A Bad Time.

Oddly, then, I’m not unhappy to see Nigel Farage run for Prime Minister. Obviously, he’s among the worst people alive, as if the worst impulses of British society had been congealed, Doctor Who style, into a comic book villain with an angry toad for a face. Two of his children are even dual European citizens, because the hypocrisy is part of the schtick for these people. But because he’s running, he’s going to split the Conservative vote, with the hard right voting for Farage and the people who claim they’re not hard right voting for whoever the Conservative leader of the week will be on — who picked this day?! — July 4th. (It’ll be Rishi Sunak or a slowly-decomposing head of iceberg lettuce. Let’s see.)

Keir Starmer is not a giant leap of an improvement: a John Major impersonator who would have comfortably been a Tory candidate in 1995. But at least he’s not one of the guys who brought about Brexit and all of the ludicrous policies that followed. It’s something. A jab back for all the people who have been hurt over the last 14 years since hog aficionado David Cameron was first elected with the help of a last-minute coalition assist from Nick Clegg, who, of course, now leads international face-saving for Meta.

A Conservative loss is the foothills of the foothills of the foothills of the work to be done to rebuild. But it would, at least, be a baby step forward. And even then, I’m ready to be disappointed, because, really, nothing in this arena has gone well since forever, and I, for one, have lost the ability to be really optimistic.


Photo by Gage Skidmore

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Known fizzled

2 min read

One of my biggest regrets is how the Known hosted service declined. The paid subscriptions came to an end, and eventually the hosting whimpered out. Behind the scenes, the database cluster was in need of more maintenance than I was able to provide.

Known itself has required more maintenance than I’ve been able to provide for quite some time. I wish I could spend more bandwidth on it, but the state of my life right now is that it’s just not possible for me to dedicate the coding time for something that isn’t paying my bills and isn’t having the impact I wanted it to.

I wish we’d sent out a strong email at the end and allowed everyone to export their data automatically. I also wish Known had import/export that was reliable so that people could explore other platforms.

After attempting to claw the time to do it myself, I’d like to hire someone to build the latter, and then apply it to everyone who had a hosted account. The export function could be built into the Known UI or as a CLI tool. If this seems like something you might be able to do, let me know.

Overall, I have a ton of regrets about Known — something for a future post (or series of posts), maybe. This site is still powered by it, though, and I know other people still use it, too. So it’s not dead — just small.

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Can we at least agree that killing is wrong?

4 min read

I don’t think it’s possible to morally support the ongoing bombardment of Gaza, but that’s too weak a statement. What’s happening there seems to be — based on what I’ve read through the news, what I’ve seen in video, the stories that have been sent back to us — an atrocity. The latest story, from Rafah, is of an airstrike on a civilian evacuation zone where displaced families were sheltering in tents:

Images showed the area engulfed in flames as screaming Palestinians fled for safety, with some video shared on social media showing disturbing images, including severely burned corpses and a man holding what appeared to be the headless body of a small child.

There’s nothing flippant to say about this. This isn’t sports, where you root for a team. It’s not a theoretical debate: certainly not for the families who have no way to escape, kettled as they are into a small strip of land under constant military bombardment.

The bombardment on Gaza is disproportionate and indefensible. Thirteen thousand children alone have been killed. A quarter of surviving children have acute malnutrition. There’s nowhere for them to go, and nowhere for them to get the care they need. In the face of these conditions, there must be a ceasefire. Obviously there must be a ceasefire.

Making statements like this is fraught. It sometimes seems like we’re being asked to fall into weird ideological lines that have little to do with the humanity of the people involved. Following the events of October 7, I unfollowed multiple progressive Instagram accounts that not only described the attack and kidnappings as the necessary work of de-colonization, but applauded the action. It’s clear to me that Palestine has been annexed, its land illegally settled, and its people made to suffer at the hands of increasingly-conservative Israeli policy. Protest and resistance are inevitable and justifiable. Regardless, I can’t support the killing and kidnapping of civilians, let alone accept cheerleading for it. Not ever.

