Several years ago I was contracting at a software development shop. The place was infested with interesting problems that I won’t go into here, but I’m reminded of the day where a Q&A was held with the director of engineering. Someone asked what attracted him to work in technology. His response was, verbatim:

Because I like to build cool stuff?

He said it like a question too. This exemplifies the culture that surrounds tech.

I have been critical of the culture of technology for years. Especially in software where we tend to explore whether we can do something much more than whether we should. This wonderful post by @[email protected] hits the nail right on the head:

A developer sees themselves more like a young person hacking away at something for fun. This is still held as an ideal. They don’t tend to see themselves as a professional contributor/operator of an important social system with serious responsibilities.

All of which is essentially unfit for someone trying to affect the culture of a social space that emphasises the importance of culture over convenience. Arguably, the archetypal developer struggles with that very idea.

I keep seeing ads on the boards during NHL game broadcasts that say “The oilsands are on their way to net zero.”

Yes! Oil is not the problem! Let’s keep producing it, but completely clean this time, somehow! Easier and cheaper methods of producing clean energy exist, but let’s keep burning oil ya?

Are we insane?

A Paw Print to Rule Them All

After my dear 8 year-old cat passed away in September, we made arrangements to have her cremated. Considering what she meant to us, and still under the shock of her loss, we wanted it to be a private cremation where we could be present. After much research, my wife found a pet crematorium run by a lovely couple located on a large wooded property well outside the city. That was perfect.

The day of the cremation, it was raining. We were allowed to take our time saying our last goodbyes and we were able to place her ourselves into the crematorium. It was surreal. It didn’t seem possible to me that she was gone. While we waited, we took a walk on a trail that they had through the woods. Being surrounded by nature was soothing, even though it rained a little bit.

On our way back, we walked without hurry on the gravel path to the house. And there, among thousands of other ordinary rocks, I spotted one. It was flat, round, about 3/4 inch wide. On its face, a pattern was drawn. One medium circle with four smaller ones arranged in a fan around it. Clear as day, a perfect paw print.

I stopped walking, staring at it. I stood there trying to understand what I was seeing. My wife had seen it too. Out of a million rocks, we were both struck by the same one. And before either of us could formulate any coherent words, she instinctively reached down. She barely touched it, but in an instant the image smeared. Rain drops. The tip of her fingers had released the surface tension that held the manifestation in place, causing all the drops to combine and spread. And now it was just another wet rock.

It’s only then that we looked at each other and realized we had both witnessed the same thing. As perfect and implausible as it seemed, for us it meant something. Our precious darling was OK.

I believe in facts and science. But I also believe that we interpret the world the way that we need to in order to make sense of it. Not all that exists needs to be explained rationally. Not everything that happens has to make sense. That day, five rain drops fell from high up in the sky and landed in a perfect artwork on a single rock. We shared a moment that was real and that made us feel more at peace.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. My wife was acting a little strange. As I walked into our bedroom, she was following me closely. And there on the bed was the sweetest little kitten, seemingly only a couple months old. Instantly my heart melted at the sight of this little bundle of fur staring at me with her big round eyes. Inside I worried, was I ready for this, after such a difficult loss?

That’s when my wife revealed how she had found this kitten. And more specifically when she was born: the same day we had cremated our other cat.

She hadn’t looked for a litter born on that date but there it was when she visited the breeder’s web site. She went to see them and she said she knew. As she related all this, we both remembered that improbable paw print on that rock among a million others. Some things just don’t need an explanation.

That night our new kitten fell asleep in my arms. She instantly became my companion and has since been following me around everywhere. She’s laying down right next to me as I write this. And you know, I’m a rational person but let me tell you this.

I lost many cats over the years who meant a lot to me. And in this kitten I keep seeing traits from all the other ones. We see her do something, and anyone in the household can instantly tell you which of our previous cats that comes from. It can be a pose she takes, a sound she makes, a habit she has. She’s only three months old but seems aware and smart way beyond that.

I am acutely aware that we sometimes see what we want to see. But that paw print, it will always mean something to me. The pain I felt losing my orange fire was devastating. And somehow she knew that. I thought that paw print meant she was OK, when really, now I know it was her making sure that I’m going to be OK.

Finally! I’ve been saying this for years to whoever will listen. Craig Hockenberry saw the light:

Federation exposes a lot of different data sources that you’d want to follow. Not all of these sources will be Mastodon instances: you may want to stay up-to-date with someone’s Micro.blog, or maybe another person’s Tumblr, or someone else’s photo feed. There are many apps and servers for you to choose from.

It feels like the time is right for a truly universal timeline.

Honestly, the news that Tesla is dropping prices by as much as 20% pisses me off. I know it’s capitalism 101. Demand drops, prices drop. But really, is that the world I want to live in?

I’ve been shopping for my next car. The used prices are decisively insane right now. A used car is more expensive than a new one because of shortage and demand? This is real people’s livelihood this system is toying with. Fuck that.

