Coronagrifting: A Design Phenomenon

We now interrupt our regularly scheduled content to bring you a critical essay on the design world. I promise you that this will also be funny. 

This morning, the design website Dezeen tweeted a link to one of its articles, depicting a plexiglass coronavirus shield that could be suspended above dining areas, with the caption “Reader comment: ‘Dezeen, please stop promoting this stupidity.’”

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This, of course, filled many design people, including myself, with a kind of malicious glee. The tweet seemed to show that the website’s editorial (or at least social media) staff retained within themselves a scintilla of self-awareness regarding the spread a new kind of virus in its own right: cheap mockups of COVID-related design “solutions” filling the endlessly scrollable feeds of PR-beholden design websites such as Dezeen, ArchDaily, and designboom. I call this phenomenon: Coronagrifting. 

I’ll go into detail about what I mean by this, but first, I would like to presenet some (highly condensed) history. 

From Paper Architecture to PR-chitecture

Back in the headier days of architecture in the 1960s and 70s, a number of architectural avant gardes (such as Superstudio and Archizoom in Italy and Archigram in the UK) ceased producing, well, buildings, in favor of what critics came to regard as “paper architecture. This “paper architecture” included everything from sprawling diagrams of megastructures, including cities that “walked” or “never stopped” - to playfully erotic collages involving Chicago’s Marina City. Occasionally, these theoretical and aesthetic explorations were accompanied by real-world productions of “anti-design” furniture that may or may not have involved foam fingers

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Archigram’s Walking City (1964). Source.

Paper architecture, of course, still exists, but its original radical, critical, playful, (and, yes, even erotic) elements were shed when the last of the ultra-modernists were swallowed up by the emerging aesthetic hegemony of Postmodernism (which was much less invested in theoretical and aesthetic futurism) in the early 1980s. What remained were merely images, the production and consumption of which has only increased as the design world shifted away from print and towards the rapidly produced, easily digestible content of the internet and social media. 

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Architect Bjarke Ingels’s “Oceanix” - a mockup of an ecomodernist, luxury city designed in response to rising sea levels from climate change. The city will never be built, and its critical interrogation amounts only to “city with solar panels that floats bc climate change is Serious”  - but it did get Ingels and his firm, BIG, a TED talk and circulation on all of the hottest blogs and websites. Meanwhile, Ingels has been in business talks with the right-wing climate change denialist president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro. (Image via designboom

Design websites are increasingly dominated by text and mockups from the desks of a firm’s public relations departments, facilitating a transition from the paper-architecture-imaginary to what I have begun calling “PR-chitecture.” In short, PR-chitecture is architecture and design content that has been dreamed up from scratch to look good on instagram feeds or, more simply, for clicks.  It is only within this substance-less, critically lapsed media landscape that Coronagrifting can prosper.

Coronagrifting: An Evolution

As of this writing, the two greatest offenders of Coronagrifting are Dezeen, which has devoted an entire section of its website to the virus (itself offering twelve pages of content since February alone) and designboom, whose coronavirus tag contains no fewer than 159 articles. 

Certainly, a small handful of these stories demonstrate useful solutions to COVID-related problems (such as this one from designboom about a student who created a mask prototype that would allow D/deaf and hard of hearing people to read lips) most of the prototypes and the articles about them are, for a lack of a better word, insipid. 

But where, you may ask, did it all start?

One of the easiest (and, therefore, one of the earliest) Coronagrifts involves “new innovative, health-centric designs tackling problems at the intersection of wearables and personal mobility,” which is PR-chitecture speak for “body shields and masks.” 

Wearables and Post-ables

The first example came from Chinese architect Sun Dayong, back at the end of February 2020, when the virus was still isolated in China. Dayong submitted to Dezeen a prototype of a full mask and body-shield that “would protect a wearer during a coronavirus outbreak by using UV light to sterilise itself.” The project was titled “Be a Bat Man.” No, I am not making this up. 

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Screenshot of Dayong’s “Be a Batman” as seen on the Dezeen website. 

Soon after, every artist, architect, designer, and sharp-eyed PR rep at firms and companies only tangentially related to design realized that, with the small investment of a Photoshop mockup and some B-minus marketing text, they too could end up on the front page of these websites boasting a large social media following and an air of legitimacy in the field

By April, companies like Apple and Nike were promising the use of existing facilities for producing or supplying an arms race’s worth of slick-tech face coverings. Starchitecture’s perennial PR-churners like Foster + Partners and Bjarke Ingels were repping “3D-printed face shields”, while other, lesser firms promised wearable vaporware like “grapheme filters,” branded “skincare LED masks for encouraging self-development” and “solar powered bubble shields.” 

While the mask Coronagrift continues to this day, the Coronagrifting phenomenon had, by early March, moved to other domains of design. 

Consider the barrage of asinine PR fluff that is the “Public Service Announcement” and by Public Service Announcement, I mean “A Designer Has Done Something Cute to Capitalize on Information Meant to Save Lives.” 

Some of the earliest offenders include cutesy posters featuring flags in the shape of houses, ostensibly encouraging people to “stay home;” a designer building a pyramid out of pillows ostensibly encouraging people to “stay home”; and Banksy making “lockdown artwork” that involved covering his bathroom in images of rats ostensibly encouraging people to “stay home.” 

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Lol. Screenshot from Dezeen. 

You may be asking, “What’s the harm in all this, really, if it projects a good message?” And the answer is that people are plenty well encouraged to stay home due to the rampant spread of a deadly virus at the urging of the world’s health authorities, and that these tone-deaf art world creeps are using such a crisis for shameless self promotion and the generation of clicks and income, while providing little to no material benefit to those at risk and on the frontlines.

Of course, like the mask coronagrift, the Public Service Announcement coronagrift continues to this very day

The final iteration of Post-able and Wearable Coronagrifting genres are what I call “Passive Aggressive Social Distancing Initiatives” or PASDIs. Many of the first PASDIs were themselves PSAs and art grifts, my favorite of which being the designboom post titled “social distancing applied to iconic album covers like the beatle’s abbey road.” As you can see, we’re dealing with extremely deep stuff here. 

However, an even earlier and, in many ways more prescient and lucrative grift involves “social distancing wearables.” This can easily be summarized by the first example of this phenomenon, published March 19th, 2020 on designboom

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Never wasting a single moment to capitalize on collective despair, all manner of brands have seized on the social distancing wearable trend, which, again, can best be seen in the last example of the phenomenon, published May 22nd, 2020 on designboom:

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We truly, truly live in Hell. 

Which brings us, of course, to living. 

“Architectural Interventions” for a “Post-COVID World”

As soon as it became clear around late March and early April that the coronavirus (and its implications) would be sticking around longer than a few months, the architectural solutions to the problem came pouring in. These, like the virus itself, started at the scale of the individual and have since grown to the scale of the city. (Whether or not they will soon encompass the entire world remains to be seen.) 

The architectural Coronagrift began with accessories (like the designboom article about 3D-printed door-openers that enable one to open a door with one’s elbow, and the Dezeen article about a different 3D-printed door-opener that enables one to open a door with one’s elbow) which, in turn, evolved into “work from home” furniture (”Stykka designs cardboard #StayTheF***Home Desk for people working from home during self-isolation”) which, in turn, evolved into pop-up vaporware architecture for first responders (”opposite office proposes to turn berlin’s brandenburg airport into COVID-19 ‘superhospital'”), which, in turn evolved into proposals for entire buildings (”studio prototype designs prefabricated 'vital house’ to combat COVID-19″); which, finally, in turn evolved into “urban solutions” aimed at changing the city itself (a great article summarizing and criticizing said urban solutions was recently written by Curbed’s Alissa Walker).

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There is something truly chilling about an architecture firm, in order to profit from attention seized by a global pandemic, logging on to their computers, opening photoshop, and drafting up some lazy, ineffectual, unsanitary mockup featuring figures in hazmat suits carrying a dying patient (macabrely set in an unfinished airport construction site) as a real, tangible solution to the problem of overcrowded hospitals; submitting it to their PR desk for copy, and sending it out to blogs and websites for clicks, knowing full well that the sole purpose of doing so consists of the hope that maybe someone with lots of money looking to commission health-related interiors will remember that one time there was a glossy airport hospital rendering on designboom and hire them. 

Enough, already. 

Frankly, after an endless barrage of cyberpunk mask designs, social distancing burger king crowns, foot-triggered crosswalk beg buttons that completely ignore accessibility concerns such as those of wheelchair users, cutesy “stay home uwu” projects from well-to-do art celebrities (who are certainly not suffering too greatly from the economic ramifications of this pandemic), I, like the reader featured in the Dezeen Tweet at the beginning of this post, have simply had enough of this bullshit

What’s most astounding to me about all of this (but especially about #brand crap like the burger king crowns) is that it is taken completely seriously by design establishments that, despite being under the purview of PR firms, should frankly know better. I’m sure that Bjarke Ingels and Burger King aren’t nearly as affected by the pandemic as those who have lost money, jobs, stability, homes, and even their lives at the hands of COVID-19 and the criminally inept national and international response to it. On the other hand, I’m sure that architects and designers are hard up for cash at a time when nobody is building and buying anything, and, as a result, many see resulting to PR-chitecture as one of the only solutions to financial problems. 

However, I’m also extremely sure that there are interventions that can be made at the social, political, and organizational level, such as campaigning for paid sick leave, organizing against layoffs and for decent severance or an expansion of public assistance, or generally fighting the rapidly accelerating encroachment of work into all aspects of everyday life – that would bring much more good and, dare I say, progress into the world than a cardboard desk captioned with the hashtag #StaytheF***Home. 

Hence, I’ve spent most of my Saturday penning this article on my blog, McMansion Hell. I’ve chosen to run this here because I myself have lost work as a freelance writer, and the gutting of publications down to a handful of editors means that, were I to publish this story on another platform, it would have resulted in at least a few more weeks worth of inflatable, wearable, plexiglass-laden Coronagrifting, something my sanity simply can no longer withstand. 

So please, Dezeen, designboom, others – I love that you keep daily tabs on what architects and designers are up to, a resource myself and other critics and design writers find invaluable – however, I am begging, begging you to start having some discretion with regards to the proposals submitted to you as “news” or “solutions” by brands and firms, and the cynical, ulterior motives behind them. If you’re looking for a guide on how to screen such content, please scroll up to the beginning of this page. 

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If you enjoyed this article, please consider subscribing to my Patreon, as I didn’t get paid to write it.  

i drew another thing!



i drew another thing!

The McMansion Hell Yearbook: 1974

Howdy, folks! It’s starting to heat up outside, though because this house is absolutely uncool, I doubt you’ll find it particularly refreshing. We return once again to the great state of New Jersey, where our 1974 house comes to us from Morris County: 

This uninspiring Colonial Revival boasts 5 bedrooms and 5.5 baths totaling just under 4,000 square feet. It can be yours for $1.2 million USD. (Recession? What recession?)

While you might not think this house is particularly bad or ugly, it does show some interesting signs of houses to come, especially a decade later. There is a clear break with the Colonial Revival aesthetics seen in earlier Bicentennial-era houses like our first yearbook house from 1970. This house consolidates its core features into one much larger, and proportionally awkward center mass which has been supplied with two wings. The saving grace is that the wings are not included in the same roofline as the center mass. If you look at the house as a single unit rather than as three separate units, you can begin to see how un-elegant (despite its symmetry) this long, squat, massing really is. This is something that will only become more pronounced as masses are further integrated into a single roofline in so-called Colonial Revival houses of the McMansion-era. 

Anyways, onto the house. 

Proto-Lawyer Foyer

I hate to disappoint you, but this house was redecorated sometime in the late 90s and is not a time capsule house. However, there are still elements that give away its true age. This foyer is still very much the squat, one-story foyer found in most proto-McMansions from the 1970s, despite being neutral-colored to death. 

Dining Room

Curating the most sterile dining experience imaginable in the age of Coronavirus is truly an accomplishment. Also what exactly do you call wall painting that is not a mural and is vaguely attempting to augment reality? Wall effects?? Also it’s not a fresco??? Fauxcore???

Kitchen

Theoretically, a kitchen ceiling fan doesn’t sound like a bad idea, but they’re not exactly common fixtures. Also my mom had those exact same barstools when we were growing up (in the 90s). 

Sunroom

I’m absolutely a conspiracy guy for furniture. The white kitchen is insider trading between HGTV, Home Depot and Clorox. Why else would the messiest room in the house be made entirely white if not for selling cleaning supplies? Wake up sheeple. 

Office (?)

Also I want to take the time to point out: 
> million dollar house
> baseboard heating
> wyd

Master Bedroom

Every decade since the 70s thinks they’ve reinvented shabby chic. You have not. 

Master Bathroom

I don’t know why I find the toilet position here to be so awkward. The toilet is like “don’t mind me i’m just chillin” 

Bedroom 2

I’m absolutely losing my mind at this curtain/blind/bottom curtain (?) combo!!! In what world!!!! 

Alright, that’s enough fun for today, it’s time to head back outside into the pre-summer heat. 

Rear Exterior

This is the rare McMansion where the rear exterior is less logical than the front exterior. This house is absolutely stacked in the back. Despite this, I cannot help but feel like every party thrown here has been extremely lame. 

Anyways, that does it for 1974! Check back later this month for the next installment of the Brutalism Post! Stay safe everyone!

I know that these are economically uncertain times, but many creators including myself depend on Patreon for most of their income, so if you have a minimum of $12/year to spare and are into bonus content, then do I have some good news for you:

If you like this post, and want to see more like it, consider supporting me on Patreon!

There is a whole new slate of Patreon rewards, including: good house of the month, an exclusive Discord server, weekly drawings, monthly livestreams, a reading group, free merch at certain tiers and more!

Not into recurring donations but still want to show support? Consider the tip jar!

Or, Check out the McMansion Hell Store! Proceeds from the store help protect great buildings from the wrecking ball.

please enjoy this picture i drew



please enjoy this picture i drew 

The McMansion Hell Yearbook: 1973

Howdy, folks! I come to you with a special salve to soothe the ache of social isolation and general societal turmoil: a particularly cursed house. Our 1973 house comes to us from Jackson County, Michigan, and, frankly, if you put the term “1973″ into an ugly house generator, this is most certainly what would come out: 

What we have here is a classic “Mansard” style house, named for exaggerated form of the type of roof (the mansard), a variation of hipped roof characterized by a steep slope punctured by dormer windows extending into or forming another story. This subgenre of house was popular in the 1960s and 70s, especially so in the Pacific Northwest and in vacation towns around the country.  This lovely estate is currently on the market for around $800,000, and boasts a remarkable 6 bedrooms and 5.5 baths. 

Lawyer Foyer

This house is what is colloquially referred to as a “time capsule” house in that it literally has not been touched since 1973, the year it was built. There are several interesting 70s motifs here, including the wallpaper and carpeting. We have an early example of a fully-formed “lawyer foyer” - a full two-story entryway featuring a curved or otherwise showy staircase and a chandelier that can be seen from the outside via a transom window larger than the door above which it sits. The furnishings are original; note the intricate, heavy front door featuring Orientalist motifs that were particularly popular in the 1970s. That being said, it’s ugly. 

Dining Room?

During the 1970s, Colonial Revival furnishings and architectural motifs were especially popular due to the influence of the American Bicentennial, which was apparently a huge deal. In general, there was a lot of brown furniture that was very heavy because people wanted to buy one piece of furniture that would last until they died. This was because Ikea was not yet a thing. (In all seriousness, there is a great Collector’s Weekly article about this.

Kitchen

Honestly, this is probably one of the better kitchens on this website, and it’s interesting to see such a modern-styled decor in a house that, despite its contemporary exterior is otherwise rife with traditionalist decor. 

Wet Bar

As far as McMansion wine bars go, at least this one somewhat approaches a weird architectural metaphor for, like, deconstructivist philosophy or something else people in graduate school study. 

Master Bedroom

One has to applaud the photographer for their artistic decision to make every room in this house look as cursed as possible. Also: apparently the sunroom later on in this post is what’s behind the bed, which is very, very strange. 

Master Bathroom

My question is: how is this room simultaneously grey, brown, and beige all at the same time. Scholars around the world are baffled. 

Sunroom (behind bed for some reason)

I don’t know what one does in a space like this? It’s behind the wall of the master bedroom, so it’s not a public-facing space. There are no plants or books or other activities. There is just brown furniture, weighing heavy on my isolation-addled brain. 

Basement Bar

Ok, so these folks really enjoyed drinking. We all used to laugh at people who had bars in their house but now that all the bars are closed, who is laughing now?? (It’s me, I’m still laughing.) 

That does it for the interior - now, our favorite part:

Rear Exterior

Personally, as ugly as elements of this house are, I definitely see it as one of the most fascinating to ever end up on this blog. I kind of have a soft spot for houses like this, simply because they are so strange. Anyways, speaking of strange architecture, stay tuned for another installment of the Brutalism Post coming soon! Stay safe and be well! 

I know that these are economically uncertain times, but many creators including myself depend on Patreon for most of their income, so if you have a minimum of $12/year to spare and are into bonus content, then do I have some good news for you:

If you like this post, and want to see more like it, consider supporting me on Patreon!

There is a whole new slate of Patreon rewards, including: good house of the month, an exclusive Discord server, monthly livestreams, a reading group, free merch at certain tiers and more!

Not into recurring donations but still want to show support? Consider the tip jar!

Or, Check out the McMansion Hell Store! Proceeds from the store help protect great buildings from the wrecking ball.

The McMansion Hell Yearbook: 1972

Howdy folks, and by howdy I mean howdy, because this time our McMansion Hell yearbook house is in the 9th circle of McMansion Hell itself, Denton County, Texas! Sitting at a cozy 4900 square feet, this 4 bedroom/4 bath abode could be all yours for a cool $1.13 million!

In case you’re wondering what’s going on architecturally here (i.e. everyone reading this), this house is a combination of a two-story Spanish Colonial Revival (right) with a 1970s shed-style house (left) all converging in a fully formed lawyer foyer (center). The result is, well, weird. Let’s continue. 

Lawya Fawya

Unlike our earlier 1970s houses, you can see that this one has had quite a bit of renovation, likely in the early 2000s. However, some classic things still come to mind, namely the spackled stucco walls and staircase, which are likely original to the 70s. My guess would be that a lot of that center wall has been taken out in the 2000s-2020s drive to Take Every Possible Interior Wall Out. 

Living Room

As you can see, this house is very large and mostly empty - this room probably had more of a den feel originally and was probably divided up in some way. The ceilings are their original 1970s height (low). 

Unidentified Gathering Space

My favorite part of this room is the fact that they couldn’t quite round out the window corners. Curves are hard. 

Kitchen

Frankly, even with the weird pot storage, this is probably the most sane kitchen in McMansion Hell history (a rare success; a glimmer of hope in a time of great darkness.)

Master Bedroom

That TV is an entire football field away from the bed which is a great metaphor for my attitude towards being on social media during the, you know, whole global pandemic and economic collapse thing that’s going on. 

Master Bathroom

Ok OK I’m done with the social distancing jokes!!!!!!

Bedroom 2

That bed in that room is how it feels living a tiny studio apartment with my husband and my dog during a time of great uncertainty!!

Rec Room

I would love to see some statistics on what percentage of home gym equipment ends up on craigslist. My guess is at least half - working out at home is awkward and hard (source: I don’t do it.) 

Ok Ok we’re now ready to enter the best (read: worst) room in this house, which I have duly saved for last. 

“Theatre Room”

Alternatively this is how a pizza feels when they put it in one of those brick ovens at those overpriced restaurants. 

That’s all for inside, let’s head back out. 

Rear Exterior

Yeah I don’t actually know how something like this happens, architecturally speaking. It’s like the house version of mismatched socks and also both the socks have a hole in the toe and smell bad. 

Anyways that does it for 1972 - join us soon for 1973, which is truly a doozy - thanks to the folks on the McMansion Hell Patreon stream who submitted it!

I know that these are economically uncertain times, but many creators including myself depend on Patreon for most of their income, so if you have a minimum of $12/year to spare and are into bonus content, then do I have some good news for you: 

If you like this post, and want to see more like it, consider supporting me on Patreon!

There is a whole new slate of Patreon rewards, including: good house of the month, an exclusive Discord server, monthly livestreams, a reading group, free merch at certain tiers and more!

Not into recurring donations but still want to show support? Consider the tip jar! 

Or, Check out the McMansion Hell Store! Proceeds from the store help protect great buildings from the wrecking ball.

The Brutalism Post Part 3: What is Brutalism? Act 1, Scene 1: The Young Smithsons

What is Brutalism? To put it concisely, Brutalism was a substyle of modernist architecture that originated in Europe during the 1950s and declined by the 1970s, known for its extensive use of reinforced concrete. Because this, of course, is an unsatisfying answer, I am going to instead tell you a story about two young people, sandwiched between two soon-to-be warring generations in architecture, who were simultaneously deeply precocious and unlucky. 

It seems that in 20th century architecture there was always a power couple. American mid-century modernism had Charles and Ray Eames. Postmodernism had Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. Brutalism had Alison and Peter Smithson, henceforth referred to simply as the Smithsons. 

If you read any of the accounts of the Smithsons’ contemporaries (such as The New Brutalism by critic-historian Reyner Banham) one characteristic of the pair is constantly reiterated: at the time of their rise to fame in British and international architecture circles, the Smithsons were young. In fact, in the early 1950s, both had only recently completed architecture school at Durham University. Alison, who was five years younger, was graduating around the same time as Peter, whose studies were interrupted by the Second World War, during which he served as an engineer in India. 

Alison and Peter Smithson. Image via Open.edu

At the time of the Smithsons graduation, they were leaving architecture school at a time when the upheaval the war caused in British society could still be deeply felt. Air raids had destroyed hundreds of thousands of units of housing, cultural sites and had traumatized a generation of Britons. Faced with an end to wartime international trade pacts, Britain’s financial situation was dire, and austerity prevailed in the 1940s despite the expansion of the social safety net. It was an uncertain time to be coming up in the arts, pinned at the same time between a war-torn Europe and the prosperous horizon of the 1950s.   

Alison and Peter married in 1949, shortly after graduation, and, like many newly trained architects of the time, went to work for the British government, in the Smithsons’ case, the London City Council. The LCC was, in the wake of the social democratic reforms (such as the National Health Service) and Keynesian economic policies of a strong Labour government, enjoying an expanded range in power. Of particular interest to the Smithsons were the areas of city planning and council housing, two subjects that would become central to their careers.

Alison and Peter Smithson, elevations for their Soho House (described as “a house for a society that had nothing”, 1953). Image via socks-studio.

The State of British Architecture

 The Smithsons, architecturally, ideologically, and aesthetically, were at the mercy of a rift in modernist architecture, the development of which was significantly disrupted by the war. The war had displaced many of its great masters, including luminaries such as the founders of the Bauhaus: Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Marcel Breuer. Britain, which was one of the slowest to adopt modernism, did not benefit as much from this diaspora as the US. 

At the time of the Smithsons entry into the architectural bureaucracy, the country owed more of its architectural underpinnings to the British architects of the nineteenth century (notably the utopian socialist William Morris), precedent studies of the influences of classical architecture (especially Palladio) under the auspices of historians like Nikolaus Pevsner, as well as a preoccupation with both British and Scandinavian vernacular architecture, in a populist bent underpinned by a turn towards social democracy. This style of architecture was known as the New Humanism

Alton East Houses by the London County Council Department of Architecture (1953-6), an example of New Humanist architecture. Image taken from The New Brutalism by Reyner Banham. 

This was somewhat of a sticky situation, for the young Smithsons who, through their more recent schooling, were, unlike their elders, awed by the buildings and writing of the European modernists. The dramatic ideas for the transformation of cities as laid out by the manifestos of the CIAM (International Congresses for Modern Architecture) organized by Le Corbusier (whose book Towards a New Architecture was hugely influential at the time) and the historian-theorist Sigfried Giedion, offered visions of social transformation that allured many British architects, but especially the impassioned and idealistic Smithsons.

Of particular contribution to the legacy of the development of Brutalism was Le Corbusier, who, by the 1950s was entering the late period of his career which characterized by his use of raw concrete (in his words, béton brut), and sculptural architectural forms. The building du jour for young architects (such as Peter and Alison) was the Unité d’Habitation (1948-54), the sprawling massive housing project in Marseilles, France, that united Le Corbusier’s urban theories of dense, centralized living, his architectural dogma as laid out in Towards a New Architecture, and the embrace of the rawness and coarseness of concrete as a material, accentuated by the impression of the wooden board used to shape it into Corb’s looming, sweeping forms.

The Unité d’habitation by Le Corbusier. Image via Iantomferry (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Little did the Smithsons know that they, mere post-graduates, would have an immensely disruptive impact on the institutions they at this time so deeply admired. For now, the couple was on the eve of their first big break, their ticket out of the nation’s bureaucracy and into the limelight.

 The Hunstanton School

An important post-war program, the one that gave the Smithsons their international debut, was the expansion of the British school system in 1944, particularly the establishment of the tripartite school system, which split students older than 11 into grammar schools (high schools) and secondary modern schools (technical schools). This, inevitably, stimulated a swath of school building throughout the country. There were several national competitions for architects wanting to design the new schools, and the Smithsons, eager to get their hands on a first project, gleefully applied.

For their inspiration, the Smithsons turned to Mies van der Rohe, who had recently emigrated to the United States and release to the architectural press, details of his now-famous Crown Hall of the Illinois Institute of Technology (1950). Mies’ use of steel, once relegated to being hidden as an internal structural material, could, thanks to laxness in the fire code in the state of Illinois, be exposed, transforming into an articulated, external structural material. 

Crown Hall, Illinois Institute of Technology by Mies van der Rohe. Image via Arturo Duarte Jr. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Of particular importance was the famous “Mies Corner, consisting of two joined exposed I-beams that elegantly elided inherent problems in how to join together the raw, skeletal framing of steel and the revealing translucence of curtain-wall glass. This building, seen only through photographs by our young architects, opened up within them the possibility of both the modernist expression of a structure’s inherent function, but also as testimony to the aesthetic power of raw building materials as surfaces as well as structure.

The Smithsons, in a rather bold move for such young architects, decided to enter into a particularly contested competition for a new secondary school in Norfolk. They designed a school based on a Miesian steel-framed design of which the structural elements would all be visible. Its plan was crafted to the utmost standards of rationalist economy; its form, unlike the horizontal endlessness of Mies’ IIT, is neatly packaged into separate volumes arranged in a symmetrical way. But what was most important was the use of materials, the rawness of which is captured in the words of Reyner Banham: 

“Wherever one stands within the school one sees its actual structural materials exposed, without plaster and frequently without paint. The electrical conduits, pipe-runs, and other services are exposed with equal frankness. This, indeed, is an attempt to make architecture out of the relationships of brute materials, but it is done with the very greatest self-denying restraint.”

 Much to the upset and shock of the more conservative and romanticist British architectural establishment, the Smithsons’ design won.

Hunstanton School by Alison and Peter Smithson (1949-54). Photos by Anna Armstrong. (CC BY NC-SA 3.0)

The Hunstanton School, had, as much was possible in those days, gone viral in the architectural press, and very quickly catapulted the Smithsons to international fame as the precocious children of post-war Britain. Soon after, the term the Smithsons would claim as their own, Brutalism, too entered the general architectural consciousness. (By the early 1950s, the term was already escaping from its national borders and being applied to similar projects and work that emphasized raw materials and structural expression.)

 The New Brutalism

So what was this New Brutalism? 

The Smithsons had, even before the construction of the Hunstanton School had been finished, begun to draft amongst themselves a concept called the New Brutalism. Like many terms in art, “Brutalism” began as a joke that soon became very serious.  The term New Brutalism, according to Banham, came from an in-joke amongst the Swedish architects Hans Asplund, Bengt Edman and Lennart Holm in 1950s, about drawings the latter two had drawn for a house. This had spread to England through the Swedes’ English friends, the architects Oliver Cox and Graeme Shankland, who leaked it to the Architectural Association and the Architect’s Department of the London County Council, at which Alison and Peter Smithson were still employed. According to Banham, the term had already acquired a colloquial meaning:

“Whatever Asplund meant by it, the Cox-Shankland connection seem to have used it almost exclusively to mean Modern Architecture of the more pure forms then current, especially the work of Mies van der Rohe. The most obstinate protagonists of that type of architecture at the time in London were Alison and Peter Smithson, designers of the Miesian school at Hunstanton, which is generally taken to be the first Brutalist building.”