By the same token, I see some people online call for an end to the state of Israel. What would that entail, exactly? Assuming it was a desirable goal, how might one go about achieving that? Dismantling it would involve unthinkable bloodshed.

Some people talk about how Hamas is the local government, and how the people there voted for them, so they deserve what’s happening to them. That it’s okay to bomb hospitals because Hamas is hiding out in them — regardless of international law related to protecting the lives of human shields.

The history, today’s political issues, and the road to a solution are far more complicated than can be conveyed by memes and soundbites. I have no solutions to the problems in this region or how to get to a lasting peace.

But some things are not complicated at all.

Don’t kill. Don’t subjugate. Don’t dehumanize. Don’t reduce lives, in all their complexity and beauty, to points and sides.

The core of this issue right now is — or should be — concern for human life. Everyone, regardless of nationality or political affiliation, should be appalled when children burn to death or are decapitated (whether they’re in an evacuation zone or not). The ruining of cities should never yield applause.

The protests on university campuses are the latest in a long line of campus anti-war protests, and I’m strongly in favor of them. Except, because of course this is true, there are people there who conflate the protest over policy with protests of anyone who is Israeli, or even anyone who is a Jew. I’ve personally heard stories of at least one person being spat on, not because of any rhetoric they were espousing, but simply because of who they were.

This all has the potential to escalate. I worry that it will. This is all already so horrific.

These are human beings. The Palestinian people are human beings. The Israeli people are human beings. Arabs are human beings. Jews are human beings. They are not their leaders; they are not their circumstances. They all - like all people - deserve to live, and live well. The death of any human being is never something to celebrate or to praise as a strategy. It’s all just endless tragedy.

Stop the killing. Find another way.

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The AI data goldmine

1 min read

If I was a nefarious software company, here’s how I might be thinking:

AI functionality tends to require that data is sent to a centralized service for processing.

This is often data that is not being shared online in any other way that is easily available for analysis: existential work questions, internal documents, and so on.

This makes it very valuable data to sell to brokers or to use in targeting advertising.

So, let’s add lots of AI functionality to our services to encourage people to share that data with us.

We’ll provide AI services.

We’ll mine the data that is provided to us when people use those AI services.

And then we’ll sell it.

The AI revolution is also the private data sharing revolution. It’s worth asking: does this AI feature I’m interested in using puncture a privacy hole in the service it is a part of? Who am I sharing this information with? What will they do with it?

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ShareOpenly is now on Tedium

1 min read

I adore the way ShareOpenly has been added to Tedium:

You can see it for yourself on all its posts, including this great one about the decline of the ball mouse. Its founder, Ernie Smith, told me: “figured I had to have fun with it”.

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A new Ani DiFranco album is something to celebrate

2 min read

I’ve been following Ani DiFranco for decades. I’ve seen her play live around twenty times: she always brings a kind of joyful, progressive energy that leaves me motivated and buzzing.

She has a new album out, and it feels like a return to visceral, honest form. It’s not quite the acoustic punk from the late nineties / early aughts — seriously, go check out Living in Clip, Not a Pretty Girl or Dilate — and it goes to some really experimental places, but I’m into it. This time, rather than making it on her own, she’s worked with producer BJ Burton, who’s also worked with Bon Iver and Taylor Swift.

We need progressive, momentum-bringing, energetic music more than ever. Ani delivers. And even the name of the album itself — Unprecedented Sh!t — feels very apt for the era.

From the liner notes:

The title Unprecedented Sh!t is not only representative of how much of a sonic departure the 11-track album is from Ani’s other work, but also a political and social commentary on the current state of the world. “We find ourselves in unprecedented times in many ways, faced with unprecedented challenges. So, our responses to them and our discourse around them, need to rise to that level.”


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The Philadelphia Inquirer is here to fight

Is this really a good ad strategy?

1 min read

SEPTA - the South Eastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority — trains are covered with these ads for the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Combative Philadelphia Inquirer ad

I’m curious to know if they actually work. They feel very negative to me: a pot-shot at the New York Times rather than an argument for why the Inquirer is great in its own right.

