Hate mail

A few weeks ago my work project made an unpopular announcement.

If you are not already familiar with the Linux landscape, and CentOS in particular, you will find that I am unable to explain the announcement to you without a 20 minute history lesson. Even with colleagues who are in the software industry, but are unfamiliar with the Linux distro landscape, it has been challenging to explain 1) what changed and 2) why people are angry.

The details of how operating systems are made are mostly boring, and you *want* them to be boring. If your operating system is getting your attention, it’s almost never for a good reason.

But they are angry, and their reasons are (mostly) good ones. That said, this announcement was an announcement, not a discussion. Which is to say, it’s the new reality, and people need to adjust to this change. Which is fine to say, but rather harder in practice.

This morning I sent out the monthly newsletter for the project, as I do every month. Except, this month, I’m getting a stream of hate mail, vitriol, snarky comments, and so on, from people who have evidently not read what I wrote, or who still feel that, somehow, their anger justifies them being terrible humans.

Look, I get that folks are angry. And I even agree with their reasons. But lashing out at *me* because you’re angry about a decision for which I’m the spokesperson doesn’t make any sense. Not only will it not change the decision, but it makes me less sympathetic to your complaints.

mod_pony is now on github

I got email this weekend from a computer science student in Italy, asking about mod_pony. He told me that they use mod_pony in their class as an example Apache httpd module, but that the original article pointing to the mod_pony sources was 404’ing, because my svn server has been retired.

So … I am pleased to announce that mod_pony is now on Github.

This is all a demonstration of the Internet reality that no matter how silly you are, someone, somewhere, is going to take it seriously.

(See also: Acme::Time::Asparagus for another illustration of this.)

Content moderation and community curation

When Parler started up their website with (supposedly) no content moderation terms of service, I was skeptical. I wrote about it at the time, but unfortunately did so on Facebook, making it more work than it’s worth to track down.

I ran a community website for 25 years (roughly) and content moderation was the most difficult part of it. Nobody wants content moderation, except when they do. If you take down my comment, that’s censorship. If you take down someone else’s, that’s setting the right community tone.

Every site has content moderation – it’s just a question of how it is done. It’s a question of deciding what is appropriate (or on topic) and removing things that are not.

On Parler, for example, if you make pro-Democrat comments, they get shouted down and are moderated by virtue of being drowned out. On Twitter, on the other hand, if you make pro-Nazi comments, they get actually removed. These are just two versions of the same thing.

But with a site like Parler, which was created, presumably, specifically to get past the unfair moderation rules of Facebook and Twitter, you have another problem. The site is specifically intended to allow the most egregious breaches of common etiquette and good manners. And, of course, to be friendly to the kind of thugs and fact-averse people who were responsible for storming the Capitol last week. This means that they’re continually going to be pushing the envelope, and then you run into a kind of content moderation that we all eventually are subject to – when your content actually breaks the law.

Calling for the execution of elected officials (or, indeed, of anyone) is a violation of federal law.

I ran into this with my Kenya website, when people were calling for lynchings and genocide. So, y’know, I had to do something about that. And after 25 years of that, I called it quits.

Parler has now encountered this same reality, albeit at a much larger scale, and for a much heftier bill. Anybody with any community website experience saw this coming, and I’m frankly astonished it took so long.

AWS has very very permissive content policies – basically “don’t break the law”. But when they warned Parler again and again, and Parler did not do anything about it, they had to take action.

If you refuse to moderate the comments of your community, eventually someone else will step in and do it for you.

And if you do it in a way that makes news in this way, finding another provider to host your content is going to be very tricky.

(Cory has an excellent discussion of this over on Twitter.)

Protected by my whiteness

One of the images that really struck me on Wednesday evening was after the thugs had been removed from the Capitol and a there was a line of cops in riot gear keeping them out – standing shield to shield with the hooligans on the outside.
Several of them were walking the line, getting up in the cops’ faces. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, of course, but it was clear that they felt safe. They knew that they were protected by their whiteness. They knew, with complete confidence, that they would not have any immediate repercussions for their insolence and rudeness, and that these armed officers would not do anything to them.
Many Americans, looking at that moment, thought about how if they, with their dark skin, were to dare such insolence, they would be immediately beaten or killed for it. They would never, ever dare to do that, because it would be so foolish.
But what I remembered was an incident that, I am sure, I never told my Mom about. I doubt I ever told anyone other than the friends who were there with me at the time.
I was downtown Nairobi and someone said something rude to a policeman. Or maybe he didn’t. Maybe he laughed at a joke with a friend. Who knows. But within seconds the cop was beating him with his baton, and a crowd was gathering.
Being a stupid kid, I stayed and watched while the cop beat the man half to death, and then walked away.
It was absolutely terrifying. And, EVEN THEN, I knew that it could never happen to me, but that it could happen to ANY of the Kenyans around me.
This is why I am so deferential to cops. This is why it terrifies me when my son talks back and argues with cops.
EVERY black kid in America understands this from the time they can understand anything, and my kids will never truly understand it. And of course, as a parent, I am so so so glad that they will never understand it. But at the same time, it is profoundly unjust and disgusting and indecent that every black and brown kid knows this to be reality.
That’s the image that will stick with me from Wednesday night – that insolent spoiled privileged child, sneering in the face of authority, knowing that he was safe from consequences.

Biking in 2020

After three months of great progress (139 miles in September, 260 in October, and 251 in November) December was a bust, with only 32 miles.

I hate biking indoors. Hate it hate it hate it. And the cold and wet killed my progress.

Goals for 2021:

January, get back up over 200 miles (yeah, even if I have to do it indoors. Ick.)

And then keep it above 200 all year, hopefully 350-400 during the summer months. If I can get back to 15 per day, that’s 360 (with one day off per week), so this should be doable.