 (This is supplicated by an anecdote of how the term stuck partially because Peter was called Brutus by his peers because he bore resemblance to Roman busts of the hero, and Brutalism was a joining of “Brutus plus Alison,” which is deeply cute.)

The Smithsons began to explore the art world for corollaries to their raw, material-driven architecture. They found kindred souls in the photographer Nigel Henderson and the sculptor Edouardo Paolozzi, with whom the couple curated an exhibition called “Parallel of Life and Art.” The Smithsons were beginning to find in their work a sort of populism, regarding the untamed, almost anthropological rough textures and assemblies of materials, which the historian Kenneth Frampton jokingly called ‘the peoples’ detailing.’ Frampton described the exhibit, of which few photographs remain, as thus:

“Drawn from news photos and arcane archaeological, anthropological, and zoological sources, many of these images [quoting Banham] ‘offered scenes of violence and distorted or anti-aesthetic views of the human figure, and all had a coarse grainy texture which was clearly regarded by the collaborators as one of their main virtues’. There was something decidedly existential about an exhibition that insisted on viewing the world as a landscape laid waste by war, decay, and disease – beneath whose ashen layers one could still find traces of life, albeing microscopic, pulsating within the ruins…the distant past and the immediate future fused into one. Thus the pavilion patio was furnished not only with an old wheel and a toy aeroplane but also with a television set. In brief, within a decayed and ravaged (i.e. bombed out) urban fabric, the ‘affluence’ of a mobile consumerism was already being envisaged, and moreover welcomed, as the life substance of a new industrial vernacular.”

Alison and Peter Smithson, Nigel Henderson, Eduoardo Paolozzi, Parallels in Life and Art. Image via the Tate Modern, 2011.

A Clash on the Horizon 

The Smithsons, it is important to remember, were part of a generation both haunted by war and tantalized by the car and consumer culture of the emerging 1950s. Ideologically they were sandwiched between the twilight years of British socialism and the allure of a consumerist populism informed by fast cars and good living, and this made their work and their ideology rife with contradiction and tension. 

The tension between proletarian, primitivist, anthropological elements as expressed in coarse, raw, materials and the allure of the technological utopia dreamed up by modernists a generation earlier, combined with the changing political climate of post-war Britain, resulted in a mix of idealism and post-socialist thought. This hybridized an new school appeal to a better life -  made possible by technology, the emerging financial accessibility of consumer culture, the promises of easily replicable, luxurious living promised by modernist architecture - with the old-school, quintessentially British populist consideration for the anthropological complexity of urban, working class life. This is what the Smithsons alluded to when they insisted early on that Brutalism was an “ethic, not an aesthetic.”

Model of the Plan Voisin for Paris by Le Corbusier displayed at the Nouveau Esprit Pavilion (1925) via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

By the time the Smithsons entered the international architectural scene, their modernist forefathers were already beginning to age, becoming more stylistically flexible, nuanced, and less reliant upon the strictness and ideology of their previous dogmas. The younger generation, including the Smithsons, were, in their rose-tinted idealism, beginning to feel like the old masters were abandoning their original ethos, or, in the case of other youngsters such as the Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck, were beginning to question the validity of such concepts as the Plan Voisin, Le Corbusier’s urbanist doctrine of dense housing development surrounded by green space and accessible by the alluring future of car culture. 

These youngsters were beginning to get to know each other, meeting amongst themselves at the CIAM – the International Congresses of Modern Architecture – the most important gathering of modernist architects in the world. Modern architecture as a movement was on a generational crash course that would cause an immense rift in architectural thought, practice, and history. But this is a tale for our next installment.

Like many works and ideas of young people, the nascent New Brutalism was ill-formed; still feeling for its niche beyond a mere aesthetic dominated by the honesty of building materials and a populism trying to reconcile consumerist technology and proletarian anthropology. This is where we leave our young Smithsons: riding the wave of success of their first project as a new firm, completely unaware of what is to come: the rift their New Brutalism would tear through the architectural discourse both then and now.

If you like this post, and want to see more like it, consider supporting me on Patreon!

There is a whole new slate of Patreon rewards, including: good house of the month, an exclusive Discord server, monthly livestreams, a reading group, free merch at certain tiers and more!

Not into recurring donations or bonus content? Consider the tip jar! Or, Check out the McMansion Hell Store! Proceeds from the store help protect great buildings from the wrecking ball.

The McMansion Hell Yearbook: 1971

Howdy Folks! 1971′s house comes to us from Morris County, New Jersey. Sitting at 5000 square feet, despite its age it’s still for sale for $1.2 million USD. As you can see, it is a surprisingly developed McMansion compared to the house from last month: 

This house showcases many different McMansion elements - clearly demonstrating an early iteration of the decorated split level emerging into a new architectural form. However, this house still has many split level elements, including a clear demarcation of first and second stories via attached masses - the garage in particular is reminiscent of many split level garages. This house also borrows elements from the 70s Mansard-style house, specifically in its use of embedded half-dormers, which recall many mansard-style houses but replacing the mansard roof with a low-pitched hipped roof. 

Paralegal Foyer (proto-Lawyer Foyer):

It was relatively common in early iterations of the McMansion to have a partial formation of the Lawyer Foyer, a two story entryway but lacking the transom window above the door that enables the entryway to be seen from the street. Sadly, this house was redecorated from its original 70s finishes, most likely in the late 1990s. 

Dining Room:

My personal opinion is that parquet floors Were Good Actually and we should bring them back. 

Den:

What’s enjoyable about looking at houses from the perspective of date is that there are some elements that are dated but also expensive to get rid of - the floating wetbar-island combo is very 70s, however I actually think these kinds of islands with cabinetry are useful and it would be nice to see them make a comeback. 

Kitchen:

1) I remember going to some kid’s house in middle school and they had a huge kitchen like this and all the cabinets were literally filled with hamburger helper, easy mac, uncle ben’s rice, etc - the parents had this huge chef’s kitchen but apparently never cooked. 

2) that table would not last one encounter involving me, a beer, and a particularly animated political conversation. 

Master Bedroom:

It weirds me out when rich people don’t have headboards!!! I don’t know why!!! 

Bedroom 2:

I had a bedspread similar to this but it was in blue, brown, and green and I vote!

Bedroom 3:

The 3D furniture staging thing is fascinating to me because sometimes it’s virtually undistinguishable from real estate photos where the furniture is real but the photos themselves are photoshopped to the point of unreality. Personally I’d love to have a copy of the software that lets you 3D decorate random real estate listings - it’s like the Sims but for realtors. 

That’s the last of our interior rooms, which brings us to our concluding picture:

Rear Exterior

I have no idea how you mess up lining up six identical windows in a rational way and yet…and yet… 

Well folks, that does it for 1971! Stay tuned this week for another iteration of the Brutalism Post! 

If you like this post, and want to see more like it, consider supporting me on Patreon!

There is a whole new slate of Patreon rewards, including: good house of the month, an exclusive Discord server, monthly livestreams, a reading group, free merch at certain tiers and more!

Not into recurring donations or bonus content? Consider the tip jar! Or, Check out the McMansion Hell Store! Proceeds from the store help protect great buildings from the wrecking ball.

The McMansion Hell Yearbook: 1970

(FYI - this is going to be a longer post than usual, so you might want to open it in a new tab if you’re reading it on Tumblr feed. There will be a read more break about halfway through.)

Howdy, folks! Welcome to the first edition of the McMansion Hell Yearbook - a year by year account of how the McMansion came to be. We begin our tour of time in the year 1970.

Why 1970: A Brief History Lesson

Whether or not the McMansion belongs to canonical or vernacular (everyday) architecture is a topic of some dispute - for example, Thomas Hubka, in his book Houses Without Names claims that the McMansion is simply the latest iteration of highly-customized architecture designed by and for rich people, which is why it doesn’t belong in studies of vernacular architecture. However, Hubka himself includes in his evolutionary study of floorplans, a type called “Large Suburban” which features a central foyer flanked by formal rooms leading into a vast living/entertaining space and kitchen. The question of where “Large Suburban” ends and “McMansion” begins is perhaps less of an architectural question than it is a cultural one, but that’s something we’ll discuss in more detail later on in this series.

A Styled Split-Level from a 1960 trade publication. Public Domain. 

Meanwhile, Virginia McAlester includes McMansions, called “Millennium Mansions” in the second edition of the Field Guide to American Houses, a phenomenon she places as starting around 1985. However, like most architectural phenomenons, the McMansion didn’t just appear out of nowhere. Its predecessor is what McAlester called the Styled Ranch (and Styled Split Level) - an elaboration of the ranches and split-levels of midcentury featuring the costuming of the simple ranch form in a variety of different architectural styles or themes including Colonial Revival, Neoclassical, Mediterranean, and Tudor. How these styled ranches and split levels escalated into the sprawling McMansions we know today is something this new series hopes to tackle.

Enough history (for now)! Here’s our 1970 house found in none other than Bergen County, New Jersey.

This 5,600 square-foot house features 6 bedrooms and 6 bathrooms and can be all yours for ~$1.8 million USD. You’ll notice a lot of things about this house that are not McMansion-like: its symmetry, its lack of a complex roofline, its unified exterior claddings and window styles. However, this is why the house is interesting - it is not as much a McMansion as it is a proto-McMansion. Many McMansion features are apparent in their nascent form, for example, the competing architectural styles of Tudor (windows) and Neoclassical (portico, front door, quoins), the tacked-on mass containing the three car garage, an ostentatious pediment with elaborate columns, and extruded double bay windows.

The most interesting of these proto-features is the front entryway, an early development of what will be known on this blog as the Lawyer Foyer. We see a large central window above the door (architectural historian Charles Jencks traces this to LA in his book Daydream Houses of Los Angeles, appropriately calling it the “LA Door”), with an outdoor decorative light dangling in front of it, a motif borrowed from certain, usually later iterations of the split level (seen in this example [top left] from a 1963 trade catalog). Let’s step inside:

Proto-Lawyer Foyer (Law School Foyer???)

What’s interesting about this example is that it is very McMansion like in its use of a large curved staircase and over-indulgent chandelier. However, the above-door window has yet to merge with the front door into a transom-window, and the chandelier, though large and ornate, has yet to replace the lantern outside as the lighting feature that can be seen from the street.

Sitting Room

Though this house tends to feature more Louis XV-style furniture (my suspicion is that this might be evidence of an 80s or 90s era redecorating), the emphasis on bulky, ornate 18th century reproduction furniture, moldings, and wallpaper is indicative of the fascination in the 1970s towards the (American) Colonial era in anticipation of the 1976 American Bicentennial. You can read more about this in this fantastic and captivating Collector’s Weekly article.

Dining Room

As we can see, the stuffy formal dining room has always existed in McMansions, simply because it has always existed in rich people houses in general since the dawn of time.

Living Room

While ugly and too big, this living room definitely is more reminiscent of a ranch-style living room than it is a McMansion great room. It even has doors (heresy!) Personally I stan those 70s brick veneer fireplaces because they are groovy and increasingly hard to find.

Oh. I should mention that you’re really, really not prepared for what you’re about to see in the next room.

Horse Shrine

SERIOUSLY:

For some reason having a racehorse shrine seems, like, peak New Jersey.

Ahoy, Chef!

If your nana or great aunt didn’t have these wyd

Master Bedroom

I should add that the listing for this house shows none of the six bathrooms, and, after viewing this room, I have to believe there’s a reason for that.

Spare Bedroom

Is there a tacky wallpaper museum?? If so, how do I get on the board of directors???

Anyways, this concludes our interior tour. Let’s go back outside.

Rear Exterior:

Well, on that (thankfully more subdued than usual) note, this concludes our 1970 entry in the McMansion Hell Yearbook. See you soon with an update on Brutalism, and stay tuned for next month’s 1971 McMansion.

If you like this post, and want to see more like it, consider supporting me on Patreon!

There is a whole new slate of Patreon rewards, including: good house of the month, an exclusive Discord server, monthly livestreams, a reading group, free merch at certain tiers and more!

Not into recurring donations or bonus content? Consider the tip jar! Or, Check out the McMansion Hell Store! Proceeds from the store help protect great buildings from the wrecking ball.

Announcing the Winners of the 2019 McGingerbread Hell Competition

Wow! It was another great year for the McGingerbread Hell Gingerbread House Competition! The judges had their work cut out for them selecting between so many fine selections. Congratulations and great job to everyone who submitted an entry in this year’s contest. However, only six houses could make the cut.

Let’s start out with announcing the winners for Honorable Mention.

Honorable Mention: Priced to Sell! by Tina B.

The judges were wowed by the impressive nub, the tumorous turret, and the fantastically mismatched windows.

Quote from the Project Description: A true GEM of a house! 6,738 SF beautifully set on .23 parklike acres. Mediterranian villa in front, stately Federal in the back; it’s the mullet of houses!…Entertain in your beautiful backyard featuring a real StoneTek™ patio! The heavily pruned weeping cherry tree will be a real showstopper in 30-40 years! The largest roof in the neighborhood has Chex shingle roof in molasses brown. 4 BR / 5.5 BA / $899,000 / Days on market - 923

Honorable Mention: Festive Roofline Soup by Jessica C.

The judges LOVED the complexity of the roofline, the absurd gabling, and the 3 car garage.

Quote from the Project Description: Features include: • Flaked almond shingles covering a roofline so complex that it required trigonometrical expertise from my math teacher father to work out measurements…[and] A low maintenance yard as the house takes up almost the entire block! Now accepting offers; the sellers are motivated as the couple are in the middle of divorce proceedings.

Honorable Mention: Vinyl Vanity by Joseph & Kayla S.

The judges were impressed by the impressive garage to roof ratio, the roof detailings, the candy-cane columns, and excellent lawyer foyer.

Quote from the Project Description: This 2 square foot, two and a half story Craftsmen Tudor Post Classical Revival estate is the luxurious home that your friends and neighbors never wanted…The car is truly the heart of Tudor England, so we put the garage proudly up front, where the yawning chasm of the door greets the outside world with disdain…Be sure to schedule your private tour soon, this edifice is sure to not last long. On the market. If you’re curious about the price, you’re probably too economically responsible for this property.

And now, our top 3:

Third Place: A Jersey Thing by Nùria O.

Judges were impressed by the size, shape, and meticulous detailing of the project, which is reminiscent of a truly terrible McModern. Anjulie, seeing the size of the huge roof said “this is some sustainable sh*t.” This project captures the true McMansion ethos in truly making us say “what the hell is going on here?”

Project Description: Inspired by a beatiful RealLife™ McMansion™ in Beach Haven, NJ, this year’s featured McGingerbread mansion is a modern 5-bedroom, 16-bathroom home made entirely in construction-grade gingerbread and held together with royal icing made from free-range egg whites. The nonpareil- and sugar-crystal-covered walls provide both isolation from stormy weather and give a vintage air to counterbalance the futuristic lines of the design…On the back of the house, you can walk out to a large deck (perfect for entertainment) boasting a valuable one-piece handrail. From there you can access the beautiful mediterranean garden, set in candy charcoal and stones, environmentally friendly as it’s practically maintenance free. Don’t miss your chance to visit this unique home—feel the sugar rush!

Second Place: Victorian Opulence by Beth & Tina C.

Reigning McGingerbread champs Beth & Tina C. returned to the scene this year with yet another gorgeous gingerbread. Judges were wowed by the complexity and scale of the project. Sarah was impressed by the intricate piping and lots of frilly details, and the homage to the traditional Victorian gingerbread form. Anjulie described it as “unbearably neat” - she loved the uncantilevered bay window, the detached garage that makes entryway irrelevant, and the hilarious-front balcoiny with half-wall (not code compliant). Kate was impressed by the detailing and the extensive cantilevers which too serious structural engineering to pull off.

Project description: New from the creators that brought you a true monstrosity last year: The Victorian Opulence! Featuring a lovely wrap around porch, adorable detached garage, and a truly magnificent waterfall in the backyard, this monolith of a house features thee decks overlooking somewhat patchy but still rescueable landscaping. Other features include an outdoor patio, a tower for all your princess capturing needs, and a truly cursed facade featuring a curved roof of all things! With several nubbins featuring windows, there is no angle on this house you can’t see out of! Standing at nearly 2 feet tall and with an approximate total floor area of 550 square inches-excluding outdoor seating area-this Victorian style home will surely be the envy of all the gingerbread men in your country club. (Snow removal not included as part of HOA membership fees.)

And finally…

First Prize: Simply Having a Wonderful Building Crime by Erin E.

The judges all agreed: this house was outrageous - its execution was fantastic, and its design was full of so many delightful, humorous details. Sarah remarked: “This one is perfectly McMasion-scaled, with weirdly placed windows and gratuitous features to boot.” Anjulie couldn’t sing the praises enough: “I was particularly taken with the garage that is so far detached it makes the front door totally irrelevant…it’s a castle of grand sadness. The Pete Buttigieg sign is the literal icing on top.” Kate loved the details: the Pete sign, the ridiculously diverse selection of windows, the piped on invasive plants and basketball hoop, and the glass and siding effects. Part of the competition lies in its absurdity and humor, and in that particular category, this house took the cake.

Project description: This home Defies the Ordinary. Located on a 2.3 acre lot, you’ll be the envy of all your neighbors–and can watch from the top of the turret to be sure they’re suitably jealous! Enjoy sitting al fresco under the portico above the garage, or on the hand-laid M&M stone patio! The two-story entryway accounts for just a few of the more than 60 sugar glass windows! All of the walls join up exactly where the architect expected them to, and no windows were covered up on accident!!!

Constructed over two weeks, out of ten pounds of flour, four pounds of powdered sugar, and more than half a gallon of corn syrup, this modest four-story house will surely stand the test of time. It’s been meticulously decorated with royal icing vines, wreaths, and Christmas lights, and landscaped with gingerbread boulders, definitely-naturally-this-green icing grass, and coconut macaroon topiary. The roof stands at 17 inches high, and is crafted from waffle cookie shingles over gingerbread rafters. For sale for just $1,895,000, this house is just perfect for new families or young professionals just starting out!

Special thanks to everyone who entered this year and to our judges Sarah Archer and Anjulie Rao for their contributions in pulling off yet another successful entry our search for the Gingerbread McMansion Hall of Fame!

See you next week with this month’s 1970 McMansion.

If you like this post, and want to see more like it, consider supporting me on Patreon!

There is a whole new slate of Patreon rewards, including: good house of the month, an exclusive discord server, monthly livestreams, a reading group, free merch at certain tiers and more!

Not into recurring donations or bonus content? Consider the tip jar! Or, Check out the McMansion Hell Store! Proceeds from the store help protect great buildings from the wrecking ball.

Staring at Hell | Kate Wagner

Staring at Hell | Kate Wagner:

Howdy folks! My new long form piece for The Baffler is now available online. It features all kinds of goodies:

- Enlightenment slap fights

- Industrial Ruins

- The Sublime (not the band)

- Superfund sites

- How we as a culture react to the aesthetics of a modernity that have destroyed our environment (you know, lighthearted stuff)

New Blog Updates and Patreon Rewards for 2020!

Howdy folks!

Now is a great time to join McMansion Hell on Patreon, and I’ll tell you why!

Patreon has really evolved over the years and the landscape of how creators can interact with their patrons has changed dramatically - expanding to such areas as merch, exclusive servers, instagram-like story features, and newsletters. That’s why I’ve taken the opportunity to expand my Patreon to be more interactive with all of the patrons who make this project possible. More on that later!

First off, we’re going to start with what’s coming on the blog in the year 2020:

McMansion Hell enters bi-monthly status

As many of you are aware, this blog has been, well, flaky, as I try to balance my career as a freelancer, speaker, and educator with my career as a blogger. Instead of random updates, this blog will be set to publish twice a month, the first post being a house roast and the second post being a series post, such as the series on Brutalism. This allows time for freelancing, devoting more time to Patreon, and creates a more consistent expectation of what bang you’ll get for your buck.

New House Roasts, Year By Year

Do you ever wonder how McMansions got the way they did? We’ll we’re about to find out. Now that we’ve completed the 50 States of McMansion Hell, I’m going to be selecting one house for every year from 1970 to 2018 that is emblematic of the design trends of its time - in house-roast form, of course.

New and Continuing Series

The Brutalism Post will see three more installments this year. It will be followed by The Postmodern Project a new, five-post series on Postmodernism and its trials, tribulations, and legacy.

Results from the 2019 Gingerbread Contest will be announced next week!

New Patreon Rewards and Tiers

In order to take advantage of all the different goodies Patreon now has to offer, the tiers have been totally revamped:

$1 - League of Architectural Wokeness

$3 - League of Architectural Sassiness

$5 - League of Architectural Savviness

$10 - League of Architectural Solidarity

$20 - Guardians of Architecture

$30 - NEW TIER: League of Discourse Warriors

$50 - League of Suburban Warriors

I hope that you enjoy this year of house roasts, articles, and fun new patron goodies. See you next week with the Gingerbread Contest results!

xoxo

Kate

McMansion Hell Cross Stitch Patterns

Howdy folks! Someone alerted me that the file link for the McMansion Hell Cross Stitch patterns was no longer working, so I wanted to upload them in full here in time for the holiday season. They’re free for everyone to use, so please don’t go selling them on Etsy that would be very not cool!!!! 

EDIT: if you like these, and want to help your freelancer friend out over the holidays, I’ve made an Etsy store for my other cross stitch patterns: https://www.etsy.com/shop/kwagnerxstitch

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Happy Holidays!

Kate

McGingerbread Hell Competition 2019

It’s that time of year again, folks! Fire up the range, get the frosting out, and pour some hot cocoa, because the McGingerbread Hell 2019 Competition has now been officially launched!

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Your task is to create the most nubtastic, gawdawful gingerbread McMansion in all of McMansion Hell!! If you succeed, you will be rewarded with cool merch and even some money (as much cash as I’m able to put up post-wedding):

Prizes!

All winners will be featured on the blog and will be mailed an award certificate.

Rules and Regulations:

• Gingerbread structures must be constructed mainly of gingerbread and icing.

• Styrofoam and other support materials are not permitted.

• Entries must be original, don’t just assemble a pre-made kit. (to clarify: you can use materials from kits but don’t just put a kit together and call it a McMansion)

• All components of the display, except for the base, must be made of edible materials.

• Edible materials include candy, nuts, cereal, cookies, crackers, pasta, and other food items that do not include wrappers or sticks. Wrappers should be removed from candy and other decorations.

• Entries must be created this year

Entries will be judged on:

• overall appearance (30 points)

• originality/creativity (30 points)

• workmanship/technique (30 points)

• difficulty (10 points)

!!!! ABOUT OUR 2019 JUDGES !!!!

Kate Wagner

Kate Wagner is an architecture and cultural critic based in Washington, DC. She is the creator of the blog McMansion Hell, which examines the phenomenon that is the McMansion and uses it as a tool for architectural education and humorous cultural remarks. Kate has written about architecture, design, and culture for numerous publications including The Atlantic, CityLab, Metropolis, and The Nation. She is a columnist at The New Republic, The Baffler, and Curbed.

Anjulie Rao 

Anjulie Rao is a Chicago-based journalist and Editor of Chicago Architect magazine. As a writer, she focuses on livable built environments, equitable design, architecture criticism, and radical urbanism. With an academic background in art history, she enjoys intersections between art, infrastructure, and political narratives. She completed her Masters in New Arts Journalism from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2014 and her bylines can be found in Chicago Architect, Metropolis, American Craft Magazine, Chicago Magazine, Artsy, Curbed Chicago, and LUXE Magazine, among others.

Sarah Archer

 Sarah Archer is a design and art writer based in Philadelphia, and the author of the “The Midcentury Kitchen: America’s Favorite Room, from Workspace to Dreamscape, 1940s-1970s” which was published this year by Countryman Press. Her first book, “Midcentury Christmas” explores the material culture of Christmas during the Cold War in the United States. She is a contributing editor at American Craft Magazine, and writes regularly for Hyperallergic, The Atlantic, Architectural Digest, and The New Yorker online. Her articles and reviews have appeared in Curbed, Metropolis, CityLab, Slate, The Washington Post, The Magazine Antiques, Modern Magazine, The Journal of Modern Craft, and Studio Potter

Registration starts December 8th, 2019 and ends January 8th, 2019. Winners will be announced January 10th, 2019.

Submissions (including photo upload) will be handled via this Google Form: https://forms.gle/XNeo4AKDLdjLcWWD6

If you have any questions, please direct them to: [email protected] with the subject: Gingerbread

Looking forward to seeing your entries!

I now pronounce you nub & roofline

I now pronounce you nub & roofline

Jugular Jab

By /u/Emeri5

Jugular Jab submitted by /u/Emeri5 to r/MurderedByWords
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RIP

By /u/schruted_it_

RIP submitted by /u/schruted_it_ to r/funny
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Trump's tweet that got tagged for 'glorifying violence' used a phrase from a 1960s cop whose policies started a race riot

By /u/Orpheus80

Trump's tweet that got tagged for 'glorifying violence' used a phrase from a 1960s cop whose policies started a race riot submitted by /u/Orpheus80 to r/politics
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Minnesota police arrest CNN news crew on live TV

By /u/unknown_human

Minnesota police arrest CNN news crew on live TV submitted by /u/unknown_human to r/gifs
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Minnesota police arrest CNN team on live television

By /u/Knight_of_the_Lepus

Minnesota police arrest CNN team on live television submitted by /u/Knight_of_the_Lepus to r/nottheonion
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Bruh moment

By /u/Random-Barbarian

Bruh moment submitted by /u/Random-Barbarian to r/facepalm
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A CNN correspondent was just arrested while reporting live from Minneapolis, without giving any reason.

By /u/dhruveishp

A CNN correspondent was just arrested while reporting live from Minneapolis, without giving any reason. submitted by /u/dhruveishp to r/PublicFreakout
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Minneapolis police just arrested CNN reporter Omar Jimenez live on air even after he identified himself.

By /u/throwitintheair22

Minneapolis police just arrested CNN reporter Omar Jimenez live on air even after he identified himself. submitted by /u/throwitintheair22 to r/ThatsInsane
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CNN News Crew of Omar Jimenez and 4-member crew Arrested on Live TV

By /u/27Christian27

submitted by /u/27Christian27 to r/news
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Kudos to this guy!

By /u/milk_runner

Kudos to this guy! submitted by /u/milk_runner to r/MadeMeSmile
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Protesters in Hong Kong have some of the smartest tactics when fighting with our own police brutality. Here is an example of how they put out tear gas.

By /u/Fa_elg

Protesters in Hong Kong have some of the smartest tactics when fighting with our own police brutality. Here is an example of how they put out tear gas. submitted by /u/Fa_elg to r/nextfuckinglevel
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Twitter hides Trump tweet for 'glorifying violence'

By /u/ani625

submitted by /u/ani625 to r/news
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Twitter hides Trump tweet for 'glorifying violence'

By /u/zante2033

submitted by /u/zante2033 to r/worldnews
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President of the United States

By /u/irishrugby2015

President of the United States submitted by /u/irishrugby2015 to r/insanepeoplefacebook
[link] [comments]

Help error code NP-37602-8

By /u/CelticFoxxx

I can't sign into YouTube anymore and I've tried restarting and everything, please help....

submitted by /u/CelticFoxxx to r/PS4
[link] [comments]

Error'd: A Pattern of Errors

By Mark Bowytz

"Who would have thought that a newspaper hired an ex-TV technician to test their new CMS with an actual test pattern!" wrote Yves.

 

"Guess I should throttle back on binging all of Netflix," writes Eric S.