There’s an underlying assumption here that newspaper subscriptions are zero-sum: that each household will only receive one. Of course, most households aren’t even that: it’s increasingly rare for anyone to subscribe to a paper newspaper. But for digital subscriptions, I’d have assumed that it would be additional: households might subscribe to both the Inquirer and the Times (as well as a few other publications; maybe the New Yorker and Philadelphia Magazine).

Is their assumption right, or is mine? I don’t know. What I do know is that the ad feels combative and what I’m left with is the conflict rather than anything about the Inquirer’s own coverage. While there is definitely some anti-New York feeling among multi-generational Philadelphians, it feels like an odd choice.

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The itch

1 min read

I’m really itching to build something new again.

Not a new widget or open source project, but a new service. Something that makes peoples’ lives better.

I love startups. And the ideas are brewing.

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Monetizing ShareOpenly

That's not my intention.

1 min read

I was asked if I’m planning to monetize ShareOpenly.

Short answer: I have no plans to do so. This is a personal project.

If it’s wildly successful and the infrastructure costs skyrocket, I may look for donations or sponsorship of some kind in order to cover those costs. I’m not looking for it to be profitable or for it to be my job.

It’s intentionally very very lightweight, so I don’t expect that to happen for a long time to come.

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A letter to Russell T Davies

On the broadcast of the new season of Doctor Who

2 min read

Here’s what I would say to Russell T Davies if I could:

One of my very first television memories is sitting watching Peter Davison’s Doctor (and reruns of Tom Baker’s) on a tiny 12” TV set, my face probably too close to the screen. My imagination ran wild. There was a large horse chestnut tree set in the playground of my primary school, and it became the console of my own time machine: first by myself, as a lonely, weird little kid, and then more as other children decided to see what on earth I was doing.

When Sylvester McCoy’s era rolled around, we would fold out the sofabed every Wednesday after Wogan and watch the next installment. I remember being particularly drawn in by the continuing story around Ace, the hints about something bigger in the Doctor’s past, and his plans for her.

When it was canceled, I devoured the New Adventures books, starting with the Timewyrm and Cat’s Cradle series.

And then, in 2005, when it all started up again, I would gather up the episodes and watch them over Christmas with my mother, once again. When she became terminally ill and I moved to be closer to her, we watched them all together in real time. We loved the reboot, the reinvigorated ethos and the joy of it, and the continuation of stories that had been in progress since before I was born.

Russell: it wasn’t just a TV show that you resurrected. (Although it was that, too, of course, and a really good one.) It was those times sitting together, the shared family space, the love and togetherness and fun of it all.

She would have loved the bi-generation and Ncuti Gatwa’s sparkling take on the character. She would have been excited for this new season as much as I am.

I can’t wait to watch. I’m excited for all these new stories, new ideas, new provocations. I won’t be alone. Through all those adventures in time and space, I’ll have a companion with me, invisibly sitting close, the sofa bed unfolded, laughing and hiding behind the cushions alongside me.

Thank you for this. Thank you for all of it.

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Palantir's earnings call rhetoric is terrifying

"Woke is paganism", says the CEO.

2 min read

Mark Nottingham highlighted this alarming quote by CEO Alex Karp from the latest Palantir earnings call:

I think the central risk to Palantir and America and the world is a regressive way of thinking that is corrupting and corroding our institutions that calls itself progressive, but actually -- and is called woke, but is actually a form of a thin pagan religion.

That is a real danger to our society. And it is a real danger to Palantir if we allow -- if we don't discuss these things. The reason we have by far the best product offering in the world is because we have by far the best alignment around how to build software, what it means to build software, full alignment with our customers, a view that some -- the Western way of living is superior and, therefore, it should be supported by the best products.

[…]We believe we are fighting for a stronger, better, less discriminatory, wealthier, more open, and better society by providing the friends of the West, U.S. industry, U.S. government, our allies, with by far superior products.

I find this so alarming. I’m so opposed to this way of thinking that I don’t exactly know where to start. “Woke is paganism” smacks of a deeply regressive way of thinking; not least because “paganism” is bad smacks of a very narrow way of thinking where some religions are better than others. I hate it on every level — and that’s before we get to the US-centric nationalism.

