Facebook asks for a moat of regulations it already meets

Josh Constine, writing for TechCrunch:

“It’s suspiciously convenient that Facebook already fulfills most of the regulatory requirements it’s asking governments to lay on the rest of the tech industry. ... We already saw this happen with GDPR. The idea was to strengthen privacy and weaken exploitative data collection that tech giants like Facebook and Google depend on for their business models. The result was that Facebook and Google actually gained or only slightly lost EU market share while all other adtech vendors got wrecked by the regulation, according to WhoTracksMe.”

Suspicious, no; convenient, yes; par for the course — also yes. What a surprise.

Holiday Fitness

I took two weeks off work around Christmas. I spent the first touring Arizona, and the second at my parents’ farm in Ohio. After a 605lb deadlift PR in early December, I felt like a break from the gym. Plus, I did not workout for the three weeks I spent driving up the east coast in 2018. Gym access did not factor into this trip’s planning process either, and so over those fifteen days, I worked out three times. Today, I want to share some thoughts about fitness on the road.

The Honest Guide to Meditation

I like most of Leo Babauta’s work, but this one disappointed me. He titled it The Honest Guide to Mindfulness, but a more apt title would have been The Honest Guide to Meditation — because he talked about nothing else. Meditation, though, is a practice some have used to become more mindful, not the goal itself, and by no means the epitome of mindfulness.

My favorite explanation of mindfulness came from an episode of Back to Work, in which Merlin Mann described it as the ability to watch cars go by without feeling the need to jump in. The patent absurdity of this analogy made the value of mindfulness value clear, when he explained that the cars symbolized our emotions: temporary, quick to change, and far too often dictated by people and situations over which we have no control. The goal of mindfulness — which, again, some have found through meditation — is not to do the impossible, to wrestle back from a chaotic world command over those cars, but rather to regain control of the one actor in that scenario you have any hope of influencing: yourself.

You will never control which cars come, when they go by, or who drives them, but you can — with practice — learn to control their ability to hijack your life. An honest guide to that, real mindfulness, may have done some good.

Denis Shiryaev used neural networks to upscale a famous 1896 video to 4k quality

This is such a cool idea: Denis Shiryaev used Gigapixel AI’s neural network to upscale a classif video from 1896 into 4k; as Timothy Bee points out, a similar approach could then add color.

One of my long-term projects involves making the small part of the internet I use every day available offline. As I lean toward a more nomadic lifestyle, I may not always have ready access to the familiar shows I stream on Netflix, for example, or that one news article from a few weeks ago. A single hard drive could store everything I have ever watched, read, and listened to, though, and so I want to make that happen. This goes well with one of my other long-term projects, which involves curating evergreen digital media for posterity’s sake. Think of the former as every movie I have ever watched, and the latter as the classics I want to save for my kids. There are many subltle challenges to this, but none so obvious as the fact that even video from a few years ago looks bad on modern displays. Denis’s demonstration gives me hope that this may not always be the case.

Command-line Tools can be 235x Faster than your Hadoop Cluster

I love stories like Adam’s. Too many people propose complex solutions to simple problems because they get excited about building something cool, and lose sight of their actual purpose: building a useful tool. I see this all the time at work. In this case, another developer used a Big Data approach for a Small Data problem, and Adam shows how a much simpler — but less cool(?) — one would have got it done much, much faster. Had this other developer understood the underlying technologies, and taken some time for premature optimization, he might have gotten there himself.

Sequential Exeuction, Multiprocessing, and Multithreading IO-Bound Tasks in Python

Python makes concurrency easy. It took less than an hour to add multiprocessing to my blog engine, First Crack, and I have used it often since. Everyone likes to call premature optimization the root of all evil, but architecting programs for concurrent execution from the start has saved me hundreds of hours in large data capture and processing projects. Color me a Knuth skeptic. This article compares sequential execution, multiprocessing, and multithreading for IO-Bound tasks in Python, with simple code samples along the way.

Good times create weak men

Nikita Prokopov, on the growing complexity of software and the shrinking number of people who understand it:

“In programming, we are developing abstractions at an alarming rate. When enough of those are stacked, it becomes impossible to figure out or control what’s going on down the stack. ... Docker and Electron are the most hyped new technologies of the last five years. Both are not about improving things, figuring out complexity or reducing it. Both are just compromised attempts to hide accumulated complexity from developers because it became impossible to deal with.”

I saw this in college, when even Computer Science students favored complex and bloated frameworks over their own code. I make a concerted effort to counter it in my own projects: First Crack, the custom blog engine behind this site, uses vanilla Python 2 or 3 and has no dependencies. If you decide to code, you don’t have to start with C — but you should learn it. I resisted this during college, but two years into my career, I have come around: the lower you go, the better you will understand things higher in the stack. With greater understanding comes an increased ability to influence those things, which, in turn, will make you better at your job.

Michal Charemza brought up another good point in Mini HTTP guide for developers:

“Frameworks often hide/abstract parts of HTTP away. I think this is often a bit of a shame: it hides what’s possible with HTTP, and so can lead to effects on engineering decisions.”

By learning to use frameworks instead of the tools and protocols they implement, developers not only miss out on foundational knowledge that will help them become better at their job, but also hamstring themselves to the subset of features the frameworks’ creators’ felt important enough to enable. Expanding a project beyond that expected use case will require diving into those low-level tools and protocol—-which, again, you do not have to start with, but you should learn at some point.