 

Christian K. wrote, "So, does this let me listen directly to my network packets?"

 

"I feel this summarizes very well the current Covid-19 situation in the US," Henrik B. wrote.

 

Steve W. writes, "I don't know if I've been gardening wrong or computing wrong, but at least know I know how best to do it!"

 

"Oh, how silly of me to search a toy reseller's website for 'scrabble' when I really meant to search for 'scrabble'. It's so obvious now!"

 

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CodeSOD: This is Your Last Birthday

By Remy Porter

I have a philosophy on birthdays. The significant ones aren’t the numbers we usually choose- 18, 21, 40, whatever- it’s the ones where you need an extra bit. 2, 4, 8, and so on. By that standard, my next birthday landmark isn’t until 2044, and I’m a patient sort.

Christian inherited some legacy C# code which deals in birthdays. Specifically, it needs to be able to determine when your last birthday was. Now, you have to be a bit smarter than simply “lop off the year and insert this year,” since that could be a future birthday, but not that much smarter.

The basic algorithm most of us would choose, though, might start there. If their birthday is, say, 12/31/1969, then we could ask, is 12/31/2020 in the future? It is. Then their last birthday was on 12/31/2019. Whereas, for someone born on 1/1/1970, we know that 1/1/2020 is in the past, so their last birthday was 1/1/2020.

Christian’s predecessor didn’t want to do that. Instead, they found this… “elegant” approach:

static DateTime GetLastBirthday(DateTime dayOfBirth)
{
    var now = DateTime.Now;

    var former = dayOfBirth;
    var current = former.AddYears(1);

    while (current < DateTime.Now)
    {
        former = current;
        current = current.AddYears(1);
    }

    return former;
}

Start with their birthdate. Then add one to the year, and store that as current. While current is in the past, remember it as former, and then add one to current. When current is finally a date in the future, former must be a date in the past, and store their last birthday.

The kicker here, though, is that this isn’t used to calculate birthdays. It’s used to calculate the “Start of the Case Year”. Which operates like birthdays, or any anniversary for that matter.

var currentCaseYearStart = GetLastBirthday(caseStart);

Sure, that’s weird naming, but Christian has this to add:

Anyways, [for case year starts] it has a (sort of) off-by-one error.

Christian doesn’t expand on that, and I’m not entirely certain what the off-by-one-like behavior would be in that case, and I assume it has something to do with their business rules around case start dates.

Christian has simplified the date calculation, but has yet to rename it: it turns out this method is called in several places, but never to calculate a birthday.

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CodeSOD: Is We Equal?

By Remy Porter

Testing for equality is hard. Equal references are certainly equal, but are equal values? What does it mean for two objects to “equal” each other? It’s especially hard in a language like JavaScript, which is “friendly” about type conversions.

In JavaScript land, you’re likely to favor a tool like “lodash”, which provides utility functions like isEqual.

Mohsin was poking around an old corner of their codebase, which hadn’t been modified in some time. Waiting there was this “helpful” function.

import _ from 'lodash';

export function areEqual(prevProps, nextProps) {
  if (_.isEqual(prevProps, nextProps)) {
    return true;
  }
  return false;
}

In this case, our unknown developer is the best kind of correct: grammatically correct. isEqual should rightly be called areEqual, since we’re testing if two objects “are equal” to each other.

Does that justify implementing a whole new method? Does it justify implementing it with an awkward construct where we use an if to determine if we should return true or false, instead of just, y’know, returning true or false.

isEqual already returns a boolean value, so you don’t need that if: return _.isEqual(…) would be quite enough. Given that functions are data in JavaScript, we could even shorten that by export const areEqual = _.isEqual.

Or, we could just not do this at all.

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A Vintage Printer

By Jane Bailey

IBM 1130 (16758008839)

Remember Robert, the student who ruined his class curve back in the 1960s? Well, proving the old adage that the guy who graduates last from medical school is still a doctor, he managed to find another part-time job at a small hospital, earning just enough to pay his continued tuition.

Industry standard in those days was the IBM System/360 series, but it was out of the price range of this hospital. Instead, they had an IBM 1130, which was designed to be used in laboratories and small scientific research facilities. It used FORTRAN, which was pretty inappropriate for business use, but a set of subroutines offered by IBM contained routines for dealing with currency values and formatting. The hospital captured charges on punch cards and those were used as input to a billing program.

The printer was a monstrous beast, spinning a drum of characters and firing hammers to print characters as they went by. In order to print in specific boxes on the billing forms, it was necessary to advance the paper to a specific point on the page. This was done using a loop of paper tape that had 12 channels in its width. A hole was punched at the line in the tape where the printer needed to stop. Wire brushes above the tape would hit the hole, making contact with the metal drum inside the loop and stopping the paper feed.

There was one box in the billing form that was used infrequently, only every few days. When the program issued the code to skip to that channel, paper would begin spewing for a few seconds, and then the printer would shut down with a fault. This required stopping, removing the paper, typing the necessary data into the partially-printed bill, and then restarting the job from the point of failure.

IBM Field Engineering was called, but was unable to find a reason for the problem. Their considered opinion was that it was a software fault. After dealing with the problem on a fairly regular basis, things escalated. The IBM Systems Engineer assigned to the site was brought in.

Robert's boss, the author of the billing software, had relied on an IDEAL subroutine package provided by IBM—technically unsupported, but written by IBM employees, so generally one would assume it was safe to use. The Systems Engineer spent a while looking over that package, but eventually declared it innocent and moved on. He checked over the code Robert's boss had written, but ultimately that, too, failed to provide any answers.

"Then it must be the machine," Robert's boss stated.

This was the wrong thing to say. "It couldn't be the machine!" The Engineer, a prideful young woman, bristled at the insinuation. "These machines are checked. Everything's checked before it leaves the factory!"

Tempers flared, voices on the edge of shouting. Robert ducked back into the room with the computer, followed rapidly by the Field Engineer who had come along earlier in the day to do his own checks. Trying to pretend they couldn't hear the argument, the pair began another once-over on the machine, looking for any sign of mechanical fault.

"Hey, a question," said Robert, holding the thick cable that connected the printer to the computer. "Could it be a problem with the cable?"

The Field Engineer unplugged the cable and examined it. "The pin for that channel doesn't look seated," he admitted sheepishly. "Let's replace it and see what happens."

That day Robert learned two valuable lessons in debugging. Number one: when in doubt, go over each piece of the machine, no matter how unlikely. Number two: never tell an IBM Engineer that the problem is on their end.

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CodeSOD: Classic WTF: A Char'd Enum

By Alex Papadimoulis

It's a holiday in the US today, so we're reaching back into the archives while doing some quarantine grilling. This classic has a… special approach to handling enums. Original. --Remy

Ah yes, the enum. It's a convenient way to give an integer a discrete domain of values, without having to worry about constants. But you see, therein lies the problem. What happens if you don't want to use an integer? Perhaps you'd like to use a string? Or a datetime? Or a char?

If that were the case, some might say just make a class that acts similarly, or then you clearly don't want an enum. But others, such as Dan Holmes' colleague, go a different route. They make sure they can fit chars into enums.

'******* Asc Constants ********
Private Const a = 65
Private Const b = 66
Private Const c = 67
Private Const d = 68
Private Const e = 69
Private Const f = 70
Private Const H = 72
Private Const i = 73
Private Const l = 76
Private Const m = 77
Private Const n = 78
Private Const O = 79
Private Const p = 80
Private Const r = 82
Private Const s = 83
Private Const t = 84
Private Const u = 85
Private Const x = 88

  ... snip ...

'******* Status Enums *********
Public Enum MessageStatus
  MsgError = e
  MsgInformation = i
  ProdMsg = p
  UpLoad = u
  Removed = x
End Enum

Public Enum PalletTable
  Shipped = s   'Pallet status code
  Available = a
End Enum
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Error'd: Rest in &;$(%{>]$73!47;£*#’v\

By Mark Bowytz

"Should you find yourself at a loss for words at the loss of a loved one, there are other 'words' you can try," Steve M. writes.

 

"Cool! I can still use the premium features for -3 days! Thanks, Mailjet!" writes Thomas.

 

David C. wrote, "In this time of virus outbreak, we all know you've been to the doctor so don't try and lie about it."

 

Gavin S. wrote, "I guess Tableau sets a low bar for its Technical Program Managers?"

 

"Ubutuntu: For when your Linux desktop isn't frilly enough!" Stuart L. wrote.

 

"Per Dropbox's rules, this prompt valid only for strings with a length of 5 that are greater than or equal to 6," Robert H. writes.

 

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CodeSOD: Checking Your Options

By Remy Porter

If nulls are a “billion dollar mistake”, then optional/nullable values are the $50 of material from the hardware store that you use to cover up that mistake. It hasn’t really fixed anything, but if you’re handy, you can avoid worrying too much about null references.

D. Dam Wichers found some “interesting” Java code that leverages optionals, and combines them with the other newish Java feature that everyone loves to misuse: streams.

First, let’s take a look at the “right” way to do this though. The code needs to take a list of active sessions, filter out any older than a certain threshold, and then summarize them together into a single composite session object. This is a pretty standard filter/reduce scenario, and in Java, you might write it something like this:

return sessions.stream()
  .filter(this::filterOldSessions)
  .reduce(this::reduceByStatus);

The this::… syntax is Java’s way of passing references to methods around, which isn’t a replacement for lambdas but is often easier to use in Java. The stream call starts a stream builder, and then we attach the filter and reduce operations. One of the key advantages here is that this can be lazily evaluated, so we haven’t actually filtered yet. This also might not actually return anything, so the result is implicitly wrapped in an Optional type.

With the “right” way firmly in mind, let’s look at the body of a method D. Dam found.

   Optional<CachedSession> theSession;

   theSession = sessions.stream()
                     .filter(session -> filterOldSessions(session))
                     .reduce((first, second) -> reduceByStatus(first, second));

   if (theSession.isPresent()) {
        return Optional.of(theSession.get());
   } else {
        return Optional.empty();
   }

This code isn’t wrong, it just highlights a developer unfamiliar with their tools. First, note the use of lambdas instead of the this::… syntax. It’s functionally the same, but this is harder to read- it’s less clear.

The real confusion, though, is after they’ve gotten the result. They understand that the stream operation has returned an Optional. So they check if that Optional isPresent- if it has a value. If it does, they get the value and wrap it in a new Optional (Optional.of is a static factory method which generates new Optionals). Otherwise, if it’s empty, we return an empty optional. Which, if they’d just returned the result of the stream operation, they would have gotten the same result.

It’s always frustrating to see this kind of code. It’s a developer who is so close to getting it, but who just isn’t quite there yet. That said, it’s not all bad, as D. Dam points out:

In defense of the original code: it is a little more clear that an Optional is setup properly and returned.

I’m not sure that it’s necessary to make that clear, but this code isn’t bad, it’s just annoying. It’s the kind of thing that you need to bring up in a code review, but somebody’s going to think you’re nit-picking, and when you start using words like readability, there’ll always be a manager who just wants this commit in production yesterday and says, “Readability is different for everyone, it’s fine.”

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CodeSOD: A Maskerade

By Remy Porter

Josh was writing some code to interact with an image sensor. “Fortunately” for Josh, a co-worker had already written a nice large pile of utility methods in C to make this “easy”.

So, when Josh wanted to know if the sensor was oriented in landscape or portrait (or horizontal/vertical), there was a handy method to retrieve that information:

// gets the sensor orientation
// 0 = horizontal, 1 = vertical
uint8_t get_sensor_orient(void);

Josh tried that out, and it correctly reported horizontal. Then, he switched the sensor into vertical, and it incorrectly reported horizontal. In fact, no matter what he did, get_sensor_orient returned 0. After trying to diagnose problems with the sensor, with the connection to the sensor, and so on, Josh finally decided to take a look at the code.


#define BYTES_TO_WORD(lo, hi)   (((uint16_t)hi << 8) + (uint16_t)lo)
#define SENSOR_ADDR             0x48  
#define SENSOR_SETTINGS_REG     0x24

#define SENSOR_ORIENT_MASK      0x0002

// gets the sensor orientation  
// 0 = horizontal, 1 = vertical  
uint8_t get_sensor_orient(void)  
{
    uint8_t buf;  
    read_sensor_reg(SENSOR_ADDR, SENSOR_SETTINGS_REG, &buf, 1);

    uint16_t tmp = BYTES_TO_WORD(0, buf) & SENSOR_ORIENT_MASK;

    return tmp & 0x0004;  
}

This starts reasonable. We create byte called buf and pass a reference to that byte to read_sensor_reg. Under the hood, that does some magic and talks to the image sensor and returns a byte that is a bitmask of settings on the sensor.

Now, at that point, assuming the the SENSOR_ORIENT_MASK value is correct, we should just return (buf & SENSOR_ORIENT_MASK) != 0. They could have done that, and been done. Or one of many variations on that basic concept which would let them return either a 0 or a 1.

But they can’t just do that. What comes next isn’t a simple matter of misusing bitwise operations, but a complete breakdown of thinking: they convert the byte into a word. They have a handy macro defined for that, which does some bitwise operations to combine two bytes.

Let’s assume the sensor settings mask is simply b00000010. We bitshift that to make b0000001000000000, and then add b00000000 to it. Then we and it with SENSOR_ORIENT_MASK, which would be b0000000000000010, which of course isn’t aligned with the layout of the word, so that returns zero.

There’s no reason to expand the single byte into two. That BYTES_TO_WORD macro might have other uses in the program, but certainly not here. Even if it is used elsewhere in the program, I wonder if they’re aware of the parameter order; it’s unusual (to me, anyway) to accept the lower order bits as the first parameter, and I suspect that’s part of what tripped this programmer up. Once they decided to expand the word, they assumed the macro would expand it in the opposite order, in which case their bitwise operation would have worked.

Of course, even if they had correctly extracted the correct bit, the last line of this method completely undoes all of that anyway: tmp & 0x0004 can’t possibly return a non-zero value after you’ve done a buf & 0x0002, as b00000100 and b00000010 have no bits in common.

As written, you could just replace this method with return 0 and it’d do the same thing, but more efficiently. “Zero” also happens to be how much faith I have in the developer who originally wrote this.

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The Dangerous Comment

By Remy Porter

It is my opinion that every developer should dabble in making their own scripting language at least once. Not to actually use, mind you, but to simply to learn how languages work. If you do find yourself building a system that needs to be extendable via scripts, don’t use your own language, but use a well understood and well-proven embeddable scripting language.

Which is why Neil spends a lot of time looking at Tcl. Tcl is far from a dead language, and its bundled in pretty much every Linux or Unix, including ones for embedded platforms, meaning it runs anywhere. It’s also a simple language, with its syntax described by a relatively simple collection of rules.

Neil’s company deployed embedded network devices from a vendor. Those embedded network devices were one of the places that Tcl runs, and the company which shipped the devices decided that configuration and provisioning of the devices would be done via Tcl.

It was nobody’s favorite state of affairs, but it was more-or-less fine. The challenges were less about writing Tcl and more about learning the domain-specific conventions for configuring these devices. The real frustration was that most of the time, when something went wrong, especially in this vendor-specific dialect, the error was simply: “Unknown command.”

As provisioning needs got more and more complicated, scripts calling out to other scripts became a more and more common convention, which made the “Unknown command” errors even more frustrating to track down.

It was while digging into one of those that Neil discovered a special intersection of unusual behaviors, in a section of code which may have looked something like:

# procedure for looking up config options
proc lookup {fname} {
  # does stuff …
}

Neil spent a good long time trying to figure out why there was an “Unknown command” error. While doing that hunting, and referring back to the “Dodekalogue” of rules which governs Tcl, Neil had a realization, specifically while looking at the definition of a comment:

If a hash character (“#”) appears at a point where Tcl is expecting the first character of the first word of a command, then the hash character and the characters that follow it, up through the next newline, are treated as a comment and ignored. The comment character only has significance when it appears at the beginning of a command.

In Tcl, a command is a series of words, where the first word is the name of the command. If the command name starts with a “#”, then the command is a comment.

That is to say, comments are commands. Which doesn’t really sound interesting, except for one very important rule about this vendor-specific deployment of Tcl: it restricted which commands could be executed based on the user’s role.

Most of the time, this never came up. Neil and his peers logged in as admins, and admins could do anything. But this time, Neil was logged in as a regular user. It didn’t take much digging for Neil to discover that in the default configuration the “#” command was restricted to administrators.

The vendor specifically shipped their devices configured so that comments couldn’t be added to provisioning scripts unless those scripts were executed by administrators. It wasn’t hard for Neil to fix that, but with the helpful “Unknown Command” errors, it was hard to find out what needed to be fixed.

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CodeSOD: Extra Strict

By Remy Porter

One of the advantages of a strongly typed language is that many kinds of errors can be caught at compile time. Without even running the code, you know you've made a mistake. This adds a layer of formality to your programs, which has the disadvantage of making it harder for a novice programmer to get started.

At least, that's my understanding of why every language that's designed to be "easy to use" defaults to being loosely typed. The result is that it's easy to get started, but then you inevitably end up asking yourself wat?

Visual Basic was one of those languages. It wanted to avoid spitting out errors at compile time, because that made it "easy" to get started. This meant, for example, that in old versions of Visual Basic, you didn't need to declare your variables- they were declared on use, a feature that persists into languages like Python today. Also, in older versions, you didn't need to declare variables as having a type, they could just hold anything. And even if you declared a type, the compiler would "do its best" to stuff one type into another, much like JavaScript does today.

Microsoft recognized that this would be a problem if a large team was working on a Visual Basic project. And large teams and large Visual Basic projects are a thing that sadly happened. So they added features to the language which let you control how strict it would be. Adding Option Explicit to a file would mean that variables needed to be declared before use. Option Strict would enforce strict type checking, and preventing surprising implicit casts.

One of the big changes in VB.Net was the defaults for those changed- Option Explicit defaulted to being on, and you needed to specify Option Explicit Off to get the old behavior. Option Strict remained off by default, though, so many teams enabled it. In .NET, it was even more important, since while VB.Net might let you play loose with types at compile time, the compiled MSIL output didn't.

Which brings us to Russell F's code. While the team's coding standards do recommend that Option Strict be enabled, one developer hasn't quite adapted to that reality. Which is why pretty much any code that interacts with form fields looks like this:

Public i64Part2 As Int64 'later… i64Part2 = Format(Convert.ToInt64(txtIBM2.Text), "00000")

txtIBM2 is, as you might guess from the Hungarian tag, a text box. So we need to convert that to a number, hence the Convert.ToInt64. So far so good.

Then, perplexingly, we Format the number back into a string that is 5 characters long. Then we let an implicit cast turn the string back into a number, because i64Part2 is an Int64. So that's a string converted explicitly into a number, formatted into a string and then implicitly converted back to a number.

The conversion back to a number undoes whatever was accomplished by the formatting. Worse, the format give you a false sense of security- the format string only supports 5 digits, but what happens if you pass a 6 digit number in? Nothing: the Format method won't truncate, so your six digit number comes out as six digits.

Maybe the "easy to use" languages are onto something. Types do seem hard.

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Error'd: Destination Undefined

By Mark Bowytz

"It's good that I'm getting off at LTH, otherwise God knows what'd have happened to me," Elliot B. writes.

 

"Ummmm...Thanks for the 'great' deal, FedEx?" writes Ginnie.

 

David wrote, "Sure am glad that they have a men's version of this...I have so many things to do with my kitchen hands."

 

"I mean, the fact that you can't ship to undefined isn't wrong, but it's not right either," Kevin K. wrote.

 

Peter G. writes, "This must have been written by physicists, it's within +/- 10% of being correctly sorted."

 

"As if the thought of regular enemas don't make me clench my cheeks enough, there's this," wrote Quentin G.

 

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CodeSOD: I Fixtured Your Test

By Remy Porter

When I was still doing consulting, I had a client that wanted to create One App To Rule Them All: all of their business functions (and they had many) available in one single Angular application. They hoped each business unit would have their own module, but the whole thing could be tied together into one coherent experience by setting global stylesheets.

I am a professional, so I muted myself before I started laughing at them. I did give them some guidance, but also tried to set expectations. Ignore the technical challenges. The political challenges of getting every software team in the organization, the contracting teams they would bring in, the management teams that needed direction, all headed in the same direction were likely insurmountable.

Brian isn’t in the same situation, but Brian has been receiving code from a team of contractors from Initech. The Initech contractors have been a problem from the very start of the project. Specifically, they are contractors, and very expensive ones. They know that they are very expensive, and thus have concluded that they must also be very smart. Smarter than Brian and his peers.

So, when Brian does a code review and finds their code doesn’t even approach his company’s basic standards for code quality, they ignore him. When he points out that they’ve created serious performance problems by refusing to follow his organization’s best practices, they ignore him and bill a few extra hours that week. When the project timeline slips, and he starts asking about their methodology, they refuse to tell him a single thing about how they work beyond, “We’re Agile.”

To the shock of the contractors and the management paying the bills, sprint demos started to fail. QA dashboards went red. Implementation of key features got pushed back farther and farther. In response, management decided to give Brian more supervisory responsibility over the contractors, starting with a thorough code review.

He’s been reviewing the code in detail, and has this to say:

Phrases like ‘depressingly awful’ are likely to feature in my final report (the review is still in progress) but this little gem from testing jumped out at me.

  it('should detect change', () => {
    fixture.detectChanges();
    const dt: OcTableComponent = fixture.componentInstance.dt;
    expect(dt).toEqual(fixture.componentInstance.dt);
  }); 

This is a Jasmine unit test, which takes a behavioral approach to testing. The it method expects a string describing what we expect “it” to do (“it”, in this context, being one unit of a larger feature), and a callback function which implements the actual test.

Right at the start, it('should detect change',…) reeks of a bad unit test. Doubly so when we see what changes they’re detecting: fixture.detectChanges()

Angular, when running in a browser context, automatically syncs the DOM elements it manages with the underlying model. You can’t do that in a unit test, because there isn’t an actual DOM to interact with, so Angular’s unit test framework allows you to trigger that by calling detectChanges.

Essentially, you invoke this any time you do something that’s supposed to impact the UI state from a unit test, so that you can accurately make assertions about the UI state at that point. What you don’t do is just, y’know, invoke it for no reason. It doesn’t hurt anything, it’s just not useful.

But it’s the meat of the test where things really go awry.

We set the variable dt to be equal to fixture.componentInstance.dt. Then we assert that dt is equal to fixture.componentInstance.dt. Which it clearly is, because we just set it.

The test is named “should detect changes”, which gives us the sense that they were attempting to unit test the Angular test fixture’s detectChanges method. That’s worse than writing unit tests for built-in methods, it’s writing a unit test for a vendor-supplied test fixture: testing the thing that helps you test.

But then we don’t change anything. In the end, this unit test simply asserts that the assignment operator works as expected. So it’s also worse than a test for a built-in method, it’s a test for a basic language feature.

This unit test manages, in a few compact lines, to not simply be bad, but is “not even wrong”. This is the kind of code which populates the entire code base. As Brian writes:

I still have about half this review to go and I dread to think what other errors I may find.

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CodeSOD: A Short Trip on the BobC

By Remy Porter

More than twenty years ago, “BobC” wrote some code. This code was, at the time, relatively modern C++ code. One specific class controls a display, attached to a “Thingamobob” (technical factory term), and reporting on the state of a number of “Doohickeys”, which grows over time.

The code hasn’t been edited since BobC’s last change, but it had one little, tiny, insignificant problem. It would have seeming random crashes. They were rare, which was good, but “crashing software attached to factory equipment” isn’t good for anyone.

Eventually, the number of crash reports was enough that the company decided to take a look at it, but no one could replicate the bug. Johana was asked to debug the code, and I’ve presented it as she supplied it for us:

class CDisplayControl
{
private:

    std::vector<IDoohickey*> m_vecIDoohickeys;
    std::map<short, IHelper*> m_vecIHelpers;
    short m_nNumHelpers;

public:

    AddDoohickey(IDoohickey *pIDH, IHelper *pIHlp)
    {
        // Give Helper to doohickey
        pIDH->put_Helper(pIHlp);

        // Add doohickey to collection
        m_vecIDooHickeys.push_back(pIDH);
        pIDH->AddRef();
        int nId = m_vecIDooHickeys.size() - 1;

        // Add Helper to local interface vector.  This is really only done so
        // we have easy/quick access to the Helper.
        m_nNumHelpers++;
        m_vecIHelpers[nId] = pIHlp; // BobC:CHANGED
        pIHlp->AddRef();

        // Skip deadly function on the first Doohickey.
        if (m_nNumHelpers > 1)
        {
            CallThisEveryTimeButTheFirstOrTheWorldWillEnd();
        }
    }
}

I’m on record as being anti-Hungarian notation. Wrong people disagree with me all the time on this, but they’re wrong, why would we listen to them? I’m willing to permit the convention of IWhatever for interfaces, but CDisplayControl is an awkward class name. That’s just aesthetic preference, though, the real problem is the member declarations:

    std::vector<IDoohickey*> m_vecIDoohickeys;
    std::map<short, IHelper*> m_vecIHelpers;

Here, we have a vector- a resizable list- of IDoohickey objects called m_vecIDoohickeys, which is Hungarian notation for a member which is a vector.

We also have a map that maps shorts to IHelper objects, called m_vecIHelpers, which is Hungarian notation for a member which is a vector. But this is a map. So even if Hungarian notation were helpful, this completely defeats the purpose.

Tracing through the AddDoohickey method, the very first step is that we assign a property on the IDoohickey object to point at the IHelper object. Then we put that IDoohickey into the vector, and create an ID by just checking the size of the vector.

We also increment m_nNumHelpers, another wonderfully Hungarian name, since n tells us that this is a number, but we also need to specify Num in the name too.

It’s important to note: the size of the vector and the value in m_nNumHelpers should match. Then, based on the id, we slot the IHelper object into our map. This is done, according to the comment, “so we have easy/quick access to the Helper”.

Keep in mind, we just assigned the IHelper instance to a property of the IDoohickey, so we already have “quick/easy” access. Quicker, because these are Standard Template Library classes, and while the STL is a powerful set of data-structures, back then speed wasn’t really one of its attributes.

Also, note that BobC didn’t trust source control, which isn’t unreasonable for that long ago, but for only one of the lines changed. Though the tag, “CHANGED” doesn’t really give us much insight into what the change was.

Finally, we use than m_nNumHelpers to see if we’ve run this method at least once, because there’s a step that should only happen when we have more than one IDoohickey and IHelper combination. As Johana’s “corrections” to the code make clear- if we call this at the wrong time, the world will end. We can’t call it the first time through, but we must call it every other time through.

Which, if you carefully check the variable declarations, you’ll catch the root cause of the seemingly random crashes:

short m_nNumHelpers;

In Johana’s world, shorts are 16 bit integers. As these are signed, that means after it hits 32,767, it overflows and wraps back around to negative. So m_nNumHelpers > 1 becomes false, and we stop calling that method which we must call or the world will end.

Most of the time, the equipment gets power-cycled long before they hit the 32,767 invocations of this method, which is why this was so tricky to debug.

Speaking of “tricky to debug,” there’s one more thing I see lurking in here, which based on what I saw in this method, makes me worry. As we know, BobC isn’t super keen on counting, but we see calls to AddRef() in this code. I don’t know, but I suspect that BobC implemented his own reference counting garbage collector.

Real garbage collection, of course, would be to completely refactor this code.

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Representative Line: Don't Negate Me

By Remy Porter

There are certain problem domains where we care more about the results and the output than the code itself. Gaming is the perfect example: game developers write "bad" code because clarity, readability, maintainability are often subordinate to schedules and the needs of a fun game. The same is true for scientific research: that incomprehensible blob of Fortran was somebody's PhD thesis, and it proved fundamental facts about the universe, so maybe don't judge it on how well written it is.

Sometimes, finance falls into similar place. Often, the software being developer has to implement obtuse business rules that accreted over decades of operation; sometimes it's trying to be a predictive model; sometimes a pointy-haired-boss got upset about how a dashboard looked and asked for the numbers to get fudged.