Palantir, of course, is the company whose products and services routinely power systemic human rights abuses. So perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. But it’s still very striking to see these kinds of words expressed during an earnings call.

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Options are a lottery ticket

It's better to take your salary and bank it

3 min read

Update: I wrote a longer post that explains this argument less flippantly and in more detail.

This post is anecdotal and should not be considered to be investment advice.

A company I used to be associated with sent out an email yesterday that essentially explained that the effective share price was lower than some people had bought options at, and that preferred shares were now common stock. I’m not mad about it: in fact, I think the restructuring was a good thing, and the cap table is now optimized for employees of the current phase of the company, which is how it should be. (The company, which will remain nameless, used to be troubled but is now doing really well under a new CEO. I like both the old and new CEOs very much, and there seems to be alignment between them on what needs to happen, which helps.)

I did not exercise my options at that company, so I have lost exactly nothing. In fact, I’ve never exercised options at any company I’ve been a part of.

This is maybe a bit of a self-own: that implies I’ve never been a part of a company that I felt strongly enough about that I wanted to own part of it. That’s actually not true. I own a significant chunk of Latakoo, the company that powers video delivery for news networks around the world — but I bought those shares as a direct investment at a low price while I was a very early employee, rather than as options. I also own shares in a few other companies that I’ve either advised or been a part of. (I’m also always interested in advisory roles in other companies in exchange for equity.)

But in general, for regular employees, I think options are rarely worth it. They typically require an up-front investment that many employees simply can’t make, so it’s a bit of a fake benefit to begin with, and their future value is little more certain than a lottery ticket. It’s a nice sign for founders when you can buy in, but those employees tend to be already-wealthy. Unless you’re very early at a company, the options are very cheap, and the prospects look amazing, I think it’s usually better investment to optimize for cashflow and save a portion of your money in traditional funds. Perhaps that’s a boring idea, but there it is. The promise of getting rich quick through options is what every get rich quick scheme is: too good to be true. Take the salary and bank it.

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Browsers imply noopener for links in new tab

1 min read

A small web development thing I’d missed until yesterday:

When you want a link to open a page in a new tab, you’ve long been able to add the attribute target="_blank" to the tag. The problem was, that actually gave the opened pages rights to their referrer: it opened a security hole that could potentially have leaked user information or opened the door to phishing.

In response to that, the received wisdom was to also add rel="noopener" to the tag — or, more commonly, rel="noopener noreferrer", which strips referrer information from analytics. (Please don’t do this second part. For all kinds of reasons, it’s useful for a publisher to see who’s sending them traffic.) I’ve been adding noopener for years.

It turns out that browsers have been automatically setting this for links where target="_blank" since 2021: for three full years (and, actually, longer for Safari and Firefox). So there’s no need to add it anymore. There’s no harm in setting it, but there’s also no need.

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My employer won a Pulitzer

2 min read

ProPublica, the newsroom I work for as Senior Director of Technology, won the 2024 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service journalism for its work on Supreme Court justices’ beneficial relationships with billionaire donors. You’ve probably heard something about Clarence Thomas’s corruption in particular; that story was broken by us.

ProPublica was also a joint Pulitzer Prize finalist for its work with the Texas Tribune and Frontline on the Uvalde school shooting.

Of course, I’m not a journalist and can’t claim credit for this work. But I feel very privileged to support these journalists and to help publish work that has had (and will continue to have in the future) a real impact on our democracy.

There’s a lot that happens during my day to day work that I can’t talk about at all, but it runs the gamut from supporting software development on our web platform and infrastructure, through helping journalists make good use of secure tools like Signal, to securely dealing with sensitive data drops from sources.

It’s very different work from startups or building open source social networking platforms — but it’s rewarding and meaningful. I’m honored to get to do it, and to know the journalists who are on the ground really doing this reporting.

Now, back to work. Look at what’s going on in the world; where we are as a nation. There’s a lot to do.