Trump's Surprising Embrace of Industrial Policy to Fight China

I took some time to update Keeping Up with Current Events and My Evening Reads over the holidays, which involved adding Matt Stoller’s excellent newsletter BIG to the list of sources that help me stay informed. His most recent issue, Trump’s Surprising Embrace of Industrial Policy to Fight China, is a prime example of the shrewd analysis that makes it so interesting. This issue is a great way to start the new year, and new subscribers will find his roundup of 2019’s best posts at its beginning helpful, too.

What Happens When Your Career Becomes Your Whole Identity

Janna Koretz, writing for Harvard Business Review, on an interesting phenomenon called enmeshment. Working in a profession known to encourage and reward workaholism, I see this often — and work to counter it where possible.

Why are RV's so poorly made?

Andrew Zaleski digs into the factors contributing to the RV market’s notorious lack of quality. I thought a lot about getting an RV instead of my first house, but this pushed me away from buying an RV then and ensured that when I do decide to go that route, I will build it myself.

Updates to My Morning and Evening Reads

I spent enough time Internet-less this holiday season that I had a chance to catch up on a few administrative tasks. One of those involved updating Keeping Up with Current Events and My Evening Reads to reflect new sites, feeds, and newsletters I now follow, as well as those I no longer read. I work hard to educate myself and stay informed, and I encourage you to check those posts out as a great starting point to doing the same for yourself.

This Page is Designed to Last

Jeff Huang, echoing a point I made in Own Your Platform, in his piece on the importance of building websites that stand the test of time:

“I’ve recommended my students to push websites to Heroku, and publish portfolios on Wix. Yet every platform with irreplaceable content dies off some day. Geocities, LiveJournal, what.cd, now Yahoo Groups. One day, Medium, Twitter, and even hosting services like GitHub Pages will be plundered then discarded when they can no longer grow or cannot find a working business model.”

And then, later, he echoes a point I made in How to Own Your Platform, about the vulnerable position relying on trendy third-party frameworks puts you in:

“... a growing set of libraries and frameworks are making the web more sophisticated but also more complex. First came jquery, then bootstrap, npm, angular, grunt, webpack, and more. If you are a web developer who is keeping up with the latest, then that’s not a problem. But if not, maybe you are an embedded systems programmer or startup CTO or enterprise Java developer or chemistry PhD student, sure you could probably figure out how to set up some web server and toolchain, but will you keep this up year after year, decade after decade? Probably not, and when the next year when you encounter a package dependency problem or figure out how to regenerate your html files, you might just throw your hands up and zip up the files to deal with ‘later’. Even simple technology stacks like static site generators (e.g., Jekyll) require a workflow and will stop working at some point. You fall into npm dependency hell, and forget the command to package a release.”

Run your website, and own the production stack. Jeff has some some good ideas, but do not paper over poor back-end design with good front-end work. Own your platform, so that you can ensure both will stand the test of time.

'No One Wins if War Extends Into Space'

“We’re at an inflection point today in the idea of space being developed as its own domain. When you look at the threats that we have today, there’s some similarity to what we had in the ‘80s. That waned in the ’90s and that led us to the idea of space as an uncontested area, so we designed space architecture based off the fact that we wouldn’t really be threatened in space. Today you’ve got a pretty much more aggressive threat. So that space area of operations is the area that we focus on for protecting and defending critical assets as we look at the growing threat from our adversaries.”

Replace “space” with “cyberspace”, and BG James could have said this twenty years ago about the fifth domain.

Why Teslas Are Bad At Towing

Jason Fenske does a nice job explaining why the Cybertruck will not tow well: high efficiency gives electric vehicles competitive ranges despite their batteries’ low energy capacity, but also means that even a light, 5,000 pound trailer will slash that figure. In distance = energy / force, a small numerator (low capacity) causes range to drop off much faster as the denominator (towed weight) increases. See the blue graph below, which depicts range (the y-axis) as a function of towed weight (the x-axis). Traditional vehicles, although less efficient, have vast energy stores; in their case, a high numerator means the denominator has much less of an impact as it increases. See this in the green graph.

Force graph with a high versus low numerator

As I said about the Cybertruck last week, “it’s not a very good sportscar, and it’s not a very good truck.” I still think electric vehicles will revolutionize the overland space, but it will take years for the batteries to get there.

Update on February 18, 2020: Jalopnik posted a quick writeup on an Audi E-Tron’s range with and without a large trailer. The trailer cut range in half. See the post here: An Audi E-Tron Towed A GM EV1 From Tulsa To Austin, Range Was Affected

Lightning Round

I often see articles that I would like to talk about, but that I do not feel warrant a whole post here. Twitter is the obvious choice for quips like these, but I have little love for the service, prefer to keep all my work on my own platform, and feel that nuanced opinions should not come in 280 character bursts. Occasional “lightning rounds” will fill that gap. Together, a handful of these micro posts will make a full one, giving me somewhere to share things that used to just slip through the cracks.

First Crack Release Notes, November 2019

A few days late, again, but here it is: First Crack’s release notes for November, 2019. Again in October, like in September, I spent most of my dev time on an Instapaper-like read later service. I use it every day, and plan to release it. I did get a couple things done, though; once again, I did not neglect First Crack entirely.

Thoughts on Tesla's Cybertruck

I like to think about things. To riff off Austin Kleon, I want to become a professional writer so that I can be a professional thinker. For now, though, as I have said many times before, I write to clarify, condense, and record my thoughts. I have sat down today to talk about Tesla’s new Cybertruck — not because the Internet needs one more hot take, but rather to pursue those goals.

How to Encourage a Blogging Culture at Your Company

I like this post a lot, and the idea even more: Noah Gibbs lays out some good reasons to encourage a culture of blogging within an organization, and solid strategies for getting started. My boss floated an idea like this a few weeks ago, and while I had my doubts at first, time — and this piece — have changed my mind. More to follow.