But that doesn't mean that we can't find new ways to write bad code in any of these domains. René works in finance, and found this unique JavaScript solution to converting a number to a negative value:

/** * Reverses a value a number to its negative * @param {int} value - The value to be reversed * @return {number} The reversed value */ negateNumber(value) { return value - (value * 2); }

JavaScript numbers aren't integers, they're double-precision floats. Which does mean that you could exceed the range when you double. That would require you to be tracking numbers larger than 2^52, though, which we can safely assume isn't happening in a financial system, unless inflation suddenly gets cosmically out of hand.

René has since replaced this with a more "traditional" approach to negation.

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CodeSOD: Selected Sort

By Remy Porter

Before Evalia took a job at Initech, her predecessor, "JR" had to get fired first. That wasn't too much of a challenge, because JR claimed he was the "God of JavaScript". That was how he signed each of the tickets he handled in the ticket system.

JR was not, in fact, a god. Since then, Evalia has been trying to resuscitate the projects he had been working on. That's how she found this code.

function sortSelect(selElem) { var tmpAry = new Array(); for (var i=0;i<selElem.options.length;i++) { tmpAry[i] = new Array(); tmpAry[i][0] = selElem.options[i].text; tmpAry[i][1] = selElem.options[i].value; } tmpAry.sort(); while (selElem.options.length > 0) { selElem.options[0] = null; } for (var i=0;i<tmpAry.length;i++) { var op = new Option(tmpAry[i][0], tmpAry[i][1]); selElem.options[i] = op; } return; }

This code sorts the elements in a drop down list, and it manages to do this in a… unique way.

First, we iterate across the elements in the list of options. We build a 2D array, where the first axis is the item, and the second axis contains the text caption and value of each option element.

Once we've built that array, we can sort it. Fortunately for us, when you sort a 2D array, JavaScript helpfully defaults to sorting by the first element in the second dimension, so this will sort by the text value.

Now that we have a sorted list of captions and values, we have to do something about the pesky old ones. So we iterate across the list to set each one to null. Well, not quite. We actually set the first item to null until the length is 0. Fortunately for us, the JavaScript length only takes into account elements with actual values, so this works.

Once they're all empty, we can repopulate the list by using our temporary array to create new options and put them in the list.

Credit to JR, I actually learned new things about JavaScript when wrying to understand this code. I didn't know how sort behaved with 2D arrays, and I'd never seen the while/length construct before, and was shocked that it actually works. Of course, I'd never gotten myself into a situation where I'd needed those.

The truly "god-like" thing is that JR managed to take the task of sorting a list of items and turned it into a task that needed to visit each item in the list three times in addition to sorting. God-like, sure, but the kind of god that Lovecraft warned us about.

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Wines we've drunk in May

By Jon North ([email protected])

Nearly another month has slipped by so here is an update on wines we've enjoyed over the past few weeks

The wines this past month have included
I think it is fair to say that there was not a dud among them.  Almost all were bought from the makers themselves, mostly in person though we had some delivered recently because they originate more than 100 km from where we live.  But we are very much looking forward to revisiting winemakers in the Jura, Burgundy, Beaujolais and the Minervois.

Meanwhile our next trip will be to the Domaine de la Fadèze, overlooking the Étang de Thau near Mèze and well within our range.  And who knows, if French distance restrictions ease more may be possible.  Looking forward to wine trips helps us to ease the blues of cancelled holidays.







Ce moys de May

By [email protected] (Jon North)

Just before I left school I was finally allowed to stop shaving, the headmaster having bowed to my dislike of a painful process.  So I have not been without a beard since I was 18 - nearly 55 years. Last weekend a friend, one of our first lunch guests since lockdown, arrived without his - it is always a slight surprise when someone changes appearance, but of course we enjoyed his company no less.

He and I share another experience, as choir treasurers. I thankfully passed on mine many years ago, and would be lost in the new world of French accounting rules and practices, but he is hoping to pass on his function to someone else, being no younger than I am! I was always glad to do my bit for our choir in London, but I recall clearly the sinking feeling I had standing in a concert and realising that the size of audience I could see was not large enough to pay our musicians. Difficult to give your best musically with those thoughts in your mind.  Ideally, we'd have a small team of people beavering away on the admin while singers sang, but that is a rarely achieved aim.
                

Now distance restrictions are less severe we have been able to walk further along the canal and visit our favourite donkey in a nearby field

The concept of news is strange. First it depends on things happening, and not much new is happening just now. Second it needs people there to report it, and that’s always hit and miss. Third, once other stories crop up elsewhere journalists have to pack their bags and move on. Fewer journalists, fewer reports; conversely, if lots of journalists are gathered somewhere for a story, lots of other things happening there are suddenly reported. Just now many journalists are confined to home ‘barracks’ and in their absence exciting stuff is provided by Joe/Josephine public via their iPhones. Not always a reliable source, though some say journalists are biased too.

Confusion has been reigning in the U.K. about health and lockdown restrictions. People seem to want good guidance from the govt, but at the same time many would not trust the current PM as far as they could throw him in any case, so it seems a bit weird to complain that he is giving poor advice. Here, the French have been clearer from the outset about regulations backed by legal sanctions. Now, French beaches are mostly open but hedged around with restrictions. You can’t apparently put a towel down on most of them - not that le bronzage would be a nice thing to try in this grey, damp period. But wherever you are, common sense says that mingling with people risks spreading infections, whether colds or more deadly ones. Decisions on restricting movement are bound to be political even if informed by science; and they are also bound to be based on probability and risk.

Pain is still a preoccupation for me because of sciatica.  We hear that A&E visits are down, in case people may be staying away for fear of catching something else while attending. I am just hoping to get back in touch with the Montpellier Pain Clinic now lockdown is over, but meanwhile just keep up regular exercise.

Last time I started to list films we'd watched - that includes music and opera, and next time there will be more on the opera side.  for now, two more DVDs and one film recorded from the tv recently.
Our first visit since lockdown to the Parcours de Santé North of the town this afternoon



The holiday that never was

By [email protected] (Jon North)


As our friends Al and Linda will also be well aware, this weekend we'd have been arriving back home from our holiday in Armenia and Georgia.  Instead, Mary and I have enjoyed quiet time at home, (as we hope they have too) and have just to look forward wistfully to a trip replanned next year.  One advantage for us has been to enjoy the jasmine arch in our garden in full bloom.  Mary always said this helped sell her the house, though now I enjoy it less because my sense of smell has deserted me and she because going outside in these dry time with high pollen gives her sneezing fits.  But you can only be glad to see such a glorious display!

Chez nous
Another advantage has been the re-equipping of our home with dogs.  Elvire (red collar) and Edmond arrived here 3 weeks ago and have rapidly become part of our lives




For those who may not have seen these photos  3½ years ago here are the links to the photo albums I made then for our last trip to Armenia and Georgia



Distancing by accident or design!

By [email protected] (Jon North)

I have a perpetual art calendar on my desk - as far as I know the pictures are not linked to their date except by chance.  Today's is Seurat's Sunday afternoon at la Grande Jatte, an island on the Seine near Paris .  As far as I can see these people are doing social distancing quite nicely!  Larger version of this pic is via the link - the original is in Chicago!  We feel a little closer to you all via various electronic means, but still too isolated.


Today is apparently World Bee day.  I have to say there always seems be some 'day' or other, but having tried to keep them, with little success, and recognising their importance to everything that grows I'm only too glad to acknowledge them and to quote the Dowland song (not for the first time!):

It was a time when silly bees could speak,
And in that time I was a silly bee,
Who fed on time until my heart 'gan break,
Yet never found the time would favour me.
Of all the swarm I only did not thrive,
Yet brought I wax and honey to the hive.


Then thus I buzzed when time no sap would give:
Why should this blessed time to me be dry,
Sith by this time the lazy drone doth live,
The wasp, the worm, the gnat, the butterfly?
Mated with grief I kneeled on my knees,
And thus complained unto the king of bees:


My liege, gods grant thy time may never end,
And yet vouchsafe to hear my plaint of time,
Which fruitless flies have found to have a friend,
And I cast down when atomies do climb.
The king replied but thus: Peace, peevish bee,
Thou'rt bound to serve the time, the time not thee.


These words are attributed to the Earl of Essex trying to keep in the good books of Queen Elizabeth (he failed in the end of course and lost his head!)

The virus has led to much less pollution, and whether by coincidence or some weird side effect things seem to be growing better, flowers more abundant; or perhaps we have more time to observe what is going on.  In any case, after a year or two in which things seemed really difficult for bees (ors died or fled, and even friends who were much more gifted in beekeeping found things tough) this year we have heard of swarms appearing and thriving for friends both in France and in England.

Our listening and watching these past few days have led us to one old favourite film, Quartet, about musicians in a retirement home, a good old fashioned romantic story involving people of our kind of age (!) with some fine performances, notably by Tom Courtenay; and - a first viewing this - Purcell's Dido & Aeneas directed by William Christie and Deborah Warner.  Such a brief work, and one I've known since a student performance I was involved in, with many interesting things but notably very fine musical performances under Christie's baton.

On a more mundane note, I found the right moment to take all the gardening waste and more besides to the tip.  It is very conveniently placed for us, but the queues have been too long until yesterday morning when I nipped in at opening time.  By the time I emerged there was again a queue of 8 cars - they are only letting one or two in at- a time of course.

Finally, I'm grateful for the feedback to these blog posts.  For those who commented, with some shock, on the loudness and persistence of the nightingale, I have to agree it certainly can keep you awake!  The bird seems sto have abandoned us for now anyway!





Unlocked

By [email protected] (Jon North)

Early morning sunshine in our garden as the nightingale sings.  The strong vertical shadow on our neighbours' tree is of the tall, thin pine by our own terrace - amazing effect!
As I finish this post I want to include a 5-minute clip of the nightingale that serenaded us all last night.

I started this at the weekend, looking forward to our first low-key meetings with friends now small gatherings are once again allowed.  Thanks to rain outdoor meetings will be difficult, so luckily this will slow down any mad rush to the beaches.

Throughout this period we have seen and heard people railing against loss of liberty.  I think most politicians make what they can of the uncertainties science serves up - science gets a bad name every time it is blamed for not having clear answers, but 'it depends' is probably the most honest reaction to every bit of scientific information you can find, and politics was invented to decide what course to follow when the answer is as usual not clearcut.  On the whole I think the level of uncertainty we have in France is rather better than what our UK friends and family are going through just now - there is a difference between a proper degree of caution and bumbling uncertainty.  Just to illustrate how difficult it is to decide things, here are two sets of charts published 5 days a part in Le Monde.  The basics - wash hands, don't hug, kiss or shake hands, stay a decent distance apart - are simple, but certainties are hard to come by.


So rather than dwelling on this, I'm starting a run-down of things we have read, listened to or watched in the past lockdown weeks.

Some films we have watched (in no particular order) mostly for the second or more time(s):
More to follow


Early May - a few photos

By [email protected] (Jon North)


As we near the end of lockdown in this part of France, a few pictures of our life here - peace and colour, although no holiday as we had hoped.  Dogs settling in well, and soon our walks will take us a bit further than the 1 km radius we have stayed in until this weekend.  

This comes with love and good wishes, especially whose lives are still more restricted and difficult than ours are. We'll hold our breath to see if the relaxation of restrictions is OK, or too soon.  We do miss our music, though Mary and I have tried a little baroque music à deux.  Meanwhile, Mary keeps up regular Qi Gong and I regular sessions on the exercise bike!


Onward and upward

By [email protected] (Jon North)

Poppy time has almost passed us by this year, so here is a photo from easier times in the Languedoc









We now know that there will be a gradual return to whatever normal is - perhaps.  People keep talking about sticking to the science, but science is slow and complicated; people always hope for quick simple answers but  in reality most of the important things will be the result of political balancing acts, tempered by imprudent impatience which may make the next few weeks a rollercoaster.  At least that will be a change from groundhog weeks.  So as we get to know our new canine companions, I have been gleaning interesting stuff in my daily reading.

Minor factoid in the category ‘I never knew that...’ this week, read in the local Midi mag - the dye indigo and the woad allegedly used on their skins by ancient Brits, comes from the plant isatis tinctoria, one of whose historic centres of cultivation is linked to a body called Terre de Pastel around a place called Labège north of Toulouse. Presumably also linked to the blue denim named for ‘de Nîmes’. I first came across traditional indigo dyed cloth in northern Nigeria, where it was dunked in pits by the market in Kano. A ton of the leaves is needed to produce 2 kg of pigment.

Meanwhile I spotted this in the Guardian from Grace Dent which raises a bit of a smile with some all-too accurate commentary and some real dilemmas for the immediate future.  She's one of my favourite food writers but spreading her wings: 


"It struck me, during week four, as I made yet another freezer inventory and mail-ordered herbs to avoid my once-weekly shop, that I have become a little too good at obeying the government’s orders. Much is made of the rule-flouters – the Frisbee-chuckers and the park pond-paddlers; we hear lots, too, about the ramblers and picnickers. My favourite “Covidiot’” pictures, which I search out daily for light relief, are the Stasi-style pap shots of shoppers coming out of The Range. Among all the death and dystopian headlines, I grimly enjoy these people, sheepishly trundling trolleys to their Volvos filled with ceramic garden Buddhas, 15 litres of Daffodil White paint and signs that say, “It’s Prosecco O’ Clock”.

Obviously, I tut and cluck at this wilful dissent, but part of me is just jealous. These people are still rushing out the moment a “reason” allows them to. Meanwhile, I stand in my kitchen, wiping and re-wiping surfaces with pine forest disinfectant and batch-freezing mirepoix (that’s the fancy name for diced carrot, onion and celery) so as not to waste some sad-looking veg. It’s not sunbathers the government should fret over; it’s the millions of us it’ll need to convince, once this is over, to come out, blinking into the light….  I’m already teetering on the brink of agoraphobia; let’s call it agoraphobia-lite. I’m not strictly qualified to self-diagnose anxiety disorders, or allot them cute names, but I’m guessing the NHS is a bit snowed under right now. They do not need a middle-aged woman with a mallen streak and rough hands like Skeksis from The Dark Crystal screaming: “I am scared to go to Morrisons” via video-link.

Lockdown is disastrous for the economy, it has riven families apart and imprisoned others with their tormentors. So why do I fear it ending? Perhaps it’s because, by week four, I, like millions of others, may be treading water in a difficult place, but at least it’s the known unknown. I fear more brand new, fresh, frightening unknowns to come to terms with all over again. I should probably pop a recipe idea or something in here, because this is ostensibly a food column. How about, when the existential angst comes, open your cupboards, smear peanut butter and mashed ripe banana on white bread, and fry it in butter? Elvis lived on these, apparently, during his last difficult years at Graceland. He found them a positive boon, until he, well, didn’t.

How will the world look when I can finally visit [my vulnerable mum] again? Will I travel on the West Coast train in a mask and gloves surrounded by 100 other faceless travellers, all clutching paperwork? Will I be met with suspicion and anger when I arrive; not as a local, but as an outsider bringing germs? Will I walk into her lounge and hug her and smell her Estée Lauder White Linen and sit close enough that, within milliseconds, she’ll remark: “You’ve got a spot on your head. Have you been picking it?”  Or will I stand 12 feet away in a hazmat suit, shouting muffled platitudes, before ambling off sadly? Will life re-begin, cafes and restaurants re-open, gigs re-schedule, airports re-busy, as we learn to accept the new normal? Maybe five or six hundred fatalities a day is the price we pay for freedom and prosperity? And if all this happens soon, forgive me if I stay a shut-in for a bit longer."

Our dogs are settling in beautifully meanwhile.  They have had a lot of upheaval in their recent lives, but like many animals they seem to know when they are onto a Good Thing!





Latest additions to our family

By [email protected] (Jon North)


As promised, a surprise for Mayday, our 2 new friends Elvire and Edmond.  Their previous elderly owner died so they needed a new home, so they have travelled to us from Béziers, following a careful check of our suitability by the local dog charity Jamais sans mon Chien.  We're looking forward to a new adventure as we enter the month of our cancelled holiday.


In our minds they are Edmond de Goncourt (one of Mary's favoured French writers) and Donna Elvira (one of several splendid soprano roles and wronged women in Mozart's Don Giovanni).  But they will be able to tell us all about themselves in the coming weeks and months!




And so it goes...

By [email protected] (Jon North)

...as Billy Joel and before him Kurt Vonnegut had it.  Bittersweet, as our lives are at the present, happy ourselves to be fairly healthy, sad for the gloomy news and future prospects for so many in the world.  I haven't written for a few days, there being nothing much to say, but watch this space on Friday, when we expect some really exciting news!  Meanwhile, flowers from the garden and beyond.

Trawling our tv recordings to clear up things we'd kept from Christmas, and deleting a good few, we came across a marvellous feature on Dolly Parton.  I've long been an admirer, but we were impressed once again by both her prolific talent and her professionalism.  Schubert wrote over 600 songs - she has composed over 3,000 many never performed.  Her vocal technique is also impressive and the special kind of Country/bluegrass ornamentation she uses reminds me of the most fluid French baroque, or the pibroch pointing of bagpipes in Scotland and on the French cornemuse.  A wonderful end to yesterday evening.



Drinking in lockdown part 2: white and rosé

By Jon North ([email protected])


We enjoy white and rosé wines, and often have them as apéritifs.  Here's a good variety from the past few weeks - delicious white Seyssel from the Savoie area of eastern France, discovered during our several visits for music to the Val du Séran.  Then two from opposite sides of the Rhône:  from the east, Coyeux near Beaumes de Venise.  When we first discovered them 20 or more years ago it was their sweet muscat that caught our attention - now they make excellent reds and this delicate dry muscat; and from the west (not far from the Pont du Gard, the Roman aqueduct on our doorstep here) some excellent whites and rosés as well as very good red Côtes du Rhône.

The two bottles of Lacoste, white and rosé, were the result of a busy year to and fro to the Lot, where the two dogs we welcomed for short periods were found in a refuge in Figeac.  Their sad tales are told elsewhere, but we were delighted to discover that they were to be found near the wine areas of Cahors, the Côtes du Lot and the  and the Côteaux de Quercy, several hundred km northwest of us here.  And the final two in this lineup are from the Clos de Bellevue, just up the hill to the north of us in Lunel.  Their rosé is also made in a sweeter version equally palatable for an apéro; the dry muscat is another example of the variety of delicious dry wines now being made from the muscat grape.  The view from the courtyard looking back over Lunel is among our favourite panoramas.





Drinking in lockdown - part 1, reds

By Jon North ([email protected])

A while ago I used to post frequent pictures of bottles we'd sampled.  Now, the lineup of empties destined for the bottle bank is a little less random - it only includes the bottles we'd chosen ourselves, without extras brought by guests.  But now we can't travel the bottles evoke more than ever our memories of the places we've visited, winemakers we've met, and favourite grapes.  Above, a few reds.  left to right, one of several excellent wines from a Vinsobres producer, the Domaine de Deurre.  We first discovered the village of Vinsobres during some of our first forays into the Vaucluse in the mid-90s, and vividly recall the magic of climbing the steep winding hill northwards and seeing Mont Ventoux rising ever higher to the south as we drove.


The next in line is from a much more recent trip, our first visit to the Jura last year.  There we discovered the pretty town of Arbois in the hills not far from the Swiss border, and an excellent wine co-op whose pinot noir we are enjoying.  The other three reds are all Beaujolais crûs, from the area south of Mâcon which we've visited often over the past 25+ years - the Fleury and Saint Amour are both from the huge variety of good wines produced by the firm Georges Duboeuf  - he himself died last year, having been a pioneer in the growing reputation of Beaujolais wines, and we have acquired several of these wines for a future tasting with friends once the lockdown is over, but we decided to try these two 'extras' in advance of that.  The Côte de Brouilly however is from one of our longest-standing contacts in the area, Les Roches Bleues,, which we discovered through the 3D Wines scheme for buying wines direct from producers in France.  I've just discovered that this firm has become insolvent - a pity, they introduced us to several excellent producers, some of whom have become friends.  But the miracle of Beaujolais is the variety of wines they produce from the single grape variety, gamay







Easter and after

By [email protected] (Jon North)


After Easter Mornings are lighter, nights are warmer, nobody about. Today it's raining, the first for a month or more. Our neighbour across the road hails us every few days with enthusiasm; but since chatting to people is not a good option, little changes bar the weather, and here in Lunel that does not change much either! Watering is now essential for citrus and other plants in the garden - luckily we are not yet in drought conditions although parts of France are. Muslim burqa is banned of course.  Now, there is a fear of face coverings because they conceal the 'real person', passport photos must be clearly recognisable and so on. I guess many people think masks help protect the wearer, but a moment's thought tells you that the amount of covering doctors, nurses and dentists wear when they need to keep safe is much more than the average face mask, so the ones we see around more and more are really to protect people around the wearer from stray spray, breaths or droplets. Partially covering your face may help with this, but in other circumstance people are very suspicious of face coverings, hiding true identity. Anyway, there is a shower of patterns and ideas for home-made masks, and we've just heard that the Mayor of Lunel is ordering 150,000 masks, three for every person in Lunel and district.
The big news is the reappearance of our large tortoise - s/he emerged from hibernation in a shallow patch of earth yesterday. We now have 2, this one much larger than the relation Tonic who has lived with us for nearly 2 years in a cage under cover, and is not yet old enough to hibernate. Of the original 2, known collectively as Pierre & Charles after friends, but later discovered to be female, one escaped clambering over their enclosure wall, which I belatedly made higher. The other buried herself last autumn to reappear the day before yesterday, muddy but beady-eyed. We are delighted!
Masks are much in our minds, and they have a long and mixed history. What are they for? The word masque (from the French of course) and its related masquerade, have theatrical and musical associations - as musicians we have played 17th century masque dances, and carnivals, and I've just listened to excerpts from the Fairy Queen, a masque by Purcell which supposedly complements the Shakespeare play A Midsummer Night's Dream. We have performed the combined work here in France. The term means, perhaps, to disguise, to protect the wearer, perhaps to protect others? The old masque worn by doctors, with other distancing tools, seems to have served a practical function as well as being a disguise. Now, masks which really protect the wearer are in short supply, but even our humble folded hankies at least help stop us spraying our germs everywhere. Still learning French
In our continual quest to improve our French, we wondered about Easter.   I read this in some kind of online guide, which may or may not be entirely accurate.   So for what it’s worth:
Is it Le, La, Les or just Pâque(s) ?
* La Pâque = Passover = feminine singular, used with a “La” before.
* Pâques = Easter (no le, no la, no les = never used with an article)
 But it’s never easy… If we don’t use any article to refer to Easter, we may use adjectives…
The word for Easter is Pâques, masculine singular (even though its written with an S).
* À Pâques prochain = next Easter
* Pâques était venu = Easter came
* Pâques est précédé de la Semaine Sainte = Easter is preceded by the Holy Week
When you talk about events around Easter, so use Easter more like a time than the religious celebration, it’s feminine plural…
* Joyeuses Pâques = Happy Easter
* Pâques pluvieuses = Rainy Easter
You can also say “le jour de Pâques”, “la fête de Pâques”…
Dictionaries disagree whether the P of Pâques should always be upper case or not, but the common usage points to an upper case - Le Lundi de Pâques (Easter Monday) is a public holiday (un jour férié) in France Happy confinement!

By [email protected] (Jon North)

Our animals and other family

Just now we are a one animal household, no dogs or cats.  We should also have 2 tortoises but the larger has disappeared after a winter of supposed hibernation, so we are left with Tonic (twin Gin died soon after her birth in Montpellier).  And we miss a dog, especially in this more than usually isolated time.
Tonic shortly after his/her arrival in 2018
When Mary and I met nearly 45 years ago she had cats.  I had also had one in a previous life.  So over the first few years, in the late 1970s/early 80s, we had several cats

twins Tibby and Frank around 1997
But soon, in England, then in France, we had dogs - first medium-sized - first Ziggy, a soppy mutt adopted from some people nearby when one of themm developed a dog allergy, then Ruff the alsatian/collie cross, a little wild thanks to his neglected early years on a farm next door.













Then ae went into terriers.  First Trudy the Norfolk then Evie the Norwich.  Trudy was with us in England, Evie, joined her in France, neither lived up to the 'lively' label, but both were delightful companions.  One after the other they succumbed to the maladies of old age.

Trudy (floppy ears) and Evie (ears pointing up, and Evie's half sister Cynth with her owner Annie and friend Lilli
Then we fell in love with Camel, a rescue hound in a refuge.  We travelled 4 hours east to collect him from Figeac, in the Lot.  He was a delightful animal, gentle and calm, but sadly soon prove dot have an inoperable cancer and so had to be put to sleep.  We were devastated.


But we still wanted a canine companion, and having links with the Figeac refuge we chose to travel back there to find another (even larger) hound, Arlo.  He was a splendid beast, a little too large for our aged bodies, but we'd have kep trying if he had not had a tendency to lunge when startled, and so with great sadness and regret we ahd to take him back to the Lot.   So we are still dog-less!



So with the little Tonic (now a little larger than a tub of sweetex) we shall look for another dog once the lockdowns are over!









Another day, another weekend

By [email protected] (Jon North)


A nearly deserted town a couple of weeks ago.

Another day, another weekend. The grey mist that has descended here mirrors my mood. Who knows how long all this will go on? It was very easy to get into restricted movement but the logistics of lifting the restrictions are not at all obvious, and some are saying it will go on for months. Meanwhile, there are a few people in the supermarket, many behaving hesitantly while others try and rush through - a recipe for unexpected collisions or at least closer encounters than we are meant to have.

While we obey the rules apparently many are not doing so, in France as in the UK. Around Agde for instance people are complaining that second homes are being opened up and beach games being played, clothed or naked. People who go out and mix in groups presumably think what they can’t see can’t hurt them. If the virus continues to spread it will probably be because of such behaviour. Gendarmes say they cannot clamp down on people in the wrong place because they don’t know whether they’ve just arrived or have been there all along. In truth it would be a thankless and risky task chasing after offenders.

In the midst of all this we try and keep in touch with family and friends. Amazingly our friends Mike and Yvette have made it back home to the Gard from Mike’s native South Africa, and we have been reassured to speak on the phone to friends older than we are, some here just up the road or scattered around the south of France, and others around the East Midlands. If you read this and we haven’t been in touch recently, you’d be welcome to phone - we are usually in!!

This evening we have another try at a Zoom get-together, of our wine circle. Truth to tell, this kind of thing makes me feel uneasy - last time we saw everyone and heard nobody, with kindly friends gesticulating wildly and fruitlessly to try and tell us how to put it right. Now Mary and I have tested the connection between our 2 iPads so it should work. Fingers crossed - there is nothing more frustrating than staring at jerky images of people we like and failing to make contact...

Among the unexpected and very welcome contacts we’ve made by phone over the past week have been conversations with a very nice motor mechanic who used to keep our Berlingo in good order, and just phoned to check we were OK, and someone in Salzburg I stayed with there in the 70s, now a friend on Facebook. We will continue to try to make video work - our son Jeff gave us a fab tour of his garden as he sipped his evening apéro there a week since - but truth to tell the good old phone call feels more comfortable.

Our holiday in Armenia and Georgia is cancelled, or rather postponed to 2021 if they find a way of restarting everything by then. It is sad, and dreadful for their tourist industry there of course - wherever you look there are awful economic consequences of this shut-down. Now we are beginning to think that visits planned later in the year may not happen. Limbo rules...

Yesterday we immersed ourselves in Bach, the St John and St Matthew Passions occupying much of the late afternoon and evening. The latter, a replay of an Albert Hall staged production with the Berlin Philharmonic, caught us in its embrace and enthralled us, with Mark Padmore spellbinding as the Evangelist, and some wonderful obbligato instruments accompanying. Now we are awaiting the Recod Review survey of Schubert’s Trout Quintet, which seems to have popped up quite a lot lately on Radio 3. A quiet weekend in prospect...