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The best thing about blogging is the replies

2 min read

By far the coolest thing about blogging is the replies. I’ve had a bunch of responses to my latest iteration of the baby stack across various platforms: universally other dads, none of which I’ve met before, who are looking for recommendations. I think that’s really neat.

Some interesting questions I’ve received include:

  • How tall am I? (I’m 6’4”.) It’s really hard to find a stroller that isn’t too short. (I found that the Uppababy Cruz V2 does work for me if I extend the pushbar all the way. The Joolz Aer is shorter but I care less because we use it so sporadically.)
  • Why I didn’t I include a baby carrier? (We don’t use them anymore, and I’ve never found one that worked for me. I’d love to have a baby backpack for him, and I’m kind of on the lookout for one.)

This has been true whenever I’ve posted about anything that is more substantial than an opinion: lots of community discussion, feedback, questions, and ideas. It’s the best thing about blogging, and about the web.

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The kids are alright

2 min read

The biggest thing to be concerned about in all these student protests is not the students, but the severity and strength with which the police are entering the fray. A police officer fired a gun on the Columbia campus. Tear gas is being used on multiple campuses. In multiple cases (including Indiana and UVA), universities have pre-empted the fact that these protests were legal and within the rules by changing the rules in response to the protests in order to render them illegal without notice.

The outrage over protests is a useful way for the news cycle to evolve, in a way, because the story has become about the protests about the killing rather than the killing itself. But while this outrage has been playing out, the death toll in Gaza has risen to 34,500 people and Netanyahu has threatened to invade Rafah whether there’s a deal or not. It’s a bloody, horrific situation for ordinary people in Gaza — who have been in wretched conditions at the hands of political machinations for generations now — to be in. The outlook doesn’t look good for them.

It seems logical that Americans would be upset that their money is being used to fund this killing, and to fund the annexation of Gaza. None of this is about support for Hamas; it’s about support for the human beings and respect for the sanctity of human life.

There are small numbers of instigators at the fringes, as there are at every protest. There are right-wing counter-protesters, as there are for every progressive protest movement. But this looks like an anti-war moment to me: one that values peace, dignity, and human life. While there’s certainly a huge amount of diplomatic complexity behind the underlying situation, the military activity in Gaza recently is less complicated. There’s no umm-ing and ahh-ing needed with respect to the idea that the mass slaughter of human beings is wrong. It just is. I support the protesters whole-heartedly.

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A quiet week

1 min read

I’ve been pretty sick for over a week now. Daycare is a Petri dish of germs and viruses, but most have them have passed me by; this one, in contrast, hit me like a ton of bricks. I’ve been the sickest I’ve felt in years: a really unpleasantly deep congestion in my lungs combined with a lightheaded wooziness that comes and goes through the day.

So, for the moment, I’m pretty quiet here. I’ll be back to it soon.

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The three operating system models of government

3 min read

The European parliament, sitting empty

Evan Prodromou asks if we agree with Aristotle that there are three kinds of government: monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. (As Evan points out, he actually defined six, with Polity — government by political organizations — ranked first. Which is what we have. Lucky us.)

I’m a qualified yes on this — I think it’s more nuanced, with flavors and combinations of each — but I’d like to offer a different framework for three kinds of government.

I speak, of course, of iOS, Windows, and Linux.

Hear me out.

iOS: Everything is centrally planned and fits together really well — as long as what you want to do is within the expectations and rules of the central planners. Every business, every payment must be approved by the central planners. Although they claim to be pro-human — they’re building a “bicycle for the mind” for people who “think different” — ultimately these policies benefit the planners and the people in their inner circle. People who disagree with the central planners are often shouted down by the faithful.

Windows: Here, anyone can build a business, but there is still some central planning. There have been ebbs and flows of more and less central control: there have been app stores here and locked-down user interfaces there, but ultimately the public has had some sway over the design. The operating system has been historically a little less safe than iOS because of its anything-goes point of view, and the interface is less beautifully polished than iOS. But anyone really can ship software for it without having to go through anyone else. Lately there has been more underhanded economic activity from the central planners, like advertising in the Start menu and agents that unnecessarily track your data for their benefit.

