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Thanks for visiting. You can read more about me in the About page. Recent blog entries from all categories are below. You might also want to filter blog entries by tags that interest you.


Rehumanize Yourself

Lately, it feels like all of us have developed a more uneasy relationship with social media; our natural (and proper) inclinations towards free speech and free expression of views have been tempered by stories about former Facebook managers describing just how they designed the site to be addictive, or, even worse, Facebook's inadvertent but clear role in facilitating violence against ethnic or social groups, most notably in Myanmar. On Twitter, "doomscrolling" has become a popular term to describe the feeling of constantly searching through feeds, looking for that next hit of information.

Buried somewhere in there are the things that are truly important to us, whether that's connecting with friends and family, exchanging ideas, pursuing hobbies, and even organizing positive social change. As a software engineer, I can point out that there are better platforms out there, but the commercial social networks have democratized access for people whose lives don't revolve around computers. If I want to get the latest from my local bakery or band, the odds are good that I'll find them on Facebook, not on their own website.

And none of these problems are new; I have been dealing with my own insatiable desire for information for a long time. RSS feeds and email newsletters have been a daily part of my life for fifteen years or more now. That's why I'm surprised that among the many articles of late that rightfully express concern about the role these products play in our lives, I have seen little that provides specific, actionable advice on how to help yourself moderate them. Below, I'll offer some practices that I follow. All the tools I mention are free and shouldn't take more than a few minutes to set up.

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Every Star Trek Series

After more than five years, I've finally finished watching every Star Trek film, television show, and... whatever we call Internet-native series like Star Trek: Discovery. At their best, they've been a companion, conscience, and inspiration: at their worst, they're just bad. In the interest of justifying all that time spent, I thought I should write down some of my impressions.

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Doctor Who's Regeneration

One of the joys of traveling is experiencing new things, things that you can't get in your home country.

I'm speaking, of course, of the vagaries of global television licensing. I've fallen behind on Doctor Who the last few years -- the show seemed to be losing momentum and it was increasingly difficult and expensive to keep up. It's not available through the subscription streaming services in the United States, so I would've had to pay by the episode or pick up the Blu-rays.

When I arrived in New Zealand, I was very happy to find that Netflix could suddenly provide me with every season of the revived series up to Peter Capaldi's finale, and that TVNZ, the local public broadcaster, let me stream the latest season, Jodie Whittaker's first, for free.

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Dust Masks and the Politician's Syllogism

In our lives, we're constantly challenged by far more than we can fully understand. I work on complex systems for a living; my interests lie in reducing the harm those complex systems can do because we can't fully understand them. My work is with computers, but it's fascinating to look into other fields and learn from them.

This past fall I found myself feeling trapped indoors. I was living in South Korea, and for the first time in my life was forced to confront what millions -- maybe billions -- of people face every day: nearly constant, dangerous levels of air pollution.

I found myself falling into a common mental trap; I could see it in others as well. The politician's syllogism describes it well:

  1. We must do something
  2. This is something
  3. Therefore, we must do this.

I felt trapped and powerless; of course, I wanted to protect myself from this air pollution and keep myself healthy. So I started doing research and taking actions. I started observing what other people were doing.

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Using Duplicity backup with Amazon Glacier storage

Update, 2020-07-05: Duplicity now supports Glacier and Glacier Deep Archive natively; that's a much better choice than using these scripts.

Duplicity's not a bad choice for making secure backups on Linux. It uses GnuPG to encrypt data and integrates well with typical Unix workflows. Best of all, it has support for many storage backends; the same tool can be used to back up to a USB stick or to Amazon S3.

I also use Tarsnap. Tarsnap has a smarter model than Duplicity for incremental backups that allows for deletion of old data. However, it's also tightly tied to the most reliable form of Amazon's S3 storage, which can make it relatively expensive.

Therefore, I use a hybrid model, where critical, extremely security-sensitive data is stored in Tarsnap, and the bulk of my personal data is backed up to a USB drive and cloud storage via Duplicity.

Even so, as I uploaded more Duplicity files into Amazon S3, I wanted to save more money. Duplicity doesn't have direct support for Amazon's super-cheap, super-slow Glacier service, but it's possible to ship objects in S3 buckets to Glacier without too much difficulty. Now, I spend less than a dollar a month on remote backup.

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Emails to Yourself: Making Departures and Arrivals Easy

This past summer, I visited more than twenty-five European towns and cities. Every few days, I had to orient myself to a new town, find where I was staying, know who to call if I couldn't find it. To get there, I usually had to find a bus, train, or flight in a place I had never seen before; I had to know what track to get to, and where to make tight connections. I might be sleep-deprived; my phone might've stopped connecting to the local mobile phone network -- or, as in rural Scotland, there just might not be any network available. Thankfully, the age of paper travel documents is largely behind us. So I started writing emails to myself.

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