As I finish writing the sun comes out.  A brighter prospect then.




By [email protected] (Jon North)

We are in touch, we are out of touch

We have been looking forward to today, a double dose of Bach Passions on BBC Radio 3.  St John this afternoon (I know this very well), St Matthew (less familiar) to follow this evening.

For the past few weeks, like almost everyone, we have depended on the internet and telephone for contact with family and friends.  Luckily the connections work - we are lucky, just as we are lucky not be be unwell.  I keep wondering what  would happen if we had an accident.  Hospitals are busy enough anyway, and even before this virus you always felt they were not ideal places to avoid infection.

Luckily none of that has happened to us, and so we sit it our an wonder what will be next  So here are a few bits of humour that have come our way - some English, some French.  Just a few electronic doodles to fill the weekend which I go and listen to more glorious Bach.

HAPPY EASTER!!











On my radar: Victoria Coren Mitchell’s cultural highlights

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

The writer and broadcaster on a brilliant children’s museum, Downton and a poem about a skunk

Victoria Coren Mitchell is an author, broadcaster and former professional poker player and is married to the comedian David Mitchell. She started writing a weekly column for the Daily Telegraph aged 14, and has since published a number of books including For Richer, for Poorer: Confessions of a Poker Player (2009). Seasonal specials of the quiz show Only Connect, which she has presented since 2008, will be running on 30 Dec and 1-3 Jan at 8pm on BBC Two. Only Connect: The Difficult Second Quiz Book is out now.

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Why is the NHS listening to the siren voices of the vape manufacturers? | Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

The calls to make e-cigarettes free on prescription are outrageous when an actual cure for smoking is available

Public Health England has called for e-cigarettes to be made available on the NHS. This makes me so angry that I want to have a fag, although the last one I had was on 27 September 2014.

Ah well. I’ll settle for eating another packet of Minstrels and typing furiously.

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The checkout free shop is a wonderful idea, a machine will never judge you | Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

When we no longer have to impress the cashier – or fellow shoppers – we can buy what we like

Are you frightened of the rising machines? I try not to be. Machines are the future and being horrified by the future is so terribly ageing. Banging on about the misery of automated switchboards, the insecurity of online banking or the impersonality of email puts 20 years on you immediately, like racism or natural light. I try to avoid such things.

So, for me, it’s all “Good news, my local post office has shut down!”, “Ooh, you need a ‘registered account’ to buy cinema tickets, I couldn’t be happier!” and “Hurray! A leaked NHS England report says 111 calls will soon be diverted to a ‘diagnosis app’ instead of a person!”

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I did lose a pair of trousers once but they weren’t worth £1m, Boris | Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

The bankrupt tennis star’s admission that he has mislaid his trophies resonates with all of us who know we put that thing somewhere…

A s I sat with Boris Becker in the Riviera sunshine, each of us clutching a cigarette in one hand and a doughnut in the other, I thought: “This is my kind of sportsman.”

I didn’t know Boris Becker very well but I liked him enormously. Clearly, we both enjoyed the taste of a sugary butt on a spring afternoon. Also, we both loved a hand of cards; we were in Monte Carlo for a €10,000 poker tournament. I always found him approachable, friendly, unpretentious and nice to be around.

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Comparing unlike with unlike – it’s Whitehall’s secret new parlour game | Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

If the culture minister says that ambassadors should be paid more than BBC editors, we should next ask him how to choose between Victoria Beckham and a leopard

Well done Peston On Sunday, last week, for having three interview guests and triggering major news stories with each of them. That’s an amazing hit rate.

First guest Jeremy Corbyn hit the headlines for suggesting that the UK doesn’t really have a special relationship with America. Third guest Miriam Margolyes said “fuck” live on air. And the middle guest, shiny new culture secretary Matt Hancock, said that editors at the BBC should not be paid more than ambassadors.

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Molly tries to shuffle the pack | Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

The more things change the more they stay the same – even in a film about a strong woman

Can Hollywood fix itself? Is that already happening? Let’s go to the cinema together and find out.

It’ll have to be my local Everyman – a genteel chain where they transmit a lot of productions live from the National Theatre and sell yoghurt-coated nuts instead of Minstrels. Might not be your cup of tea. On the plus side, you can also get a cup of tea. It has to be that venue, because the trip has already happened.

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My Christmas present to you

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

Hate gift guides? Here’s an alternative to all those that insult you with dull ideas

The gift guides are out again! Regular readers will know how infuriated I am by those Christmas gift guides. Pages and pages of newsprint, all given over to the advice that we should consider buying our relatives a pair of socks or a bottle of wine.

Adding insult to insult, they invariably divide these “ideas” into relatives (“A lipstick for your wife! A book for your mum! A bottle of wine for Grandpa!”) just to make sure that nobody shops beyond the boundaries of age and gender stereotype. Not only must we buy the same old stuff every year, we must make the same old assumptions. Women love clothes. Kids love sweets. Men love golf calendars.

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Ed Sheeran versus the super-idiots | Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

Attacking the singer’s charity efforts takes a rare type of stupidity. But guess what...

According to a Dropbox survey published last week, most people believe that “only 68% of their work colleagues” are capable of the job.

This is a staggering figure. Why so high? Nobody’s capable of the job. Nobody’s capable of anything.

Related: Ed Sheeran Comic Relief film branded 'poverty porn' by aid watchdog

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Michael Gove, where did our love go? | Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

The environment secretary has shown a flash of his old character but I can’t forgive his betrayal

Did you wake up on Thursday morning expecting to feel a wave of affection for Michael Gove? I didn’t. I’m not sure anyone did. Possibly not even Mrs Gove, who wrote a very interesting joke in her Daily Mail column the day before.

“Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein are reportedly languishing in rehab at an upmarket sex addiction clinic in Arizona,” it began. “No sex for eight weeks, apparently – although quite why they needed to fly to the desert for that is beyond me. Most of us find getting married does the trick.”

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Why are the police copping flak? | Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

Don’t damn officers for a Halloween prank – law and order should show it has bit of heart

It is possible that I have many things in common with Fenland police. You can’t do Only Connect for as long as I have without knowing that one thing can always be linked to another. Four things can be a challenge, but a simple pair, such as Fenland police and me… off the top of my head: we both like to wear blue, we’ve both dealt with a lot of drunks and neither of us has managed to stamp out hare-coursing in the county of Cambridgeshire.

And here’s another: we both tweeted pictures of ourselves dressed up for Halloween.

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Casinos gamble on their credibility | Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

If you’re too smart for gaming houses they’ll find a way to stop you - but more fool them

It is rare to see Phil Ivey, the greatest poker player of our time, losing seriously. This man is a genius. He can get inside other people’s heads.

The first time I played poker against him, I think he found me a little unsettling. People do, the first time. In Phil’s case, I don’t think it’s just that I was female – which is what throws most people – but that I was female and making jokes.

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Faster, higher, twerkier? | Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

Why stop at pole dancing at the Olympics? Let’s have groping and mud wrestling as well

The news that pole dancing has been formally recognised as a sport – and will now be considered for possible inclusion in the Olympics – fills me with delight.

Regular readers may be surprised. You might imagine I would feel weary and suspicious at this development. You might imagine I’d roll my eyes and ask: “What next? A simultaneous men’s event – how many bills can you shove in her bra as she writhes?”

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I’m really not a petrolhead... | Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

... but the thought of driverless cars and the surrender of freedom fill me with gloom

God bless the women of Saudi Arabia and their excitement about a royal decree allowing them to hold driving licences at last.

As we sit in traffic jams, fuming about inexplicable delays and unending roadworks, terrible radio playlists, the utter monotony and hell of it all, we should think of our sisters in the desert who see only the freedom, power and joy.

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Putting Granny online? No thanks| Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

I’m all for doing something for old people. But don’t ask me to put family snaps on the web

Today is National Grandparents’ Day. AgeUK is asking people to tweet, Instagram, hashtag (and other words your granny would not have understood) a photograph of their beloved ancestors, marked #grandpics, with a suggested donation of £5 with every photograph.

They asked me directly to do this. I said no. F*** em, I said.

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Oh, do let’s be beastly to the Nazis | Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

Nobody thinks Paul Hollywood is an actual Nazi; we should let him dress how he likes

A Nazi goes into a pub.

Hang on… that’s not a Nazi! It’s the well-known baker and TV personality Paul Hollywood!

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Evictions ban deadline is ‘a ticking time bomb’, says Sadiq Khan

By Nathaniel Barker

Sadiq Khan has branded the end of the government’s de facto eviction ban in four weeks “a ticking time bomb”.

Metropolitan Thames Valley’s surplus drops by 15%

By Dominic Brady

Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing (MVTH) has reported an underlying operating surplus drop of 15% for 2019/20, while spending on fire safety has increased following a major blaze at one of its blocks.

The housing pandemic: four graphs showing the link between COVID-19 deaths and the housing crisis

By Nathaniel Barker

Is poor housing a factor in the COVID-19 pandemic? Nathaniel Barker crunches the numbers to find out

Council with highest COVID-19 death rate brands illness a ‘housing disease’

By Nathaniel Barker and Lucie Heath

The council with the highest COVID-19 death rate in the country has branded the virus a “housing disease” and is now drawing up plans looking at how to tackle its severe impact in the area.

‘Sometimes I cry. It’s very difficult for me, all of this’: lockdown and temporary housing

By Lucie Heath

The lockdown has made things even more difficult for families in temporary accommodation. Lucie Heath finds out what it is like for them

Social housing rent arrears up £100m since coronavirus outbreak

By Nathaniel Barker

Rent arrears among social landlords have surged by £100m since the coronavirus pandemic hit the UK, a survey has found.

‘Going to the kitchen is scary’: lockdown puts shared rented housing in the spotlight

By Peter Apps

The difficulties of self-isolating in HMOs have been overlooked during the pandemic. Peter Apps finds out what it is like and why shared housing has become so common.

The EWS process has brought paralysis to the housing market. It is the result of a lack of joined-up thinking

By John Powell

Many leaseholders are waiting on an ‘external wall system (EWS) form’ before they can sell their homes, but this process is not working. John Powell explains why

Residents rescued from blaze at council-owned block in east London

By Lucie Heath

Two residents were rescued by firefighters and more than 100 self-evacuated after a major fire hit a council-owned block of flats in east London early this morning.

Karbon Homes’ credit rating downgraded as North East expected to be badly hit by coronavirus

By Dominic Brady

Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s (S&P) has downgraded North East association Karbon Homes’ credit rating from A+ to A with a ‘stable’ outlook, over concerns of an economic recession in the region.

Large housing association appoints new director of growth and development

By Lucie Heath

Longhurst Group has appointed Marcus Keys to the newly created role of executive director of growth and development.

29 May digital edition of Inside Housing out now

By Inside Housing

The 29 May digital edition of Inside Housing is now available to subscribers

Cladding fire test ‘does not ensure safety’, multidisciplinary team of academics warn

By Peter Apps

The test regime which cleared the way for combustible materials to be installed on thousands of tall buildings across the UK “does not ensure adequate fire safety”, a team of researchers has concluded.

Leaseholders ‘heartbroken’ over exclusion from government cladding fund

By Peter Apps

Leaseholders at a Manchester block who accepted huge loans to fund the removal of their dangerous cladding have said they are “heartbroken” over their exclusion from a government fund.

Sector leaders launch initiative to help housing providers offer homes to domestic abuse survivors

By Lucie Heath

Key sector leaders have launched a new scheme that brings together housing providers and refuges to ensure more homes are provided to individuals fleeing domestic abuse.

Coronavirus: Which schools are reopening for pupils?

Which children will be the first to go back to school, and what about the rest?

Murray to play in 'Battle of Brits' tournament organised by brother Jamie

Andy Murray will play in a tournament organised by brother Jamie in June that will raise money for the NHS.

Leicester boss Rodgers reveals he had coronavirus

Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers says he "had no strength" after contracting the coronavirus in March.

George Floyd: Protesters set Minneapolis police station ablaze

The US city sees a third night of unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd in police custody.

Coronavirus: Police issue 17,000 fines for lockdown breaches

Figures show a reduction in the number of people fined since lockdown rules were eased in England.

Coronavirus: What are social distancing and self-isolation rules?

Guidelines to social contact are starting to change across the UK.

Guess who came thiiis close to signing off a €102k annual budget? Austria. Yes, the country

By Gareth Corfield

'In Ihrem Budget fehlen sechs Nullen' warned MP

Austria's parliament came within moments of slashing its annual spending limit to peanuts after someone omitted the key words "figures in millions" from its national budget bill.…

Twitter hides Trump tweet for 'glorifying violence'

For the first time, Twitter has hidden a tweet on the president's profile behind a warning.

Coronavirus: Dental practices to reopen from 8 June

Dental practices in England have been told they can reopen from Monday, 8 June.

Coronavirus: Scotland begins to ease out of lockdown

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon urges "caution" as people are allowed to meet friends and family again.

Premier League: Liverpool could seal title at neutral venue with six fixtures set to move

The game in which Liverpool could secure the Premier League title could be held at a neutral venue, says the national lead for football policing.

Coronavirus: Chancellor set to outline furlough scheme changes

The government is currently paying part of the wages of more than 8 million furloughed workers.

HP's hoping it'll be second time lucky with launch of Reverb G2 nerd goggles

By Richard Speed

'Keeping all of the best elements from the G1'... and none of the bad, please

HP has given the moribund Windows Mixed Reality market a shot in the arm by opening pre-orders for its long-teased HP Reverb G2 headset.…

UK weather: Sunniest spring since records began

England is set to have its driest May in 124 years as some areas warn of drought conditions.

Uzma Khan: An actress assaulted, a jealous wife and a viral video in Pakistan

Uzma Khan was beaten by three rich women and their guards. Why is this not a headline in Pakistan?

Practical Python Programming

Practical Python Programming

David Beazley has been developing and presenting this three day Python course (aimed at people with some prior programming experience) for over thirteen years, and he's just released the course materials under a Creative Commons license for the first time.

Via @dabeaz

Deno is a Browser for Code

Deno is a Browser for Code

One of the most interesting ideas in Deno is that code imports are loaded directly from URLs - which can themselves depend on other URL-based packages. On first encounter it feels wrong - obviously insecure. Deno contributor Kitson Kelly provides a deeper exploration of the idea, and explains how the combination of caching and lock files makes it no less secure than code installed from npm or PyPI.

Via Hacker News

Weeknotes: Datasette 0.43

My main achievement this week was shipping Datasette 0.43, with a collection of smaller improvements and one big one: a redesign of the register_output_renderer plugin hook.

Generating Atom and iCal feeds with Datasette

The register_output_renderer hook was contributed by Russ Garrett last year. It added a mechanism for plugins to create new output formats for Datasette.

Output formats are controlled by their file extension. Out of the box Datasette supports .json and .csv formats. The hook allows plugins to register new ones - .atom for Atom feeds and .ics for iCal feeds, for example.

I built those exact two plugins using the hook: datasette-atom and datasette-ics. In building them I ran into a few limitations. Atom feeds need to reflect the full URL of the feed for example, but that information wasn't made available through the plugin hook.

The pattern I settled on for both of my plugins was to require SQL queries that produced data in a specific shape. datasette-atom for example requires a SQL query that returns columns atom_id, atom_title and atom_updated - plus optional columns atom_content, atom_link and a few others.

If those columns are present in the query, the plugin can render an Atom feed! If the columns are not present, it returns an error.

The problem was that EVERY page on the site that could return .json and .csv now got an .atom link as well - even if that link wouldn't actually work.

So I've added a new can_render callback to the plugin registry, which indicates if the that link should be displayed. I shipped a new release, datasette-atom 0.6, that takes advantage of this new feature.

You can see it in action in the Atom feed for my Niche Museums site, which finally passes the Feed Validator!

Also in Datasette 0.43

Copied from the release notes:

TIL this week

Advice on specifying more granular permissions with Google Cloud IAM

Advice on specifying more granular permissions with Google Cloud IAM

My single biggest frustration working with both Google Cloud and AWS is permissions: more specifically, figuring out what the smallest set of permissions are that I need to assign in order to achieve different goals. Katie McLaughlin's new series aims to address exactly that problem. I learned a ton from this that I've previously missed, and there's plenty of actionable advice on tooling that can be used to help figure this stuff out.

Via Katie McLaughlin

Quoting Sam Altman

Any time you can think of something that is possible this year and wasn’t possible last year, you should pay attention. You may have the seed of a great startup idea. This is especially true if next year will be too late.

Sam Altman

Why we use homework to recruit engineers

Why we use homework to recruit engineers

Ad Hoc run a remote-first team, and use detailed homework assignments as part of their interview process in place of in-person technical interview. The homework assignments are really interesting to browse through - "Containerize" for example involves building a Docker container to run a Python app with nginx a and a modern cipher suite. I'm nervous about the extra burden this places on candidates, but Ad Hoc address that: "We recognize that we’re asking folks to invest time into our process, but we feel like our homework compares favorably to extensive on-site interviews or other evaluation techniques, especially for candidates who have responsibilities outside of their work life."

AWS services explained in one line each

AWS services explained in one line each

Impressive effort to summarize all 163(!) AWS services - this helped clarify a whole bunch that I haven't figured yet. Only a few defeated the author, with a single question mark for the description. I enjoyed Amazon Braket: "Some quantum thing. It’s in preview so I have no idea what it is."

Via Hacker News

Serving photos locally with datasette-media

Serving photos locally with datasette-media

datasette-media is a new Datasette plugin which can serve static files from disk in response to a configured SQL query that maps incoming URL parameters to a path to a file. I built it so I could run dogsheep-photos locally on my laptop and serve up thumbnails of images that match particular queries. I've added documentation to the dogsheep-photos README explaining how to use datasette-media, datasette-json-html and datasette-template-sql to create custom interfaces onto Apple Photos data on your machine.

Waiting in asyncio

Waiting in asyncio

Handy cheatsheet explaining the differences between asyncio.gather(), asyncio.wait_for(), asyncio.as_completed() and asyncio.wait() by Hynek Schlawack.

Browsers are not rendering engines

By sil

An interesting writeup by Brian Kardell on web engine diversity and ecosystem health, in which he puts forward a thesis that we currently have the most healthy and open web ecosystem ever, because we’ve got three major rendering engines (WebKit, Blink, and Gecko), they’re all cross-platform, and they’re all open source. This is, I think, true. Brian’s argument is that this paints a better picture of the web than a lot of the doom-saying we get about how there are only a few large companies in control of the web. This is… well, I think there’s truth to both sides of that. Brian’s right, and what he says is often overlooked. But I don’t think it’s the whole story.

You see, diversity of rendering engines isn’t actually in itself the point. What’s really important is diversity of influence: who has the ability to make decisions which shape the web in particular ways, and do they make those decisions for good reasons or not so good? Historically, when each company had one browser, and each browser had its own rendering engine, these three layers were good proxies for one another: if one company’s browser achieved a lot of dominance, then that automatically meant dominance for that browser’s rendering engine, and also for that browser’s creator. Each was isolated; a separate codebase with separate developers and separate strategic priorities. Now, though, as Brian says, that’s not the case. Basically every device that can see the web and isn’t a desktop computer and isn’t explicitly running Chrome is a WebKit browser; it’s not just “iOS Safari’s engine”. A whole bunch of long-tail browsers are essentially a rethemed Chrome and thus Blink: Brave and Edge are high up among them.

However, engines being open source doesn’t change who can influence the direction; it just allows others to contribute to the implementation. Pick something uncontroversial which seems like a good idea: say, AVIF image format support, which at time of writing (May 2020) has no support in browsers yet. (Firefox has an in-progress implementation.) I don’t think anyone particularly objects to this format; it’s just not at the top of anyone’s list yet. So, if you were mad keen on AVIF support being in browsers everywhere, then you’re in a really good position to make that happen right now, and this is exactly the benefit of having an open ecosystem. You could build that support for Gecko, WebKit, and Blink, contribute it upstream, and (assuming you didn’t do anything weird), it’d get accepted. If you can’t build that yourself then you ring up a firm, such as Igalia, whose raison d’etre is doing exactly this sort of thing and they write it for you in exchange for payment of some kind. Hooray! We’ve basically never been in this position before: currently, for the first time in the history of the web, a dedicated outsider can contribute to essentially every browser available. How good is that? Very good, is how good it is.

Obviously, this only applies to things that everyone agrees on. If you show up with a patchset that provides support for the <stuart> element, you will be told: go away and get this standardised first. And that’s absolutely correct.

But it doesn’t let you influence the strategic direction, and this is where the notions of diversity in rendering engines and diversity in influence begins to break down. If you show up to the Blink repository with a patchset that wires an adblocker directly into the rendering engine, it is, frankly, not gonna show up in Chrome. If you go to WebKit with a complete implementation of service worker support, or web payments, it’s not gonna show up in iOS Safari. The companies who make the browsers maintain private forks of the open codebase, into which they add proprietary things and from which they remove open source things they don’t want. It’s not actually clear to me whether such changes would even be accepted into the open source codebases or whether they’d be blocked by the companies who are the primary sponsors of those open source codebases, but leave that to one side. The key point here is that the open ecosystem is only actually open to non-controversial change. The ability to make, or to refuse, controversial changes is reserved to the major browser vendors alone: they can make changes and don’t have to ask your permission, and you’re not in the same position. And sure, that’s how the world works, and there’s an awful lot of ingratitude out there from people who demand that large companies dedicate billions of pounds to a project and then have limited say over what it’s spent on, which is pretty galling from time to time.

Brian references Jeremy Keith’s Unity in which Jeremy says: “But then I think of situations where complete unity isn’t necessarily a good thing. Take political systems, for example. If you have hundreds of different political parties, that’s not ideal. But if you only have one political party, that’s very bad indeed!” This is true, but again the nuance is different, because what this is about is influence. If one party wins a large majority, then it doesn’t matter whether they’re opposed by one other party or fifty, because they don’t have to listen to the opposition. (And Jeremy makes this point.) This was the problem with Internet Explorer: it was dominant enough that MS didn’t have to give a damn what anyone else thought, and so they didn’t. Now, this problem does eventually correct itself in both browsers and political systems, but it takes an awfully long time; a dominant thing has a lot of inertia, and explaining to a peasant in 250AD that the Roman Empire will go away eventually is about as useful as explaining to a web developer in 2000AD that CSS is coming soon, i.e., cold comfort at best and double-plus-frustrating at worst.

So, a qualified hooray, I suppose. I concur with Brian that “things are better and healthier because we continue to find better ways to work together. And when we do, everyone does better.” There is a bunch of stuff that is uncontroversial, and does make the web better, and it is wonderful that we’re not limited to begging browser vendors to care about it to get it. But I think that definition excludes a bunch of “things” that we’re not allowed, for reasons we can only speculate about.

Using SQL to Look Through All of Your iMessage Text Messages

Using SQL to Look Through All of Your iMessage Text Messages

Dan Kelch shows how to access the iMessage SQLite database at ~/Library/Messages/chat.db - it's protected under macOS Catalina so you have to enable Full Disk Access in the privacy settings first. I usually use the macOS terminal app but I installed iTerm for this because I'd rather enable full disk access to a separate terminal program than let anything I'm running in my regular terminal take advantage of it. It worked! Now I can run "datasette ~/Library/Messages/chat.db" to browse my messages.

Via Adam Kalsey

Quoting Collin Wallace

Food consumption really only grows at the rate of population growth, so if you want to grow faster than that, you have to take market share from someone else. Ideally, you take it from someone weaker, who has less information. In this industry, the delivery platforms have found unsuspecting victims in restaurants and drivers.

Collin Wallace

Using SQL to find my best photo of a pelican according to Apple Photos

According to the Apple Photos internal SQLite database, this is the most aesthetically pleasing photograph I have ever taken of a pelican:

A pelican

Here's the SQL query that found me my best ten pelican photos:

select
  sha256,
  ext,
  uuid,
  date,
  ZOVERALLAESTHETICSCORE
from
  photos_with_apple_metadata
where
  uuid in (
    select
      uuid
    from
      labels
    where
      normalized_string = 'pelican'
  )
order by
  ZOVERALLAESTHETICSCORE desc
limit
  10

You can try it out here (with some extra datasette-json-html magic to display the actual photos). Or try lemur or seal.

I actually think this is my best pelican photo, but Apple Photos rated it fifth:

A pelican

How this works

Apple Photos keeps photo metadata in a SQLite database. It runs machine learning models to identify the contents of every photo, and separate machine learning models to calculate quality scores for those photographs. All of this data lives in SQLite files on my laptop. The trick is knowing where to look.

I'm not running queries directly against the Apple Photos SQLite file - it's a little hard to work with, and the label metadata is stored in a separate database file. Instead, this query runs against a combined database created by my new dogsheep-photos tool.

An aside: Why I love Apple Photos

The Apple Photos app - on both macOS and iOS - is in my opinion Apple's most underappreciated piece of software. In my experience most people who use it are missing some of the most valuable features. A few highlights:

As with most Apple software, Photos uses SQLite under the hood. The underlying database is undocumented and clearly not intended as a public API, but it exists. And I've wanted to gain access to what's in it for years.

Querying the Apple Photos SQLite database

If you run Apple Photos on a Mac (which will synchronize with your phone via iCloud) then most of your photo metadata can be found in a database file that lives here:

~/Pictures/Photos\ Library.photoslibrary/database/Photos.sqlite

Mine is 752MB, for aroud 40,000 photos. There's a lot of detailed metadata in there!

Querying the database isn't straight-forward. Firstly it's almost always locked by some other process - the workaround for that is to create a copy of the file. Secondly, it uses some custom undocumented Apple SQLite extensions. I've not figured out a way to load these, and without them a lot of my queries ended up throwing errors.

osxphotos to the rescue! I ran a GitHub code search for one of the tables in that database (searching for RKPerson in Python code) and was delighted to stumble across the osxphotos project by Rhet Turnbull. It's a well designed and extremely actively maintained Python tool for accessing the Apple Photos database, including code to handle several iterations of the underlying database structure.

Thanks to osxphotos the first iteration of my own code for accessing the Apple Photos metadata was less than 100 lines of code. This gave me locations, people, albums and places (human names of geographical areas) almost for free!

Quality scores

Apple Photos has a fascinating database table called ZCOMPUTEDASSETATTRIBUTES, with a bewildering collection of columns. Each one is a floating point number calculated presumably by some kind of machine learning model. Here's a full list, each one linking to my public photos sorted by that score:

I'm not enormously impressed with the results I get from these. They're clearly not intended for end-user visibility, and sorting them might not even be something that makes sense.

The ZGENERICASSET table provides four more scores, which seem to provide much more useful results:

My guess is that these overall scores are derived from the ZCOMPUTEDASSETATTRIBUTES ones. I've seen the best results from ZOVERALLAESTHETICSCORE, so that's the one I used in my "show me my best photo of a pelican" query.

A note about the demo

The demo I'm running at dogsheep-photos.dogsheep.net currently only contains 496 photos. My private instance of this has over 40,000, but I decided to just publish a subset of that in the demo so I wouldn't have to carefully filter out private screenshots and photos with sensitive locations and suchlike. Details of how the demo work (using the dogsheep-photos create-subset command to create a subset database containing just photos in my Public album) can be found in this issue.

Automatic labeling of photo contents

Even more impressive than the quality scores are the machine learning labels.

Automatically labeling the content of a photo is surprisingly easy these days, thanks to convolutional neural networks. I wrote a bit about these in Automatically playing science communication games with transfer learning and fastai.

Apple download a machine learning model to your device and do the label classification there. After quite a bit of hunting (I ended up using Activity Monitor's Inspect -> Open Files and Ports option against the photoanalysisd process) I finally figured out where the results go: the ~/Pictures/Photos\ Library.photoslibrary/database/search/psi.sqlite database file.

(Inspecting photoanalysisd also lead me to the /System/Library/Frameworks/Vision.framework/Versions/A/Resources/ folder, which solved another mystery: where do Apple keep the models? There are some fascinating files in there.)

It took some work to figure out how to match those labels with their corresponding photos, mainly because the psi.sqlite database stores photo UUIDs as a pair of signed integers whereas the Photos.sqlite database stores a UUID string.