Linux: There’s no real central planning, there’s no tracking what people do, there’s no money inherent in the system. Everything is borne from grassroots co-operation and interconnected communities that negotiate with each other. The interface is far less polished and you often have to compile your own infrastructure if someone in a co-operative hasn’t taken the time to smooth out an experience for someone exactly like you. There isn’t even a consensus on what to call it — is it Linux? GNU/Linux? GNU? — let alone the legal licensing and how communities should operate. Still, users have full ownership of their computers and software. Where this model has been most useful in practice is behind the scenes in services used by users of the other operating system models; essentially elements of this ideology have been cherry-picked by these other models.

Each of these, of course, emerged from the centrally planned monarchies of UNIX and OS/360. Some operating systems — notably Linux — were the result of revolutions that moved their users away from similar models; others are simply an evolution.

So, there it is. I’ll be taking no questions. I await my honorary doctorate in political computer science with thanks.

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How I vote

2 min read

A set of

I like mail-in ballots because I can do my research as I go, on my own time, in my own environment. To me, it feels a lot closer to giving the process the time and attention it deserves.

I filled in my Pennsylvania primary ballot this morning. I’d never been a British voter (I’m not a British citizen), so moving to the US represented the first time I could actually vote for my representatives in the country I lived in.

Primaries are sort of a funny idea: you pledge yourself to a party ahead of time, and that party affiliation is public. It seems to me to be a little counter to the idea of a private ballot, which is the cornerstone of free and fair elections, but that’s the system we have. If you’re a registered voter for a party, you can vote in its primary, which helps to select which candidates will actually make it to the general election.

I already knew how I’d cast my vote for the big-ticket item — the President of the United States — but I had very little idea about down-ballot candidates like the Attorney General or the Treasurer. So I sat down with my laptop and, person by person, checked them out on:

Rather than look to a central party recommendation or trust one set of endorsements, I prefer to form my own opinions, triangulating between sources that care about the same things I do. I explicitly seek out criticism, including from the opposition party and opposing points of view, because even if I don’t agree with someone’s political position, they may bring up flaws that a candidate’s own party would not highlight.

And then I seal it up in an envelope and send it off. It feels good to vote. It feels important to vote (particular in this era). I’ll be crossing my fingers for the most compassionate, inclusive, peaceful outcome from our set of possible outcomes in November.

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The social web doesn't exist without social justice

1 min read

So much of what we build on the web is about connecting people.

It is impossible to connect people effectively without paying attention to social justice and equity.

Otherwise we’re just connecting the privileged with the privileged, creating ever smaller networks of influence, and learning nothing new.

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No tech for apartheid is within its rights to protest

Solidarity with the 28 workers who stood up for human rights.

2 min read

A warning sign looking out over the Gaza strip

Solidarity with the 28 Google workers who were fired for protesting Project Nimbus this week. Anonymous Google and Amazon workers described the project as follows a couple of years ago:

Project Nimbus is a $1.2bn contract to provide cloud services for the Israeli military and government. This technology allows for further surveillance of and unlawful data collection on Palestinians, and facilitates expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements on Palestinian land.

I have never worked for Google or Amazon, but I would like to think that I would have protested too.

There is nothing honorable about supporting your employer as it commits or facilitates human rights violations. Protesting is the ethical thing to do, particularly when you hold deeply-held beliefs like these:

We cannot look the other way, as the products we build are used to deny Palestinians their basic rights, force Palestinians out of their homes and attack Palestinians in the Gaza Strip – actions that have prompted war crime investigations by the international criminal court.

Human rights should always trump business.

Further to that, apparently some of these 28 workers hadn’t even protested — they’d just associated with the people who had:

Yeah, this was retaliation, like completely indiscriminate—people who had just walked by just to say hello and maybe talk to us for a little bit. They were fired. People who aren't affiliated with No Tech For Apartheid at all, who just showed up and were interested in what was going on. And then security asked to see their badge and they were among the 28 fired.

Not a good look, to say the least. The same goes for the scores of tech workers who — on a cursory glance of social media — seem to have been derisive of the protests. Shame on you.

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