Unsurprisingly, hardware controls are found to be safer and faster. No way.

In 2016 I was one of those people who put down a $1,000 reservation for a Tesla Model 3. Until the car was revealed the next day and I asked for a refund.

Having a background in industrial design, it made no sense to me then to sacrifice safety by eschewing all physical controls.

Form follows function is the first thing we learned in design school. Give me buttons that I can feel and manipulate without looking.

The Increasing Urgency of The Emergency

It’s hard to disagree with anything in Extinction Rebellion UK’s latest announcement:

[D]espite the blaring alarm on the climate and ecological emergency ringing loud and clear, very little has changed. Emissions continue to rise and our planet is dying at an accelerated rate.

Their latest plan to have 100,000 people occupy the UK Parliament in April is bold. And for the life of me, I can’t think of a reason not to try.

Despite Extinction Rebellion actions, despite Greta Thunberg, despite marches all around the world, despite countless governmental declarations of a climate emergency, despite climate technologies springing up, despite some news organizations finally giving climate change a serious look, what progress have we really made?

Global emissions are still rising, our carbon budget is still being spent at an alarming rate, social inequality is still growing.

The maddening thing is that many of us would change career in a heartbeat if doing so could make a difference. Most of us would choose a better way of life if the choice was made available. All of us would pull the right levers if we only had the means and power to access them.

I buy LED lightbulbs, I avoid eating meat, and I drive electric, but really, it’s not what every single one of us does that will make a difference, it’s what governments and businesses do.

Moving My Social to a Canadian Server

After years of being on mastodon.social for social media, a few days ago I moved to mstdn.ca, a little Canadian corner of the Fediverse. 🇨🇦 This site is still the source of truth, and as always you’re welcome to follow me using RSS. But now whatever I post here gets cross-posted to mstdn.ca/@steveroy instead.

That was way overdue. I had been looking to move for a while. Thanks to the growth of the Fediverse, there are now thousands of servers catering to all kinds of interesting communities. The mastodon.social server is a very general instance with people from all over the world. Nothing inherently wrong with that. But it has less of a community feel and its local timeline lacks an underlying theme. Which really is one of the points of the Fediverse, a collection of independent and interacting communities.

My interests are varied and I didn’t see myself joining a server specific to design or software development, for example. When I’m on the web, being Canadian is a big part of my outlook, so I was pleased to find mstdn.ca. When I read that it has official backing from CIRA, that made it a no-brainer for me.

It’s very pleasant to finally look at my local timeline and feel commonality with other people who are posting. We’re all people who care about Canada experiencing the same weather and going through the same events, whether it’s sports, politics, what have you.

In a more general sense, it’s been both odd and instructive to read the impressions of people who are new to Mastodon coming over due to The Great Twitter Meltdown. Social media doesn’t have to be owned by a corporate entity. Social media should be by the people, for the people. And who knew that buying Twitter for $44 billion and running it like a personal playground is what the world needed to realize there are better options?

It’s odd that Treehugger.com does not have an RSS feed. They used to have one, which I followed assiduously. But a few years ago it just stopped. I wrote to them about it but never heard back. 🤷‍♂️

Vegan shepherd pie was on the table for dinner tonight. So good and it never ceases to amaze me how going vegetarian or vegan doesn’t mean letting go of the usual staples. In this case, green lentils are a great meat replacement.

It just came to my attention that Mazda finally has an EV in 2022, the MX-30, but it only has 160 km of range. Is this a joke?

I have an old Leaf from 2016 that can go further. Who is going to pay $40k in 2022 for this little range?

That might explain why I haven’t heard of it until now, let alone seen one on the road.

Seeing all these new people land on Mastodon, I really hope that companies will realize they should host their own Mastodon instance instead of their employees creating accounts on random instances all over the place. I’m thinking of news organizations, for one.

It’s absolutely fantastic that we endeavour to explore space and I’m excited that we’re going back to the Moon. I hope Artemis has a successful launch!

I can’t say I’m not apprehensive though. Because what’s not cool is the debris that every launch leaves orbiting around the Earth. And if we trash the Moon the way we trashed Earth and its orbit, I will be less than pleased.

We have to clean up after ourselves. It should be like camping: leave it the way you found it.

Dealing With Bad People at Work

If I worked at Twitter, I would get fired so fast, but not before letting management know exactly what I thought of the idiot in charge and the policies being put in place.

I’ve been in that position before and I was never shy to say what I had to say. I have zero patience for people who walk into a place with their big shoes and think they know better than everybody. I will also not suffer anyone who is disrespectful or who tries to talk down to me.

My attitude is, you know what, I am where I am because I’ve built my career on being honest, kind, and hardworking. I don’t need you. If you want my skills, then you know where to find me, and you’d better ask nicely.

At my first job out of college, every once in a while they would move the engineering team to the production line. Presumably due to lack of work. But the third time I said no. They fired me and I went home. A couple days later, they called to offer me contract work.

