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isn't quite ashamed enough to present

jr conlin's ink stained banana

:: Failure Favor

Dear Web Devs,

Hi, can i ask you a favor?

Web pages are complicated beasts. There’s lots of moving parts as things get pulled in from all over. Which means, there’s more than a fleeting chance that for random reasons and efficiency bits of the page may “go missing”. A broken image may be one thing, but a missing CSS file is quite another.

Can i ask y’all a favor? Turn off “style.css” for this page.

Can we make that a thing? Can we use CSS for good and help the rather high number of folks who don’t just know to force refresh a page (or even what that means) from thinking their computer is broken or been hacked? Basically, consider your page’s failure modes, and help out folks that may not understand what to do. Honestly, it’s not hard.

Let’s treat our users like we’d like to be treated when we’re not fully versed on automotive repair, furnace maintenance, municipal transit regulations, or all the stuff that they’re far smarter about than us. That’d be swell.

:: The Fall of the Tall Staff

Palo Alto, CA recently noted that they may consider offering housing subsidies to families that earn less than $250,000 a year. This is because three bedroom homes can go for $2,100,000.

This, of course, is insane, and a sure fire sign of impending demise for that city.

“Wait, what? It’s full of rich people. Surely, that’s a sign of success!” i hear you say.

Yes. Yes, it is. Thus the reason it’s going to fail.

After several millennia humans have pretty much discovered a workable strata for functioning societies. Turns out, you kind of need people at all the various income levels for things to work right. Have too many at a given level, and things go poorly, fast. Levels of per capita pretty much fit a bell curve, the majority of the population should make “middle-class” wages.

Have too many people below the median, you get cities that can’t afford to collect taxes for infrastructure support. Feel free to drive through sections of Michigan, West Virginia, Tennessee or similar if you want to see examples. Have too many people above the median? Nobody is willing to do “common” jobs like pick up trash, or work at counters, or do the hundreds of jobs that folks tend to ignore or easily dismiss. A “thriving” downtown in places like that are 30 storefronts, three of which are 1000 square foot “boutiques” only open alternate days when the spouse of the “money maker in the family” gets around to opening it for his friends. The rest are realtor offices.

These jobs are low income because nobody wants to pay a lot for them. Now, mind you, low income jobs require that there’s a trade off. If you’re earning minimum wage, there’s only so far you’re willing or able to travel to work that job. Mass transit ain’t free, neither is a car, and there’s significant issues with spending 6-8 hours commuting for $88 a day.

The problem is that Palo Alto isn’t alone. The surrounding communities (including the one i live in) are nearly as bad. Housing in the SF Bay Area is outrageous, and frankly unaffordable. i live in a 3 bed room, 2 bath house that could easily sell for $1.5 million. i paid far less for that, which is a good thing, because i cannot afford to buy my own home now. At one time, this was considered a “starter home”, aimed at folks moving in to support a near-by airbase. In other words, aimed toward the rising side of that income bell curve.

About half a mile away, are the “lower income” housing areas, mostly apartments full of families who’s parents bus tables, are janitors, delivery folk, stock runners, and cashiers, but there’s hardly enough folk there to support all the local jobs that need them. There are lots of “Help Wanted” signs in store fronts because the folks that used to be available have been pushed beyond the radius of where they can afford to commute in.

So, yeah, Palo Alto.

Honestly? i really hope that shops and restaurants close because they simply can’t find staff. i hope that garbage piles up, parks and public areas degrade, and people have to pay through the nose when their toilets clog. i hope that nobody can get a meal for less than $60 because all the cheap eats places had to close due to labor shortages. i hope that folks have to drive 30 minutes to get to a grocery store because all the ones nearer closed. i hope that whoever spent $2.1 Million dollars buying a 3 bedroom bungalow is either forced to sell at a loss or has their home foreclosed, because they were stupid for contributing to their own demise.

Look, folks, functioning communities need low income housing because rich folks are too lazy to take out the trash or vacuum their own cubes. Hell, i bet you see folks leave stained coffee cups on the kitchen counter instead of putting them in the freaking dish washer at work. You think they’re going to go empty the garbage cans at the park this weekend? You need folks who are not making dot com cash to be your uber drivers and pick up the phone when you call 911 at 2AM. You need that “undesirable” section of town (Really? Undesirable? Do you cut the crusts off your mayo and cream cheese on white bread sandwiches too?) because some folks can’t afford to buy a Tesla that matches their iPhone 6+.