I'm now pulling the labels out into a separate labels table. You can browse that in the demo to see how it is structured. Labels belong to numeric categories - here are some of my guesses as to what those mean:

Here's a query that shows the labels (from every category) next to each photo.

Geography

Photos taken on an iPhone have embedded latitudes and longitudes... which means I can display them on a map!

My photos on a map

Apple also perform reverse-geocoding on those photos, resolving them to cities, regions and countries. This is great for faceted browse: here are my photos faceted by country, city and state/province.

Hosting and serving the images

My least favourite thing about Apple Photos is how hard it is to get images from it onto the internet. If you enable iCloud sharing your images are accessible through icloud.com - but they aren't given publicly accessible URLs, so you can't embed them in blog entries or do other webby things with them.

I also really want to "own" my images. I want them in a place that I control.

Amazon S3 is ideal for image storage. It's incredibly inexpensive and essentially infinite.

The dogsheep-photos upload command takes ANY directory as input, scans through that directory for image files and then uploads them to the configured S3 bucket.

I designed this to work independently of Apple Photos, mainly to preserve my ability to switch to alternative image solutions in the future.

I'm using the content addressable storage pattern to store the images. Their filename is the sha256 hash of the file contents. The idea is that since sensible photo management software leaves the original files unmodified I should be able to de-duplicate my photo files no matter where they are from and store everything in the one bucket.

Original image files come with privacy concerns: they embed accurate latitude and longitude data in the EXIF data, so they can be used to reconstruct your exact location history and even figure out your address. This is why systems like Google Photos make it difficult to export images with location data intact.

I've addressed this by making the content in my S3 bucket private. Access to the images takes place through s3-image-proxy - a proxy server I wrote and deployed on Vercel (previously Zeit Now). The proxy strips EXIF data and can optionally resize images based on querystring parameters. It also serves them with far-future cache expire headers, which means they sit in Vercel's CDN cache rather than being resized every time they are accessed.

iPhones default to saving photos in HEIC format, which fails to display using with the <img src=""> tag in the browsers I tested. The proxy uses pyheif to convert those into JPEGs.

Here's an example HEIC image, resized by the proxy and converted to JPEG: https://photos.simonwillison.net/i/59854a70f125154cdf8dad89a4c730e6afde06466d4a6de24689439539c2d863.heic?w=600

Next steps

This project is a little daunting in that there are so many possibilities for where to take it next!

In the short term:

And in the longer term:

Quoting Adam Kalsey

Company culture is the shared way everyone acts when you aren’t around to see it

Adam Kalsey

Doordash and Pizza Arbitrage

Doordash and Pizza Arbitrage

In which a Pizza restaurant owner notices that Doordash, uninvited, have started offering their $24 pizzas for $16 and starts ordering their own pizzas and keeping the difference.

Via @mattyglesias

Room 641A

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Hijacking the Verified Knowledge Panel

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Colleges face student lawsuits seeking refunds after coronavirus closures

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Google rescinds offer to contract workers

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In NY major crime complaints fell when cops stopped ‘proactive policing’ (2017)

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Introduction to Apache Airflow

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Insider Build of VSCode for Windows/ARM64

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CNN reporter arrested live on air while covering Minneapolis protests [video]

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A Visual Guide to React Mental Models: UseState, UseEffect and Lifecycles

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404 → 302

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Montgomery Brewster's 'None of the Above' would walk this election.

By Jackart ([email protected])

It's actually quite liberating to follow politics without a team to shout for. I remain a Conservative by inclination. I like free markets, economic liberalism and so forth even if the Conservative manifesto doesn't seem to all that much, Tories, if not their leadership, are mainly for these things. I am also a social liberal, I remain committed to an open and tolerant society. However the Liberal Democrats risk becoming the Church of England does Politics, being stuffed with the kind of dry, shabby inadequate who can't quite get over his (self) loathing of homosexuality. I dislike May. I think she's a narrow-minded provincial bigot who's been promoted way, way above her level of competence. She is however the best of the two candidates for Prime Minister. 

Let's not pretend Corbyn was doing other than palling around with the IRA in the 1980s because the glamour of "anti-imperialist" terrorists excited him. He has always supported whoever was fighting the UK at the time, and doesn't deserve to be an MP, let alone to reverse those letters. Labour's clown-car economics is only marginally less risible than the Tories offer, this time round. The difference is Labour actually believe their silliness, and they're led by a traitor. 

If you live in Scotland, this election is about independence. If you live in NI, then this election is about the tribal headcount. If you live elsewhere this election is whether you want an incompetent nanny-state provincial Tory or an antediluvian Socialist to deliver Brexit. It's a shabby, and dispiriting affair. If you can't work out how to vote, you can always vote for Montgomery Brewster. None of the above is appealing. But if you feel you MUST vote, then I have prepared a handy flow-chart to help you.

If you despise politicians, you get despicable politicians.
This shabby parade of also-rans from which we have to choose on today (without any actual choice on the main, nay only, issue of the day) is the logic of calling decent, capable people like Blair, Cameron and Major "war criminals" and "Traitors", for decades. It pollutes the language for when you actually get some of these things on the offer.
No worthwhile people will put up with the scrutiny and abuse heaped daily on politicians. So you get the kind of bore for whom the scrutiny isn't an issue. They've never done anything interesting in the their lives. At least David Cameron dropped some E and went to a rave or two as a youth. What does Theresa May, who spent her twenties complaining about the promotion of lesbianism in schools, know of fun? As for Corbyn, he looks like the kind of man for whom a perfect saturday night is treatise on Marx (so long as it contains nothing he doesn't already know and agree with) with some lovely mineral water. He is the Labour man Orwell warned you about.

I'll be voting Tory. Why? My local headbanging Leadsomite hard-brexiter has stood down after his colossal act of vandalism, to be replaced by a man with whom I seem to agree.
My expectations are of a  Tory majority around 75, on a low turnout, and they will have half a dozen seats in Scotland.  The Liberal Democrats will take Vauxhall and Twickenham, losing in Sheffield Hallam (the "were you up for...?" moment as Clegg loses his seat), but holding Orkney and Shetland against the SNP, remaining about where they are now overall. Or that's where my betting is at the moment.
What do I want to see happen? I'd like to see May remain PM but in a hung parliament, reliant on Northern Irish politicians for her majority because let's face it, she deserves nothing better.
A rubbish show all round but at least I can enjoy it, whoever loses.

Whales are more Important to Climate change than Donald Trump.

By Jackart ([email protected])

Donald Trump has pulled the USA out of the Paris Climate accord. And I don't think this matters all that much. For a start, the USA's emissions are falling. Mostly this is because coal is being replaced by Natural Gas, but also because people are driving less, in smaller vehicles with ever more efficient engines. The motors driving the west's steady fall in carbon emissions are economic and technological, not political.

Next to the steady decline in carbon emissions from the west, is set the Vast increase in emissions in recent decades from Asia. But this represents billions of people using no net carbon energy, tending crops using animal muscle and burning biomass (and occasionally starving to death) Just a few decades ago, to my meeting an indian chap on Holiday in Stockholm with his family and chatting about cricket while we tried to decipher the train times. The rise of the middle class in India and China is a huge flowering of human potential, even if it comes with soluble environmental problems.

Anyway, the level of Co2 in the atmosphere is rising, and this is changing the climate. Reducing emissions is a noble aim, but it must not get in the way of developing economies' economic growth. Fortunately, the solution is already with us. Renewable technology is improving. Cars are getting more efficient, and perhaps moving away from fossil fuel (at least directly). And this process will happen in india and China more quickly than in the west beacaue adopting what will be soon proven and cheap technology will enable them to miss whole generations of poluting technologies.

Which brings us to the great cetaceans. The southern ocean is the world's biggest habitat, with the world's shortest food chain, at the top of which sits the largest animal that has ever existed on earth. Phytoplancton bloom, and are eaten by zooplankton, which are eaten by fish larvae and Krill, which are eaten buy just about everything else. The biggest eaters of Krill are the baleen whales which turn five tons of Krill into Iron-rich shit every day. Sperm whales meanwhile are diving to the abysal deep turning several tons of squid into Iron-rich scat, moving nutrients from the deep to the surface. The limiting nutrient at the bottom of the food-chain is iron, so whale faeces fertilise the ocean, and enable more phytoplanckton to grow which absorb Co2 from  the air, much of which falls to the bottom of the ocean as marine snow, and eventually become rock.

But we killed the whales, and when we stopped doing so, they didn't recover as quickly as we hoped. We didn't just kill the Apex predators, in doing so, humanity reduced the Southern ocean's ecosystem's capacity to create life, and absorb Carbon. The southerm ocean may have settled at a lower equilibrium of Iron circulation. The Atlantic on the other hand, which gets tons of Iron from the african deserts every time the wind blows, has seen whale stocks recover better.

Which is why I want to see more research into Iron seeding the ocean, which may give a leg up to Balaenoptera musculus, as well as possibly solving climate change. Climate change is a problem. But while Trump's petulent gesture doesn't help us solve it, nor does it make the problem any harder. Politicians simply matter less than a whale taking a dump.

Why the Blue Passport Matters.

By Jackart ([email protected])

People have spent the day on Twitter saying "why does the colour of a passport matter"? While the Daily Express is cheering the return of the Blue Passport to the rafters. For most people capable of abstract thought, this is a mystifying detail, the importance of which to their opponents is utterly baffling. Of course, I am a remain "ultra". But I did swim in the same intellectual Milieu as the Brexity-Trumpkins for decades and know many serious Brexiters personally. Having spend decades rationalising the EU-obsessed madness of the Tory right as a harmless eccentricity that they don't really mean, I do have, with hindsight, some understanding what these creatures think.



Why does the passport matter?

For the Tory Brexiter, the underlying issue is Sovereignty. They object violently, strenuously and on principle to ANYTHING that comes "above" the Crown in Parliament. The jurisdiction of the ECJ is for them, an insult to the courts and other institutions of the UK. The idea is offensive that any law-making organisation, especially one that Jacques Delors told the trades unions is basically for stopping the Tories Torying, could be "supreme" over parliament.

Of course the ECJ mainly deals in trade disputes and represents an international court to settle international issues and ensure consistent interpretation of EU law. It isn't "making the law of the land" and nor is it a "supreme" court in a meaningful way as far as the average citizen is concerned because it doesn't deal with those issues. If you're up in front of the Magistrate for punching a rotter, you're not going to be able to appeal all the way to the ECJ. Criminal law stops with the nation. Appeals of bad people going up to the European court of Human Rights on seemingly spurious grounds get funnelled into this narrative (shhh, I know), so the impression is obtained that "Crazy Euro-Judges" are "over-ruling parliament", and demanding prisoners can vote or should be allowed hacksaws to avoid trampling on "Human Rights" or whatever the tabloid outrage du jour may be. This then reinforces the narrative that the EU is "anti-democratic" and "makes all our laws". And once you have this narrative, flawed as it is, it's jolly easy to amass an awful lot of corroborating "evidence" because the Tabloids spent 30 years deliberately feeding it.

Sovereignty vs Influence; there is a trade-off. The UK, broadly, wrote the Financial services legislation for the entire continent. In return, the Continent got access to the only truly global city in Europe. The French did this for farming and got the CAP, while the Germans got the Eurozone's interest rates and got to destroy Southern Europe. The EU which contains (rather like the UK and trade negotiators) no-one who CAN write decent financial services legislation legislation, because most of those people are British. Thanks to Brexit, the quality of the legislation on financial services will go down, both in the UK which will be compelled to have regulatory equivalence to keep banks' access to the single market and the EU. The UK will have become a rule-taker rather than a rule maker. I fail to see how this reclaims "Sovereignty". The organisational source of the legislation will remain unchanged, but we loose any ability to influence, let alone write it. Multiply this catastrophe across an economy and you see why the "sovereignty" argument against EU law is, on any rational basis, stupid.

The parliament, the very existence of which takes on the aspect of a supranational government in waiting, rather than a simple means to have democratic oversight of an organisation which employs fewer people than Manchester city council, distributes about 1% of GDP and writes trade law. This unwarranted grandiosity once again suits both the Brussels apparatchiks, and the simian oiks of UKIP whom the British public sent to Brussels as a mark of the National contempt for the institution. The parliament is, to my mind is a risible little potempkin affair, barely worth considering,

So there's the error. Back to the passport.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation sets the dimensions, so the writing was on the wall for the old British hardback passport, fabulous though it was, it didn't really fit in the back pocket of your trousers.  However once you believe that the EU tentacles are slowly creeping into institutions to turn you into a province of the "EUSSR", then you start to see this everywhere. The EU is foolish to seek the trappings of a national Government before they had built a demos, and absent any desire for it from the people. Symbols matter. The UK doesn't have an ID card. So when Brits talk about nationality they might say "Australian passport-holder" rather than "Australian citizen". I am not sure if any other nationalities use this formulation. The passport is slightly more than a document. No? Try losing one abroad.

The EU resolution on Passports is here. For anyone who thinks the EU "made" the UK have a Maroon passport, here's EU Croatia's. .



The EU suggested the Colour be harmonised and the words "European Union" be put First. At the top. Above the crown, First. Symbolising, perhaps inadvertently that the EU was more important than the nations. And there you have it. And no-one working on it thought to object. Changing the colour of the passport was a key symbolic gesture that irritated many people, and reinforced an utterly false narrative, to no end or benefit to anyone. There is simply no need for European Union passports to be uniformly coloured. It merely satisfies the bureaucrats' desire for order. And it is my belief that it is this symbolic bureaucratic exercise in territory marking by the EU that revealed, and still reveals, a fundamental disconnect between the Brussels Panjandrums, the people of the EU and the British in particular. The Eurocrats want a Federal Europe with the EU as a Government. The Nations, broadly supported by their governments don't, and have resisted any attempt.

The EU hasn't made Britain less "sovereign". All EU law, necessary to trade with as little friction as possible, is of the type that by whom it is written doesn't matter. With trading standards does it really matter WHAT they are, just that they're as universal and consistently applied? I don't need to tell you that it was never illegal to display prices of potatoes in Lbs and Oz, just that you HAD to display the price in KG and g too, in case any Frenchmen walking through the market didn't know how many Lbs are in a KG. I don't care who writes the regulations for the import of Duck eggs, just that it's done.

But there it is. The Brexiters shooting with the accuracy of a semi-trained recruit who's just dropped LSD at every figment of their fevered imagination, egged on by equally deluded fantasists who still think they're creating a Federal United States of Europe. These two groups of lunatics needed each other. And so, the passport, with 'European Union' at the top was barely noticed on the continent, but seemed to some Brits as evidence the EU was after their democracy, their identity and their Freedom. However stupid this belief is, a Blue passport could've been delivered cheaply as a quick Tabloid-Friendly win for Cameron and such was the narrow margin, it would have probably been enough.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

By Jackart ([email protected])


Wednesday saw my 40th Birthday, and to celebrate I went to see Tom Stoppard's brilliant Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the Old Vic with a Chum. While Daniel Radcliffe & Joshua Maguire lead, the show is stolen by a magisterial performance by David Haig as The Player, a sort of luvvie-pimp-cum-impresario who holds the whole play, in its absurdity, together.


The play is Hamlet, seen from the point of view of two minor characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, old friends of Hamlet's. The hapless pair spend the play wondering what they're doing and why, having been recalled to Elsinore by Claudius to find out why Hamlet's being such a dick, moping about and talking gibberish to himself ("to be, or not to be..." etc). They are eventually betrayed by their friend, who suspects them of working for his uncle which they are, sort of.

The play is therefore a meditation on the futility of existence, and the limitations of people's personal agency. Most people get on with their lives, as bit parts in a greater drama, not really sure as to the direction of events, or even of the past. After all, what have Rosencrantz and Guildenstern got to go on, but what can be gleaned from a few words of Shakespeare's, as metaphor for everyone's flawed and self-serving memory. Any interrogator or detective will tell you about the reliability of eye-witnesses and the difficulty of establishing the truth.

From everyone's point of view then, even when we're at the centre of events, most of the action is happening offstage. There will have been some point at which you could have said "no", but you missed it. Then you die.

If you can get tickets, do so.

Minimum Wages, Immigration, Culture and Education.

By Jackart ([email protected])

Net migration to the UK has run at hundreds of thousands a year for decades, of which about a quarter since 2004 has been "A8 countries", Poland, the Baltic states, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary, another quarter from 'Core EU' and the rest from non-EU countries, mainly India, Pakistan and West Africa. 13% of the population of the UK was born overseas, of whom over 2/3rds are non-EU migrants. This is an unprecedented migration to the rich world from the poor, and It's not clear from this EU migration is the underlying problem. The Poles will integrate fast, and leave imprints on the culture like a higher incidence of catholicism, bigos (a stew of meat and Sauerkraut) and some hard-to-spell surnames. They're often better educated than the natives, and work harder.

In general the view I've taken over the years is that minimum wages are a bad thing, arguing that they are mainly paid for by the people who otherwise wouldn't get a job at all. Only a job can lead to a better job, and if people are unemployed for a long time, they often become unemployable. So by this logic, keeping unemployment down should in the long-run be better for the poorest.

But, there is a trade off. When I grew up, late '80s and '90s, I cannot recall seeing cars washed by hand. When my father wasn't exploiting child labour by getting me and my brother to do a rubbish, half-arsed job for which we expected to be paid handsomely, we went to see the "blue Dougals" at the petrol station. The UK as a wealthy country, had substituted Capital for Labour, and cars were washed by big machines at every petrol station. But a team of a dozen hard-working and cheerful eastern Europeans can set up a car-wash, do inside and out for very little capital outlay - a jet washer, and some sponges, so when the EU accession countries citizens moved to seek work, this is what many did. The car wash machines were gradually removed and replaced by people. This is the opposite of progress.

Let's take a step back and look at the big picture.

Europe's wealth, it's vitality, its progress didn't spring from European individual or cultural superiority. It started when half the population was wiped out by Yersinia pestis in the 14th Century. There was a certain amount of luck - the same event increased the power of the landowner in Rice states and in pre-feudal societies farther East, but in Northwestern Europe, this created a shortage of Labour, and the peasants rose up a generation afterwards to demand higher wages from their lords. When this happened in Italy, the energy was put into sculpture of the nude male form, and was called "the Renaissance". When wages rise, it makes sense to build machines rather than employ labour, which has a virtuous feedback loop: skilled people running the machines drive up production, and become richer, which creates an incentive for further innovation. More widespread desire for, and access to education is grease in the wheels of this, the motor of progress that led to the industrial revolution.

The opening up of America, a nation with a perpetual and long-lasting shortage of labour not only added another motor to that European culture of innovation which grew up after the Black Death, but also absorbed the excess labour of Europe. While there is a labour shortage, immigration can be managed, though immigrants in large numbers have nowhere, ever been welcomed by the people they move to. Even when the people are kith and kin, the 'Scots Irish' (in reality, families originally from Northern England and the Scottish Borders) were moved on by the Germans and English who'd already settled the East coast. They ended up in Appalachia.

It's clear, then in the short run and in aggregate, wages aren't "driven down" by migration in a market economy. Part of that, in modern times may be due to the minimum wage, which protects some of the people most vulnerable to substitution, but also the 'lump of Labour fallacy'. Immigrants, especially young workers with families bring demand as well as supply and these things more-or-less balance. They aren't "taking our jobs" but they are changing the nature of jobs available. And the vast supply of excess labour from the subcontinent, africa and the poorer bits of Europe is not exactly an incentive to invest in productivity-enhancing machines, as the car-wash example shows. The mass immigration from the poor world has the potential to stall the western motor of innovation and may contribute to wages not rising as far as they might, especially for the lowest skilled workers.

The UK has a problem with productivity. UK employers have got good at employing the excess Labour of a serious chunk of the world, UK wages have been flat for a decade, and these things are linked. So the Chancellor is hiking the minimum wage in the hope of good headlines, and to incentivise investment to drive productivity. So. What effect will this have on immigration. Will it draw more migrants to the UK hoping for higher wages, like European immigration to the USA, or will it price low-skilled immigration out of the Labour market and allow the motor of progress to continue?

Splits that used to be geographic - some countries were rich, and others poor and the movement between the two was rare, is moving to one where there are still two countries, it's just the divide is social, educational, and cultural. You have a global, liberal, free market culture, which values education and novelty. And you have national, 'c' conservatives who just want their own culture, don't care about education all that much, won't move to find a job, and expect to be looked after who stay put and resent incomers. And the latter are disproportionately annoyed about foreigners moving into "Their" neighbourhoods while it's the former who have more to fear in the short term from highly skilled competition, minimum wages see to that. And if minimum wages rise far enough, low skilled workers will not be able to get jobs and they will stop coming to the UK. The problem is, the lowest skilled people are often native. The cost of a raised minimum wage will be borne by those least able to cope.

If we are to avoid society fracturing permanently into Morlocks and Eloi we do need to manage migration, to keep that motor humming. We cannot let the world come at will. But there was no need to pull up the drawbridge against EU migrants who always looked like collateral damage to me.

It's not all about economic self-interest, nor is it wholly naked in-group preference (what educated, open minded people call "bigotry"). It is the interplay between the two. Ultimately the stagnation of UK wages over the last 10 years isn't due to migration, but the recovery from a balance-sheet recession of 2007-9. It's the feeling of ennui caused by a decade of stagnation which has caused the anti-immigration nonsense, the rather blameless Poles have just become a Piñata and for a population that was persuaded to lash out at the EU when they really wanted to lash out at "the Muslims". The tragedy is all this happened just as we were getting back to normal.

Nicola and Theresa. Phwooar.

By Jackart ([email protected])

The Daily Mail's headline "Legs-it" about Scottish First Minister and British Prime Minister Theresa May's shapely legs was pathetic. But remember, the Mail is written by women, for women, and women judge each other, all the time, harshly and vindictively. Judged especially harshly are women more accomplished or better looking than the average Daily Mail reader.


To call this "sexism" is to miss the point. This isn't about women being held down by sexist male tittle tattle. Clearly, two of the most powerful people in the country haven't been held down in any meaningful way. Any executive head of Government is fair game for any and all criticism. What these women have done is rise above the level at which society normally seeks to protect women from abuse.

Male politicians are made fun of for their appearance and clothing all the time. It's the sea men swim in. Whether it's Donald Trump's expensive, but ill-fitting suits and too-long ties like he's stepped out of a 1980s pop video caricature of a businessman, or Cameron's forehead, or the fact that middle-aged men are always assumed to be repulsive, this abuse is normal.  The ridicule a male politician faces when he's seen in public wearing anything other than a blue suit is extraordinary. From Tony Blair wearing a clean barbour, to William Hague's baseball cap or Cameron's beachwear, there's a reason male politicians dress identically. When women's clothing (far more interesting by the way, than the sober suits of most male politicians) is commented on, it enables a personal brand to be created that much easier. Theresa May's shoes are like Margaret Thatcher's handbag. True, women do have to think harder about their clothing - too much leg, cleavage etc... and you immediately invite scorn (of other women, mainly), but the fact the female wardrobe stands out against the endless blue/grey suits and red or blue ties of the male is as much an opportunity as it is a minefield.

Any comment about May's shoes, for example is part of her deliberately curated brand, and shoe-designers are falling over themselves to get their products onto her feet. This isn't sexist. Women like shoes, and there's no reason why Theresa May shouldn't have fun with them.

Lower down the pecking order there's a taboo against men commenting negatively on a woman's appearance, lest you hurt the poor dear's feelings. Yes male 'locker room' banter will discuss who's attractive, but it's rude to do so in front of women and by and large, gentlemen don't. Women don't typically have these conversations about men in earshot of men either, but describing men as "revolting" or "creepy" is so normal as to be unworthy of comment, and completely unnoticed. May and Sturgeon have risen above this social protection, and are subject to the same rules of engagement as men are. i.e that if we have feelings, tough.

These women are grown-ups doing important jobs. If you think the Mail's light-hearted front page is an insult to them, you're an idiot. Of course Sarah Vine who wrote the thing, knows exactly the response it would get, howls of idiot outrage from the usual suspects on Twitter, and from Sturgeon herself. This allows the paper to swat the complaints aside with contempt. This signals to their readership that the Mail is on their side against the bien-pensant left with their idiotic & totalitarian outrage about human trivialities. May by rising above it, does the same. The Mail is one of the Best-selling papers in the UK, and one of the world's most visited "news" (ish) websites. Who won that exchange?

The po-mo left, obsessed with identity politics, used to being able to bully dissenting opinion down STILL hasn't got the new rules of the game. Someone's pointed out the Emperor's naked, but he's still acting like he's in charge and hasn't noticed the mood's changed. Yet.



Completely unrelated, but thank you to the Anonymous commenter who wrote this. It cheered me up.

On Class, Culture and the New Politics

By Jackart ([email protected])

The two tribes of politics, broadly the Tory and Labour parties divided over the 20th Century principally on the matter of economics. Simplifying: Tories preferred market solutions to state planning, and preferred lower taxes and less generous state spending.
The Labour party, which when it abandoned clause IV, surrendered on the economic question, not coincidentally a few years after the Berlin wall came down.
As a result, the great battles since then have been essentially cultural. Gay rights, racial integration etc. The confusion stems from there being no consensus within the Tory or Labour tribes on these issues. Plenty of Tories are happily socially liberal, many of the Labour tribe are socially conservative, especially when you look at voters rather than representatives.
Which brings us to the tribal division of Britain: class. The middle class: liberal, internationalist, universalists; vs a working class: authoritarian, insular and particular world view. The former is comfortable with diversity and immigration. The latter isn't. The former's kids live a long way from home, and move for work, the latters kids live in the same town and expect the work to come to them. The former don't speak to their neighbours, the latter care what their neighbours do and think. These labels are correlated roughly with, but independent of, economic status. It's possible to be middle class, in a local-authority home living on benefits, and working class, earning seven figures and living in a manor house. (Though it's likely these people's kids will change tribes)
There are elements of these cultures in all major parties in the UK, but the rest of us rarely communicate with people from the other tribe. The people you have round for dinner will most probably be from your tribe. Half the country holds its knife like a pen, yet none have sat round my table. When the two tribes meet, it's awkward. Those difficult bottom-sniffing conversations seeking common ground are easy to conclude when two members of the same tribe meet, and difficult when you meet the other half.
There have always been working class Tories, because much of the working class is as comfortable with the certainties of heirarchy as a shire Tory, and doesn't much care for this freedom and opportunity nonsense, preferring a better boss instead. And it's interesting to watch the Tories dangle the protectionism and insularity the working class has long demanded. Middle class labour fabians and the working class methodists have always sat uncomfortably together. Brexit has shattered that coalition, the labour party has been handed to the idiot socialists and will die, unless somehow moderates can oust corbyn before 2020.
Which brings us to the Tory coalition. The high-Tory have promised the old certainties back to the white working class. Meanwhile, middle-class liberals who make up most of the parliamentary party are distinctly uncomfortable with much of what is being done in Brexit's name, but will stick with the Tories, because they offer the promise of power, and however dreadful Brexit is, Jeremy Corbyn is worse. A new coalition is being forged between the Tory squirearchy, and the Working class based on nationalism, social conservatism and heirarchy, directly taking Labour's core vote. This is why UKIP, a working class movement that thinks it *is* the conservative party, apes the style of a country gent. The working class have always got on well with the Gentry, sharing sociailly conservative values. Both despise the middle class.
Brexit split the country down a line more on class values, split the country and handed it to the socially authoritarian party. Whether this is the new politics, with the Tories moving from being the middle-class party to the working class party, as the Republicans did after the war in the USA, or whether the middle-class will wrest back control over both parties in time waits to be seen.
I suspect unless May softens her tone, and thows some bones to the liberals, her coalition will only survive until there's a credible opposition. A more appropriate division of politics would be a ConservaKIP'ish alliance of WWC and high-tory squires, vs LibLabCon middle-class liberals. Therea May seems to be actively seeking it.
Over the Channel, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen exemplify this split. The candidates of the parties of left, Socialists; and right, RPR are likely to be eliminated in the first round. Macron is likely to win comfortably. His movement 'En Marche!' was only formed a year ago. There's a lesson for British liberals there.