Another time, I stood up to my manager after he had bullied one of my coworkers during a meeting. He tried to spin it around and pin it on me. I stood my ground and told him that was fucking bullshit.

At another place, the CEO kept insulting people using expletives, in the middle of company meetings no less. His underlings were like, “aw that’s just how he is, he’s so funny”. At the end of my contract, my manager, who was right under him, offered to convert me to full time. I declined and told him at length exactly what I thought of the CEO.

Not everyone can afford to lose their job, but for those of us who do, we have to call it the way we see it. When something is a fact, you don’t even have to be mean about it.

SteveRoy.ca and AptApps.ca are now running on a faster server with more resources. My provider HostPapa has been on my case for some time due to the increase in traffic. I tweaked my Cloudflare configuration to cache as much as I could, but I was still hitting the limits of my plan. In the end, HostPapa suggested I switch to a beefier plan for half the price. Who am I to say no?

I don’t think these recent issues have impacted visitors much, but if nothing else the sites should generally be snappier.

With Twitter in crisis since the acquisition by Elon Musk, it’s been great to see the large number of people who decided to give Mastodon a whirl. The influx of new faces has brought a lot of scientists, artists, engineers, and journalists, among other things. I find that it gives my timeline a bit of a different flavour, in a good way.

Initially I was a bit worried that the mob might bring with them some of the bad side of Twitter but, so far at least, it’s been great. Most new people seem to be pleasantly surprised that Mastodon is a more human, more safe variety of social media. It’s made of smaller communities that are well moderated, and there is a much lower tolerance for negative behaviours.

Having left Twitter and other such social media silos in 2018, I’m happy to see more people trying out ethical platforms. Whatever happens I hope it has a permanent impact.

Even though I left Twitter years ago, I do feel sadness regarding what’s happening. It’s tragic and worrisome that anyone with enough ego and money can come in and deface a place that means so much to people.

It’s actual lives that are impacted, through the jobs lost, the follows gutted, and the social fabric eroded.

Here’s to hoping we can all learn the lesson that the Internet was always meant to be made of small interconnected sites—a worldwide web!—not giant siloes.

Curious to address my iCloud dependency, a few months back I set up my own Nextcloud instance via Cloudamo. So far I’ve only experimented with uploading some of my contacts and calendars. With CardDAV and CalDAV, it integrates just fine with all my devices. For $4/month, I own my data and I can easily go back and forth between iOS, Android, macOS, and Linux. I should take the time to go all in soon.

With yet another instalment of the Twitter Shit Show in full swing, I thought I’d look up when I walked away from that. May 21, 2018 is when.

I can also say that this other post from the same period is still holding up very well:

Not that Twitter is the yard stick by which other social sites should be measured, but it’s now been three weeks since I closed that account, and it’s been… just fine. I miss a few people who had interesting takes, but I’m slowly discovering new people on Mastodon and Micro.blog. 🎉

The great failure of the Internet is that the tools to make your personal home on it never evolved.

Think about it. When you create an account on something like Facebook, you automatically get your own space where you can post and follow people. There is no reason for personal web sites not to have played that central role instead.

But the tools to set up a web site never got easy enough for regular people to use. And we invented RSS to follow other web sites, but that never evolved to be bidirectional and interactive.

I’m reading yet another article that tries to argue that multithreading is too hard and too heavy so we need fancy concurrency frameworks to rescue us from that complexity. Yawn.

My question is, when did you last write an app that was doing such intensive concurrent work? If you work at SpaceX on rocket guidance systems, maybe. But for the rest of us mere mobile app developers, we make simple requests to populate a list with some text and images. Hardly rocket science, so can we stop pretending that we’re all struggling with multithreading please?

I’ve kept this tab open in my browser since my cat passed away a few weeks ago. I was web searching for anything related to coping with grief, and this woman’s lovely words led me to the wave analogy of grief that someone posted on Reddit. It resonates with a lot of people, including me.

Keeping this tab open forever doesn’t make sense, but I do want to remember the path that led me to it and to that Reddit piece. So this is my bookmark.

So, the NHL now displays virtual ads on the boards of game broadcasts. In principle, that means they can show ads specific to your market, which I could understand. In practice though, that means the ads are constantly changing and they are animated. This happens during the play. It is incredibly distracting and takes away from the game. It falls in the category of it’s not because we can do it that we should. I purchased a $200 subscription for this shit?

My daughter suggested we start a company that makes TVs that automatically replace commercials with cat videos.

I think she’s on to something.

How are we to have faith in politics when Tories take three months to pick Liz Truss but she turns out to be so incompetent that, weeks into the job, the country is falling apart and everyone is ready to give her the boot?

How do we believe in politics when Conservatives elect Danielle Smith, whose lack of belief in science and understanding of social privilege promptly lands her the nomination for the most offensive thing a politician to have ever said?

How can we ignore politics when it produces the Putins, Trumps, and Bolsonaros of this world, who would rather kill, lie, and profit at the expense of the very life we all hold dear?