You need those because you’re not going to do those jobs. While we’re at it, if you do live in Palo Alto (or one of the many “affluent” areas, your responsibility is to do things like pay your taxes without bitching constantly, say an earnest “Thanks” to folks that do the jobs you’ve been gleefully ignoring while you poke at your phone, and not grouse about how wonderful it would be if a Whole Foods went in where the Mercado Sanchez is. Also, feel free to not pay more than most game shows offer as a top prize for anything listed as a “fixer-upper”. Pay attention to the voice that says “Yeah, it’s nice, but Good God that’s a lot of money.”

Because it is.

And it’s only making matters worse.

Wall Street Journal has an article that hints about this problem in Menlo Park. Wonder if someone will create an app that will put your house fire out?

:: Black Electrical Tape Based Security

So, both Apple and Google have decided to be quiet about letting you know a page is not as secure as it should be. Instead of showing you a warning, they’ve opted to just show the page as insecure and not raise any concerns. It’s a fair point. Most folks STILL don’t know to look for the “lock icon” showing that a site is running a secure connection. Heck, this block runs in the clear currently. Why bother the user’s pretty little head with scary symbols?

Well, probably for the same reason that if your Factory Authorized Vehicle Service told you “Oh that? Yeah, just put some black tape over that “Check Engine” light. It’ll be fine!” you’d probably consider going somewhere else to get your brakes checked.

The problem is that the page has said “i’m going to be secure. Everything we talk about is going to be encrypted. It’s safe here, so you can talk about anything.”

Only it’s not. It’s invited friends, some of which can’t keep their mouths shut.

So the browser has instead said “Yeah, no, this isn’t a safe spot, so no encryption. No lock for you, but it’s a normal page.”

But it’s not. The site is going to do things based on the idea that the page is safe, like ask your for passwords or personal info. Sure, you may realize that it’s a bad idea, but the folks far less familiar with security (that would be the VAST MAJORITY of people online) will look at the happy plain-gray icon and feel it’s A-OK to type in their credentials, because there’s nothing to scare them off from doing it.

Thing is, i get some of the complaints. Sure, it’s annoying that you’ve got some jpgs on a CDN, and sure, it’s hard to make a page that doesn’t specify scheme, but yeah, no. You might feel a tad differently if there’s a rogue bit of javascript reporting back keystrokes.

Yes, having that odd looking icon is troubling and confusing to users. That’s kind of the point. It’s the proverbial “Check Engine” light of the internet and yes, there’s going to be some users that happily ignore it and horrible things will happen to them. Those folk are doomed to their gleeful ignorance regardless.

i’d rather not doom the small percentage of folks that have Darwin-like evolved to look for those warning signs.

Oh, and by the way? Go secure your site. It’s free now.

And then this happens:

:: The Breakup

Dear Windows,

We’ve been through a lot, haven’t we? Heck, i still have the diskettes with Windows Version 3.0 on my desktop right now. i’ve done development on various flavors of you since long before the web existed. Often deep into the code, making drivers and other applications.

i’ve used pretty much every version (well, except Windows Me, because nobody in their right mind willingly did that), mostly because it was the only useful operating system that didn’t mandate what sort of hardware system it ran on. i’d build my happy Franken-puter and load up whatever version of Windows i happened to have on hand.

My how things have changed over the years, huh?

One thing i’ve noticed is how… well… unreliable you’ve become. That, and more than a little creepy.

Take the latest version, Windows 10. Sure, it’s free, but that’s just the initial monetary cost. i’d be paying for it with my information. You know, there’s something to be said for how valuable my information is considering how many companies are willing to give me things in exchange for it, but that’s beside the point.

No, the real problem wasn’t the creepy, privacy bits, it was the fact that you blew up spectacularly on my personal machine. It’s nothing all that fancy. It’s, maybe 3 years old, with a 2.8GHz 8 core with 12GB of memory. Sure, it’s got two network cards in it, but that’s not a big deal, since that’s pretty much the case with every laptop that has wifi and a network connector. i mean, i updated a slightly newer laptop from Win7 to Win10 just to figure out the bits that i need to turn off. So, after a bit of strong debate, i decided that the accelerated startup time and (theoretically) reduced footprint of Windows 10 would be nice. i let you update my home workstation.

And that’s when everything went to hell.

Suddenly, the network cards that you had just used to update yourself were no longer recognized. Drives i’ve had working just fine for years with zero SMART alerts, were acting sporadic. And then, after a quick reboot, nothing. No boot for me. The system i’ve used for years was dead in the water.

i did what i had learned to do whenever this crap happened in the past. i downloaded a linux distribution so i could boot my system and try to figure out how to fix things. No surprise, my system booted up from the Live CD. Ok, bit of a surprise, it booted a lot faster than i remember it doing so. i then grabbed a few tools and started work. i didn’t finish it, however. i actually kinda enjoyed using my Linux desktop as it was. There were a few ugly bits, but i fixed them reasonably quickly. Things, however, “just worked”. Heck, even the xbox 360 wireless joystick “just worked” (even if the green ring keeps flashing).