Tories have profoundly damaged the UK. You Should Join the Tories.

By Jackart ([email protected])

2016 happened because decent people don't join political parties, leaving the business of Government to socially inadequate, physically repellent gits with an axe to grind*. In normal circumstances, this makes politics easier for genuinely impressive people to progress through the flotsam of monomaniacs. To be a Grown-up in the Tory Party 1997-2010 was to be able to consider an issue beyond the EU. For Labour it's all about not dreaming of Strike Action by "the workers". Thus the Liberal Centre consolidated a hold on the country, but became complacent to the poison seeping into parties even as the Smug centrist consensus made everyone fat and rich.
There has been a steady, and persistent hollowing out of the political parties. Labour used to be allied to a Trades Union movement that delivered services - health insurance, education and so forth to its members. The Trades Unions of Pre-War Britain where an overwhelming force for good. Atlee's welfare state nationalised all the good the Trades Unions used to do, and so corrupted both the principle of welfare (now far, far from Beveridge's original vision of low, universal payments like Child benefit, topped up with contributory elements) and the Trades unions which became a mere tub-thumper for more state spending. This left the Labour party with the sole purpose of defending a welfare settlement that is not under threat, and a Trades Union movement whose purpose had been nationalised so simply became resistant to all and any reform which might make the system as is function better; unions a mere vested interest of public-sector workers. This isn't a place where people capable of holding more than one idea at a time feel comfortable, and so the Labour party was colonised by people who think not shaving is a political act.
This malodorous and poorly groomed cancer has destroyed the Labour party. It's over, there's no point being in Labour unless you're a Identity politics obsessed Corbynite who laments the end of the Soviet Union. 
Labour, 2010-Present
The Tories at least had the sense to try to vomit the most toxic of their nutters into a bucket marked UKIP, a bucket the dog is unfortunately returning to. The Conservative party my Grandfather joined (from CPGB, as it happens, Labour even back then were cliquey dick-heads) used to be a forum for the upper middle class (and anyone who aspired to join them) to meet, mate and do business. But the horrible young Tories of the '80s, and the Euro-nutters of the '90s meant that by 1997, the Tories were only really suitable for people who were prepared to discuss "Europe" endlessly in ever-more foaming tones, persuading themselves that the EU is a historic enemy like Napoleon, the Kaisar, Hitler or the USSR. To their credit, the Tory Leadership has long known what to do. All David Cameron ever asked of his party was to "stop banging on about Europe". They couldn't stop picking at the scab, and the result is a catastrophe that has already crashed the Pound, weakened the UK (perhaps fatally) and may yet cause a political crisis in Europe and embolden Putin to start rebuilding the USSR.
Tories, 1997-2010
The more say over policy and leadership given to the membership, the more the membership has dwindled (unless, like Labour, the membership criteria are designed to invite entryism for the purposes of choosing a leader - by people who've been quietly loyal to the Bennite project for decades). Giving members a say in who leads the party is absurd. Who the prime minister is, should be a matter for MPs, and MPs alone. It is they who must give the Prime Minister a majority and internal party democracy risks, well, exactly what has happened to Labour. 
However, that Rubicon has been crossed. Party members now expect a vote on the Leader. The question is what to do about this, and the answer is to choose to be a member of a party at all times, hold your nose if necessary. Do NOT identify with the party, but consider which is best placed to advance your objectives. At the moment, the foul bigots, monomaniacs and morons of UKIP are being re-absorbed from a position where they can do little harm beyond foaming at the mouth and masturbating to Daily Express editorials, to one where they can choose the next prime minister, and Mrs May isn't a healthy specimen. The ex-'KIPpers chance may come to choose their PM sooner than expected.
I'm often asked "How come you're still a Tory?"  
Were the Liberal Democrats stronger, I'd be considering them, but I don't trust them on electoral reform (about which they're as silly as Tories are about Europe). But as the Lib-Dems are so far from power, I don't see the tactical benefit of leaving the Tories in a huff, and I broadly agree with the Tories on everything except Brexit. What I'm worried about is the 'KIPpers who're returning to the fold. Unless you want a foul, divisive and ignorant Brexit headbanger to replace May in 2023 or so (Gove for example), Join the Tories, because thanks to Labour's meltdown, Tories and Tories alone will choose the next PM. All not joining a party does is strengthen those (*we) weirdos who still do. Labour moderates, disgusted by Corbyn should cross the floor to the Tories or Liberal democrats, instead of flouncing off to the V&A and opening the way for UKIPish Brexit-o-twats to fight and win a by-elections under Tory colours. Were Tristram hunt now a Tory, not only we could soften this brexit idiocy but also signal just how broad a church the Tories are. 40% of Tory members voted Remain. The tribe that needs to understand the value of a bit of entryism is the liberal centre, who need to abandon any loyalty to their Parties and go to where the power is. The Liberal Centre is complacent because they have for so long occupied the ground sought by all parties, they've not really had to compromise. 
At the moment the business of Government is, and will be for the foreseeable future, a Tory-only affair. That need not look like Nigel Farage, but it will, if Remainers abandon the Tories entirely.

The End of A 'Belle Époque'. 1991-2016.

By Jackart ([email protected])

The interlocking webs of policy which 'politics' seeks to knit are complicated. Whole books can be written on how two individual policies interact. PhDs in Economics are awarded for small snapshots of the whole cloth. Most people don't have the time to keep abreast of developments or read sufficient history to understand why some policies are bad. Thus, people use heuristics - rules of thumb - to make decisions  about that which they aren't expert. "Is this person trustworthy" is a key issue, and we tend to overweight the opinion of those near us. "He is my brother, and I say he's ok" says a friend, you are more likely to believe a mutual friend, than the opinion of a stranger on the same issue.

In the evolutionary past, such a question was a matter of life and death. People only really had to trust those with whom they shared a close genetic relationship. Since the development of agriculture, we've been steadily widening that circle of trust. The wider you spread that circle of trust, the richer your society will be. Even before it had a name, Free market economics allowed people to become blacksmiths, knowing others have water, food, shelter and so forth covered in return. More specialisation, greater productivity, means greater wealth.

Eventually, this requires trust in people we've not met. Towns' food supplies require that farmers unknown and distant supply the basics of existence. Nowadays, It's unlikely the west could quickly supply all available plenty currently manufactured in China. Nor could China supply quickly the complex components and tools shipped from Japan, Europe and USA. Both China, and "the west" are richer from the exchange. And yet, we still don't trust "globalisation".

Most persistent fallacies in political economics are the result of simple policies that appeal to some base heuristics, but which when applied to the larger and wider society, fail catastrophically. Thus egalitarianism in one form or another pops up every 3 generations or so and succeeds in making everyone equal, but some more equal than others, and even more, dead. Then nationalism comes along, and says it's all [another, arbitrarily defined group of humans with slightly different modes of speech] fault, leading to more waste and piles of corpses. And even when the results aren't catastrophic, we seek out the views of those who agree with us on say, Nationalism to inform our opinion on, say, whether or not people are responsible for climate change.

Which political tribes stumble into being right or wrong on any given issue appears arbitrary, because no-one's asking for the evidence before they decide on the policy. Instead of asking "what's right", we're asking what's popular (amongst the coalition of tribes that voted for me) right now. That an opponent comes out with an identical policy, for different reasons is reason enough to oppose something, forgetting completely prior support for it. After all, whatever [another political tribe] thinks must be wrong, right.

Thus
The Labour party opposes ID cards. The Labour party has always opposed ID cards. The Tory party is for the Free market and was never in favour of the Corn Laws. We have always been at war with Eastasia. Perhaps if we could think for ourselves rather than just accepting tribal dogma, we'd get better governance. But none of us have the time. So "Democracy" is merely a means to give temporary permission to one coalition of tribes to push through dogmas over many issues, until either the population notices, or the coalition of tribes breaks up, and the electorate takes a punt on the other tribe's prejudices for a bit, and then gets on with whatever they were doing before.

Society ultimately advances by eliminating prejudices it's acceptable to hold thus widening the circle of trust, and increasing riches. By falling back on ancient heuristics to answer the wrong question ("who's fault?" is the wrong question) 2016 democracy has delivered the worst political outcomes on a broad front, as a result of which, we are poorer, and more likely to start fighting as a result of the collapse in political trust we have seen over this year. The post Cold-War 'Belle Époque', which saw half of humanity, 3 billion people, lifted out of poverty, is over.

Idiots cheer.

Boston Dynamics and The Late Sir Terry Pratchett

By Jackart ([email protected])

Everyone knows how driverless cars will work: they will be like ordinary cars, except you read a book rather than acting as pilot. And so, people's understanding of what a technology can do is clouded by what the old technology it replaces does. Which means people without imagination, Head of IBM Thomas Watson, for example, say things like
"There may be a world market for maybe five computers"
and get it wrong. In 1943, computers were used for cryptography, and that's it. (At least he knew what a "computer" was, which few did back then). Predictions are hard, especially about the future. But it's probably worth noting here that the famous World Wide What? front page of The Sun, was in fact rather a good a spoof, by The Sun.


Boston Dynamics makes robots.


via GIPHY

Who needs Robots? Well, like computers or the internet or driverless cars, the technology is coming. And it will change people's behaviour in many, unpredictable ways. For example, mobile phones were conceived as portable analogues for the phone on your desk or in your hall. SMS text messaging was added as an afterthought, but became THE dominant means of communication. Calling someone is now rude, often you text first to see if a call would be convenient. Who (apart from mums) leaves voicemail messages any more? Few predicted that change in our behaviour. The smartphone is now ubiquitous, and is more about accessing the internet than calling friends, but wasn't imagined before the internet, Except by Douglas Adams (and John Brunner of whom I'd not heard until I discussed the issue on Twitter). Driverless cars will be as close to the car, as the car is to a buggy and four. And robots, when they become ubiquitous, will be unlike anything we've considered.

I look at Boston Dynamics Robots, the big dog is conceived as a load carrying mule for soldiers on rough terrain, and I think of The Luggage, Rincewind's inscrutable companion on the discworld. I suspect everyone will one day have a robot the size of a dog to carry daily necessaries, following them round. You could send your luggage to someone else, by smartphone app to pick something up. Your luggage could take your shopping home and collect it from the store for you. Large luggages could be sent on ahead with bags. Small luggages could replace handbags and briefcases. The labour and time saving would be vast, spawning whole new areas of employment, servicing and modifying your faithful electronic companion and providing for the opportunities they create to effectively be in two places at once. Freed from the ownership of motor vehicles by the fact we'll be taking taxis everywhere, our Robot luggage will perhaps become the next status symbol around which society is built, replacing the car.

Like cars, I suspect the battery technology will be the limiting step, and like cars, I suspect the fuel cell will be the answer. Small fuel cells will one day power your smart phone too.

But think about the opportunities for people from smart phone. There are tens of thousands of app designers round the world now, a job that had barely been considered as recently as 2007, when the first iPhone was released, and that is similar to how the jobs which will be taken by the robots, will be replaced. That is why people who fear of a "post-jobs" future were wrong in 1816 and are still wrong 200 years later. The world's only limitless resource is human ingenuity.

Anway. I for one welcome our new robot overlords, and this guy should totally be locked up.


via GIPHY

Fidel Castro is Dead. (Some of) his Legacy will Live on

By Jackart ([email protected])

Let's be clear, Castro was a murderous bastard who impoverished his country, and whose views on homosexuality and on the importance of brevity in speeches were nothing short of horrifying. It's true, Cubans do have access to better healthcare than many countries of equivalent GDP per capita, and if I had to choose a Communist hell-hole to live in, it'd probably be Castro's Cuba. But the Cuban healthcare system is not the fantasy of western dewey-eyed left-wingers, and Cubans often are excluded from what excellence there is, as it's one of the few means the country has of generating hard currency earnings. Rich foreigners get the best doctors, and more are exported to other successful "progressive" regimes like Venezuela.

"But he was an anti-imperialist". So why were cuban troops in Africa in support of the USSR, which was by any measure or definition an Empire? Anti-Imperialsim is just the justification leftists give for knee-jerk anti-Americanism. And the flood of people risking death to reach the USA should tell you all you need to know about the relative merits of America's and Cuba's system.

Contrasting the attitudes of the USA to Castro, to their attitude to equally murderous bastards like Pinochet misses the point. The US embargo on Cuba is one of the legacies of the Cold war, kept bubbling by the politics of Florida, home to so many Cuban-Americans. There is no Doubt that the US blocade has impoverished Cubans, and that with the fall in the Berlin wall and the collapse of the USSR, such an embargo was no longer justified. However politics are what they are. Fidel Castro's death provides an opportunity for further thawing in relations.

The USA supported "our son of a bitch" all over the world, turning a blind-eye to horrific human rights abuses, though often (albeit less often than we should) working behind the scenes to try and mitigate the worst behaviour. Thatcher is rarely credited with preventing the execution of Nelson Mandela, but she consistently urged Mandela's release, even as she argued against sanctions and branding the ANC "Terrorists". This is one reason why the cold-war piles of dead of Nasty fascist bastards are usually lower than those of nasty communist bastards. I also think the point made by CS Lewis holds. Right wing dictators rarely pretend to be GOOD, making their appeal more on effectiveness.
"The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
And one by one, following the collapse of Communism, the support from the USA and its allies for these disgusting regimes was withdrawn. Apartheid South Africa, much of South and Central America saw right authoritarian regimes fall. Genuine democracies were often created in the rubble. The USA didn't support dictators because the USA is an imperialist power, but because it IS a power, and with that comes responsibility. They judged at the time the alternative, Communism, was worse, and represented a genuine existential threat to the USA and its core allies.

This is why for example the USA and its allies mostly support the Regime in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi regime is repellent, but given the probable alternatives wouldn't be nice, liberal, democratic-minded progressives, they'd be salafist nutcases who'd have access to billions of dollars of oil revenues and the legitimacy of being the Guardians of the Two Mosques. The House of Saud is all that stands between the West and a plausible salafist caliphate with sufficient legitimacy and money to one day threaten the west. We'd rather do business with nice, stable democracies under the rule of law. But seeing as we cannot do to every country on earth what we did to Germany in the late 40s and 50s, we make the best of the options given.

Castro appeared to be a true beleiver in Socialism, so he refused to recognise his philosophy had failed, and his island limped on, a socialist throwback in the age of globalisation. The current poverty of Cuba is partly America's doing, but mostly due to decisions made by Castro himself, policies which set him and the Cuban people at odds with the regional hegemon, in persuit of an evil idealogy. Fidel Castro was on the wrong side of history, and his people suffered because of his stubborness. Now he's dead, it's Cubans turn to make the most of the positive legacy - Cubans are the best-educated poor people on earth, and the mighty economy of the USA is right on their doorstep. There is going to be a lot of money to be made there, and this time, for the first time, Cubans will share in it.

Hail, Trump! God-Emperor of the Alt.Right

By Jackart ([email protected])

And Let's be honest, he's ghastly and despite brown-nosing by Nigel Farage, he's no friend of the UK's, because he doesn't value anything the UK brings to the table. Rumour has it, he asked Farage to intervene in an offshore windfarm decision affecting his Scottish interests, which suggests he doesn't understand the concept of 'conflicts of interests' when in elected office.

This further suggests Trump will attempt to use the office of President to enrich himself, rather than doing so after leaving office, as is accepted. All this is rather feudal; the office holder as gold-giver, distributing patronage and receiving tribute. He's an entertainer and showman, which hails to an even older tradition of politics: that of Imperial Rome, where emperors used state coffers to enrich themselves and their clients,while keeping the mob quiet with bread and circuses.

Donald J. Trump is psychologically unsuited to office in a mature democracy. He is thin-skinned, autocratic, insecure, ignorant, and completely without any understanding of the levers of power he now wields. Much like (later caricatures of?) Nero, Commodus or Caligula.


Despite (or perhaps because of) this, the adolescent losers of Alt.Right see Trump as a God-Emperor (no, really they do. Video surfaced today of people making Roman Salutes, saying "Hail Trump", and distribute Memes based on Games Workshop's futuristic figure-based tabletop wargame, Warhammer 40,000 where humanity is defended from Chaos by a psychic God Emperor). If Trump is Imperator, then the Secret Service is a Praetorian Guard. And how did the Praetorian serve Commodus, to pick one example?

Trump might, were he capable of reading a book, muse on the fact he's surrounded by armed men sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America, and defend it from Enemies DOMESTIC and foreign. Thankfully, the USA is a mature democracy. Where once armed men acted as kingmaker, courts now do. For the simple reason Ignorance is no defence, and the fact that Trump's loathing of 'Washington' is fully reciprocated, I find it unlikely that Trump will survive his term alive and unimpeached. Unfortunately I cannot find odds on a Trump impeachment before 2020. Perhaps it's a racing certainty.

Sexism and the Loss Aversion Heuristic

By Jackart ([email protected])

Men are physically stronger than women, respond quicker to physical training, and suffer less injury under physical stress. Men are more robust, suffer less morbidity than women in almost all phases of life. Obviously these things exist in a normal distribution, but men's distributions are typically platykurtic - there are more men in the tails of the distribution than women. Thus, even where the means are near identical, such as intelligence, you'd expect to see more male geniuses, and imbeciles among men than women, who're more concentrated around the mean. Feel like taking issue with any of these statements? Then you might as well be a creationist.

Men are more accepting of risk, and will prioritise pay over flexibility. So you'd expect men to make up the majority of soldiers and miners and race car drivers. It also means you'd expect to see more men make up corporate boards, everything being equal. More men are more drawn to the cut and thrust of business, and are more likely to prioritise work over other commitments. Women value stability and flexibility more highly than men. This means women, on average don't choose to make the effort necessary to climb the greasy pole. Women (sensibly, in my view as I have done the same) are more likely to think other things more important.

Thus, the brute fanny-counting of media analysis of sexism and the "gender pay gap" ignores female choices and attributes, thus denigrating both women and men for the choices they make. Women for their part see their contribution to society in caring professions such as medicine (more doctors are now women, as well as nurses) and teaching denigrated because these women aren't seeking to be at the top of BAE systems, or whatever. Likewise men, when they see women are going to hired so they form 50% of the workforce of a mining company feel devalued for their skills and attributes because the only way BHP Billiton could make 50% of its employees women is by discriminating against the larger number of men who will apply to drive a bloody great truck miles from nowhere in a bloody great hole in the ground in the middle of a bloody great desert surrounded by nothingness, and live in towns whose bars serve tinnies through wire grilles, and where kicking each others' heads in represents the primary saturday night entertainment.

But worse, by forcing women into traditionally working class men's jobs, you further alienate and disorientate a bit of society which already feels put upon, neglected, belittled and scorned. This is why they voted for Brexit in the UK, and in the USA, will vote for Trump. Working class men are lashing out, because their raison d'etre, to provide for their offspring, has been nationalised, and no other opportunity for them has been provided and they as individuals have too often been thrown on the scrap heap, derided as workshy deadbeats. The working class used to have pride in providing for their family and often doing dangerous, dirty jobs to do so. Opportunity isn't "equal access to university", for which working class men is a middle-class rite of passage, but decent jobs that will allow them to support their family, but which is blocked by the petty credentialism that values paper qualifications over experience and dumb diligence over inspiration.

That loss of pride is agonising. And people mourn loss far more than they celebrate gain. The aim of this post-modern obsession with equality of outcome therefore might as well be to make men despise themselves and women feel inadequate for the inclinations their biology and society has fitted them. Men become 2nd rate women, and women become 2nd rate men. By all means allow everyone to seek their own path, but to imagine men and women will sort 50/50 everywhere is totalitarian in its foolishness and cruelty.

The EU Deserves what's coming.

By Jackart ([email protected])

One of the main reasons to oppose brexit is that the UK doesn't benefit from being "out" should the EU collapse. A disorderly break-up of the EU would damage the UK, independently of our status in or out. (any comment saying "it's better to bail early" will be deleted as a failure of comprehension read the post, please, it's that argument I'm dealing with). Indeed preventing a disorderly collapse should be the UK's priority. And when we were in, a disorderly collapse was unlikely. The UK kept the lid on Brussels insanity. Not only has Brexit given free rein to some of the very worst people in the UK, it also removes a brake on the insane Federasts  of Brussels.

Far from Remainers "talking the UK down", Brexiters have been doing so for decades - talking down the UK's influence in the EU to the extent we're actually thinking of walking out of the UK's proudest creation: the single market. It is now a shibboleth that the UK has "no influence in the EU", whereas the UK drove the single market, kept half the continent out of the poisonous grip of the Euro and pioneered enlargement to the east following the end of the cold war. The UK drove Russian sanctions to this day. The UK was one of the Big three and on many issues, more influential than France. The UK largely writes EU financial regulation for example (as is meet and proper).

But the EU over-reached. Voters, especially in the UK resented the EU's usurpation of the trappings of National sovereignty far more than the reality of "the laws made in Brussels" which was really just code for an underlying vision they (and I) don't like. And what is true of the UK is true of France and the Netherlands and everywhere else. Remainers like to mock the Be.Leaver's joy over the anticipated return of the blue passport. I however have long resented the words "European Union" above (ABOVE!) the crown on the front. It's like the bureaucrats are trying to rub the British People's nose in it. It's a symbol of something burning in the EU's core, which the average voter neither desires, nor trusts.

The ridiculous and unnecessary potemkin parliament with its farcical shuttle from Brussels to Strasbourg focusses the voters minds on the EU, without giving them any outlet to do anything about it. The EU looms much larger than it ought as a result of the charade of Euro elections. Democracy without a demos is pointless - what commonality do Socialist members from spain and the UK have?:

The EU was flawed, Thanks to the UK some of its worst excesses - the Euro for example were limited to countries that really wanted it. And now without a powerful country holding the reins and steering away from "ever closer union" the Brake that was put on at Maastrict and beyond will be removed. The EU will integrate itself to death, there will be chaos when the voters of Europe can take the tin-eared arrogance of Brussels no more. There was no need for all those millions of lives to be attenuated during that process. While leave voters will say "I told you so", a better analogy would be jumping out of a moving car suffering broken bones and extensive skin abrasions, but saying "it would have been worse" because the lunatic who grabbed the wheel when you bailed steered it directly into a tree.

Spending 1% of GDP to write trade and some business law could much more easily be done intragovernmentally, with a humble and small central bureaucracy. There is no need for "Presidents" and parliaments which lead to grandiose visions; visions which slam painfully, like the Euro, into the unyielding wall of reality. Unobtrusively aligning business regulation and deepening economic integration is necessary. A parliament, a flag, an anthem and a head of "state" are not. The EU has paid the price for this arrogant and pompous grandiosity.

Both the EU and UK are and will be significantly worse off as a result of Brexit. And now, just as Brexit is a bad idea that will be tested, so too will European integration. Both Brussels panjandrums and the brexiters fed off each others' fantasies. Both needed to believe integration was happening, even if it wasn't. Ultimately, the costs will become apparent to the UK pretty rapidly. The EU will suffer much more slowly. It's almost like co-operation is a non-zero-sum game, or something.

On Populism: What do we do? vs Who do we blame?

By Jackart ([email protected])

If you ask the wrong question, the answers will not work.

"Populism" is, like pornography, hard to define, but you know it when you see it. Wikipedia defines it thus
"a political ideology that holds that virtuous citizens are mistreated by a small circle of elites, who can be overthrown if the people recognize the danger and work together. Populism depicts elites as trampling on the rights, values, and voice of the legitimate people"
It's clear Farage's lauding of a victory for "mediocre ordinary, decent scum people" he was speaking in this vein. But I don't think this captures the essence of populism. Mainstream politicians "Managerialists" in the Populists' vernacular ask "how do we solve this problem". You can be a capitalist, or a socialist, believing in different answers, but at least you agree on the question. Populists aren't asking this question, but instead "who do we blame?". The answer given by Momentum and UKIP may differ: Bosses vs Immigrants, Capitalists vs the EU but the question is the same.

There's also the populists view that MPs rather than being representatives paid to exercise judgement, are delegates paid to vote on someone else's behalf. In this, Paul Mason and Douglas Carswell are in agreement. But this is simply mob rule and behind it is a fear that legislators may Go Native, if they're allowed thanks to the corrosive influence of "[insert boogeyman]" in their long-running campaign to keep the "real" people down. But perhaps legislators know best; they have exposure and access to what passes for facts in this field, and are paid to study it, maybe there's something in the idea of representative democracy after all.

It's always easier to imagine you're the victim of an elite conspiracy, subject to "discrimination" on the grounds of class or race, or at risk from being "flooded" by immigrants, than it is to answer the question "what to I do?". Whether you're running your own life, or that of a nation, what to do is hard, and one of the stresses of modern life is the extent to which people are free, which means they have to make choices. No longer can you just follow dad into the Factory. Because many suffer from crippling loss aversion, these choices are scary, which is why stupid people yearn to be led. They look for leaders who offer answers which fit their prior prejudices and make sense of a complicated world. Corbyn and Farage have made careers finding and stroking a tribe's prejudices, soothing their people's indignation against a world they feel is against them.

The reason populism is so toxic to political discourse is that in apportioning blame, they create a slipway for the launching of vastly damaging ideas. "It's all the EU's fault" leads to Brexit*. "It's all the Fat Cats' fault" and you have a country that looks like Venezuela. If you start blaming immigrants or minorities, well we saw where that went in the last century. It's also why the Brexiteers ran from office at the moment of victory. Delivery isn't in the populists' skillset. The permanent masturbatory pleasures of opposition are what they crave, always losing so they can keep telling their people the game's rigged against them. If they win, then all those inadequate people will have to start making choices and they feel completely lost again. Much easier to simmer in resentment against an immovable object which allows you to blame it, rather than yourself for your failings.

*This isn't a place for a debate on the merits or otherwise of Brexit. Any comments on that subject will be deleted.

One of the reasons for the Populist's success (please note the "one of" at the start of this sentence) is Russia on the internet. The internet allows people to form much denser ideological defences against reality. And into the internet, there is a wounded superpower, pouring poison, poison which people use as ammunition in the defence of their ideological redoubt. Putin's toxic little propaganda swamps like RT and Sputnik are manufacturing and promoting stories which appeal to the populist mindset. Notice how Racists will share RT stories about Immigrants raping white women while members of the Green party will share horror stories about fracking from the same source. Some of these stories will be true. But many are manufactured, exaggerated and twisted specifically to support any party or idea that causes problems to the democratic governments of the west. This is not a random process. It is directed and controlled by the intelligence agency which has captured Russia. Maskirovka raised to a governing principle.

One of the reasons for the UK's relative success as a nation is that up until now, we have been mostly immune from the allure of the populist demagogue. We simply don't have it in us to put too much belief in one man, whether as protagonist or antagonist. Let's hope Brexit is a flash in the pan, and not part of a widespread descent of mature democracies into populist demagoguery. We'll know in 12 months whether democracy can survive or whether, thanks to Trump, Farage and Le Pen, we're going back to pogroms and a summer "campaigning season".

Please let's stop listening to Putin' useful idiots pedalling fallacious simplicity, and start listening to fallible and all-too-human experts again. At least the experts are asking the right question.

Weekly Update 193

By Troy Hunt

Presently sponsored by: NordVPN — secure your traffic with a faster VPN. For your remote work and browsing needs.

First time back in a restaurant! Wandering down my local dining area during the week, I was rather excited to see a cafe that wasn't just open, but actually had spare seating. Being limited to only 10 patrons at present, demand is well in excess of supply and all you

Wholesale rate update (2020-06-01)

By Simwood

We will be updating our Managed A-Z Termination rates and codes on June 1st 2020. As usual, these changes are colour coded in our full rate files available through the portal as below. Making calls 97% cheaper! Rate filesOur rates can be downloaded below. Please see our website to understand our different service levels. You can […]

Making calls 97% cheaper!