If I can get through the winter months. Did I mention I hate biking indoors?

Write more

For the last 15 years, at least, my New Year’s resolution Has been to write more. Some years I do better than others. This year was pretty wretched.

Of course, I do write, all day long. I write to do lists. I write reports. I write hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of email messages.

But it’s hard to find time for the simple act of just writing for the joy of writing.

This year, one again, my new year’s resolution is to write more. Daily if possible. A sentence or a paragraph or a poem.

reMarkable2: RemaPy

In my last post, O my Best Beloved, I mentioned that I got a reMarkable2.

Ok, to the geekier stuff. If you’re using reMarkable2 with Linux, you’ll immediately discover that the official desktop tool is for Windows only. This is a little surprising given that the reMarkable2 itself runs Linux:

But, the consumer market is what it is. So, what are we to do?

The first solution that I have tried is RemaPy, which is a Python-based desktop client that provides basic functionality.

The app interacts with the reMarkable Cloud, *not* directly with your tablet, so you don’t even need to connect the tablet to your computer. (If you don’t trust The Cloud, there’s other solutions to that, but, for the moment, we’ll assume that you’re using a standard setup.)

What it does:

You can browse the files that your tablet has sync’ed to the cloud. You can download/view any of them. You can delete any of the files. And you can take a full local snapshot (ie, backup) of what’s on your tablet.

What it does not do:

It appears that the app does *not* give you a way to put files onto your tablet. For that you’ll need repush.sh from the reHackable scripts, or perhaps one of the other tools I haven’t tried yet.

So, it’s not everything I want, but it’s definitely the place to get started.

Tune in later as I discover more tools for making this device an integral part of my daily workflow.



Way back in July, I ordered the new reMarkable2 tablet, and got into shipping batch 8, which was predicted to ship in early November.

It arrived a couple of days ago, and I have already moved all of my paper note-taking to it. Indeed, my biggest complaint with it is that I am no longer using my fancy fountain pens and notebooks. And I have been a fountain pen, notebook, snob for more than 30 years.

You can read about the device, if you’re interested, at the above link. The short version is that it’s a linux-based e-ink device that is optimized for pen note taking, and doesn’t really do anything else.

Which is exactly what I was looking for.

If your first response is that you can get an iPad for the same price – yeah, that’s true, and it does more, but it’s not what I was looking for. I wanted something that feels like paper, lets me take notes, and then converts them to text on demand.

And it does a few other things.

More importantly, it has a large hacker community around it who produce a wide variety of other tools for the device. Since this is the second version of the device, there’s already a large number of open source projects out there. And it’s growing rapidly.

So, initial take on it is that I’m very pleased with it, and recommend it for folks that prefer paper note taking to typing, but are frustrated that once something’s on paper it’s not easy to import that information into other formats.

Democracy is guarded by an army of old ladies

I worked election day voting machine service for many years. Here’s why I find claims of election-day fraud so completely unbelievable.

What that entails is showing up at the county court house at 5am, and hanging out there all day. Any time one of the voting machines failed in any way, I would be rushed out to the polling station in a police car, and had to fix the machine, while being watched by angry voters and election day officials.

The machines were very reliable, and so this was largely a day spent reading, in the court house waiting room. But those trips out to the polling stations were always stressful and exciting.

One thing I learned, though, is that election day voter fraud is *enormously* unlikely.

Every action that is taken at the polling stations, as well as during the vote counting, is watched over by (at least) two election officials, one from each political party on the ballot. These officials are usually senior citizens who know everyone in the county. They also know each other, and have argued with each other about politics for decades. They are looking for a reason to throw you out of the polling station, and if they see the slightest sign of something fishy, they will absolutely do so. And they are watching each other, with great suspicion, waiting for their counterpart to do something wrong.

Also, everything that happens in the polling station, or in the court house at the end of the day, requires each officer to sign something. Open the spare voting machine? 4 signatures. Close a defective voting machine? 4 signatures and a zip tie (and sign the zip tie). Checking a voter’s ID? Everybody has to have a look. Was the voter someone related to the election official? Call over all the other officials in the room to sign something, in case there’s nepotism.

Our democracy is guarded by an army of little old ladies, who consider this their highest duty of the entire year, and they are *not* going to let you get away with anything. (No, they’re not all senior citizens, and they’re not all women, but most of them are.)

In order to commit election-day voter fraud, you’d have to have both a Republican and Democrat election-day official in on it.

When I showed up to service a machine, I could be sure that I would be glared at, asked questions about every single thing that I was doing, and I would be expected to narrate every step, in detail, so that there was no question as to what I was doing. They didn’t trust me. They didn’t trust each other. And they verified every single step.

If at any point they challenged anything I did, my instructions were to stop, call the Sheriff and have him/her call the election commission in Frankfort, and wait for their instructions. Fortunately, it never came to that.

Note: 95% of the time, what I had to do was turn it off and on again. If a machine didn’t work, your best bet was power-cycle, and then swap out the spare. The machines were sealed and didn’t really have any user-serviceable parts other than swapping out the print cartridge and paper tape. Every vote was written to 2 hard drives and some kind of solid-state memory cartridge. The audit process was to press the “Close Poll” button again and have it print the tape again.

Caveats: This was Kentucky, circa 12-15 years ago or so. The exact machines in question were provided by Harp Enterprises, and looking at https://elect.ky.gov/Resources/Pages/Voting-Systems.aspx it appears that they are no longer in service. The newer machines – the eSlate machines that I used voted on last year (I voted by mail this year) are something I have no experience with. I understand that some of the newer machines have network access, either wired or wifi. I consider that a pretty stupid design decision, but I also expect that security is a pretty high priority on the engineering teams that work on these things.

The Margin Is Too Narrow