Yeah, there are things i can’t do. i can’t run Silverlight, nor can i run VisualStudio. It’s ok, though. i can run you in a nice, protected virtual machine. You just don’t get to be the guys in charge anymore.

Perhaps i’m just not your target demographic anymore. i mean, i like using a computer, not just having a box to check facebook or twitter while watching youtube videos. Frankly, i’d be kinda concerned that i have to use Windows for that, since none of those really need Windows either. i don’t really need a digital personal assistant to send my data somewhere so that i don’t have to type in “Dentist appointment” on a calendar. Pretty sure i’m perfectly fine doing that myself. i don’t really need an “App Store” since i tend to compile most of the apps i run. Same with a Music store, or Games store, or Video Store. It’s like you guys want to be Walmart or Amazon. i’m not super comfortable with that fact, because i can choose not to go those stores, but the computer i use every day is a bit more “personal” to me.

So, yeah, it’s been 30 years. Can’t say it’s always been fun, but it’s been a learning experience for both of us. i’m sure you’ll continue to do well, but feel free to watch out for that screen door on the way out.

:: Trust Issues

There’s been quite a bit of discussion (me included) regarding Microsoft’s latest choices regarding Windows 10. Feel free to take the following as the Rando-rant that it may well be.

i have trust issues. It’s not that i don’t trust people. i actually believe that most folks tend to be reasonably benevolent. i’m pretty sure that most folks don’t mug homeless people for parking meter change or rifle through coworkers belongings. There are bad people, sure, but they’re the minority.

Still, i’m cynical and paranoid enough to realize that outside of general, formal interaction, trust needs to be earned. i’ll try using a service or person using a small action, then slowly build interaction based of of the history i have. i’ve done that with shops, restaurants, banks, auto repair, airlines, pretty much everything. i’m not going to magically change my behavior because i’m doing things using “virtual” stuff online. Well, maybe if it’s truly virtual, like a game with a reset button, but otherwise there’s not as much distinction as you’re hoping i don’t notice.

So, when a company asks for an inordinate amount of information in exchange for some form of goods, i want to know not only the value of the goods, but what the costs of losing that information is. Like when a store offers a “points” program. What are the values of those “points”? What benefit do i get? What information are you gathering? How is it stored? Who is it sold too? If you’re making $100 off of selling my complete purchasing history to social media, saving $1.25 on a shirt doesn’t really seem like such a great deal.

This is even more of a concern if a company has had a history of doing some fairly heavy handed and hostile things in the past. What do i consider hostile? Well, anything that doesn’t treat me like you’d want to be treated. If you don’t believe that i can be trusted, you’re not trustworthy either. i tend to use a lot of Open Source software mostly because they establish a level of trust that’s higher than many companies. i can look at the code, see what it does and determine whether or not i want to run it. i can’t do that with things like twitter or facebook, so i treat those as untrustworthy. i will not share more than minimal information with those parties.

This includes operating systems and even computers. i tend to “lobotomize” systems as much as possible. Yeah, this means i don’t use whizzy stuff like voice enabled actions or predictive enjoyment widgets or what-ever. Sadder life for me, i guess. i also don’t get vaguely creeped out by ads for possible medical concerns or have ads follow me around pestering me to buy a BMW constantly. For what it’s worth, i also always pick “Customize Install” and actually pay attention to what’s being installed. i also tend to disable or uninstall any app that doesn’t provide me clear value.

With Windows, there’s a lot of barriers to trust. The code is a black box, so i can’t audit it. There’s a good amount of history showing that they are interested in merchandising personal data and extracting maximum value from their customers. Plus, the idea of keeping a copy of my login credentials on hand with a third party is pretty much the same as me asking to have an all access badge to Microsoft. i can say that i won’t do anything bad, but that’s probably not going to make the prospect any more likely. Plus, if either they or i lost control of that controlled item for any reason, the other party would be deeply, deeply unhappy.

By the way, i lump Apple into that bucket as well. They’re far less likely to sell off my personal information, but the value their own secrecy and control over mine, which can lead to problems. Google, well, Google is a company that makes billions off of ads. Kinda puts a pretty decisive nail holding how i classify them.

Frankly, it’s annoying as hell to constantly lobotomize and switch things “off” whenever i get something new. It’s also a massive pain to constantly audit things to see if anything “helpfully” reset my work. The only incentive i have to even consider continuing on this path is the fact that i expose myself to increased risk if i don’t.

Makes me wonder if i shouldn’t just go find a vintage TRS80.

Blogs of note
personal Christopher Conlin USMC memoirs of hydrogen guy rhapsodic.org Henriette's Herbal Blog
geek ultramookie

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