By Simwood

By Simon Woodhead Did you know, there are now 30 countries around the world with some form of origin-based pricing? In other words, 30 destination countries where the charge for a call depends not just on where it is going to but also where it is coming from, in the form of surcharges that can […]

Automated GBP top-ups

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By Simon Woodhead Effective immediately, any GBP prepayments sent to the right bank account, with the right reference, will be applied to your account automatically and immediately, where possible. This means no need for late night credit card top-ups and associated fees – bank top-ups to the right account with the right reference remain free […]

mbmbam

Hello and welcome to Millibar Millibarn Attometer, an advice show for the Planck era.

Confidence Interval

The worst part is that's the millisigma interval.

Setting the story straight on quite a few issues

Sometimes, I understand why jwz.org redirects you to particularly nasty web cruft if you hit it from news.ycombinator.com, aka Hacker News. It's because of the unseemly element that comes out of the sewers on there sometimes.

I wrote a post a few hours ago. It's about onboarding that sucked. It was about them building a process that worked like a damn pressure cooker when there were absolutely no stakes involved.

That, then, brought out the bad element. Instead of trying to engage with the biggest trouble spots directly, I figured I'd just pop their balloons right here.

...

Point: "she is definitely not a team player"

I think you meant to say "I don't sit there and take it like a good little dog". That's orthogonal to "being a team player". You don't go along with the team if the team is doing bad things.

Or, well, maybe the person who said this would. But I don't. Funny how that works.

...

Point: "runs from boring stuff instead of trying to fix it"

Boring stuff? It was -stupid- stuff. Patronizing stuff. You're given a class and then they immediately turn around and ask you "what did you learn" and if you don't spit it back at them letter-for-letter, it doesn't enable the [next] button on the form?

You have to realize that if you're going to do this, it has to be about high stakes stuff where it absolutely matters if you get it right. I'm talking about compliance issues, legal issues, safety issues, finance issues, pre-IPO quiet period issues, you know, that kind of shit.

It's NOT about "what does the XYZ team do for the company". But that's what the presentation was about, and that's what you were expected to parrot back into the form. "The XYZ team runs analyses on foo data to get insights for the bar product".

The XYZ team, incidentally, was none of those important things. It was about as far from that as you can imagine.

...

Point: "hides in a corner"

I was actually sitting as close to my manager's desk location as I could. I wasn't in a corner, I was on an aisle that aimed directly at his desk. To be any closer, I would have had to sit on the floor blocking the hallway and make the laptop even harder to use. Plus then I wouldn't have had any power.

But still, thanks for hyperbole to try to make me look bad! You have no idea what went on there, and you think you just HAVE to insert yourself into it.

I've worked with people like you. I don't like people like you.

...

Point: "maybe they hand out desks in onboarding"

Point: "she didn't try to fix anything"

No, they do not hand out desks in onboarding. I had actually talked to the admin person for the area a couple of times about this. Nothing had happened. So, I fixed it for myself. You don't know this because I didn't write about it yet. So, here, I'll do it right now.

You know the scene in the original Jurassic Park where they're in the helicopter, trying to get their seat belts on, and one of them comes up with two like ends so they won't snap together? People are freaking out but he just ties the damn things in a knot and carries on?

That's me. That's what I do. So, what did I do here? I fixed shit.

Once it became clear they weren't going to set me up, I set myself up. I met some of the other folks in the area and asked about a desk that seemed to be unused. They confirmed that it was not assigned, and so I landed there. It wasn't a great location, being right on the aisle and subject to high traffic, but it was a desk. I told the powers that be to MAKE that my desk location, and so it was done.

(Go on, call me entitled for daring to fix my own problem instead of leaving it to the person who was supposed to do it, but didn't.)

I got a monitor... which then did not manage to power the laptop properly. Yes, despite it being USB-C and an Actual Honest To God HP Cable (tm), it would not actually charge the laptop. The laptop would in fact *slowly discharge* when it was on there, assuming the display came up at all. Oh, and the monitor would complain about the cable not being a HP cable, despite having come out of the box with the (HP) monitor, and being labeled clearly on the side.

What did I do? I took the train down to Burlingame one afternoon, hit the Apple store, bought a bunch of adapters and other stuff, then brought in my own keyboard, mouse, power strip, and everything else that hadn't been provided, and got it working.

I took this pile of crap and managed to make it go. It took a while but I eventually had a solid setup... even if I had to plug in three cables (Apple power brick, monitor, Ethernet adapter) every time I brought the machine to my desk. I'd gladly do that than have the supposed single-cable solution that doesn't actually work.

You see, I can make things work. It's just that I have the *gall* to talk about the fact that they were broken to begin with. People hate that. Well, some people do. The people writing those comments definitely do.

...

Point: "intolerance to frustration"

You got the point about still being here doing this work decades later, right? If I couldn't put up with bouts of frustration, I would have peaced out a long time ago. EVERYTHING about this tech stuff is needlessly frustrating far too often, in part because of people like the author of the above point who create garbage and expect everyone else to put up with it.

Again, it's that I'm talking about it. The fact that it's broken in the first place is completely lost on some people. I'm just not allowed to talk about it.

This is how tremendous badness is allowed to continue in this world of ours: people being shouted down when they describe a bad situation.

...

Point: "why put yourself through such misery"

Friends had reached out to me. "We need a director for our reliability software engineering stuff". They asked for my help. They wanted to build something good, like the early days of a few former places I had worked at. I was willing to help out, but honestly, only as a contractor. I had enough of the full time tech thing for one lifetime already.

They were actually willing to talk about that, and so a time was set for a call to figure things out. The call was to be at 1 PM that afternoon. You know what hit the news that morning? $COMPANY files for IPO. ARGH!

Did I really want to do this again? It could be amazing. It could be a good thing. They want me there. Plus, the universe seems to be throwing a giant red flashing arrow at me saying "get in here, stupid".

I had an opportunity to land and support them through the IPO. Then if it worked out, maybe it would be worth something some day. Plus, my friends were there, and it would be nice to work with them again.

That's about how it played out in my head. That's why I gave up my relative freedom and committed to a Real Job and a commute and a boss and all of that stuff once again.

Tell me, reader, that you would honestly skip out on that situation. Remember, you were already willing to work with them on their problems. You just didn't want to be an employee. But then something happens with the potential for enormous upside ... but ONLY IF you join as an employee.

What would you do? You'd take the damn job. Of course you would.

Don't judge me for doing the same thing you would have done.

...

Point: (anything about not recognizing the CEO on my third day there)

Not everyone is a Zuck type, ok? You are not going to know who they are or what they look like beforehand unless you have been doing a lot of research to jam it into your head.

Now, consider that I was supposedly there to deal with technical problems. I was inhaling their infrastructure, not their org chart. As long as they weren't mulching babies or generally oppressing people (you know, like the competition), I had other things to worry about.

I learned who was who in due time. As it should be.

...

Point: (I didn't try to fix the onboarding problem)

Again, speaks to points not in evidence. You can't know that since I didn't say as much. The truth is: I *did* try to fix it. I reported it as broken and gave them detailed feedback when asked for it. I invited the head honcho of the onboarding / "training" group to follow up with me if there were any questions.

I heard nothing. Not so much as a peep.

Also, this wasn't just me. One of my friends had gone through the process about a month before, and apparently had the same allergic reaction to it that I did. He gave them feedback, too. They also ignored it.

Unfortunately, I only found out about his identical experience *after* it happened to me.

What's odd is that at some point, I managed to stumble onto the Google spreadsheet (yep) they were using to track feedback for the process. There were dozens of entries, and they were all gushing about it, like oh it was so good, and so fun! Please do more!

Part of me wonders if this is genuine, like these people actually enjoyed being gaslit into thinking that your boss is going to find out the results of your electronic scavenger hunt through the employee directory, or, indeed, that they would even care.

Another part of me wonders if they were being positive to the point of lying about it lest they be seen as a "negative person". Why? Because as the sewer rats have shown us, speaking the truth about badness brings out the teeth and the claws. They will take you apart for daring to pipe up about something that just does not make sense.

They can have their dishonest positivity. Someone has to deal with the actual problems in the world, and it starts by admitting they exist.

...

Point: (anything calling me entitled)

I find that this, like "unprofessional", is a word people whip out when they can't grapple with the actual topic at hand. It's a nice shortcut to know that they are not going to address the matter properly.

Go read pg's "How to Disagree". Then realize you're failing at it.

...

Point: "who is this person?"

Nobody you need to worry about.

...

Point: "why is this on HN?"

Someone posted it, and a bunch of other people voted on it. Don't look at me. I didn't touch this one.

I don't have a voting ring. I don't ask people to vote for stuff.

I don't send out e-mails that are like this:

Please get on your phone, turn off your wifi, and then navigate to HN, then to new, then find the post, THEN upvote it. Don't upvote it from the post itself.

The company, however, does. A LOT. (Explains a few things, doesn't it?)

As someone who tries to keep stupid shit off HN myself... this bothered me greatly. It's working against that which I try to shut down: spam.

...

Point: "inordinate amounts of time rewriting 18 year old C++ code to put appointments in their diary"

It's a diary, not an appointment book. Says it right there. It's where I write things when I'm not writing them here. You know, a diary?

Inordinate amounts of time? It took me a couple of hours once the brain fog and general malaise was lifted.

By the way, just because code is 18 years old doesn't mean it's bad. Shit, it might mean it's GOOD, because it managed to live 18 years without failing and being replaced in all that time. Ever consider that?

...

Point: "does everything by the most difficult and convoluted means possible"

It's easy to think that. I don't go looking for broken shit. It finds me, and then it breaks. Ask anyone who knows me in real life about my devices and how they just kind of curl up and die all the time. It's a damn curse. I didn't ask for things to go like this. They just do.

Assuming you're willing to admit that I might be halfway good at troubleshooting... why do you think that might be? Might it be because things are constantly breaking, and the only way forward is to dig in and fix it?

Again, I think this is more about the fact that for some people (and this commenter, for sure), I am not allowed to speak about the things that break. It's not that they break. It's that I *dare* mention it.

...

Point: (I demand "technological purity" and should be excluded during the hiring process)

Oh fuck no. If I demanded that, I'd never work anywhere for anyone on anything. Every single company has its share of crazy things going on. You have to accept that and go with it... but only up to a point.

But yes, I see why you would want to "screen" me out. People like me would ask you hard questions. And we can't have someone questioning your carefully-built house of cards, can we?

...

Point: "why post this for the world to see?"

Catharsis, and probably more than a little cabin fever. I *like* going outside, seeing the world, and talking with random people I meet. Guess what's been contraindicated for the past couple of months? Doing that.

Besides, why does anyone post anything, ever? Why do FB and Twitter exist? Why does HN have comments? Why isn't it just news postings?

But again, this sounds a lot like "you're not allowed to talk about this", doesn't it?

How do things change if we don't talk about them?

...

Point: "doesn't this catch up with you?"

Sure it does, it brings out the worst elements who then take a shit on me in the comments section. As does anything else on the Internet.

I'm sure it's kept me from being asked to join some companies, but you know what? That's not a place I'd want to work at or for, anyway.

There are plenty of people who see my writing for what it's supposed to be: a series of cautionary tales on how things can go wrong, and what to do to avoid them. They appreciate the honesty. They see value in having someone around who will notice things, not cover them up, not lie, and not pretend it's okay.

Then they reach out and we do business. It happens all the time.

Those are the folks I want to work with.

...

Point: (anything about company onboarding being automatically useful)

It's not. It can be, but it's not just because it's there.

Just because they put together a curriculum doesn't mean they know the first thing about actually delivering good, useful content that people actually need to know to do their jobs well.

I used to teach a class that new hires saw in the first week or two at a new company. I tuned the living crap out of that thing to make sure it was all "landing": that they understood me, that I wasn't going too quickly, that I wasn't relying on topics they hadn't encountered yet, and so on.

"Have you all heard about ODS and Scuba yet?" If they had, then I would continue with my story using those terms effortlessly. If they hadn't, I'd quickly explain and then continue, adjusting on the fly since this would be their first time seeing the user interfaces in my screenshots.

Did I rely on the fact that -usually- they had been to the data class before my class? Absolutely not, because things change, and you have to deal with the ground truth. Otherwise, you don't really care about your students.

...

Point: (not really about me, but dogs in the workplace)

I like dogs. I'm not a dog owner, but I do like hanging out with those dogs which I encounter in the world via friends, family, random other folks on the street, or whatever.

I also understand completely that other people can't deal with them. I don't even need to know why that is. They have their reasons, and I'm fine with that.

Since it's not a problem for me, I stay out of the way and let other people set the requirements based on their needs. This is the benefit of not being affected by it personally. I'm good either way.

Some of the people making non-dog-related points could learn from this.

...

Point: (I'm some kind of tool for not knowing about the butterfly keyboard)

I knew about it. I wasn't looking forward to it. And you know what, it wasn't great.

I had deliberately vectored around the whole butterfly keyboard situation by buying the very last Macbook Pro they made BEFORE they switched gears to the butterfly and the touch bar. As in, back in 2017. Yes, this very post is coming to you from what's left of that machine, an "early 2015" model. It's been falling apart at the hardware level and will shortly be replaced with something else, and I hope its replacement isn't awful.

And no, it's not because of abuse. The GPU keeps panicing and when I went to take a look for obvious signs of batshittery under the hood, I found the battery had decided to turn itself into a bomb. This is for a computer I have treated very well over the years, as I tend to do.

So now I have a LiPo bomb on my hands that needs to be disposed properly during this twilight zone shit where a lot of things are closed down... and a laptop that will go into a GPU loop where the graphics freeze and it has to be power cycled. (Yes, even "ssh in + sudo reboot" doesn't work. You can ssh in, but the reboot never runs.)

Oh, and, with the battery removed (which was a real pain in the ass), the GPU still flips out, so it's not something caused by the battery still being in there. Whatever happened, if it was related, wound up making some kind of lasting change to the system that I haven't tracked down yet.

I tell you, my stuff breaks on me. I don't MAKE it break.

Just some red flags. No big deal. Just ignore them.

Onboarding at a new company can be a weird thing. Besides the very corporate-sounding name itself (that makes some of us think "waterboarding"), there are some odd ways they try to "teach" the new employees.

Here's a situation: you're in a conference room with about a dozen other new people. You're handed a touch bar Macbook Pro in a backpack. It's the first such model you've ever used, and you're discovering that your natural typing position overhangs the top row of numbers, and is triggering the "meta" functions which typically live there: brightness up/down, volume up/down, and whatever else might be there from the context of the program you're in.

Also, the keyboard is the infamous "butterfly" one, and this is your first time on one of them. You've heard about it but this is your first tango with this particular thing. It turns out to not be very nice. You're making lots of mistakes, despite having decades of typing experience at relatively high speeds. You start feeling very old.

They have you do a bunch of random crap to get signed in to things. They have a half-assed "single sign on" system that really isn't, and there are a bunch of vendors which require their own authorization stuff. You have to install a bunch of apps on your (personal!) phone to do the two-factor auth and other security stuff: there's Duo, then the Google app, and then Lastpass. You also get to sign in to all of this stuff on the laptop itself, making typing errors galore along the way, and triggering things on the touch bar.

Anyway, at some point, you get this going, and now it's time to start "installing" the dev environment. You run a bunch of arcane commands, including something where you "curl" something from a provided URL, and pipe it into a shell, thus letting it do whatever it wants to do. There is not a proper installer per se.

This starts downloading multiple gigabytes of data. You and the other dozen-or-so people are all doing this at the same time, in the same enclosed space, on the same wireless network. Most of you are sitting in the middle of the room and thus are not next to a wall with power outlets. Your laptop heats up, and the fan ramps up. The battery starts ticking down.

Then they ask you to minimize that, because it's time for the next thing. Let it finish in the background, they said. It has to run for a long time and this way we can move on to the next stage.

Yes, someone's here to try to teach the group how to use the internal systems. Everyone is to go out to this survey company's web site and type in a password they've written on the marker board. You know those surveys where companies ask if you liked their service at your last transaction? It's that kind of thing.

You're supposed to go dive into the internal tooling to look at the directory of employees. You're supposed to find your manager's name and type it in, followed by their title. Then you're supposed to find out the name of the person who has a specific title somewhere else in the company.

You HAVE to type it in correctly. Until you do, it won't let you click [next]. They tell you not to click back or reload or anything like that, since "you may screw it up".

Did I mention there's a timer ticking down during all of this? It starts at maybe 2 minutes and it's just there, going 1:59, 1:58, 1:57, 1:56, ... and so on the whole time.

This is basically the perfect environment for creating stress and general hatred of terrible systems. One of the questions was "name a dog", because, well, the company directory included pets. I couldn't find one quickly. You were supposed to just click around the org chart until you found one.

Now, when I run into a thing like this, I start getting snarky and bitchy and start thinking laterally. Like, okay, watch me not use your stupid system but get the answer anyway. Case in point: there had been a dog in the room the day before. I just called out to the room: "Hey, what was the name of the dog that was in here before? Sensor? Morsel? Six letters?" ... and the answer came back: "Nugget". I typed it in and it worked. "Thanks!"

It went on like this, asking more idiotic questions and sending me on wild goose chases through their stupid tools. Finally, it said "stop here until the next part" and noted that I had done only 30% of it so far. Yes, there was much more to go, plus who knows how many other modules were going to be executed this way. GROAN.

Another part had you pair up with someone else. You both had laptops, but one was purposely ignored for this, so you had to hand the one back and forth (or slide it on the table, whatever). Your failings were now someone else's problem. More stress and hatred of a terrible process.

It gets better, too: they had claimed (and lied) that "your manager will be able to see the results of this". First of all, I doubt that was true. Second, my manager wouldn't give a rat's ass what the results of it would be. Third, I've been doing this long enough that I don't care even if they could find out that I hate their terrible "intranet" tools and moronic timed treasure hunt for dog names and people's titles and did poorly at it.

They say stuff like that to scare the junior folks. It's bullshit. I know it and treat it as such, but they don't, and probably worry. Seeing it happen told me that they treat everyone like children, even their brand new software people. Bad sign.

After another hour of this, I had enough. I told my table-mate (the one with the other laptop) "well, see you around". He asked if I was "done for the day" and I just said "yep". Then I got up and quietly exited. I never went back to any of the water^H^H^H^H^Honboarding classes. It turned out to not matter.

I was pretty bummed, and got on the train to go home.

The next day, I went in and just avoided the onboarding area. I should mention that nobody had requested or set up a desk for me, so I wound up camped like a refugee in some common space that was set up like a restaurant booth. Some friends who had already been at the company reached out and provided their own take on how to get started, and I went from that. I got my footing and started doing mildly useful things as a self-driven starter project.

If not for them reaching out and helping me, I probably would have just called it done right there and walked. Instead, they supported me. Of course, that just meant I got to stick around for the rest of the insanity that was my 2019, and wound up leaving anyway a year later.

...

Epilogue: while sitting there sans desk one day, by total chance, my manager walked by, spotted me for the first time since I had started, and asked if I was going to "the fireside chat" with some new incoming upper management type. I had no idea it even was a thing, but he said I should go, and so up I went with him.

We were a little early and people were standing around. I wound up being introduced to someone and I said hello. He found out it was now my third day at the company and he asked "do you have a desk yet", and I said I did not. It was funny, right, being asked that with my new boss right there. But hey, honest questions get honest answers, and that's what he got.

I later found out the person asking the question was the CEO. Awesome. Maybe he meant it as a joke, but I was dead serious: I had no desk.

As for why I didn't recognize the CEO: I had just started, and it's not like I memorize names and faces of these people. Hello, stalker-ville or ass-kisser-ville, and I am neither. I'll learn them as I need to learn them, and indeed, in due time, picked up the names and faces as it came up.

...

In retrospect, there were many red flags. Well, pink flags. Whatever.


May 23, 2020: This post has an update.

Discovering the hypocrisy gap in reliability the hard way

I like the model of having a weekly meeting, preferably Friday morning, where the company sits down and talks about what broke recently. You might call it "SEV Review" or "Incident Management Review" or something else of the sort. It's "the best meeting of the week", as someone else once put it.

Such a meeting only really works if it's attended by the right people. What do I mean by that? Well, obviously, whoever worked on fixing things probably needs to be there. Whoever broke it (if that's someone else) probably needs to be there. Then, whoever *was broken by it* might need to be there. (That's how you find out the actual impact.)

Then you need some people who go every week, who I call my "usual suspects". It should be a good mix of management and non-management types who go often, learn how things work, and keep track of patterns that emerge. They ask questions and don't settle until they know what actually happened. They don't necessarily take the report at face value. They should also know a lot of good contacts in the company in order to send people in the right direction -- "go talk to so and so, since they already solved for this and it'll save you a lot of time".

This meeting also needs a couple of people who have technical chops and are able to convince people to actually do their damn jobs to deliver on the commitments to fix things. This, unfortunately, almost always comes in the form of upper management - VP and above, usually. It's not just enough for them to attend, either. They have to be there and be willing to wield the big stick and shut down teams which are reckless, foolhardy, and which don't give a crap about keeping things from breaking.

One of the best instances of one of these meetings I can remember is when the resident VP told a team to just stop. They were no longer allowed to work on features or whatever shiny stuff they thought wanted to do. They had to stop right there and clean up the messes which had been breaking the site and bringing them to the review week after week.

It was epic. Nobody forgot that meeting. Just reading about it will probably remind some of my coworkers from back then about it.

Why does this matter? Well, first of all, you have to stop the clowns from setting the rest of the circus on fire. Fixing the reliability issue is a big deal. Second, actions like this show to the rest of the company that you can't just screw around forever, and that eventually, teams will answer for their recklessness and disregard for safe practices. Nobody gets a pass at this kind of thing.

Some of the worst instances of these meetings I've seen are where there is no enforcement from on high. There are zero consequences for blowing it off and not taking it seriously. You can ignore the best practices. You can fail to deliver on the requested changes that have been shown to work in the past and that should keep a problem from happening again.

Oh, there might even be a VP in the loop, but if they don't get involved, it doesn't matter. The whole process is a sham and should be shut down. Sometimes they make it obvious by just not attending any more. That should be your hint that they really don't care about reliability, any work in that dimension is folly, and you should find something else to do post haste.

It took me a while to figure this out. I realized that there is what upper management is willing to SAY they care about, and then there is what those same people are willing to ACT ON by leaning on teams, and yes, firing people who get in the way.

If you draw these out on a marker board, it might look like this:

              ---       <-- what they say they care about
 
 
 
 
              ---       <-- what they actually deliver on

That space in the middle? I called it the hypocrisy gap.

So then, what happens if you're just a high-level non-manager type who's tasked with improving this stuff? You probably have your own "level", too. What happens next depends on whether it syncs up with upper management or not.

If you're delivering *exactly* what they actually deliver on, you're a top-tier engineer. You'll go far. You are perfectly aligned with their hypocrisy.

If you're below that point, well, then you're not so great, obviously.

If you're somewhere in the hypocrisy gap, they'll probably be very happy with you, but not understand why you're plowing energy into something that they are not. Can't they see that you don't actually care about it that much? You should be more like them and save your effort for something else, like coming up with new ways to spend the VC money.

And finally, if you're somehow managing to come in above their top line (what they say they care about), then ... well, you're just nuts. They'll see you as being completely insane, since you care about something beyond even the point that they CLAIM to care about. Only a maniac would want something like that.

One key thing about this: I haven't mentioned the absolute levels of any of this yet. Whether you are seen as good, bad, or crazy is entirely relative to the powers that be in your organization. It doesn't matter if terrible things are happening. If they don't care about it, YOU caring about it will not be seen as valuable, and indeed, will turn into a liability.

Here, let me invent some scenarios that should seem terrible to you.

"The entire company's database credentials were committed to a public GitHub repository!"

"People are using public gists to store sensitive customer information!"

"Anyone can open this door with a plastic library card and a potato!"

"People are setting up vendor relationships to get kickbacks!"

"Middle management is inventing situations that didn't happen in order to get HR to intimidate them into shutting up about actual problems!"

Guess what? If they don't think those are problems to the point of acting on it, then they don't actually care. If they don't, and you do, that makes YOU the problem. Congratulations! You are in for a rough ride.

Unless you report directly to the CEO or Board of Directors, don't think you can do anything about it. Pack it up and get out of there.

Otherwise, well, prepare to be put out to pasture.

Moooooo.

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Case study: Payments and trust (Monzo)

By [email protected] (RevK)

Credit (and debit) cards are immensely useful, and I am even more appreciative of them after the fiasco with a holiday refund. Amex were great.

But there is always a balance of trust with customer and supplier, and a range of ways to manage that. Cards provide a good means to handle suppliers that fail. Direct Debits also offer some high level of bias towards the customer, which is very important because of how easy it is to collect payments. This ability to claim for a mistake helps ensure Direct Debits are rarely used for fraud.

For the most part, whichever type of payment is used, where supplier and customer are both honest, all goes well. Sadly when one or the other is not so honest, or even something unexpected, like a global pandemic, happens, the way you pay for things matters.

But some times, as a supplier, you want a reliable payment that you know cannot be clawed back or reversed. This is, of course, a huge bias towards the supplier, and away from the customer, but it is also rather "traditional" in that cash payment was always irreversible.

Bank transfers via BACS, or fast payments, provide this - they are like cash, and generally impossible to reverse as the person paying. Obviously the person paid can send money back if they want. They do create an audit trail, you know where the money went (unlike cash), which helps with any possible fraud.

As a business we do a lot with Direct Debits. This puts a lot of control in the hands of the customer who can make a DD guarantee claim at any time, and we would have to reimburse the bank. Thankfully this is rare, but it does allow some opportunity for fraud by a rogue customer using someone else's bank details. This is one reason why suppliers are expected to check the bank details of new DD instructions where they can. That is not so easy.

Thankfully Monzo have opened up an interesting new option for us - a deposit by fast payment!

We have started asking for a deposit, for new accounts, optionally, for some services (VoIP and L2TP). Just £10 paid by bank transfer as part of the order process. We see it instantly, and it provides the bank details for setting up the Direct Debit for on-going payment.

We have even set it up so that we will automatically send the money back in a few days if the order does not go through.

Whilst we face very little fraud, we have found some services, like VoIP, have had issues. Providing the service instantly, even in the middle of the night, means that false/fraudulent details do not show up for a couple of days, or much longer. Until now we have actually blocked some types of out-of-hours VoIP orders because of this, which is not ideal.

Taking payment by card would be an option, but that too is rather biased to the card holder, and does not allow us to validate bank details for Direct Debit. We have had cases of card fraud too.

The deposit is optional, but we are making it so that the order can go ahead instantly if you make a deposit. At the end of the day this is not about the £10, it is that a scammer will not want to send any money. If it is their account, those account details can go to the police if there is fraud. They are creating much more of a paper trail by sending money. Of course if they have compromised someone else's account they can send a deposit, but I am sure they have more interesting things they can send money towards than our services in such cases. I hope so.

This means we have opened up the VoIP ordering at any time of day if you pay a small deposit. Ongoing payments are then by Direct Debit, which give the customer a lot of control if we do anything wrong, but we are able to ensure we have the right bank details that match the deposit. It seems to me to be a good trade off - the trust/risk is biased to us for first £10 and then to customer ongoing by Direct Debit.

We have been running it for a few days, and in spite of it very clearly being optional, so far, every new customer has chosen to pay a deposit - which is really great news. Apart from one test we ran to ensure we do auto-refund, nobody has given up on an order after paying a deposit, either.

It is a very different approach to taking credit cards, which is so common these days, and I think it is working well. And it is all down to Monzo providing the instant feedback for us via a web hook for the incoming payment.

If someone does not want to pay a deposit, that is fine, but it means accounts staff checking the order during office hours, and adds a small delay. So it is a choice people can make if they want, either way.

I am really pleased that Monzo have meant this is now possible. It is a shame the major existing banks did not think it worth while providing this level of control and information to their customers really. Well done Monzo!

P.S. Sales pitch - if you are a business and need this type of integration, we know people that can help you (some A&A customers we work with).

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